Monday, November 29, 2010

That Holiday Feeling....well no.

  Thanksgiving has come and gone and I was sorry we didn't search out a Turkey Day dinner, we did hear you can find one.  There is a possibility that we can find a place tonight that serves one.  Although it's not ever as satisfying to celebrate a holiday on the day that is not actually 'the' day.  And it is difficult to 'get in the spirit' here anyway.  We did have a great time on T-Day however, saying goodbye to 2 Dutch nurses that worked at the clinic.  We bid farewell at a Cambodian BBQ place.

   (We did not have a Turkey dinner.)

  I imagine most folks know that Jess is having some challenges at 'work'.  Jess says at times I am the master of understatement, that was an example.  If you are signed up as a 'follower' you know the gritty details of her struggles as she inadvertently sent email drafts of her thoughts to all 'followers'.  In any case the whole mess has colored the last couple of weeks and that color is uncertainty.  I feel very bad for Jess. She at 1st didn't seem that upset,  (angry, sad, frustrated, furious, confused), about how she's been treated, but now I think it's getting to her.  Not surprisingly considering how much time and effort she devoted to the clinic, not just there but on her off hours too.  She loved the work and the people of the village and was seeing progress.  All this done strictly as a volunteer and I know some out of pocket money.  I think I'm more pissed off than she is.  Fortunately I know Jess will 'land on her feet'.

  And I have had the same thoughts Jess has had to face.  Are the kids better off with me there or am just enabling a bad situation?  I don't know.  Or is it really all about me because I very much like what I am doing, I'm having fun and love those kids.  And I do feel like they are learning and having fun, I do see progress.  But I have more freedom than Jess has/had.  I've been given somewhat free rein on what I can do with the children and I've taken advantage of that.  Jess didn't mention the following because she's very kind.  When she was getting her one of her 2 'poundings' (as an Aussie put it) it was emphasized what a good volunteer I am.  I don't remember exactly what was said but clearly I 'tow the line' so to speak and don't make waves.  Perhaps that's true in a sense mainly because I got my way and we haven't had our weekly teachers' meeting in well over a month.  I really don't know how it's going to feel working there once Jess is done.

  Jess and I have had discussions and she has stated often the question: why are we here?   There are many reasons for me: the desire to live in another country/culture, the need to work directly with children again, the weather, the need for change and lastly to play tennis outdoors in January are among the reasons.   I have somewhat found that I think.    Jess seems to be still asking herself that question, I sometimes also, but she is clear about at least one reason.  And that is to immerse herself in the culture as much as possible and get to know the people here on a personal level as much as possible.  Yes this is a lot cooler than wanting to hit a little yellow ball around.

  That is why Jess has made an extra effort to realize her above desires and in a relatively short 3 months she has been I think very successful.  You may have noticed that I have not joined her for some of these experiences, my loss of course.  This is partly due to being kinda sick for all of Oct. but also because I don't seem to have that social energy that I had at home in the states.  And Jess seems to possess the energy that I lack.  This is a switch from how things were in the states.  I often wanted to go out and socialize and Jess's arm had to be twisted a bit to go out.  But this I guess goes back to why Jess is here and also perhaps my aging body.  She is a youngster after all.  I am sorry I missed some of her experiences and have told myself to get off my ass.

  Random thoughts following.

   The father of one of the Dutch nurses that Jess worked with came to Siem Reap in her final days here.  We had many conversations on a variety of topics, very nice and interesting guy, I liked him.  We're about the same age.  On our last get together with them he said unsolicited that he had not met many Americans but now he can say the Americans he met in Cambodia were very nice and pleasant people.  I was very happy to hear this as I know Americans are not always seen in a favorable light by folks around the globe.  I do see myself as being conscious of this and make an effort to change opinions.  It was funny though when I first met him and asked him if he has visited the states he said no and he had no desire to visit.  I never did press him about why.  Next time.

  I saw a strange sport on tv: a 3 man or woman team and a small 'volleyball' and net and they were using only their feet to serve and hit the ball.  Soccer volleyball?!   I pretty much only watch sports and news on tv.  Lots of tennis and soccer, occasionally football.  But I briefly checked out badminton and that is serious over here, they slam that birdie.  I have seen another odd sport: it involved a basketball type court but a smaller ball and the goals were made by shooting or bouncing the ball into a field hockey like net.  Yeah I know??!!  I feel I've seen other odd sports too.

 On the bug front: after a rain last week these funny looking inch long worm/snail type things were coming in the back door.  It was an invasion, they didn't move fast so it was easy to sweep.  Weird and yucky.
a different bug

  I've been trying to cook more, both Khmer and Western food.  I made pasta and meatballs, stir fry pumpkin curry, pork ribs with ginger that were just hanging in the open air market, ( no, no one got sick).  Jess says we'd more likely to get something form a meat factory than from the pig that was killed most likely that morning.  I made quesadillas.  Can't seem to find good avocados here. ?  I make morning glory occasionally, still perfecting w/o overcooking it.  I've always loved greens and morning glory is becoming a favorite.  Fish cakes are delicious also, that's ground up fish cooked like a pancake.
And I finally made pesto pasta, there is great sweet basil here so I don't know why it took me so long to make. I had to use almonds, didn't think I could find pine nuts.  I have to say as I write this I realize we are for a large  majority of the time eating fresh local foods.  I especially love the bread lady who comes by on her bike every morn selling warm baguettes.  We are lucky.

  Last night a Khmer family Jaz became friends with on her rides to Chey school came over for dinner, a Western dinner they requested.  We've been to their home for a meal, previous post with pics and text, it's the coconut family.  Jaz bought coconut drinks from their store.  Anyway I made garlic bread, penne Bolognese and green beans w/shallots & garlic.  They did eat the meal but only after they added fish sauce, spicy type catsup and maybe oyster sauce.  They did seem to like the bread.  It was a fun evening in spite of the fact that the mom and youngest daughter, 8y.o., speak very little English.  Dad's English was limited, fortunately the older daughter, 10 y.o., speaks excellent English.  Very bright kid. And Sovann was there also.

  So for at least 2 hours we had interpreted conversations on a variety of topics but mainly the weather at our home in America.  The dad especially wanted to know about living in snow.  How do we walk in it, how do you stay warm and your ears especially?  He asked if we had 'warm conditioning'?  My explanation of burning oil in a furnace elicited perplexed looks.  When we showed them photos of Vt. during the various seasons they asked interesting questions, for example do the colored leaves stay on the trees.  A very lovely family.  

  Tennis wise I am bummed.  A woman I play tennis with thought we could get a couples membership at 'the' fancy hotel, Raffles, at a discount because we work at NGO's.  She knows the children's hospital employees get a discount and thought we could also.  They have 2 great courts w/ lights!  It was not to be.  Well not giving up yet.  It gives me more incentive to volunteer at the hospital, ha ha.  Well we'll keep playing on the one court that has limited space from the baseline to the fence , not to mention potted plants at the fence also.  Weird but better than nothing.     Well.........never mind while writing got a call and the tennis place changed their mind, it's a 'Khmer thing'.

  I have to mention the kids again.  I colored some elbow macaroni so the kids can make necklaces.  Unfortunately, or fortunately as you will see, it was difficult to string them because the holes were rather small.  Almost impossible.  I did bring some penne too, but not a lot, which was much easier.  However that did not stop the kids from trying...........and being successful.  At first they persevered with some success but then a little girl used a tiny stick to push the string through.  Pretty soon the kids were using the same method and voila, necklaces.  The perseverance and ingenuity/creativeness of the kids continues to amaze me.

   When I'm riding my bike or we're out and about there are many interesting sights and happenings I want to relate to folks.  But I forget so maybe I need to carry a little notebook with me.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Morning musings

  Friday morn and I have the day off.  Once a month is Rice Drop day, sponsored families get free rice and it happens at the school.  There does seem to be a lot of 4 day weeks for one reason or another, though Dec I'm told no holidays so we'll see.  I woke this morning knowing no school and I felt bummed that I wouldn't see the kids today.  I miss them.  This is a good sign, I enjoy my 'job' apparently.  I have been having fun with the kids and though there are 45-50 now and I'm struggling to keep up with their names and ascertain who needs extra encouragement things are going well.  We split up the kids now with some outside mat time and some class/hut time and then all together time with mats in the hut (not enough room or table and chairs for all).

  On the mats I've been able to set up 3 separate choices for the kids: water colors, books, and 'blocks' (which mostly consist of empty plastic medicine containers from the clinic).  Oh and if needed I pull out a few frisbees to encourage cooperative play.  I love seeing the kids pour over the books, talking to each other about the pictures.  One little guy, Soth, opens one book and starts naming the colors to me, in English, yes!  Other kids make designs and explore the water colors taking pride in their drawings.  The block builders call me over to show me their towers.  They move between the mats and couple kids get bored so we play frisbe, I'm amazed at how quickly and well they learn to throw and catch.  The Khmer teacher also likes the water colors, once coloring a kid's face and another time doing his own 'painting'.  He's young @ 20 and perhaps never touched water colors.
clever kids

the Bros'

Soth in Yellow

  After outdoor mat play we go to the hut and the other group switches to the mats.  Luckily there are some great volunteers who are able to help.  In the hut we'll sing the alphabet song, often.  Then we'll generally  work on making letters with whatever works:  paper/pencils, pipe cleaners, clay, playdough, string, tongue depressors.  We'll do the same regarding shapes or numbers.  When we all come together and the kids are on the mats we sing, read books, work on learning colors in a variety of ways.    

  If it sounds like I'm in a groove and feeling good about being at the school it's true.  I have other ideas      about what to do with the kids (paints next week!).  This is thanks to my memories of my former workmates at the FR, they are imaginative and creative in their work with kids.  I dig up those memories and think 'what would so and so do'.  The internet is helpful also but inspiration comes from the FR.  Thanks, I miss you all.  I am hoping to find some more 'work' as I don't go in the school in the afternoon.  It looks like I may be able to volunteer at the Angkor Hospital for Children.  There is a Vt. doctor who has contacts there, so I'm excited at the possibilities.

  Ok you snowbound people don't want to hear this but it is so pleasant here right now weatherwise.  Mid seventies with 'cool' breezes.  It does get in the eighties but not humid.  I hope this lasts a while.  It's great weather for bike riding, so Jess and I did take a 2-3 hour bike ride a few days ago to explore other parts of Siem Reap.  I find the different homes that people live in very interesting.  You have the thatched huts, wooden structures and concrete homes among others.  Some of the homes look like cute cottage type homes and some places actually have lawns.  And the above are interspersed amongst each other.  Some places are neatly kept and others seem to collect garbage.  No matter what kind of home as you pass people often they smile and say hello, especially the kids of course.   Jess and I went to a different area with shops mostly frequented by Khmers.  I may be wrong but it seems like a middle-class area.  Interesting, and there were also small outdoor food markets.  It's great to have good, fresh local foods so available.
an apparently abandoned temple/pagoda? we came across

Dragon boat getting ready for the Water Festival

  I finally tried to make a curry from scratch, which means the mortar and pestle routine with fresh tumeric, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal and more.  It's in the fridge and I will attempt a dish soon, maybe with squid and pumpkin.  I did make a pumpkin ( it's a greenish looking one yet orange inside) stir fry which Jess and Jaz said was good but I wasn't entirely satisfied with.  Especially after Jaz's Khmer teacher Yeaun said it was good and I asked if it tasted like a Cambodian dish and he said "no".   Gotta love the honesty here sometimes.  I have to start buying and making some fresh fish.  Most often I buy it cooked for lunch.  It's delicious and cheap.  I have made what I call fish cakes.  Which is ground up fish, fried into pancakes.  But I will add maybe ginger or something else to give it a different flavor.  Many possibilities to explore with the foods here and hopefully I will.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Culture shock and a cool 74 degrees

    Ha ha don't know why I titled this the way I did.  I guess I'm blaming being hit with pink eyes on Oct 1 (my b'day), followed by a fever, cold, bad congestion and general body aches for the month on culture shock.  At home in the states I rarely got ill with anything.  So I am not used to being incapacitated.  I felt like I had no energy, therefore I couldn't cook, didn't feel like going out, didn't work at the school in the afternoons (only missed one morning), couldn't blog and was generally miserable.  I was beginning to think Cambodia and I don't mix well.  And I was losing faith that Jess had any nursing skills.  Try as she did nothing she recommended was working.  Finally she gave me some allergy med a few days ago, perhaps it was this med or the timing of it was right but I'm feeling 95 % better.  The month of Oct, usually my favorite month, well sucked.  She and Jaz were very kind putting up with this miserable wretch, thanks.

  So I still like Cambodia and do love being here.  It was really the kids that kept me from jumping on a plane.  Of course where would I have gone?  The comfort of my home and wonderfully comfortable bed is being enjoyed by Jess's brother.  And could I have imposed myself on my kids in Portland?  To do what?  These thoughts did cross my mind, but as always little kids I work with pull me out of those weak emotional moments.  These past few weeks those kids helped me more than I them.

   Ahh the school, the hut, the teaching, what an experience.  I was feeling bad physically but I was feeling good about the progress I saw the kids achieve. And felt like I was getting a handle on how best to work with them.  I was getting a little freedom regarding my methods, which is have them have fun and learn at the same time.  The rote-teaching and them parroting what I said without really knowing if they understood anything was not working for me.  I got lucky as usual as a friend of the director returned to the school and we met and talked over dinner.  She turned out to be an educator (teacher/principal) and supported my ideas.  In fact she wants to write a grant so New Hope can start a program for children 0-5.  Whether and when this even happens who knows?  But I did get her ear and she advocated for some outside movement/activity time for the kids and other suggestions I had.

  So we were able to split the class up part of the time and have them be more manageable.  At about the same time Meda, Jess's mom, and friends of hers sent a package with some much needed 'supplies'. Included were new books, the few I had had to be getting boring for the kids.  This was a great help, THANKS.  I saw the kids actually start to learn their colors, begin to recognize the alphabet, cooperate with each other, have a bit more self-control and start to request songs we'd sing.  And foolish me I forgot I'm in Cambodia this would not continue, another challenge would be presented.

  The class has about 25 kids most days sometimes more, not often less.  It was working well to split them up for part of the time and then bring them all back together.  I've tried different things with them and some have worked better than others.  I felt like I was getting on a roll and they were enjoying the ride also.  And I was learning most kids names.  You'd think learning names wouldn't be so difficult but it's not like there's a Mary and a Tommy, familiar names.  It Sokum, Srei Nit, Kvai, Chamda etc...., it's new words to pronounce/remember and attach that to a face.  In any case I was doing pretty well finally getting their names down.

  Here's the challenge:  a slew of new kids from a different village have begun at the school.  By the way the little girl Lea who I mentioned in the last post has returned, yea!  So w/o any warning, no that's wrong we were told the day before they arrived that there would be more kids.  So now the class is pushing 45-50 kids.  Yeah I know why?!!  Ok I can complain that not much forethought was given on the impact of this.  And that there are not enough Khmer teachers to help or sure we have volunteers now but that won't last necessarily.  I can complain that I was getting a system and 'lesson plans' in place that seemed to be working.  Kids who were learning will be set back and the new kids may not get anything of quality either I could complain.   I can complain, complain but I doubt if it will do any good.  So I have been trying to convince myself to think of it as the Family Room's 'drop in' time.  FR had a time when a family with kids could come and play in our space.  We would never know who or how many kids we would have.  I actually liked that..... a lot.  Of course we were set up to deal with that.  Well I better deal with this I guess.  New Hope is very caring and really wants to help folks, but sometimes it's better to help a certain number of people well instead of many more people not that well. I think we even had that challenge at the FR.  So I'll go with the flow and be happy that I have some energy now to perhaps direct the flow a bit.  Whatever that means but I like that I wrote it.  For the record there are some very lovely kids in this new batch , though some look like a deer in the headlights.   Below the class before the infux and the road to school.

  One thing that was ok when I was sick was that I still pretty much had my appetite.  So I was still eating well and I did try something different, dog.   Don't know what to say about it I only had a bite, and it was sauce laden.  But it was good though I won't go seeking it out.  Jaz said she had to go to a shakey part of town to get it.  I hope to start cooking again and I did still do a bit of cooking but can't remember anything except the usual morning glory that we all love.

  The cool 74 degrees refers to the weather here.  It has cooled to the 70's.  It has been extremely pleasant.  Sorry cold weather folks but not really missing the cold, rainy/snowy weather.  And it is odd but as I came out on the balcony to write this there was a breeze and I went back in to put on long pants and a shirt, our temp said 78.  Weird to me too that that can feel cool.

  I hope to post more pics soon.