Monday, November 28, 2011

November coolness

   That "coolness" means it's in the low 70's in the morning, low humidity and pleasant nights.  Halloween came and went and we did not do anything related to it.  We talked about going to Pub St. to see folks in costumes but we did not.  It seems like lately we've become more homebodies.  I think partly because we really have settled into routines and we are working more.  So after a workday and sometimes a 2+ hour tennis match we're content to stay in.  Of course when Marissa was here we ate out  a lot but didn't take in too much nightlife.  And I took more tuk tuk rides with her than i have a year probably.  It was great to have my oldest daughter here ( at least someone has paid us a visit).

  It was mostly the evenings we tuk tuk'd,  Otherwise Marissa really enjoyed going bike riding all over and getting lost then finding our way back home.  It was a blast, it was something Jess and I did till she got her evil moto and that was the end of bike riding for her and me.  Marissa caught on quick to the unwrittten biking rules of the road here.  They can be tricky and I was getting a little concerned as she was getting a bit cocky in traffic.  But all went very well.

   We did celebrate Thanksgiving this year, totally ignored it last year here. It was just another day.  But this year we got together with a lovely American family on our road.  We each cooked a turkey, and divided up the rest of the meal.  We invited a few other American folks and even a few Brits showed up.  It was at the family's home.  It felt so good to have the gathering and we're still eating leftovers.   A great time.

  I do miss being home for the holiday season.  It's of course family and friends I miss, sharing meals, having drinks together, conversations.  I am not missing however the unending in your face crass commercialization of the season.  They will be some Xmas trees put up here and there in Siem Reap but we are far from being overwhelmed by all of it.  I believe we have plans for a Xmas party this year, we did so last year and it was fun mix of Westerners and Khmers.  This year should be interesting as we know many more folks and will invite all.

   I'm missing home in general, missing friends and family.  I miss talking to all the good folks back in Vt. And I miss all the things we can't get here.  Certainly not a hardship at all being here.  In fact it's pretty easy to live here and there is not too much that we can't get.  It's just that occasionally some things here will drive you up a wall.  And then you think well that could happen at home too and certainly there were things back home that drives one up a wall also.  So not going anywhere soon and we're still trying to figure out how can we divide our time between Vt. and SR?

  Well still playing a lot of tennis and still very much liking the work I'm doing here, challenging as it is.  And I have to say thanks to all my former work mates at the FR, I am forever saying to myself what would Nell think about this?, how would Sarah react to that?, what would Anne do? how would Linda change this?  They and others I haven't mentioned come to mind often as well as the families.  I wish they were here to help me.

  I barely got my monthly blog in for November not too exciting but here it is.  


Monday, October 17, 2011

October Floods- still here!

  Well I ended my last post with "the rains will pass", hasn't happened.  Perhaps gotten worse.  Out and about today I saw and rode my bike through many roads that had not flooded previously but are now.  On the last stretch of the road to work, now flooded, the main road Rt. 6 on the way to where I play tennis now many parts flooded, the tennis courts under 6 inches of water, never happened before. No I didn't play.  It appears to be getting worse.  I almost lost my shoes in the mud a few times when I had to get off my bike to walk through the muddy water.  How many times can I wash my feet/legs in one day?  Hearing from folks it's the worst in at least a dozen years perhaps much longer.  Countrywide I believe it's approaching 300 dead, almost 15% of rice crop lost maybe more.
flooded streets

  We went to Phnom Penh over the weekend and the ride there was a bit surreal.  It at times felt like we were riding through a lake.  Water on each side of us, vast areas.  Animals and people on the edges of the road, their houses flooded and surrounded by hip deep water or deeper.  Shades of 'Waterworld'.  And just read that PM Hun Sen just cancelled the celebrations for the annual 'Water Festival'.  How ironic.  It's normally a huge national celebration.  He said resources are needed for the flood victims, perhaps he and his cronies could sell off a few of their mansions.  I'm sure they each could let go of a few of the many they have.  Won't happen.  Kinda like in the States where the burden is on the working class and poor.  Only here many people will go hungry, starve and die.  It's not a pretty picture.

  Of course we personally are fortunate, we are not flooded out. Though many ex-pats along with Khmers are in fact flooded out of their abodes.  For us it's just a pain to ride through the flooded streets, minimal inconvenience compared to what some folks have to endure.  Life goes on however, another struggle for the Cambodian people.

 I celebrated my birthday (Oct. 1) by staying overnight with Jess at the fancy hotel where I play tennis.  With tennis membership I got a night's stay, massages and breakfast.  We went the the night of  Sept 30th.  We had a halfway decent dinner, wonderful massages and a great breakfast buffet.  And we just had a relaxing time.  Jess even got to languish in a bathtub.

  And I am continuing the tradition of getting sick on my birthday, started last year with pink eyes and flu type ills.  That lasted the month of Oct.  This year just a stye in one eye and weak/achey for just a week or so.  I should be thankful because otherwise I've been healthy.  Turning 60 I was beginning to feel old, mostly because I was sick.  But then I lost a tennis match badly and thought 'alright I am old.'  The next week I beat handily my most fearsome and talented young (34) opponent.  So after that I felt perhaps I've got a few years and matches in me.  Sad how my emotional state and ego are tied to my tennis matches.

  I do in fact feel I'm in good shape, though I've lost 5-10 pounds in the last year.  It shouldn't be surprising, I ride my bike everywhere, play as much tennis as I can and most likely eat less in general (the heat) and less junk food.  Sixty did however feel like a big b'day year, similar to when I turned 30, which seemed like yesterday in some ways.  For the past year I thought I was 60 anyway but when Oct. 1 rolled around I felt the full impact.  I hope I'm not going anywhere soon and I have another 30 in me.
poolside lunch

  Many schools have not opened because of the floods.  The place I'm at is accessible so we started on Oct 3 with 14 new kids and six returnees.  I was surprised how almost all the kids had a smooth transition to the class.  Only one girl cried the 1st day and by week's end she was comfortable being part of the class.  The teachers are doing a good, a very good job with the new class.  And the teacher training session went well.  There are challenges , quite expected, yet I'm feeling good about my work.
'Ooblick' play, a 1st

  Well the rains have stopped for now, I certainly hope it's the beginning of the end of rainy season.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sept rains

   I heard and saw footage of the floods in Vt.  It sounded pretty rough for some folks and I know there is still a big recovery effort underway and fundraising to help communities.  We have been getting lots of rain in SR, that's an understatement, many streets are flooded.  I don't want to minimize the devastation in Vt. yet I can't help but think of the folks here who are affected by the flooding and the comparison with Vt.  This happens almost every year here to some degree though this year seems particularly bad and early.  There have been several deaths related to the flooding.  Unfortunately here there is no FEMA, no emergency relief, no food shelves, no Phish to raise a million bucks. The people with dirt floors who get flooded out I can't imagine where and how they get help.  Yet life goes on, folks ride their bikes and motos through ankle to almost hip deep water, outdoor markets open in spite of streams running thru them.  It's impossible to avoid flooded streets if you want to go anywhere.

  And we are lucky, our place has only a bit of water in our yard, many ex-pats along with Khmers have been flooded out of their homes.  We squegee our balcony, put on rain gear and venture out.  We wash our feet/legs when we return, don't want to think of what's in the street water. And with all the rain tennis gets cancelled, not so much a hardship.  So we are fairly comfortable.

 Lately I've been missing home, Vt.  Maybe it's the time of year, Fall in Vt. is the best.  Crisp apples, the Fall leaves, Octoberfest micro-brews, the cool evenings.  And of course really missing our good friends and family back home.  Though at this point not in a hurry to return, just a bit of homesickness.  Perhaps a cheeseburger will help.

  And in spite of the rains I have been playing some tennis.  I've been having some great matches, sometime winning and sometimes not.  I finally took 2 of 3 sets from a guy I play who's very good.  I didn't think it was possible for me to accomplish that.  But I feel my game has improved and feel I'm in great shape for an old fart.  Watch out when I do return  to Vt.

  And work has been very satisfying.  I am having fun and being challenged in my work of teaching the teachers.  Not only is the language a factor as one of the teachers has very limited English and the other is only slightly better.  So when we do the training their supervisor has to translate for the most part and his English is good but not great.  In any case we are all committed to having the program work so it's been good and interesting.  I am still looking forward to teaching several teachers at another place so this is good practice.  I was also approached by a woman wanting help setting up a PS program, virtually from scratch.  Sounds like it could be exciting, we'll see what develops.

  All is well and wet.  The rains shall pass as all things do.  "All things must pass."  -G. H.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

One Year

  Yes we're approaching one year of living in Cambodia.  I believed we arrived the 27 or 29 of August last year. Our thought last year before we left was that 'a year will go by fast and it may take us that long to figure out what we'll do here' proved to be true.  And that 'we would most likely know by year's end if we were happy about being here' also was accurate.  We have found what we can do here and we are happy to be living in Cambodia.

   Which makes me think why do I like being here?  I am going to list those reasons that come to mind.

  •  I like the warm weather, I even somewhat like the high temps.  I even like playing tennis under the blazing sun with high humidity.  Though it is nice to have cloud cover at times.  

  • I like no rather love that I am riding my bike everyday and don't have a car.  It is an adventure every time I get on my bike and have to negotiate the traffic.  It's a game it's a dance it's hard to explain. There are rules but not comparable to our traffic/biking ones at home.  And it's not just the traffic that needs negotiating the roads too, both paved and dirt/rock.  Staying alert is key.

  • I like that I can play tennis outside year round.  I absolutely think I have improved my game, I've been playing some very good players here.  I'd be kicking ass back home, ha ha.  

  • I like that I am meeting and talking to and making friends with Khmers as well as folks from all over the world.

  • I like that it's a young crowd here, both Khmers and ex-pats.  The vitality and energy of the young is wonderful.  There are certainly some of my cohorts here and I do miss at times that dynamic.

  •    I do like the beauty of the Khmers, ok I'm talking about the beautiful women here.  'Nuff said.

  • I like being able to go out to eat whenever because it can be so inexpensive AND good.

  • I love the open air food markets.  The fresh produce. The fruit. The fish.  I could go on but let just say it's been great trying new and delicious fruits, greens, fish, vegetables. I eat so much better here, fish often.
  • I like my big kitchen, our balcony, being outside almost all the time, as we 'live' on the balcony.

  • I like seeing the fruit bats in the night sky off our balcony, hundreds of them pass by.

  • I love seeing so many kids here and being able to work with some of them and seeing them learn and discover.

      I'm sure there are other factors contributing to being comfortable here, perhaps some that are difficult to articulate.  For example I feel that my brain is being challenged in new and different ways: figuring out Khmer culture, trying to understand accents (around the world accents) is a challenge for me, the language, and more. Gotta keep that brain active as a way to avoid 'oldtimers' disease (Alz.) as my kids used to say.  .

  I just discovered how delicious passion fruit is, it's got that sweet/sour mix I love. And they are @ 6 for a buck.   How could I have been here a year and not found this out sooner?  Well many new fruits here is my excuse.  How many more out there?!

  So a year has indeed come and gone and it's been fabulous.  No thoughts yet about returning to the States, though lately I'm missing and thinking about friends and family back home, just looking forward to the 2nd year.


Monday, July 11, 2011

Happy Indy Day

   I hope folks back in Vermont are enjoying the Summer months, a great time to be in the Green Mountain state.  People are going to be crowding Waterfront Park and the shores of Lake Champlain for the fireworks in Burlington on the 3rd.  I'll miss them, they are great.  I remember some years wondering 'how much longer can they go on?'  (Yes I started the entry a few days back, but I liked my opening)  Going to try to at least write a blog a month, so far so good.

  We've been back here just over a month after our trip back to the States in May.  And it seems like a lot has happened.  I am much clearer about how I can help here.   I mentioned 2 places in my last entry that work with children.  I've been going to the preschool that has @ 15 3-5 year olds.  The 2 Khmer teachers there seem very caring and I've been impressed by their skills in working with the kids, especially the male teacher, it's a husband and wife team.  I've brought materials ( I still make the best playdough) offered suggestions, and advice.  I spend a bit of time with the kids but make sure the primary caregivers are the teachers.  Hardly any English teaching.  Which is how it is set up at this school.  Half the kids are actually Vietnamese, all poor and so the Khmer language and culture is emphasized.

  There of course are challenges. The husband has almost no English and the wife's is ok.  The director speaks pretty good English, it's me that has such a hard time with accents.  Not surprisingly children spending their time playing is not seen as learning.  Fortunately 2 Australians involved are both educators.  A young woman, 25, oversees the program but is busy with other programs within the organization.  That's why the other Australian and I have been recruited.  The young woman is very bright with such a great way about her.  The org is well run and respected.  So this is such a welcome change from the mismanaged (to put it mildly) NGO I was at previously with 50-100 kids.

  I've only been here there a few weeks and have been involved in the room design and will be doing a weekly training.  I've already talked a bit with the teachers (with a translator) about the importance of kids playing and moving when they are 3-5 years old.  They looked a bit like they thought I was crazy.  This should be very interesting.  I'll also be doing some teacher training at the orphanage I mentioned in the previous post, the woman in charge of that program is returning this week.  Looking forward to working there, the woman is  actually an Early Childhood Educator.  Both places also seemed interested that I'm a Social Worker indicating a possibility for me to contribute some of that knowledge down the line.  I most likely will get a stipend from the school!  Enough I hope to pay for my tennis obsession, more on that later.

   And I've been trying to help the children's hospital here get in place a Social Work program.  They have a Home Care program at the hospital mostly with medical folks, though similar to the VNA's home visitors they do some 'social work'.  Yet no trained Social Workers are on staff.  They only recently graduated the 1st class of Social Workers from a university in Phnom Phen.  Some question their skill levels.  In any case I was able to go on a home visit, an hour's drive out in the country to a poor village.  And actually considering, NGO network,  the situation of families here and the challenges I thought they did well.  There are so many NGO's here that it's hard to get a handle on who offers what.  So I've been meeting with some and trying to get a feel for where the hospital can refer: and give info on   Time consuming.

  So I've been a bit busy but still have time for tennis and social gatherings.  There seems to be an explosion of social and other activity here among expats.  New facebook pages: including classified ads, book swap, NGO network, happenings.   Just a general vibrancy and we're making some good friends and connections.  Tennis has been great.  Iwas rained out a couple of times but the rain has been holding off for the most and I've been getting to play 3-4 times a week and have a standing 6am time weekly.
  Still loving it here and if I was asked the best time of year to visit I'd be hard pressed to give an answer.  It seems to be just good weather and hard to predict when it would be most pleasant.  However there are less t tourists certain times of the year.  And we are moving towards being here a year.

  Some folks may have heard but my son Skyler is moving back to Burlington, and most likely will start work at the Trat.  He has plans to open a place of his own with a chef buddy.  He'll need all the luck he can get on that endeavor.  He's traveling this week, driving with his girlfriend, Jenny.   Safe travels guys.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Home is Where the Warmth is

   Well it's been over 2 months since I last posted, if anyone cares, apologies.  No excuse other than feeling busy and being a lazy blog writer. I was also in the States for a month and it didn't make too much sense to blog and we were so busy there (a year's worth of social engagements in 3 weeks).  The trip to the States was fun and it was great to see folks.  A BIG thanks to family and friends who put us up and put up with us.  Folks were so very kind and generous to treat us to meals out and home cooked.  And let us borrow their cars so we could get around in the rain and cold.  The weather could have been a bit warmer and drier.  In any case we had wonderful and precious times with family and friends.  And we saw our son Dylan get married in the Bahamas, a relaxed mellow 3 nights there. Congrats to Dylan and Alanna!  Difficult to say to say when we'll make it back to the USA, we hope we convinced some folks to visit us in Cambodia.

  And going 'home' to the States and coming back to Siem Reap really made me feel like SR is home now.  It's been a little over a week and it is just so good to be back.  Nothing against Vermont, it is such a very beautiful state, and I do genuinely miss seeing my friends and family.  Yet as I said I'm home.  I can ride my bike again, eat grilled fish, mangoes and other tropical fruits, lay in the hammock, drink cheap beer, (but oh I miss the microbrews), and sweat.  I realize I like to sweat and much prefer hot to cold weather.  Perhaps it's my southern Italian and Puerto Rican heritage.  Good also to be back hanging out with Jaz and Sovann.  And the US is so damn expensive, it's good to be back to the 3 and 4 dollar entrees and 50 cent drafts.

   Shortly before we left for the US I had pretty much made the decision to leave my morning work at New Hope.  I am surprised I was there for so long, I just fooled myself into thinking some change would happen, eternally the optimist.  It became clear that would not happen and in fact things were getting worse.  I'm including in this post my resignation letter.  So my work there ended last week.  It was definitely the right decision.  This was reinforced when 50 more kids were added to the program a week or so before I returned, doubling the numbers, in the PS/K class I was in.  As usual this was done without forethought as to the impact on kids or staff.  There was no planning or discussion with staff.  And of course no registration of the kids.  I know this because I asked the 'director', teachers and volunteers. Unfortunately it's pretty typical as to how they operate.

   I've come to realize I should rethink the work I do here.  I've recently talked to folks who have been doing work here for a number of years and have also read some insightful pieces about volunteering in 3rd world countries.  Working with young children is my passion and I can understand why folks want to help.  However it should be well thought out.  For example is it necessarily a good thing when someone volunteers for a couple of weeks or even a month?  One can form attachments to kids and more importantly the reverse happens and then one suddenly leaves.  And this can happen to a child over and over.  Think abandonment issues might be in play here?  Those issues are already at play especially when talking about so called 'orphanages'.  I was naive as the next person, but I'm learning.

  So I've been encouraged to use my knowledge and experience in a more useful way and with more thought towards sustainability.  In other words for example teach and support the Khmer teachers and impart information where needed.  Which means avoid direct teaching/caregiving.  I'm still trying to figure out what this means for my work here.  However there are 2 places already where I may be able to help the teachers.  Sangkheum Center has been in Siem Reap for 10 years and has a good rep.  I am hoping to do some teacher training around child development and childcare.  Another place, a new school with 15 3-5 year olds has asked for some advice/support from me.  I've already ready brought them some preschool materials and books.  Which made me think about the 'toy van' that was in place in Burlington.  It would go to childcare centers loaning toys/materials on a rotating basis.  I have lots of 'stuff', perhaps I could start a 'toy bike' thing.  Hmm I'll have to bounce that idea off Jess.

  There is also the possibility of supporting the Social Work program at Angkor Hospital for Children.  Both Jess and I are talking to them, it certainly would be fun to work with Jess again.  I am still volunteering at AHC, working directly with kids.  What's up with that after all I've stated?  For now I am justifying that because the kids I see I usually only see once as they are waiting to see the doctors and I'm just relieving their boredom.  Khmers work with the in patient kids.  Like I said I'm still struggling with what is best for me to do here.

  I am back to enjoying the great fresh food here but have only been able to play tennis twice.  I got whopped both times.  My game suffers when I take a break, stamina goes and I'm just off a bit.  And I gained weight in the States.  Nevertheless it was great to get on the court, I only played once in the USA, thanks Ted.  Unfortunately I don't have my membership at Raffles anymore.  I will most likely join another hotel that has courts  Nice courts and I'm hoping to find a 'partner' to join with as a couple as it's much cheaper.  I miss playing already.

 Thanks again to all back in the US for everything.  COME VISIT, you'll love it!  Below is my letter of resignation.

  To whom it may concern,
   To make it simple I am leaving New Hope because of the poor management and lack of knowledge  regarding the education of children displayed by Kenneth.
    For those interested I want you to know why I’m leaving New Hope after 8 months of volunteering 5 mornings a week.  From the start it was apparent that there was a lack of knowledge of what is effective in teaching young children.  After a few months it was obvious that Kenneth’s autocratic and poor  management style and a lack of knowledge of education in general was hampering any efforts for changes.  Input from teachers and staff is not valued and communication with staff is poor at best.  I respect and like the teachers and the support staff at NH.   The relationships I was forming with the children made it difficult to end my work there. I struggled for months over whether I should stay or leave but now I find I can no longer tolerate these deficiencies and any hope for change seems even more remote.  It is not a place I can take pride in being a part of.  Below is a sampling of events leading me to this decision. 
-       As recent as last month I was told children as young as 3 should be in chairs at tables to learn (young children learn best through child directed play)
-        ‘Weekly’ meetings with teachers happen once a month at best
-       Teacher and volunteer concerns about student registration, assessments and placements have continually been raised but never adequately addressed 
-       Class sizes doubled or increased by 1/3 overnight without any discussion before or after as to the impact of the increases on students or teachers
-       Two special events happened combining all the classes without discussions or planning with teachers ( it would have taken little effort to avoid the chaos that occurred)
-       A teacher who has been there 6 months has been assigned to 3 different classes with 3 sets of students  (consistency and a relationship between teacher and student is key to learning, any decent educator knows this)
-       I’ve had children pulled randomly from my class to move up to a higher grade without consulting me or my fellow Khmer teacher as to which child is the most ready to move up
-        No effort is made to have activities for the girls and younger children when the older boys play football on Fridays ( many volunteers over the past 8 months have made doable suggestions)

-       Months ago a good feedback survey was developed by a volunteer for volunteers to fill out after the end of their stay and was never distributed  ( apparently input and feedback is not wanted)
   I’m writing this to clarify why I need to leave.  I want to thank all who have been helpful and welcoming to me.
                                                                                                                           Steve Mojica

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Beaches, mountains and scamorza

   We finally visited a couple of other regions/provinces in Cambodia.  We took a wonderful trip with 2 couples from Hungary for a week.  One couple is our good friends Andras and Eszter who we've known just about since we arrived here.  The other couple we met on the trip, their friends, who were great folks also.  Oh actually the woman is from Latvia, living in Hungary.

  So we 1st spent a night in Phnom Penh which I haven't seen much of.  And now have no great desire to revisit. It just seemed too big and so different from SR.  Though I did want to visit the Kingdom Brewpub, a recently opened 1st ever micro-brew pub in Cambodia.  I do miss the microbrews of the US especially Vt. pale ales.  We searched out a Mex place, I know weird but it's what we did with the couple in SR, and found a good one.  Though before we went there we entered another place that served mex food but found it also apparently served up women.  As we walked in we realized it was filled with Western men and flashy Khmer women.  It was obvious that the women were 'professionals'.   We kinda got odd looks and decided perhaps we were in the wrong place and quickly left.  Then we noticed on that street the bars were named Pussy Cat Club, 69 Club and the like.  Not too discreetly named as the place we entered.  An odd experience.
Phnom Penh
  Mondulkiri is one of the provinces with mountains we visited and had a great time.  It was cooler and seemed to not have mosquitos.  They are really not that bad in SR but they are present. The highlights of our days there were riding elephants and washing elephants.  And going to see these impressive waterfalls.  It's a town and region that will most likely see a lot of growth, tourism, soon.  A road there was just built last year and it makes it so much quicker to get to and accessible in rainy season when everything turns green, like Vermont. We also had great times talking to some local folks there.

  From Mondulkiri we headed to the beach!  We went to an island Koh Rung Soloem off of Sihanoukville. Specifically Lazy Beach  What a wonderful time we had there being lazy.  The beaches were white sand and the water was crystal clear, and virtually no one on the beach that stretched out a long ways.  The bungalows were sparten but clean and with showers and hammocks on the porch.  Only 14 of them spread far apart and all overlooking the water.  What added to the enjoyment of that was that the food served at the restaurant, the only food available, was excellent.
Spicy Shrimp
 We spent our few days there not doing a lot, well it is Lazy Beach after all.  We did take a hike through the forest, 25 min walk actually, to another deserted beach.  And we did have a few games of  Uno.  We ate, drank, talked and I got maybe the 4th sunburn in my life.  Not bad at all but I did peel. So it was great to see other parts of Cambodia and now has us itching to see more.
Lazy Beach
That's Lazy Beach down there
Our Bungalow
  So we left there and headed back to Phnom Penh to say our final sad goodbyes to our Eastern European friends.  We did promise them that we would visit them in Budapest.  I've always wanted to visit Easter Europe and now we have friends to show us what I believe is a beautiful city.  We will go at some point.
Jess, Andras, Eszter, Olga and Gabor , me

  Back to routine of SR.  And there is a routine now firmly established here.  I like both the gigs I'm involved with as I've stated previously.  And it seems like we still need to visit some eating establishments here that we've heard are good.  We did go to a fairly new Italian place.  Though a bit pricey, for here, the food was fantastic.  We especially liked a dish that we loved to eat at the Trattoria Delia in Burlington, Vt., scamorza alla griglia, (smoked mozzarella with grilled veggies).   We stared at each other elated as we took our 1st bite  as it tasted just like the Trat's dish.   The wine was good and Jess loved her gnoochi with porcini and cheeses and my spag Bolognese was delicious.  Then the true test, panna cotta!  Wow it was fantastic!  Don't know how much we'll make our way there but it's great just knowing it's there.
Teacher Srey Mien, Makarai, me, Eli from Portland , Ore., kids

  We met one of the owners, an Italian who has restaurants in Italy but said it's nearly impossible to open places there.  So they decided to open a place in SR. Lucky us.  And I understand one of the owners plays tennis with a Belgian guy I play.  Another potential partner on the courts!

   Weather has been surprisingly pleasant and also surprisingly it rained a few days in a row.  Not typical for this time of year.  Normally it's hotter and no rain, so we're enjoying the oddity.  Folks keep telling us just wait, and we have been here in April so we do know it will get hot and humid soon.

  Just a thought about foods and eating here.  I am eating more fish and fruit here than I did at home.  I think significantly more.  And more pork and less chicken, but maybe more meat in general, beef also.  Veggies about the same perhaps though maybe more greens.  More beer and water and less wine.  I have lost a bit of weight.  Maybe because of riding my bike so much, have I mentioned I love riding my bike, or maybe I'm just getting old.  On the other hand I'm still holding my own on the tennis courts beating 'youngsters' in their 20's-40's.  Ha ha.

  We'll be heading to Vt. in May and very much looking forward to that.  I'm very curious as to how it will feel to be back in the states, back to an American/Western culture scene.  And then to return 'home' after almost a month 'home'.  We'll see.

a great dad and kid pic

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Winter warmth

  It seems to be getting warmer and more humid as the days go by.  Though at times it may be 90 but low humidity and that feels fine.  I've been busy.  Busy in the mornings at the NGO and busy in the afternoon at the children's hospital.  I've also been busy playing tennis, on average 3 times a week, which is great considering there was some doubt about me being able to play at all here.

 The past week and a half has been lots of fun as we have guests from Vt.  It's wonderful to have folks here who have 'fresh eyes' and enjoy us showing them around Siem Reap.  Our friend Alison is here with her 2 kids Willa and Julian.  A girl, 13, and boy, 10, respectively.  They are lovely kids as is mom and it's been a pleasure having company.  I get a kick out of the boy as he very much reminds me of Skyler when he was his age.  For example he's obsessed with soccer/futbol, though Sky played soccer I think baseball was more his obsession.  In fact might still be.

  I am still at the NGO that treated Jess so poorly.  Why?  The kids of course.  I have tried to justify my position on this, weak as that was, I just can't bring myself to leave.  I don't deal with the bullshit there, I just concentrate on the kids.  I have lots of materials, many thanks to all back home who were involved in sending the much needed supplies.  Everything is being put to use.  I also have somewhat of a budget to mostly buy consumables, clay, flour for playdough,water colors etc...  We have a good daily routine and one of the Khmer teachers is especially good.  As I've stated in the previous post the class is split for the 1st part of the morning.  Higher level kids in the 'hut' doing more formal learning, though still with play and fun involved.  And the 2nd group of kids outside involved in preschool type activities.  Though recently we've been introducing more learning or at least giving exposure to numbers, letters, colors etc.. to many of those kids.

 Most often I am in the 'hut' but not always and I do often float between the 2 spaces.  Which reminds me of my work at the FR.  The 2nd part of the morning we are all together which is good because I get to interact with all the kids still.  Well here's one reason I am sticking with this gig: a few of the kids who have moved up to the next 'grade level' have come to me showing me what new words they are learning.  Yes I do see progress, the kids are learning and not just learning but there is a confidence I see in them and enthusiasm for learning.  I'd like to think I had a part in that.  I am still very much enjoying my time with these kids and there are new kids all the time which means new challenges.  This I like and need actually.  

  The hospital work is very different, which is good.  I see different kids and parents every day and interact with many parents.  There are some repeat folks as kids I imagine have to come in for treatments and/or follow-up care.  Let me see if I can articulate what I do there.  I sit on a kid's preschool chair at a low table with kids also sitting around it as well as parents.  Wait a minute that sounds like the FR scene!  Ok it's a bit different as few speak English, hmmm that was the case often at the FR also with so many refugees/'new' Americans.  Well in any case there is the occasional kid or parent that does speak English.  And of course I am the one who doesn't speak the language of the country I'm living in so the onus is on me to understand.

  Ok so what I'm doing is trying to relieve the boredom of them having to wait to be seen.  So mostly the kids are drawing and coloring and often the parents too.  But I have also brought in books and small manipulatives.    I had an especially good day there today.  The kids and sometime parents try to teach me words, mostly animals and fruits.  Three girls, about 9yrs. old were there today and they got a kick out of me trying to say different words they were trying to teach me.  The best part of my time there was when a mom brought over her baby @ 9 months old, maybe a bit older.  I gave her a flower drawing and she started coloring it.  Of course the baby wanted attention so at that point I wasn't tied up so I offered to take her.  And she gave her to me!!!  I got to hold a baby, it's been a while.  Before she started coloring I was amusing the baby and she had no problem with me holding her.  It was great.

  I interact and 'talk' with parents almost as much as I do with the kids.  And the parents, moms and dads, like to draw and color also.  One particular dad, and I've seen him twice, traces pictures of vegetables/fruits and writes the names in Khmer and then tells me and I write it in English and tell him.  Some parents ask where I'm from and ask how long I'm here for.  One rather interesting interactions I've had is 20 something moms asking me if I could help them find a Western boyfriend, mostly so they could move out of Cambodia.  One mom said she was married but would leave him if she found a European husband.

   It's been over a week since I started this blog so I'm going to finally post it and start a new one.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Belated Happy Chinese New Year!

   Time seems to be going by quickly, yeah what's new?  It was a good month at the school I would say mostly because of some key volunteers.  One was Eli the 13 yr. old daughter of a Portland, Oregon family who will be here till April and we had an actual kindergarten teacher from Australia, Jacqui, who was here for 3 weeks.  A woman Jan, Australian, has been great to have part of the class also.  Adding to the goodness are Care packages sent from home and from a former volunteer, Carol, from Australia.  The Portland family who've we've gotten to know, are like minded folks.  It's been wonderful to hang out with them, it feels like they're old friends.
  The family is here volunteering.  The dad is a Doc who is working at New Hope clinic part time and also doing some work with I believe a women's health organization.  Mom is doing some outreach work as a public health education advocate.  Their 18 yr. old son is working with an NGO installing wells.  Both kids are bright and mature.  And I've played tennis with dad!  What a bonus.  They live just blocks from Skyler in Portland, so when we live there we'll have some ready made friends.  Lovely folks.

  It was so good to have a K. teacher who fully understood what my philosophy is, play-based, and what the work with the kids is all about.  And she had some wonderful ideas that we were able to implement.  Specifically an assessment of the kid's skill levels was done.  Eli as well as the Khmer teachers, Srei Mien and Chenda, were up to the task, long overdue.  I feel I should have done this earlier but just didn't have the support I thought I needed.  You would think the admin./mngmnt. folks would take the lead on this, not some lowly volunteers.  But alas it's not what happens here.  In any case we now have 2 groups almost evenly divided.  We'll be able to concentrate on each group's abilities and have more appropriate activities and lessons for each group.  Always challenging and fun but now more manageable.

  That's what I do mornings, M-F.  In the afternoons now I go to the Angkor Hospital for Children and help the kids relieve the boredom of waiting.  It's fairly easy, mostly the kids color pictures I trace.  I also bring in some small manipulatives and books.  I love it as there are obviously new kids/parents every day.  Some kids I see repeatedly as they are in in-patient care I guess. Few kids or parents know English and my Khmer is much less than minimal.  So I mostly communicate through gestures etc... I realized I am somewhat used to that after working so many years with pre-verbal kids and new-English speaking refugees in Vt.  So I have met some wonderful kids and parents.  And some do have English.  One particular girl,10, had great English and helped me communicate with kids and parents.  An incredibly bright girl.  I hope that brightness brings her a good life.  It's hard not to think about lost potential of so many kids I interact with here.  The barriers and lack of resources for kids to succeed are enormous.  Such a shame.

  I've also met parents at the hospital and that's always fun.  The conversations often include questions of where I'm from, how long I'm here for and a thank you for being friendly and talking to them.  I ask them about their home province, their family and thank them for talking to me. It's all so interesting and fascinating.  I wish I could articulate better the interactions I have.  I love it.

  There is a chance also of doing some Social Work at the hospital too, a doctor/tennis partner friend told me last week that the head honcho, an American, wants to talk to me about some work in that area. We'll see what happens. I think it would be great to see if there is a possibility to do some parenting education.  That's quite a fantasy I know but as they say 'you never know'.   I've met several dads at the hospital and school and of course I can't help but fantasize about a group for dads, yeah crazy thoughts.  But.....

   The weather here has just been wonderful lately low 80's and breezy during the day with low humidity and no rain.  Mornings and nighttimes are cool, low 70's.  Sorry Vt and whereever else the weather is bad.  We are still meeting folks both Khmer and Westerners and discovering new places to eat. We seem to cook in and eat out equally.  And I've been finding new foods to cook and fruits to eat.  I've been playing tennis often enough and still am joyous about riding my bike daily.  Jess and I have gotten into riding our bikes out to the countrysides, so much fun seeing new areas of Siem Reap.  Have I mentioned how lucky I feel?

  However I am so looking forward to being in Vt. and seeing folks in May.    PICS:

Whew, most of the kids there I think.
Jan brought balloons. Chenda and Srei Mien

very cool

joint effort ? and Kvai

Theda likes the blocks

Soth has moved up but we have his brother now

Sopal learns fast

Go girls

the white shirt/ blue pants tells me she attends a Khmer school