Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wednesday in SR

  Much like Tues and Thursday I wake at 615.  Unlike Tues I do not make playdough.  I do have pb toast, banana and tea and check for email, facebook messages and read the news.  Then it's off to work at the preschool program, Lotus Kids Club (LKC).  I've mentioned how much I enjoy the the PS, it's mostly due to the children.  So let me tell you about the kids.  Half the children are Vietnamese and half are Khmer.  The teachers are aware of this and it appears to not make a difference to them, thankfully.  And of course the kids could care less.  One of the teachers is in fact Vietnamese.  I believe however that she's always lived in Cambodian as have the Vietnamese children and possibly some of the parents too.  I think I can tell the difference between the kids physically but I could be fooling myself.  There is talk among the kids in Vietnamese so it's helpful to have a Vietnamese speaker.  For the most part the V. kids understand Khmer but some are not entirely fluent.  Part of the reason they attend the program is to learn about Khmer culture and the language.  This is important in order to attend public school.
Body drawings at LKC PS
Water play at LKC PS

  There are 2 sisters, Khmer, in the program and the younger one found it difficult to separate from older sis when the school year started.  Some of the older kids have a short session on learning more formally the Khmer alphabet.  We had a meeting and plan in place to address the issue.  More quickly than we anticipated she separated as she discovered the play materials and playmates.  Also support from the teachers was helpful.   The older sis, a bit quiet and shy, took readily to doing puzzles, her younger sis followed suit and both are masters of the puzzle area.  I like that the older sis has also been freehand drawing, drawing often Khmer princesses, Khmer wedding dresses, she's getting good.  Most of the kids will draw but often like tracing or just coloring pictures.
all love this puzzle  LKC PS

  It's been most interesting watching the kids' play become more mature and complex.  When the school year began it seemed like all the kids would be at the playdough table.  Now days may go by without the playdough being touched.  Dramatic play (pretend play) has increased.  And lately hairdressing is the rage with both the girls and boys.  Once again 'tools' brought in are used in a different way then intended.  Water spray bottles were intended for coloring with colored water.  The kids did that for awhile and then decided to clean the walls and water plants.  A few days later one of the kids spayed and combed his hair.  This spread like wildfire and lead to the kids doing each others'.  And then the 'hair salon' happened and they started doing each other's hair complete with mirror and a sheet covering the designated recipient in a chair.  This continues and has spread to the afternoon program with older kids.  They all seem very concerned with their hair these days.
one hair station  LKC PS

  After the morning PS program ends with the kids I do a short training session with the teachers on early childhood development/education.  Then I head home for lunch, which may be leftovers or I'll stop at a stand I like to get grilled fish or meat sometimes.  But it can also be a simple stir fry or soup and of course rice.  Usually cost 1 to 2 dollars and is filling.  Some days I will get in a nap even for just a half hour or so.  A beer at lunch helps facilitate this, in this heat a beer goes down easy.

  The afternoon program for kids of all ages runs from 2-4.  Wed is the designated sports and games day.  This means some simple board games, frisbee, ball play, skipping rope, hula hoops and some Khmer games.      How quickly the kids learned how to hula hoop, play frisbee and understand the board games.  Even the Western game Sorry was learned quickly.  To learn Sorry was an interesting and initially challenging process.  If you know the game there is quite a bit to remember so coaching through the game was necessary at first.  The afternoon program is growing and evolving nicely.
LKC Aft. Prog.

  After the program ends I most likely on Wednesdays go to play tennis for a couple of hours or so.  I'm hot, thirsty and hungry at this point (it's in the 90's these days).  Dinner could be purchased on the way home at a Khmer food stand/open-air restaurant.  I'll sit and have a beer while I wait for a stir fry with noodles or rice. Dinner for two 12,000 riel (3 dollars) and a beer for 4,000.  I usually leave a 1 to 2 thousand riel tip, big spender that I am.  Or I could stop and get a delicious and filling falafel and hummus pita from a newly discovered place run by an Israeli.  That will put me back 7 dollars for 2.  And also a modest tip.  As a side note many people do not tip, even Americans who should be used to tipping.  Sometimes I get odd looks but I was in the biz and received my fair share so this is payback.  Or is that pay it forward?   We do have a variety of cuisine options (though not a lot of variety within those cuisines) for dinner also.  Almost everything is available from pizza and mex food, to steak and Guiness pie, a Brit/Aussie thing and very good especially with onion gravy mash potatoes.  Pizza and usually mex food can be delivered and we've gotten marguritas in a bag delivered as well.  It's a tough life here.   I/we do try to cook at least 3x a week though not always successful.  Difficult when the food here is so cheap and good.
the courts have been repainted since this pic was taken
frog legs w/ onions

  Usually my day ends on the balcony in altered states of consciousness unless there is a social event or possibly live music somewhere.  We have discovered how to download cable tv shows and movies so after perhaps watching a show sleep comes at anywhere from 930 to midnight.  Goodnight.
we have many more plants now

ahh sleep


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tues. S.R.

  Happy Khmer New Year!  It's tomorrow, Fri., so I have off for a week.  Also I have to mention how pleasant the weather has been comparatively speaking.  Mornings especially seem to be so.  April is known to be oppressively hot and humid.  This April so far has been actually like last April which was uncharacteristically pleasant also. Who knows what's up!?

  On Tuesdays I wake at 615 or so, have my usual breakfast: toast w/ peanut butter, bananas and tea.  I say bananaS because of the many varieties of them here I like the sweet like candy, very small ones.  A Khmer called them "monkey bananas".  They are delicious!  Another kind of banana I like are green yet ripe and also delicious, these are regular size.  So after reading my email, facebook and checking a variety of news sources on the internet I leave for work around 730.  Tuesdays begins 3 days of work at my main job.   Oh and Tuesday mornings I make playdough for the week for the Lotus Kids' Club (LKC) preschool.  I have taught the teachers how to make it but for now I am the designated maker.

  At LKC I am the consultant for the programs.  I've helped set up the space and have been teaching the teachers about early childhood development/education.  I originally wasn't the main consultant for the afternoon all ages program but I am now.  I'm learning more and more about school-age kids.  I've talked previously about how great and dedicated the teachers are and willing to learn from this crazy old barang (term for foreigners) with his unusual ideas about children.  The main teacher, Chantheurn, is on maternity leave, a govt. mandated 3 months off.  Her husband, Ratha, is the teacher/social worker and there are 3 young woman, 24, 20 and 15, who are the other teachers.  Teachers and social workers are terms used loosely.  Some get some formal training and the quality of that is often questionable.  In any case I am impressed by what I see and hear considering the circumstances.  None of the teachers speaks good English, the director translates and his English is good but not great.  I have to say though that their English is improving much more rapidly than my Khmer.  Ratha of late is 'feeding' me Khmer words.  There is a lot of gesturing and 'sign' language.  I communicate with the kids in the same way.  I imagine it would be pretty amusing to watch our interactions.

  I certainly interact with the children, there are 21 in the PS program.  I make a point though of not being in the role as the primary teacher.  I act more as the manager of the program, somewhat similar to my role at the Family Room when I worked in Vermont.  The program is from 730-11 M-F.  Of course the children are wonderful.  I've watched so many of the children grow and learn.  On her 1st day one girl just stood by the door and sobbed.  The next couple of days she gradually moved closer observing the action.  By week's end she was cautiously participating.  In the next several weeks she would mostly play alone, eventually she joined others in play.  She didn't seem to talk or smile though.  This gradually changed after a few months and now she's made friends, she'll sing songs, and often will flash smiles.  She's bloomed.  She reminded me of Jaz a bit, as Jaz was a stone faced observer when she attended pre-school.

  There's one little guy who was a challenge not wanting to participate in activities, starting conflicts with other kids and generally vying for attention with negative behavior.  He seemed to have a face of anger and sadness.      It took a little time but this is the kid now who is the 1st to help clean up at program's end.  And I love his boisterous laugh.  He's still a bit of a wiseguy though now it's not mean spirted but joyful.  It reinforced my beliefs about young children and how they gain confidence and make appropriate choices if they are in the right environment with caring support.

  I think about the 2 little guys who were in conflict it seemed constantly.  After weeks of appropriate support and intervention these 2 guys are the best of buddies, of course with occasional conflicts but usually easily resolved.  They are the 2 kids that are constantly on the move and together find ways to use materials and equipment creatively.  I wish I knew what they talk to each other about, they seem to be always jabbering about something as they play.  These kids have shown me that my ideas may be ok but they have their own agenda.  I brought in pieces of hose and funnels for the water table thinking they'd be great to pour the water through.  They used them as a telephone line talking and listening to each other through the hoses and funnels and laughing hysterically.  They both can be focused on an activity for long periods also, one prefers building w/ legos, the other likes puzzles.  They are fun to watch.

  At 11 after the program ends we talk about the kids, child development/education and plan.  I leave at around 1145 for lunch and a nap.  This is typical here for schools and some businesses to take a 2-3 hour break.  Our landlord downstairs usually comes home for lunch with his family and will often nap in a hammock before returning to work.  Needless to say it's hot mid-day.  Lunch for me is leftovers or food from one of the many stands.  There is grilled fish/meat, soups, stir-frys, and various pots of food.  I often get fish.  And lunch can cost a dollar or two and I'll be quite full.  Lunch will sometimes include a beer, helps with the nap-taking.  Sometimes Jess is home for lunch.

  I return on Tuesdays to LKC for the Afternoon Program at 2.  All children are welcome to attend, so we have kids from under 2 to teens, anywhere from 15-30+ kids.  It has taken a while but we seem to have a good system now.  Mon and Tues arts and crafts is the focus, Wed is sports and games, Fri is music and movement (Ratha plays guitar).  Thurs is staff mtg. and once a month rice/food giveaway and a parent's meeting. In this program I've discovered the joys of working with school age kids.  My former workmates in Vermont will laugh as I resisted efforts to include older kids in programs at the FR.  Oh you guys would be shocked to see what I have to let slide and how tolerant and flexible I am here out of necessity.

  I am truly impressed with the older kids.  Their creativity, intelligence and talents are a wonderful surprise.  There are several kids that show real artistic abilities.  We've recruited a few of those kids to help lead activities for the kids.  One young girl around 12 or 13 has lead a craft project bringing in her own idea.  We are trying our best to support and encourage these children as they all live in challenging conditions and live hand to mouth with the real possibility of not having enough to eat.  Yet these kids are thoughtful, caring and still have a zest for life.  I think and hope we are providing a way to express themselves or at the very least learn about who they are and what potential they have.  I'm talking about all the kids not just the artistically talented ones but the kid who masters the hula hoop or completes a complicated puzzle.  I hope we provide experiences that boost self confidence and lead children on a path to success in whatever they endeavor to accomplish.  In any case big kids are fun.

  I head home around 4 and usually don't play tennis on Tuesdays, gotta take at least one day off especially considering I've probably played Fri-Mon.  If I didn't get to nap at lunchtime I may try for  a snooze.  Sometimes Tues I make dinner and it's usually Western type food.  You can get good Asian food here so it's what I make the least I think, perhaps the opposite of my cooking in Vt.  All kinds of Western food is available here but not a huge variety and sometimes more expensive.  Or we'll get take out or eat out on Tues.
A couple of Tuesdays ago we attended a event called Nerd Night.  It's a fun get together at a different restaurant/bar every month.  There are 6-8 speakers, each talking about a passion or interest for 6min 40sec with 20 slides changing every 20 seconds (00:06:40).  It's always an informative and fun evening attended by mostly Westerners but also Khmers and usually one Khmer will present.  It's been happening for several months now and I presented at the 1st one.  I had a weak and slightly drunk moment when asked to present and said yes.  My talk was on my passion/obsession with food.  A mostly 'tongue in cheek' talk.  I hit the sack anywhere between 9 and midnight, reading or watching some show on the computer.

  I hope my next blog entry is more exciting regarding my Wednesdays.



Sunday, April 1, 2012

No April Fool....

  ........this is a blog entry after a long absence.  Why that is I'm not sure.
  Perhaps just laziness or maybe all the days just seem so routine so what's there to write about other than myself and who the hell wants to hear about the mundane pace of my life.  I'll try then to focus on Cambodia and the Khmers, remember I said "try".

 It's Monday early afternoon and I just finished teaching at an orphanage/school.  I started there a few weeks ago teaching the teachers about child development etc....  It's a well respected Italian NGO in Siem Reap, been here 10 years.  So every Monday I bike out there, a 40 minute easy ride.  I have been enjoying the sessions there, it's a wonderful setting.  Lots of space and well maintained.  And the teachers have been great.  Most do not speak English, so I apologize to them for not being able to speak Khmer.  The translator is very good.  I invite them to ask questions at any point during the teaching.  I also tell them they can ask me anything about the USA.  They surprise me with their level of participation and their questions.

  The questions concerning children and their development were very similar to what I've heard asked in the US.  I guess shouldn't be surprising as all parents face the same challenges worldwide.  The questions about life in America are more challenging.  I was asked if people who live in the countryside all have cars.  I said  that most do have a vehicle. One of the teachers stated that her belief was that a every family in the US has at least one car.  I had to explain that there is a level of poverty in the US.  Not comparable to Cambodia of course but that there are homeless people.  I was asked if children have to beg for food in order to eat.  How does one explain the disparity between the very wealthy, the middle/working class and the very poor.  It's true  that it's a rarity for a child to die of starvation.  I explained that there are places that the poor can get food (food shelves, soup kitchens etc...).  Then to explain our healthcare system, this has been a challenge to explain to anyone outside the US.  So I explained: "Well let's see if you are rich you can pay, if you're very poor the govt. pays, but if you work you have to pay and it is very expensive and sometimes working people can not afford to go to the doctor".  Yes challenging questions but I look forward to more.  The teachers truly want to learn and do a good job with the children and are willing to listen to the old barang and his crazy ideas about kids.

  After I leave there I bike to the hotel where I play tennis, about a 30 minute ride.  However I have made it a habit to stop at a little Khmer place for lunch on the way.  The place has very limited choices, usually a fish soup and maybe a meat and greens dish, sometimes grilled or dried fish.  Oh and of course steamed rice.  All quite tasty and free tea.  I usually have a beer also.  Hey it's almost noon, it's hot and I don't play tennis for at least 2 hours.  Total bill is 6000 riel (1.5 dollars).   I met a guy there who's from Myanmar (Burma) and we've chatted a few times.  He's been coming to Cambodia for a few years helping in the construction of a golf course (a Nick Faldo design).  They just had a tournament and a Korean- American from Calif. won.  We've had some interesting talks on a variety of topics including the "slow changes" happening in his country, Myanmar.  Very nice guy and he gave me some tips on where to go and what one can do in Myanmar.  I would like to visit there especially now as the country moves through a transition to hopefully more openness and freedom.

  After lunch I head off to the hotel for tennis.  It's usually a couple of hours till court time.  So I take a dip in the pool and grab a lounge chair and often get in a few winks.  Most often I will nap but I'll read or prepare lessons also.  After a few hours of tennis and a shower I head home around 530-600.  Mondays we'll either eat in or go grab dinner somewhere as is the case of course most nights.  This particular Monday is a monthly meeting called Casual Collaboration.  CC is a time for NGO workers to get together network and share experiences and eat, drink and be merry.  The event rotates between restaurants for meetings.  It's fun and a great way to meet folks.

  That's a typical Monday.  So next entry will be my Tuesday day.  Enjoy.