Saturday, May 26, 2012

Weekend! (Sat. & Sun.)

  Saturday a non-work day for the most part, yet I still often wake @ 630.  I almost always will play tennis early before the mid-day heat sets in.  Jess and I used to often go on a bike ride on the weekend to enjoy the SR countryside.  We would get lost but always find our way back home.  Some interesting sights we'd see.  We would come across 'Khmer mansions', very big houses always surrounded by a tall stone or concrete wall.  One would be by small wooden houses or thatched roof homes which were dwarfed by the monstrosities.  Another could be out in the middle of nowhere without any neighbors nearby.  I thought they always just seemed so out of place.  We would come across partially built structures, in fact there are quite a few of these even in town.  We speculate that when the economic downturn happened money dried up and these places were abandoned.  There are commercial/housing projects sprinkled around SR that are mostly empty.  Though I have noticed some of these seem to be getting tenants lately.  Perhaps a sign of the economy improving.  Occasionally we would come across folks selling food that we were not familiar with, like 'cookies' or prepared foods.  Or we would discover someone selling a fruit we haven't tried yet.  After almost 2 years I still find a new fruit I haven't tried.
getting my bike washed at a moto cleaning place

  I enjoyed those rides, but unfortunately shortly after Jess got her moto the weekend rides ended.  I suppose I could get on the road solo.  But I miss those rides, it was fun even if we got caught in the rain.  It was fun doing something physical with Jess, I miss the shared experience.  In Vermont we always said we would get out and ride our bikes when the weather got nice, but we really never did.  I kinda knew once Jess got the moto her bike would sprout cobwebs, it has.  Change happens.

  So Saturdays can vary in what happens after tennis.  It can include visits on our balcony from friends, both Khmer and Western.  Or just a mellow day computering or reading.  A nap can be a part of Saturday and often is.  Like in Vt. it's a day to play catch up doing errands not able to get to during the week.  Evenings we may eat at home or meet friends for dinner.  There seems always to be  a new place to try or we'll go to a tried and true place.  There are also a fair amount of social events in SR, I think we go out more often here that when we lived in Vt.  And there seems to be a goodbye party (leave do's as the Brits say) for somebody every other week, well that's an exaggeration but they do happen on a regular basis.  It could be for folks we know well or casually.  There is a joke among ex-pats here that when you meet someone new in town one of the 1st questions asked is 'how long will you be here?'  The thought is if someone is here let's say less than 6 months is the effort worth it only to be sad once again when they leave.  Like I said it's a joke so I think we all risk the potential future pain of saying goodbye to short timers.
on the balcony or now known as 'the porch'
favorite place with favorite people

  I try to catch live music any night of the week and probably more happens on the weekend.  Opportunities to see live music is somewhat limited.  However there are some good acts here.  One band, my favorite to see, is called Cambojam.  They have some original songs but do quite a variety of covers.  The band members seem to be a expats and perhaps a Khmer guy.  I've met a few and know one's American, another  from Singapore, and one is from France.  Others not sure, perhaps Australian or Belgium.  They play anything from a song from the play 'Hair', to old rock tunes to 'Don't Worry be Happy' to Marley tunes.  There are some jazz players here including a woman with a very good voice.  There's also some folks in town who play acoustic material in a folk/rock vein.  On guy in particular from Austin who plays with various folks and usually plays weekly with a woman singer.  He's had at least a couple of different female vocalists.    He's the 'pool guy' here, he has a biz cleaning the hotel and guest house pools, nice guy.  And there some blues players here and they seem to fit the part of old grizzled musicians who have seen better days.  Well it's the blues after all, but they are pretty good.  Just like in Vt. I just don't get to see as much live music as I'd like.  That's what happens when you're beat by 9pm.  But here going out and drinking doesn't break your wallet, that's the good thing and not a deterrent as at home.

  Sunday is much like Saturday, a non work day.  It's a day off for lots of folks and no school for kids, Sat. is a school day here.  I again usually play tennis in the morning.  So another day of reading, errands, nap, and  eating, drinking and being merry.  We do have cable tv here for the whopping cost of 5 dollars a month and we do get quite a bit of channels.  ESPN, lots of other sports channels, BBC news, CNN, Discovery, Natl' Geo etc... oh and movie channels.  But I really only watch sports, we get a lot more tennis here and of course, futbol or soccer as us Yanks say.  But I don't even watch sports that much.  We discovered that we can download almost all tv series, cable and otherwise and movies also.

  Let me end by talking food.  There are items here that I should eat more of.  More greens, spring rolls (fresh and fried), nutella crepes which Khmers sell from carts, also these Vietnamese 'pancakes' which are huge and tasty.  They are a combo of meat and veggies and herbs and lettuce.  Love them. And these baguette sandwiches that Jaz used to get.  Ok some non-descrip meat in them but they look good.  They remind me of the sandwiches I used to get from the Viet markets in Burl.  Lately during the week I've been going to the same place to get lunch, take away lunch.  It's a little Khmer place that has pots of food and grilled foods, perhaps I've talked about this.  But one item they sometimes have is eggplant with minced pork.  It's a popular dish here and I love it.  Sometimes it's smoked eggplant and those are the best, one place in particular does a great one in that way.
a 'picnic' feast

just yum

quesadilla bites at a tex/mex plae

  One more thought.  I've talked about how food and drink is so cheap here.  But other expenses can be cheap also like clothes, shoes, socks, caps, getting some things repaired for example bikes.  I never liked spending money on clothes so it's ideal for me and I still, as in Vt., go to the used clothes places.

  Ok one corny joke to end:  I realize my bike is like the Amex card jingo "I don't leave home with out it."  That is pretty much true except when I get lazy and ride w/ Jess on her moto.  But that's rare as I don't like motos.   Looking forward to the visit to the States and most likely will not blog for the month.  Ciao!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

TGIF as they say

   Ahhh Fridays, end of the week, start of the weekend!  For a time I had Fridays as a 'catch-up with work at home day'.  But a few months back I started at an NGO teaching teachers at noon on Fridays.  So I played tennis in the morning.  When that noon gig ended I was able to increase my work at the NGO where I work on Monday mornings.  You may recall it's the well run Italian NGO ( been here 10 years).  It's an orphanage/school and I have been teaching the teachers there about childhood development/education.  I very much enjoy my work there, so I was glad to add the day.  Lately I've been teaching about positive discipline the past few weeks as the director there said it was urgently needed.

  So as with Mondays I am up around 6am and leave by 715am.  It's a 40 minute pleasant bicycle ride. There is often still cloud cover and the intense heat of the day has not arrived yet.  And I have yet to face a head wind which bothers me more than the heat.  I am afraid with rainy season starting I may be riding in the rain, well what's a little water and I have a raincoat.  The translator there knows I bike and offered me a ride out, but I truly do enjoy biking out there so I declined.  I think she was perhaps more concerned with my ride back at 11 or so when the heat can be intense.  But I make stops on my way back home and I like the heat.  I stop for lunch usually at the same place.  A friendly little Khmer place where I met a Burmese guy  working on a golf course and a Khmer who works at the International Hospital in SR.  Lunch is just a couple of items, often fish soup served with rice.  Sometimes there are veggies in the soups I don't recognize and sometimes meat I'm not familiar with.  The soup is very tasty though, and today the veg seemed a cross between green beans and okra.  There is always warm tea on the table and they bring a glass of ice for it.  I will have a beer also.  It's quite inexpensive easily less than 2 dollars including the tip I give which is always met with laughter.  I've never seen a Westerner there.

  And to break up the ride further I stop at the hotel where I play tennis.  I lay by the pool (where I am now) after a quick dip to cool off and wait a couple of hours for my tennis partner to show up.  It's the same routine as it is on Mondays I'll read, write and/or nap.  A great way to start and end the week.  And in fact I did just nap but now awake and I am hoping for some clouds to roll in for some shade on the court.

  On one Friday training session I ask the teachers to brainstorm on what they think children need in order to be ready to learn in school, to be successful.  I am looking for skills and characteristics.  I've done this exercise dozens of times in the States with parents as well as pre-school teachers.  I have never gotten the answer one of the Khmer teachers gave me.  She said "enough food to eat".  In fact it was the 1st answer.  It just highlighted for me one of the stark differences it is to be a child in Cambodia compared to the US.  Yes I know there are hungry kids in America but it's rare for a child to die of starvation or be extremely malnourished.  For the most part kids get their basic needs met.  Perhaps that statement can be disputed but I've never seen a child as emaciated  as I did one time when I did some work at the children's hospital.  I've never seen kids dressed in virtual rags as I often see here. The States certainly has it's health care issues and if you've read Jess's blogs it pales in comparison to here.  It makes me realize that although I grew up on welfare, in poverty and that I may have been hungry at times I was never in danger of starvation, I had decent clothes and medical care was readily available if needed.  For children here that danger is a reality.  I've always considered myself lucky not realizing that just being born in America was part of that luck.

  There are times I am shaken here by an experience, shaken out of my comfortable state.  I won't ever get used to people begging, men, women, children, moms with infants, elderly. handicapped it happens daily.  The elderly and handicapped I will try to give to.  There are no or limited safety nets for that population.  Why I give to those folks is a topic that is controversial and I won't address here today.  Recently we were having a late lunch at an outdoor place and a man about my age was limping and begging.  I zoned in on his eyes which seemed sad and telling.  I was hoping he would stop at our table but he did not.  I started thinking if he was my age where was he when he was in his twenties?  When I was protesting the covert bombing of his country and then partying it up afterward was he hiding in the forests, being worked almost to death, witnessing man at his worst, watching people being slaughtered, perhaps he was KR and doing the killing out of fear for his own life, did he see his family members killed or disappear?  When I was worried about finding the right apt. or suffering the loss of love and thinking it was devastating for me was he clinging to life, acquiring the limp and who knows what other health problems?  It's difficult to articulate the feelings, I just know I would not be contemplating those thoughts and looking back on my childhood and early adulthood in the same way as I do now if I did not come and live here.  Seeing up close the consequences of Western foreign policies and the lasting effect it has on people is eye opening.  What I will do with that I don't know.  So the old Khmer man and this old American man continue with our lives, he with a limp, no doubt health problems, and probably hungry and me with my tennis, good health and deciding on the meatloaf or club sandwich.  What has changed really?  I am still lucky.

  I guess I had to get that out once I started.  Back to Fridays because the past is unchangeable.  So after tennis it's home and perhaps a meet up with friends either at our place or out and dinner.  Can't write anymore, enjoy.  

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Thursdays in SR

  Thursdays begin as Tues and Wed do (refer to previous posts).  So strangely I still read news from Vt. through a few websites: BFP, Vt. Daily Briefing, Vt. Digger, 7Days to name a few.  Perhaps I'm a news junkie as I have the Portland, Ore. alt. weekly as my home page (because my daughter lives there) and read everything from the NY Times, NPR, Slate to Al Jazeera English and more.  And of course the Phnom Penh Post.  As usual I'm off to the pre-school at 730.

  This program Lotus Kids Club (LKC) I have been with since last July.  I helped set up the space, supplied and suggested materials and equipment for the program.  I help maintain the space and continue to teach the teachers about Early Childhood Education.  Now I feel my role should change.  The point is to work my way out of a job as they say, for the project to be able to continue without me.  Sustainability is the mantra here.  It makes sense for the Khmers to sustain a project without Western input, as most Westerners in NGO's leave eventually.  The Early Childhood training at LKC should continue I believe however I do not think my being there during the program is necessary.  The teachers are doing a good job setting up and working with the children.  They have some basic knowledge of how young children learn and child development.  There are a few weak spots but generally we have developed a good PS program.
the director and the primary teachers and kids!

  Please understand the teachers have little if any formal training in teaching young children.  They are caring and willing to learn and as I said do well with the children.  Teaching about early childhood and issues related to that should continue I believe.  If I spoke the Khmer language I could see working directly with the teachers and children.  But as their English is limited also I can't be modeling or be helpful in a 'teaching moment'.   So I believe my time and energies should be with more in depth teaching.  Also I believe I could be helpful if I was able to do supervision with the teachers.  This has not happened at all and I think it's needed.
with a couple of parents before the parents' meeting

  One of the teachers, Ratha, is also the designated Social Worker, though with very little training.  So just a couple of weeks ago I started teaching the basics of Social Work.  And this feels a more productive use of my time.  Fortunately Ratha seems to have a natural affinity for Social Work.  What I mean by that is that his sensibilities and demeanor seem to be in line with Social Work principles.  He seems to gain rapport easily with parents and appears non-judgemental in his manner.  He is great with the kids, caring, calm and gentle but firm.  So you may wonder how do I know this considering I do not understand Khmer.  Well communication is about 90% non-verbal.  Also I see him interact with parents and kids, the kids especially just appear to trust him.  At the monthly parent meeting/rice giveaway he always seems to get the parents laughing at the start of his talk.  You can learn some of those basic Social Work skills but it's good to have some naturally.  Again the most efficient use of my time would be some in depth training in Social Work  practice.  This is the direction I hope to move in with LKC.
kids helping Ratha with snack

Ratha playing guitar, he's good and sings

  Thursday mornings are dedicated to the LKC PS program.  This includes a teacher training session also.  Thursday afternoons are a staff meeting and additional training/planning sessions.  Once a month on Thursday after the meetings we have a parents' meeting and rice/food giveaway to the parents.  It is usually an hour to one and a half hours long.  The director and teachers speak about the programs and the progress the kids are making.  I do a short talk with a translator of course.  My talk usually consists of the following:  Apologies for not speaking Khmer or Vietnamese (you may remember 1/2 the kids are Vietnamese), thanks for the opportunity of working with their children, lately I've talked about Heart Start, and an invite to come play or watch their children play during programming (no one has accepted yet).  These are interesting meetings even though I don't know exactly what's being said.  But there is laughter and questions and comments.  We've passed out playdough (they made all kinds of things) and talked about the benefits of play, and there was a time we took puzzles out and the parents were so engaged they delayed getting their rice.  We have been talking about other ways to get the parents/community engaged/involved.  At some point we may do a Family/Community open house/dinner similar to the Family Room shindigs.  In some ways LKC parallels my former work at the Family Room.  And being the non native speaker here I think I get a good sense of what it must have been like for those New Americans at the FR.
Parent meeting though now we sit on mats

rice giveaway

  I miss my FR fellow workers as I am the only Westerner in the LKC program and I always think what would they think or do with this situation, or am I making the appropriate decision.  No one to give me feedback or good supervision, miss you Toki also.  It's so very clear to me more than ever before that the FR staff and supervision improved my professional skills over the many years working with them. Thank you.

  Thursdays I do not usually play tennis, I try to cook a meal but we may also go out or have delivery (we just heard about a place that has good burgers and delivers).  Some Thursdays I, not usually Jess these days (quite the homebody of late), will go to a Trivia Quiz Night at a bar that will benefit an NGO.  The bar is called Warehouse and is partially owned by a guy with Vt. connections.  It's fun and there is always some team I can join.  Haven't ever come in 1st (2 free pitchers of beer the prize) but more than a few times 2nd.  Fortunately never last as they have to down garlic infused vodka shots.  After losing I pedal home politely refusing the offers to sell me drugs or women.  Ah Cambodia I love ya, good night.
at a great new Tex-Mex place with fellow Vermonter Dr. Bob on the right

Warehouse bar (Superbowl at 5am)