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)

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.


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.