Friday, February 18, 2011

Blogger block still seems to be happening. I'm over here:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Aaaaannnnd we're back

I know, I know, you probably think I haven't been updating my blog because I'm too lazy. It's not true! Ok, so I am pretty lazy sometimes, but in this case I wasn't at fault. Last month, the government of Cambodia supposedly decided to block Blogspot pages. The ban seems to have been lifted now, so I'll see what I can do about updating. Life in the 'bode has been busy!

Cheating 101

Semester exam time…

Ok, first of all, let’s talk about test day. First, you’re going to feel like you should look at the teacher to make sure he/she is not looking. Don’t do it! It’s a dead giveaway that you’re about to look at your friend’s paper or ask for an answer. It will only make your teacher watch you more closely.

Also, contrary to what you might think, the back of the class is not safer. Those desks in front actually get the least attention.

Now, let’s talk about how to get that essay of yours through the “Did you copy?” check. First, don’t use the same first or last sentence/paragraph as your friend. Dead giveaway. Avoid any large or unique vocabulary words that might tip the teacher off. Try to change around sentence order so your teacher has to actually read your essay to see if you copied. If you’re copying from a book, make sure to throw in a good helping of grammatical mistakes to throw off the scent. With 50 other cheaters out there, you don’t have to be foolproof, you just have to be questionable enough to make it out of the cheaters bin.

Happy copying!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Month

It’s not a secret that this Peace Corps thing is tough. I’d prefer my blog to be interesting and on the cheerful side – nobody wants to listen to me whine when I have so many cool exotic experiences to talk about! This past month, though, has been a doozy. Since the week before Christmas, I have been...frustrated.

Life in my village finally seemed to be on an upswing at the end of last week. I had some good times with my students doing an art exhibit and a weekend break with friends in Phnom Penh. The day before yesterday, though, three things happened:

1.My bike tire blew out for the second time in a week, leaving me stranded and giving me the options of either walking everywhere or riding a bike borrowed from the neighbors that everyone laughs when they see me on (since my knees come up to my chest).

2.We had a school staff conference. In addition to meaning my English club, my favorite and probably most productive part of the week, was cancelled, this involved sitting through 2.5 hours of incomprehensible meeting and being volunteered by my co-teacher, without my knowledge, to create and proctor the 9th grade semester exams.

3.(This was the tipping point.) I was told, in casual conversation, that the people at school think I’m lazy and unfriendly. They think this especially in comparison to Jane, my dear friend and closest neighbor who is doing some amazing things at her site, and her teaching of sports.

Word gets around here, and this was not the first time I’d heard people’s thoughts about me (I’m shy. I’m fat. I’m not very smart. I’m spoiled. I don’t know how to wash dishes/clothes). But these are the people I interact with most in my community. This is my boss. To find out they don’t respect me is, well, disappointing to say the least.

I’ve spent the last two days trying to see myself through their eyes. I understand how they can think I’m not doing all that much or trying very hard. From day one, the site assignment Peace Corps handed me contained a map of my province and 10 sentences about my school, 4 of which were about sports and how they wanted someone to come help teach sports. At my initial meeting with the school director and admin staff, I was asked multiple times if I could teach sports. No, I can’t, I told them. What about football? No. Volleyball? No. Maybe basketball? No. They have to wonder why Jane down the way is willing to help with sports when they got stuck with me, who refuses.

My school director has also asked about help finding books for the library, which clearly someone has told him many Peace Corps Volunteers help with. He’s asked multiple times about that, delegating my co-teachers to broach the subject with me. Now, I love libraries and coming in thought that would be a good potential project for me. Then I got a tour of our school library. A big stack of books labeled Room to Read (one of the big book donation projects), which someone had apparently gotten donated previously, were sitting in the back corner, still shrink-wrapped and gathering dust. And, well, no, I haven’t done ANY work to see about helping our school library.

The other request I got was to teach English. To the school director and his buddies. To my host mom. To other teachers at my school. Maybe, I told them. Let me see. After a while I can start. But I had no real desire to teach more English to people who would, in all likelihood, never have a need for it, after 20 hours a week of pulling teeth trying to get my students talk. Instead, I have been trying to make weekly trips to a bus stop in the next town over to practice English with the staff there who talk to and sell things to maybe 50 foreigners a day. But my school colleagues don’t see me do that. They also don’t see me sitting up in my room late at night, planning lessons and making activities for the students when most teachers teach straight from the book, or grading exams for my co-teachers, or correcting my students’ writing assignments. They don’t know about work I’m doing with Peace Corps or the meeting I had with an NGO that I’m hoping will do some programs with my students. No wonder they say I’m lazy. I can also try to be more friendly. I usually sit pretty quietly, since I can’t understand much of the teacher gossip that goes on all day during break times. Today as I was leaving school, I stopped by the teacher’s table to say I was going home, that I had to do my laundry, sorry I couldn’t sit and chat. “Who asked?” said one of the women.

I think I’ll move to Australia.

Sure, it’s easy to come up with all the problems I had today. The language barrier. My students’ lack of interest in my lessons. Not wanting to eat some stinking fermented fish thing for the third meal in a row. Vague stomach issues. My busted bike. Having to do my laundry by hand. Not having anyone to actually talk to.

Then there were a lot of pretty cool things about today too. My new buddy Mai (see the entry about Kirirom) who now looks for me to ride her bike home with me. The funny conversation my host mom and I had about school gossip. Iced coffee. The students who were excited to talk to me outside of class. The fact that I have yet to feel bored, a problem many other Volunteers have faced. My ability to zone and listen to American music on my iPod while I do my laundry by hand.

Peace Corps is not forcing me to be here. On the contrary, I could be on a plane home to the states within a few days if I wanted. I do think I’m having some positive effect on someone, somehow, even if it’s just myself. And it’s probably good I know what people really think of me, because I want to work harder to show them they’re wrong. Instead of thinking about the projects I want to do, I need to listen to what my community wants, even though I’ll never be able to satisfy everyone. I’ll probably wake up tomorrow and hear how fat I am and how big my nose is. I’ll probably get be asked to do more likely meaningless work for my co-teachers. I’ll probably be a little bit sick, as I have been for the past few days. I’ll probably feel pretty alone in the world, like I do most of the time.

But some days are like that, even in Australia.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Don't Get Lost in the Forest

(The title of this blog entry is a tribute to Book 5, Chapter 5, Unit One of English for Cambodia, the one about the trip to Kirirom. You all know what I’m talking about...)

Yesterday my alarm rang at 2:45 - wake up call for my day trip to Kirirom, a forest/nature reserve/waterfall in Kampong Speu province. I thought the 3am departure time was worth it to get to spend some non-class time with my students.

They picked me up in one of our two rented ‘lan’s (car/vehicle), which turned out to be one of the 15-passenger vans that are pretty ubiquitous here. I thought I was the last person since I’m past the market and by the time they got to me, there were already 19 people in the car (not unusual for Cambodia). I should know better by now. We made a quick stop near my house for two more passengers who were squeezed onto the front bench with two teachers. Then the last stop. When we pulled up and honked, I counted as two...four...five(!) more groggy-eyed teenagers stumbled out of the house. This required some rearranging but somehow everyone got squished in together. We set off and had just crossed the border into the neighboring province, about 5 km down the road, when someone told the driver to stop. We forgot someone! We turned around and found four cases of bottled water and two more students waiting to be piled in. Finally around 4am we set off for Kirirom, all 28 of us and food for the day for 50 people... I made it about a quarter of the way into our 200km journey before my leg started to go numb, and I think I was in a more comfortable spot than most of the students. Amazingly, I did not hear a single person complain. (Can you imagine American teenagers waking up in the middle of the night and driving 5 hours on bumpy roads sitting packed in like sardines?)

As it happens, Kirirom is actually gorgeous and was a fun hike up a mountain to a waterfall. While I watched in paranoia, 45 students climbed around on the slippery rocks, but nobody got hurt. At any rate, liability is a nonissue. I made buddies with the van driver’s daughter who, after initial apprehension, stuck to me like glue all day, made me teach her how to float on her back, held my hand all the way up the mountain, and took lots and lots of photos on my camera. Most of these were demanded by my students (individual, pair, trio, and group shots of everyone in at least four or five locations) who miraculously stopped being shy for the day and actually talked to me! All in all, it was, somewhat to my surprise, a great success.

The Zombies Ate Your Brains

In the eternal words of Kip Dynamite, “I love technology.” Cambodia loves technology too, but I'm starting to realize that love is still new and growing.
Exhibit A: The Refrigerator.
My host family got their first refrigerator last month. It is tiny and energy-efficient but still considered an extreme luxury in rural Cambodia (mostly since electricity here is so pricey). Now pretty much any food is game for the fridge, including the Cheetos I brought back from the city for my family to try.
Exhibit B: Nonstick cookware
My host mom is pretty proud of this new nonstick frying pan she bought. It’s great, expect the explanation is all in English. I cringe every time I hear her metal spatula scraping the bottom or see the pan heating dry over extra-high heat. My Khmer lessons somehow missed out on ‘nonstick coating can release toxic substances.’
Exhibit C: Gaming
My host brother loves the one computer game on the computer my (doctor) host dad uses for ultrasounds. It’s basic and involves placing weapons to shoot rows of oncoming monsters. The other night I was watching him play when the screen flashed ‘The Zombies Ate Your Brains!’ in drippy-blood lettering. I found it hard to explain why I was laughing so hard.

Oh, Cambodia...

Monday, January 3, 2011


Happy New Year! What is this “2011” stuff? I still think it’s the 90s and now the 90s are more than decade gone. I welcomed the New Year in style with a near-death experience from being about 20 feet away from fireworks that were being launched outside of the Naga Casino in Phnom Penh. The other celebrating volunteers and I were rained on by small debris from the directly-overhead explosions. Talk about starting with a bang!

I spent my Christmas in a more Khmer way by dancing (or, actually, walking around in a circle with small arm movements) for four hours at a housewarming party. Once I started saying yes when people asked me to dance, I felt like I couldn’t say no, so I danced until the very end. There is even some photographic evidence. As a note, it is not at all appropriate to show that much leg except in this sort of situation. My host mom wouldn’t let me wear the traditional Khmer party clothes I had tailored and instead insisted on this risque knee-and-shoulder-showing number. It was a good time, even if I missed all my Peace Corps friends who spent the holiday at the beach...those jerks.