Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gobble Gobble

I know it’s been a while since my last post, but quite honestly I didn’t feel like writing a blog since July. But today I decided to post a Happy Thanksgiving message to everyone reading. I hope that you are all watching football, eating copious amounts of food, and visiting with your friends and family.

My Thanksgiving was pretty simple. I taught an 11th grade class this morning, went to the market and bank around lunch time, spent the afternoon doing laundry and reading in my hammock, and then went for my evening run. On my way back from my run some of my students gave me some flowers that they had picked from the water lilies in the school’s fish pond. I gave some of the flowers to one of the neighbor boys and he promptly started eating it and told me it was delicious. I decided not to eat my remaining flowers, but put them in a jar on my table.

For my 2009 Thanksgiving dinner I cooked the most basic of basic meals….rice and beans with two eggs. This will be my last holiday season in Cambodia and I decided that celebrating my simple life here with a simple meal would be fitting. I also wanted to remind myself of the things I’m thankful for in my life: family and friends that love me, my health, happiness, and random students that give me flowers after my workout.

Next year though, watch out! The last place you will want to be is in between me and the turkey/stuffing/pumpkin pie. Happy Thanksgiving everyone and I promise to post more often after my 5 month writing hiatus.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Nearly a year!!

I took a long bike ride today and was thinking about all of the stuff that I haven't done since living in America. Then I was thinking about all of the cool new things that I've done in Cambodia. Hope you enjoy the lists.

Haven't done in a year:

• Driven a car
• Used a washing machine
• Used toilet paper (it's true....not used here)
• Seen snow
• Gone mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, or camping
• Eaten a Chipotle burrito (used to be a staple in my diet)
• Bought gas or paid for insurance for my car
• Hiked a mountain
• Showered less than two times in one day
• Scraped ice off of my windshield
• Eaten a piece of pie (I've had two pieces of cake this year though)
• Pet a dog despite being surrounded by lots of mangy ones
• Eaten savory crepes at the Boulder Farmers' Market with my sister on Sunday morning
• Eaten a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner

New things I've done this past year:

• Sea kayaked on the Gulf of Thailand
• Learned to speak Khmer (or at least enough to get around)
• Taught in a classroom and people actually listened
• Wore the craziest looking clothes to celebrate weddings and funerals
• Seen Angkor Wat and ridden around the whole complex two separate times
• Ridden in a skinny river boat to visit a chunchiet cemetery
• Bathed fully clothed in a muddy river while the villagers stood on the banks and watched
• Spent weeks upon weeks alone at site with no contact with other Americans (minus the text messaging)
• Visited the market nearly everyday to buy my food
• Became addicted to coconuts
• Fed a monkey a banana
• Fed an elephant a whole bunch of bananas
• Kicked a dog in the face because it tried to bite me
• Ran over a poisonous snake on my bike (or at least I think it was a banded krait)
• Hitchhiked nearly every week to get to wherever I need to go
• Swam in the ocean in the middle of the night when the moon was out
• Slept in a bamboo hut
• Drank a little too much Lao flower wine during Khmer New Year
• Eaten the following: fire ant salad, fried crickets, fried grasshoppers, fish cheek, fried fish stomach, pigs' feet, cow intestines, chicken brain, chicken feet, chicken stomach, coagulated chicken blood, and basically every other part of a chicken that technically can be eaten but shouldn’t.

So as you can see my new list trumps my old list, so that makes me happy. I’m still missing America though…my family, the food, and the mountains. One year down, one to go!

Also, today was pretty hot and I went for a long ride and drank A TON of water…6.5 liters to be exact, and that doesn’t include the 1-1.5 liters I’ll drink before I go to bed. It’s sickening how much we sweat here. But don’t sweat it, because I re-fill my plastic bottles so they don’t end up in the burn piles.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Happy 4th!

For the Fourth some of us headed to Phnom Penh for a celebration at the US embassy. It was a really nice time with lots of good American food and a huge American flag cake. The cake was basically the highlight of the night. They brought it out and all of the PCV's swarmed the area. I pushed my way into cutting it and got the biggest stars corner piece with tons of frosting. This was the second piece of cake I've had in a year and anyone who knows me knows that chocolate Whole Foods cake is a Sunday night staple in my diet.

This summer is going well so far. We're now in the rainy season and the weather has cooled off a little. It still hits the mid-90's in the middle of the day with humidity, but in the evenings it'll drop below 80. So, there is no longer any reason for me to get out of the mosquito net twice a night to take a cold shower because I'm sweating so much.

School's finished. It's actually been winding down since February, but officially finished at the end of June. So for the next three months I've arranged to work on my school's farm with the agriculture students. It's nice to be outside (despite the heat) taking care of the vegetables and trees. Last week they taught me how to take care and fertilize a certain type of tree. They teach me the names of the plants in Khmer and Thai and I teach them the English word (if it exists). So many of the plants here are unique to the tropics, so I don't know their English equivalent names.

I've included the picture of me cutting the flag cake.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Canary in the Coalmine

Traveling in-country is an undertaking that can turn even the most patient traveler into a raging lunatic. My 120 mile trip to Phnom Penh often turns into a two day adventure thanks to inclement weather, road maintenance delays, or missed taxis. Despite the seven hour trip, I look forward to weekends away from site when I can visit with my American friends, and eat food that is not rice. A few weeks ago I took a trip down south to visit my friend Kristine, and the taxi ride will be one that I’ll never forget. The 60 mile trip from Phnom Penh to her village took nearly 8 hours. I hope you enjoy my story.

“Hi, I’d like to go to p’saa chubah ambeuh,” I tell the tuk-tuk driver in Khmer.
“P’saa thmey (central market)?” he questions me.
“No, no, no. I want to go to p-s-a-a c-h-u-b-a-h a-m-b-e-u-h,” I restate slowly, knowing that my words are understandable so long as they fall on attentive ears.
“Ok lady, I take you to Wat Phnom,” he tells me in English.
“No, dammit. I want to go to p’saa chubah amebuh. It’s across the bridge on National Road No.1.”
“Oh! P’saa chubah ambeuh. Ok, I take you there.” He replies.
“How much for one person?” I ask in Khmer.
“Brahm dollah (five dollars),” he answers.
“Five dollars? To go two kilometers? No, I’ll pay you….a dollar and a half,” I bargain.
“Three dollars,” He counters.
“No, a dollar and a half,” I state and begin to walk away pretending to look for a cheaper tuk-tuk.
“Ok, ok, ok lady. Two dollars.”
“Alright.” I finally agree.

I climb in and immediately sling my right arm through the straps of my bag. I don’t want to become an easy target for the notorious Phnom Penh moto thieves. They drive up next to tourists in tuk-tuks, grab their bags from inside and take off through the traffic, rarely to be caught.

We turn into P’saa Chubah Ambeuh at 9:30am sharp, like Kristine said to do. The tuk-tuk is swarmed by a crowd of Khmer taxi drivers. One grabs my arm, another grabs at my bag, and yet another hops onto the moving tuk-tuk to try and convince me to ride in his taxi. They yell their destinations at me:

“Siem Reap”
“Svay Rieng”
“Prey Veng”

Holding tight onto my bag I jump off the tuk-tuk the moment it stops. I shove a wad of khmer riels into the tuk-tuk driver’s hand and push through the crowd of men saying that I already have a driver and to leave me alone. I make my way to the taxi vans parked near the food stalls that sell everything from cold bottled water to fried grasshoppers to sugar cane juice served in a plastic sack with a straw. I find the only taxi going to Kristine’s village; it’s empty except for the driver and his wife.

An empty taxi in Cambodia is a bad omen because taxis only leave when they are completely full. There’s only one option in dealing with an empty taxi: get your iPod out, get comfortable, and patiently wait until it fills up. A thirteen passenger van is considered “full and ready to leave” when the three following conditions have been met:

1. There are at least 25 people crammed inside the van, plus another 5 sitting on top.
2. There are about 30 cases of Anchor beer, a few dozen chickens, a moto, and a few bicycles tied to the top too.
3. The Khmer music in your van is loud enough that it drowns out the Khmer music in the van next to you, which is only three feet away.

I take a seat in the back next to a window after negotiating the price with the driver. The May heat hits hardest around 11:00am. Today it has to be close to 100°F with stagnant and humid Asian market air sticking to every inch of me while I sit and wait. Every smell emanating from the market fills my nose and soaks into my clothes. I can smell the gasoline being pumped by hand out of hundred gallon steel barrels, the fermented fish paste that Cambodia is known for, and the rotting pile of trash that was soaked by a rainstorm yesterday afternoon and marks the beginning of the tropical rainy season. The sellers stop by my window every few minutes trying to convince me to buy salted river clams, bananas, bottled water, and cheap plastic toys.

“Lady you want buy something. I give you special price.”
“Lady you buy water.”
“Lady you want pineapple?”

The van slowly starts to fill with people and I continue to sit and wait. It’s been nearly two hours now. I’ve sweat through my tee-shirt and have been constantly wiping the drips off my face and arms with my favorite green bandana. The driver climbs to the top of the van to tie down some empty 5 gallon plastic gas containers, three bicycles, and an assortment of neon colored flower patterned body pillows. Out of the corner of my eye I see our driver fall off the van and land on the ground. The rope he was balancing himself with snapped and he went over the side, but fortunately he landed on his feet.

The anticipation of our impending departure makes me irritable. My mood does not improve when the young guy sitting behind me lights up a cigarette and fills the van with cheap tobacco smoke. My blood boils and I turn around to tell him that he should smoke outside away from me because the smoke makes me sick. He laughs at me and I realize that I’m just a foreigner with a silly accent who can’t express feelings of anger using only basic Khmer.

We begin to move after more than three hours, but five minutes into the ride I leap out of my seat when something furry moves across my foot. I don’t realize that I’ve scraped my leg on a loose piece of metal until after I look under the seat in front of me expecting to see a rat, but instead find a puppy wagging its tail. I don’t remember seeing the dog get on the van.

Now that we’re moving, my clothes start to dry out, I cool off a bit, and my mind is looking forward to spending the weekend with a friend, but mostly I am looking forward to getting off this van and having a cold bucket bath. We reach the Neak Lohm ferry crossing after an hour or so. The road we are driving, National Road No. 1, is the main route between HoChiMinh City and Phnom Penh. It crosses over the massive Mekong River and travels through the Mekong Delta, the largest rice producing region in southern Vietnam. To cross the river you have to take a ferry at the town of Neak Lohm. A few years back the Japanese government gave Cambodia close to $10 million to build a proper bridge that could handle the immense amount of traffic that travels this route daily. That money was “misplaced,” so here I sit at the Neak Lohm ferry crossing, also known as that absolute arm pit of the earth, waiting to cross the river.

I go through the motions again with the sellers who shove plastic bags of warm fruit, sunglasses, and styrofoam containers of rice in my face trying to entice me to buy their food. After refusing to buy anything they eventually leave me alone, only to be replaced by beggars, who reach in through the windows, grab my hands and ask for money. Again the young man behind me lights up a cigarette in the van. This time though instead of relying on my limited Khmer, I reach back and start grabbing for his lit cigarette to throw it out the window. He gets the point and exits the van to smoke outside. We eventually load onto the ferry, cross the Mekong River, and turn off onto a dusty cow path of a road through the poor rural areas of Prey Veng.

Soon after turning onto this dirt road, a foul smell begins to take over the van. Putrid smelling vans are part of life here and I’ve learned to always have a bandana with me to cover my nose and mouth as a makeshift face mask. Nearly two hours after turning off onto this rough dirt road I overhear the Khmer family in front of me say: “Gcong chikah slahp.” This translates to “baby dog dead.” Now I think I know what the smell is: the dead puppy underneath the van seat in front of me. I ask the family if we can throw it out of the van, but they say no because it will be cooked for dinner tonight.

The van ride ends 10 minutes later and I jump out never being happier to be finished with a road trip. The lesson of this story: if the dog dies in the van because of heatstroke, it’s too hot to be traveling in Cambodia.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Technically I don't speak Khmer

I read over the previous post and I don't want to mislead anyone. I speak terrible Khmer. Most of the time I say things like "Me want chicken" or "I want go there."

April Happenings

We're officially on break from school for the Khmer New Year Holiday. This is a three day holiday, so obviously we need the entire month of April off. However, my school decided to start vaca back in late February for Khmer New Year, so I have not been teaching much in public school. I have been teaching a private class in the afternoons and it has been going really well. This past week we worked on paragraph writing and I really got into teaching this topic. It was a nice change from talking about grammar, which I'm completely inept to teach about.

Tomorrow I'm heading out for a two week vacation. After a short stint in Phnom Penh my friends and I will head south to the beaches. There's supposed to be some snorkeling spots on some of the islands off the coast. I'll post pictures after my vacation.

The week after that a friend and I are heading north to Ratanakiri Province (near the borders of Laos and Vietnam). The plan is to explore some of the jungle happenings, hike to a few waterfalls, try and talk with the locals (who speak a different dialect of Khmer than I do), track tigers, try the local cuisine (probably bugs, snakes, and anything else that slows down long enough to be thrown into the pot). Just kidding about the tigers, but I hear there are elephant rides and freshwater dolphins in the Mekong. Speaking of animals, a gecko just ran across my foot.

I'm looking forward to the time away from site because I'm incredibly bored. The most exciting thing to happen this week was waking up to rain this morning.

Pictures: A huge basket full of chopsticks drying in the sun (top), after my nightly bike ride down a very dusty road to a neighboring village (middle), I wear this silly looking mask a lot becuase the roads are really dusty (bottom)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A duffel bag full of garbage and a spider the size of my hand

This weekend I visited the Provincial town to pick up my mail, mail some letters, and go to the bank. It's amazing that these tasks require an overnight stay and about 4-5 hours of traveling all together.

In Cambodia there is trash EVERYWHERE! Without a formal collection system, the trash takes over my life. Sometimes people burn it (usually right as I'm sitting down to eat my dinner), sometimes it is dumped on the side of the road and just blows around in the wind, other times it is lunch for the cows. I honestly have no clue what to do with my trash. I can't bring myself to burn it, so I usually take it to the provincial town where there is a semi-regular trash collection program. I'm sure the trucks just collect the trash and dump it in the marshes outside of town, but this is the best I can manage.

My trash disposal plan involves throwing it into a duffel bag, riding the 35k to town, then sneaking around after dark trying to find an empty trash container to toss it in. This was my weekend....fascinating, right?
The night before I left, the neighbor kids were playing with a huge spider outside my house. They told me not to worry because they cut the fangs off and it couldn't bite. It creeped me out, but I had to take some pictures.