Environmental issues at temple

Day XLIV – Mai 1

Yesterday was Queensday back in Holland; the biggest holiday of the year! Now I’m usually no fan, but the Dutchies and I here had planned to do a little something just for the hack of it, or – we’d talked about it. But than April 30 came and went and we didn’t even notice…

Today school is closed again, due to Labour Day.
So there’s a holiday project: cleaning up the temple. Mr Ya’s private school send all the kids and some of those very young teachers –younger than most of us even- out to help, as are we.
It’s mainly the garden that needs the cleaning. And man is there a lot of plastic lying around! But the last time I saw public bins in the street was 3 weeks ago in Luang Prabang. They don’t get that concept of pollution yet. And if they do, and gather their trash together –a lot of it plastic- they don’t know better than to get rid of it by burning. That’s what is going to happen to the piles we’ve been gathering this morning most likely. And trying to tell them differently doesn’t seem to work. Not for now anyway; but here is a big awareness-project waiting for someone to pick it up!

I’m pleasantly surprised by the way the monks handle us. They aren’t too shy or scared to talk to us, even though we’re all girls. They even take our bags from us directly to put them in a safe place while we work. That very much defies that sexist image that is painted by rules like: when a woman hands something to a monk, she is to place it on a tray so the monk will never touch the same object at the same time, for women aren’t clean life forms.
It was kind of funny how they just stood around watching us ‘helping them’.

After cleaning for about an hour or so there is a little talk on how to help the environment and keep the place clean. We’re asked for some input so Rikke and Yun state the obvious ‘don’t throw your trash on the ground’ etc, but it’s nowhere near enough.

The rest of the day we spend in the orphanage. When we get there the kids are playing some sort of gambling game, with real money, before they make for a swim.
I dare Yun with an “I’ll jump if you jump” so we go in with them and Pat follows in minutes. It’s a blast! The kids keep climbing our shoulders and hiding under the mud where we have to come find them, pretending like crocodiles.

We’re treated on a feast meal with French fries and fish and delish omelets and some treats of dough and honey-rice-packets.

I’m spending my free time in books on Angkor Wat, doing some background research so I’ll have an idea of what I’m looking at this weekend. I’m so looking forward to this one! And there are so many of them! It seems impossible to see everything in one day, yet I’ve been told it’s been done and with success. Ah well, as long as I can find a way off the beaten track and get that Junglebook feeling.

A little essay on school vs. orphanage:
For one the orphanage is a lot longer a bike ride, and the bicycles aren’t super comfy…
And there is no structure at all in the orphanage. They didn’t have any classes yesterday because the others had that day-trip to Wat Preah Vihar, and they didn’t have any class today; we all spend our morning helping clean up the temple and our afternoon painting the shower room.
And when they do get taught it’s pretty much up to them to join the ‘class’, and sometimes all of them run off together to go for a swim in their muddy pond right in the middle of something.
At school they sometimes leave the room, but just to go to the toilet or something and they come back. And everyone is participating, as you might expect at school.
However, there are six times more kids in school and we only see them one hour a day.
So it’s much easier to bond with- and make an impact on the kids at the orphanage.
But it’s much easier to actually teach something to the kids at school.
I don’t know which I prefer in this case. I’m not really here long enough to make a big impact anyway. And it seems like I’m doing well at school. So I guess I made the right choice. And secretly I do prefer the structure at this point. After all I’ve got a busy schedule after this.
Is it anything like what I’d expected? No clue; had no idea of what to expect up to the day we started the ‘culture classes’ and even than it was pretty unclear.
But for now I’m enjoying Khmer country life, learning the language, my luxurious room and all the lovely people at the home stay, spending our free time around the table down in the garden or up on the balcony reading our books, sharing our travel guides and experiences, playing cards or dice, appreciating the awesome lightning shows nature puts up for us almost every night now, and the calm one can find in daily structure. And of course the home cooked meals.

For a country that until so recently has known so much war and terror and has had so many beatings to take, it is really remarkable how happy these people still are. I am an optimist, but nothing compared to them!
Their entire history is market by bloodshed, with many territorial wars until the 19th century, the French colonization from 1863 till 1945, the Japanese occupation during WWII and then the horribly ghoulish genocide brought upon by Khmer Rouge who ruled from 1975 till 1979.
And I already told you they’re still in conflict with Thailand over Preah Vihar.
It’s only since 1993 that this country has really had the chance to start picking up the pieces.
They’re always smiling though and proud to be Khmer. After all: they build Angkor, the greatest of all buildings.

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