School’s out

continental gameDay XLVII – April 4

Already it’s our last day here!
We made a little game out of all the subjects we covered. We’ve divided the kids in teams. We then ask each team to take a certain colour balloon and place it in a certain continent on the map we drew on the floor. And then to step into the continent and act out an emotion or disease, or ask them for directions to another continent. And they’re really enjoying it! And even better; they remember everything we’ve thought them!

After one of the classes this boy comes running after me to give me an origami swam on a rope and stick; just the cutest! That will make for a great bookmarker.
The principal leaves us with a present as well; a traditional Khmer scarf. So sweet!
One of the teachers –of that super good grade 6 class- went through lengths to thank us, taking photos and exchanging e-mail.
school's out
Even though I’d gotten pretty tired these last few days and was looking forward to my week of nothing along the coast, parting is heavy! So much is left to be taught, so much fun is left to be had
During our last lunch together we’re talking about supporting and adopting the kids in the orphanage and what we could do to help them once we’re gone.
This adoption is a figure of speech, meaning you’d decide to send one specific kid a monthly or annual amount to pay for his or her education or health or whatever you decide on. There’s a whole official form. Mr Ya gives us his details so we can also just send him something for all the kids to share or to put to a project.

greenway team You know what, the term orphan is also a figure of speech. Most of them do still have parents. It’s just that the parents got divorced, which isn’t uncommon in Cambodia. Children from a previous marriage make it harder to find a new spouse, they don’t fit in in the new situation and they’re expensive. So they’re thrown out. And that’s how they end up in the orphanage. Some of them still see their family sometimes, but it’s a very sad story.
All in all; this experience has been amazing and I am so grateful for how people here have opened up to us and showed us around in their simple every-day-lives. I truly hope to come back one day and be able to make a big difference.
I now totally see why Angelina Jolie felt the need to take one home…

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.

Going to the projects

Day XXXVII – April 24

This morning we’re driven around again, visiting the projects.

First, we go to the orphanage.
DSC_1170There had been a fire, so the dormitories upstairs are currently under construction. A previous volunteer has sponsored the new roof, how cool is that!
For now they will have to make do with the big room downstairs. It functions as classroom; there is a table and a rickety whiteboard, a library; there are some books lying around, and some wooden benches to sit on, and common room at the same time…
The bunkbeds are set up in the open kitchen on the other side of the grounds for now.
Another under-construction project is the new lavatory; a little concrete bunker housing toilets and an outdoor shower.
Behind the fence is a pond where the kids love to go swimming. We’re a bit dazed by it’s filthy colour. But it’s the only water in the proximity, and with the local temperatures, a dive every now and then is a necessity.
The kids come across as very happy though, playing out there with the chickens and ducks and the dog with her newborn pups. They don’t look starved, they don’t look neglected, they really do look very happy.

We visit one school, but it won’t be the one where we’ll be teaching and are only quickly shown the grounds.

Then we go to meet our school.
We are introduced to the principal; a slender lady that is more shy about her English and meeting us, than we are about our Khmer.
On the playground I photograph a group of little boys. When I wave them over to come look at the results, they’re pushing and shoving eachother so rough to see I have to put a stop to it.
Mr Ya also runs a private school in this town but we skip that for now.

And then we have a traditional Khmer cooking class!
Annette put down all these ingredients on a plaid on the kitchen floor, and the three of us gather around. Mr Ya sits down as well to help out where Annette’s English might fall short, though it doesn’t.

We will be making Sawa beef soup. Starting by making a paste out of the following:Cooking lesson.
– cut-up spring unions
– lemongrass
– orange and regular ginger
– garlic
– mint leaves and
– grey fishpaste
In the hot frying pan it goes.
Chunks of beef, sugar, salt and another seasoning they can’t name any further are added, then some sour and let it sit for a while.
Then some water and cut-up morningglory shoots come in, stew for 5 more minutes, and done.

Instead of morningglory one could use eggplant, but this is fresher, and cheaper too.
Either way, it smells delish!
As with any dish here fruit will be on the side, pineapple this time, and Annette shows us how to cut them in those fancy bits. She then adds some sugar and salt; to make it better…?
We’re set down to eat separate from the family again, and all agree that salt should not be added to pineapple, nor does it need more sugar.

As a way of ending the culture ‘week’ we go for a big ride out this afternoon. We pass the lake at the end of town and go further into the Khmer flatlands, the really remote areas. It reminds me of savannah, so dry and red is it out here. In the few bushes of banana trees are little cottages, not what you’d call luxurious – most would probably even say poor and pitiful, but especially the latter I have to contradict; such happy cheers come from the families living on every single estate.
happy family

[Sorry to say photoshop has quit on me, so I can’t properly resize the pics to fit the text #firstworldproblems]