Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Trying to get back into the swing of things

Well guys,

I contracted Giardia again, was diagnosed as being malnurished, and right when I started to kick all that, I contracted Dengue. I've been in PP for going on a week now and my blood platelete levels are still falling. I'm really hoping that I can go home this afternoon or tomoroow. I'm really tired of being poked with needles and don't have any clean clothes to wear any more.

Sorry for the brevety, but this past month I've mostly just spent in bed or trying to teach, which I've done little of because of ilness.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I swear I'm not dead

Hello All,

Sorry for the large lapse in communication for the last month or so. I contracted Giardia at the beginning of November and have only recently found the motivation and strength to sit down and write a blog post. I'm finally feeling better and the start of the harvest season has left me with an abundance of free time.

A lot has happened since my last post, so let me bring you up to date.

Giardia sucks, if you don't know what it is, google it and feel free to laugh at my expense
Am 12 pounds lighter because of the Giardia and my meager diet of spinach and rice is not beefing me back up
I sucked it up and bought a second hand Nokia N70 and subscribed to an unlimited internet plan through MetFone so I can use the phone as a cell modem with my computer
Legitimately I was busy teaching for a solid three weeks, but the Cambodian school year is effectively over now that all the students are in the paddies harvesting rice
Learned to harvest rice
Biked through Angkor Wat temple complex for a thirty kilometer race and finished at 1hour 14minutes and 20seconds
Well I guess that's about it, other than teaching I am pursing Khmer language tutoring, I am tutoring my co teacher in guitar, and am trying to remember which water basin I can drink out of, so I avoid poisoning myself with arsenic. My host mother finally saw fit to inform me that the water basin I've used to fill my water filter with is not indeed benign rain water, but ground water loaded with arsenic. A little heavy metal never killed anyone, right?

A day in the life of a PCV:

One of my fellow English teachers approached me the other day and asked me to come to school during lunch to review/edit his CV and cover letter for a job being offered by the Australian Embassy. Following a brief scan of the papers placed in front of me:

“You do know that the name Tanya is a girl's name, right Ratana?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you're addressing this to Mr. Duckworth, but the name in the advertisement is Tanya Duckwork, Director of Security, Australian Embassy.”

“So Duckworth is not the family name? I should put Mr. Tanya?”

“No Ratana, what I mean is, you should address this letter to Ms. Duckworth, since it is a girl.”

Wrinkled eyebrows and beads of perspiration on a brown brow stare blankly back at me.

“Duckworth is the family name, but Tanya is a girl's name in English. You will insult her by addressing her as Mr. Duckworth. To make a good impression you should probably use Ms.”

“But Ben, Mr. Duckworth is the director of security. I don't know what kind of name Tanya is, but shouldn't a director be a man?”

“Well in the West Ratana, we believe that women can do the same jobs that men can do. In the US and Australia any job a man does, a woman does also. There are policewomen, women construction workers, and even women directors.”

Wrinkled eyebrows and beads of perspiration on a brown brow stare blankly back at me.

“So it says here that you're applying for the 'vacation' position, don't you want to say the 'vacant' position?”

“Why would Australia make a woman the director of security? Don't you have to be strong to be a director of security?”

“In the West Ratana, women do the same jobs that men do, and sometimes can even do things better than a man.”

“Haha, do things better than a man, like what?”

“Well...hmm.... I guess orgasms, they've got us beat on that one for sure.”

Wrinkled eyebrows and beads of perspiration on a brown brow stare blankly back at me.

“Moving on, I see under 'interests' you have futball, reading good books, and cockfighting...”

“Ah yes, these are my hobbies. I like to play futball, read good books, and train my cock to be strong!”

“Is that a fact? Interesting...hmm... let's put 'literature' there, and are you sure you really need to let Ms. Duckworth know about cockfighting?”

“Oh yes, it is my favorite hobby and I have prize winning cock. My wife proud of it, and it brings us lots extra money.”

“I'm sure she is plenty proud Ratana, but most Western countries do not like the idea of making animals fight each other until they die. On a CV it might look bad. It is considered to be inhumane. Do you know the word, inhumane?”

“Yes, yes, I know this word, but you have boxing in the West, and the boxers are hurt and bleed. What's the difference?”

“Well the boxers do not fight until they die, and boxers can retire whenever they want. Can your bird retire whenever it wants to, or does it have to fight when you tell it to?”

“Oh I see, yes, yes, yes, my cock has no choice but to fight when I tell it to. But this is no problem Ben, because I train my cock everyday and I make it very big and strong.”

“Hmm... I'm sure there are many Citadel cadets who share that view with you Ratana, but if you want this job, omit the cockfighting and please do not tell Ms. Duckworth about your cock, even if it wins prizes.”

Yes, that conversation actually happened. Concluding our lovely little chat I learned that he had just gotten drunk off of rice wine with our school director. Not a bad gig, huh? You can skip work and get loaded with your boss, then badger a Peace Corps Volunteer in to fixing your CV and cover letter while ensuring that all the corrections made will not be remembered.

Part two of this encounter involves Ratana traveling to Phnom Penh the next day on his moto, getting blitzed with a friend, and swerving all over the city attempting to find the embassy, only to realize that in his drunken stupor the CV had flown out of his portfolio. Poor Ms. Duckworth now has accumulated half an application (more paper for the trash) and I wasted a couple hours trying to help someone who doesn't know how to help himself.

And that's a day in the life of a PCV. Let's not all rush to the local recruiting office now....

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Belgians don't really like waffles

Just writing to let you know that I'll be in a communication blackout for the next two weeks. I managed to get some brief internet time this morning, but I will be out of touch until Oct. 31st. That weekend I'll have internet until Tuesday the 3rd of November. Well, that's a big probably, but in theory I should. I'll go to Kampot again on the 31st and then a bunch of PCVs will be in Kep for the Water Festival/King's Birthday celebration. I'm really looking forward to the trip. Off the coast there are these semi deserted island, called Rabbit Island. We'll head over there on the 1st and spend the night on the island. I'll take lots of pictures and try to finally upload them to the blog.

OK guys, stay classy, I have to bike 14K in the mud to get back to site.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Officially a PCV

Greetings from Kampot, aka the 'Pot'! Right now I'm taking a nice break from the rigors of district life and living it up with internet, running water, and 24 hour electricity. Life is good here in Kampot town. It is just starting to rain so my disposition is starting to improve as I slowly stop sweating. Much has happened since my last posting so I will recap the major events:

1.I passed my language test and am considered 'survivable' in Khmer society

2.I was sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer by the US ambassador to Cambodia a little over two weeks ago and am now obligated to protect the constitution with my life from all enemies, domestic and foreign

3.Shortly after swear-in I moved to my site in Kampot province

4.Following a tedious week of extreme boredom and literary excess I finally started observing the English teachers at my school

So a few words about Cambodian schools. October 1st was officially the start of the Khmer school year. Some PCVs were flooded out of their schools due to heavy rains, but mine fortunately was not flooded. The night before my 17 year old brother, Reeas, was saying that there would be a 'party' at the school the following day and inquired as to the status of my speech. Puzzled I asked him what he meant, and he clarified saying that all these commune big wigs were going to be present and that I was expected to give closing remarks, in Khmer. Shocked at the short notice, I called one of my counter parts, Sovann, and asked if this was true.

“Oh sorry Ben, I've been meaning to tell you...”

That sucks, so I compose what I can in Khmer and have Sovann help me out with the rest. In my opinion it was quite a nice little speech and concluded with me saying, “even though I am here in the school to teach you English, I am here in Cambodia for all of you to be my teachers, and teach me how to be Khmer.” Imagining the heartfelt handshakes from Ministry officials, a proud beaming smile from the commune governor, and a twinkle of moisture in President Kennedy's eye (may his soul rest in peace, amen) I tucked in my mosquito net and gently fell asleep to the sweet amours sounds, of dogs in heat.

Around 7:30 am the next day, all of the students are standing in their regiments and what appears to be a cirque du soliel tent croweding the center of the school. Shortly after teachers set a table at the front of the tent, facing the assembled students. I sit in the first row of chairs immediately behind the table. At the table the commune chief, the district governor, my school director, the local Ministry of Education Youth and Sports official, and two police chiefs sit and nervously grunt at each other. Finally a white Honda CR-V pulls up with Phnom Penh tags and a tall suit comes running over, hands the district governor a letter and jostles off. Immediately the music ques up and the national anthem is lead by a Khmer student who apparently was classically trained by Milli Vanili's voice coach. My school director said a few words, then the commune chief, followed by the police chiefs. With a few shuffles of papers, the green fatigued district governor courageously stands, blows into the mic, and reads the four page document sent from Phnom Phenh. Fifteen minutes later the governor throws the paper down and dives headfirst into a Hugo Chavez inspired rant, fist pumps and all. Finally he sits and I am told to stand by someone seated behind, “it is time.” Breathing slowly, I purposefully start to walk towards the mic, when the governor stands and concludes the festivities with a brisk wave and an eager trot, stage right. Following suit, everyone else stands and departs by the time I make it to the mic. What a load of crap...

Less productive things PCVs do to pass the time:

Games of 'telephone' via text message

Trying to get younger siblings to teach you expletives

Being amazed that pajamas can and actually are worn as pant suits in this country

Contemplating what Hillary Clinton would look like at a press briefing wearing a Cambodian pants suit

Attempting to not get hit by motos

Counting mosquito bites, realizing our chances of contracting Dengue Fever, feeling the fear of Dengue Fever, then feeling the joy of a possible trip to Thailand for medical leave

Trying to contract Dengue Fever

OK guys, it's been fun. I have a lot more, but given the slow connection speed this is all for now. In two weeks I'll be back for an extended weekend and will post more, with hopefully pictures.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Kampuchia Momment

I just remembered this...

Last week I was biking home from afternoon language class in my training village. The village has a national highway that runs through it, so I was moving pretty quickly down the asphalt to my dirt road when I looked up, into the sparse oncoming moto traffic and laid my eyes on a scene that made time stop.

Two people on the oncoming Honda Dream come into view. A toothy twenty something male and a smiling woman behind him. We start to pass each other while the woman yells, "Helllooooo" as they pass me. My hand shoots up, in a reflexive wave, and my mouth drops in ghastly astonishment. Straddling the back of the Honda is a typical Khmer girl. Black hair, big smile, and two bare breasts catching some sunlight... wait a minute... yeah that's right. Tucked between the man and woman is a newborn nursing from the one breast not wildly attempting to obey the law of gravity. Up comes the mother's hand to wave, while the other tenderly nurtures her new born at 35km/h. Just as suddenly as my mind is blown, the moto egresses behind me, and is a metallic blur headed away from Vietnam.

Instantly the image of gymnasts come to mind, and the future of the Cambodian Olympic Gymnastics team seems pretty good. At 35km/h, with no free hands to hold on to something, and still mustering the gusto to wave to a foreigner, while holding a baby, it dawns on me that Cambodian women are have untapped potential. The balance required to pull off such a stunt is unimaginable. Somebody please send me a spring board and a vault! Watch out China, Cambodia is going for the gold in '012!

Site Visit and Counterparts

These past couple of days I have really learned a lot about my job, the previous volunteer at my site, and how much this community expects of me. My counterpart, whom I met yesterday and I will be traveling with tomorrow, gave me a completely different perspective about what PCVs do and it was incredibly overwhelming. I am going to a site that fits me very well, but I am nervous about how successful the last volunteer was. The community is glad to have a new volunteer, but I have very big shoes to fill, and I am afraid that people will not remember how long it took Jason, the previous PCV, to feel comfortable and master the language. My co teacher seems to think I am going to pick up right away where Jason left off. Oh well, I go to my site tomorrow to meet my host family and meet everyone I will be working with. I'll have a better feel for what the next two weeks will be like after this weekend. Meeting my new family also is a little nerve racking, but I at least know a little more Khmer this time around.

The saving grace about my site is that Savin, one of our Language and Culture Facilitators (LCF), is actually one of my co teachers. He speaks English very well, is enthusiastic about the Peace Corps, and understands that it will take me some time to fully adjust. If not for this, I think I would be a lot more nervous. On the downside, there is very little electricity, so the internet is out of the question. The closeset connection is about 14K away, and very overpriced at 5,000R an hour. Internet shoult be about 3,000R an hour, or about $0.75. This might seem trivial, but I live on about a dollar a day at site. Spending a day's worth of food money on an hour of internet time is very steep. Even then, the connection is slow and unreliable.

My house is apparently a hopping spot in town. There is "pub" on the ground floor and all the teachers, police, and indian chiefs frequent it. Jason apparently also frequented the pub with all of these people, so my family knows him very well. This is situation is a plus for networking potential. We'll see what I can make of it.

Ok, I'll post next week when I should have internet again. I'll include a description of my house, family, and school.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


So, the internet has been a real hassel as of late. Good news is I am half way through training and just recieved my posting today. I will be in a rural site in Kampot Province. Google Kampot Town and check out my provincial capital. I am pretty happy, needless to say. A lot of people are excited, some are upset, but I just feel really lucky. I'll post as soon as possible.