Wednesday, September 23, 2009

at home in Cambodia

I've been hearing from people at home - with good reason - that it's time to update my blog. I moved to a new house at the end of July, and am no longer living with a host family. I also took a trip to Laos in the middle of September. But other than that I've mostly been at site, teaching a summer reading group, waiting for the school year to start back up, and getting used to living on my own in Cambodia. Here's some pics and descriptions!

1) my house!

2) living room / chill area: where I watch Khmer news and/or DVDs (the entire James Bond collection is $10 at Russian Market in PP)

3) some of the Khmer books I read/study on occasion

4) kitchen: a stove to boil water and cook; tupperware to keep the mice out of my food

5) bathroom: I have running water until 7pm. After that I get water from the big tanks. I also do laundry by hand in here a few mornings a week. There's ABATE in the tanks to kill mosquito larvae.

6) a mosquito coil to keep them away when I'm sitting in my house

7) bed with mosquito net (you see a theme here....?)

8) the side of my house where I wash dishes

Friday, July 3, 2009


My blog has been sadly lacking in pictures of late. Here's a few of some fields aroung my house, a pile of mangoes from the tree across the street, a random 'wat' in my neighborhood, and the Independence Monument in Phnom Penh.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

go Lakers!!!

a summer in Cambodia (or, what I actually do here)

Now that the school year is pretty much over and I won't be teaching at the school again until October, here's a look forward at my plans for the summer. This is what I do.

First, I'm going to keep a project going that I started during the school year. My students just published a school newspaper....which is a really big deal here. As far as I know it's the first high school newspaper in Cambodia, although I can only say for sure that it's the first at any of the approximately 55 schools that have had a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV). Issue #2 is scheduled to come out in July or early August.

Second, I'll be working on a library improvement project at my high school. The school has agreed to contribute a considerable amount to help with the project -- my school director rocks!! Also, I'm applying for a USAID grant to hopefully get the total budget up over $2,000. And with that, I'm hoping to turn an unused room with empty bookshelves into a first-rate library with a good selection of books, an English learning center, a video resource center where students can watch DVDs, and some comfortable places for students to just hang out.

I'm also doing a month-long summer reading group in August with ten of the most advanced 11th grade students. A friend back home is helping me get a few books for the reading group because she's cool like that. We're going to read "Children of the River," a story about a Khmer family that emigrates to America. Perfect for Cambodia!! I have over 60 students fighting for the 10 spots in the group, that's how bad kids over here want to improve their English.

I've got a few more things lined up, like I'm going to start playing basketball with some of the kids in my community. Hopefully, next year, I can move from casual play to starting a girls basketball team at the school (which currently has no formal sports). I'm also helping to edit a TEFL - teaching english as a foreign language - manual to use for training the next group of PCVs that arrives in July, and I'm hopefully doing a couple of career training workshops where I'm going to help people in my community learn how to write a cover letter, do a resume, interview, etc.

Best of all, my mom is coming to visit for a few weeks in July!! I'm going to show her all the beautiful places to see in this country...or at least the ones we have time to see. It's going to be a busy summer. But a good summer.

For all my friends out there, I'd love to hear about your summer plans!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

living green

I read Collapse by Jared Diamond not too long ago. A pretty interesting book whose main theme I'll try to sum up here: civilizations tend to collapse when they use resources at an unsustainable rate. It's a little more complex than that, but the point I'm getting to is that, after living in Cambodia for 10 months, that makes sense. I get it. Or at least more than before.

I think back on the way I lived in the States and there's so much waste. So much excess. Only I didn't think about it because that's how I grew up; that's what was normal.

Examples. Trash: I probably generate about a pint of trash a week here. If I had to guess, it would take me two months to fill up a kitchen trash can the size I had back home, where I was taking out the trash one or two times a week. Really, how much trash do you wheel out to your curb every week? Electricity: people are very conscious of electricity usage here because it's expensive. Turn off the lights when you leave the room. Unplug the phone charger if you're not using it. Don't use the fan if it's not hot enough to justify it. AC! Fugghhet about it. Hot showers are available some places, but even then there are machines that superheat the water as it comes through the nozzle. There's no boilers that keep water hot all day if people aren't using it. Dryers? Why use electric dryers when the sun will dry clothes for you? Toilet paper: okay, don't laugh, but seriously....I haven't used toilet paper in 10 months. They have butt blasters here, or ass guns, whatever you want to call them. After you're done doing your thing, you just blast your ass with water. I for one feel it's cleaner than using paper. And think about it. I figure one person uses about 24 to 36 rolls of toilet paper a year. If 300 million people in the US stopped using toilet paper you know how many trees that would save? That's a little extreme, but....just think about it....

I could go on with more examples. My point is, if everyone in the world lived the way people in the US did we would have a major crisis very, very shortly. How scary is it that China (1.3 billion people - 4 times the size of the US) is modernizing as quickly as it is? You can't blame 'em. Who wouldn't want to live at the level Western countries do? But the world's resources are not going to be able to handle it. The fact is, we can only maintain our lifestyle if we ensure the rest of the world doesn't live like we do. Ouch, right?

Anyway, I've never been a hard-core environmentalist, but being here in Cambodia certainly has added some perspective when I think about issues such as resource consumption, global warming, and what the next 30 years might be like if the world's population keeps increasing.

the sun

May has been brutally hot, and it happens to me often here that people ask me the following question: "Teacher, it's very hot today. Why are you wearing a short-sleeved shirt?"

Uhhh....because it's hot and I'm cooler in short sleeves. That's what I think. But I understand where they're coming from. Khmer people cover up completely to protect themselves from the sun. It'll be 100 degrees out, and the women are riding bicycles in jeans, a shirt, a jacket, a scarf, and a hat.

It kind of makes sense. My forearms and neck are really dark - farmer's tan! And Khmer people think dark skin is not as pretty as white skin. Some people who do a lot of physical labor don't cover up as much, especially men, but I would guess that in general the skin cancer rates here are a lot lower than in Western countries where tanning and sunbathing are common.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


it's mango season in Cambodia, which means I've been eating about 5 mangoes a day. (Somebody's gotta eat 'em before they spoil...) In honor of this marvelous bounty of fruit, I've decided to break down the fruits I've been eating over here, their season, and their Khmer names.

July - October: oranges (kroach p'sat), sweet grapefruits (kroach t'long), custard apples (tiep), "mien," dragonfruit (sroka niek), and rambutan (saomao).

December - March: milkfruit (plai dteuk ta goa), watermelon (owlook), and papaya (lahoang).

March/April: asian plums (mat yoang) and mangoes (swai).

May: durian (toorien).

Here are a few more fruits that are available year round, or I just don't eat them enough to know when they're in season: bananas (chayk), coconuts (doang), jackfruit (k'noal), grapes (??), "lamot," tamarind (ampuhl - personally I think these are disgusting), and "kuy."