Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cambodia, Cambodia, how I love thee...

The flat tire...
Well we arrived safely back from Siem Reap on Sunday. Though, our bus got a flat tire on the way back! It was getting dark and all of a sudden the bus started slowing down and we came to a stop. The tire was completely blown out and the spare was flat too. We were about 45 miles out of Phnom Penh and the sun was setting fast. Luckily another bus that was headed to Phnom Penh stopped and we were able to ride with them, but it cost us an additional 4000 Riel (which is only a dollar) so it wasn't too bad, except for the fact that the bus smelled like dirty feet, haha.

Anyway, all of the workers at the guesthouse are so sweet. They barely know English but they make attempts to communicate and I also try to speak in Khmer. Mostly we communicate with gestures and lots of smiles. They always call me, "Sissttaaa Emo-leee!" It is so sweet, they always refer to me as "Sista". They make the most amazing fruit shakes, I am seriously in love. It is almost like a milkshake but thinner and with fruit. The mixed fruit and the mango shake are my favorite! But I have been loosing my appetite again, for awhile I was able to eat just fine and I would actually get hungry. But for the last 3 days I have not been hungry, I almost dread meal times because I know I have to eat and I am not interested in food! But regardless I eat anyways so I don't get sick. Blahhh.

One weird thing about Cambodia: They don't accept old bills. I have not exchanged my currency into Riel at all and usually everyone accepts dollar bills. But if you give them a bill that is relatively old they will not accept it! It is the strangest thing...
They also have checked to see if my $10 bills are fake, haha it is really funny. It is only $10! But that is actually a good chunk of money in Cambodia.

I have been getting terrible heat rash since I have been here. My whole body has been covered in little bumps, and they itch when it is hot or I am sweaty. Much of it has cleared up and now I only have it on my back so it is not that bad. I really wish I brought some calamine lotion or something to ease rashes/itching.

There are begging children everywhere. I cant believe that some of them are out until 9:30-10:00 pm going into restaurants and begging for money! It is unreal. Yesterday I had a boy come up to me while I was at the gas station in a tuk tuk. He was begging for money or something, so I gave him some Oreo's I had in my purse and he seemed content with that. They told us not to give the children money, but rather give them food and watch them eat it so you know their parents don't take it from them. If we give them money then sometimes their parents keep them from school and they are denied education and just sent off to beg.

Some of the kids in my English class
Things at the orphanage are going so well. I love being there. I use to go from 8:30 until 4:00 pm but I recently changed my schedule. They have a 4 hour lunch/nap at the orphanage and usually all the volunteers leave and have lunch but I live too far away to go home! So I pack lunch and usually sit around for the 4 hours not doing much. It is kind of frustrating. Then in the mornings, there are 4 volunteers and only 6 children so there is not much for me to do. So usually I go in from 10-4 and on occasion I will arrive at 1 pm and stay until 4. At 1 pm we create our lesson plans then I have two 1 hour classes from 2-4. It just depends on what is going on that day. We are not allowed to eat with the children during lunch because they usually just get rice and a small soup or something. The volunteers usually have much more detailed meals so they like us to eat aside from them. But, if I have extra food, I can give it to the kids and I never can finish my food so I end up giving it to them.

I just call him baby, he loves to be snuggled!
 Many of the children cannot say my name correctly so they just call me, "Mo-Lee" and that seems to work just fine. All of the village children come to the orphanage to have free English class and they love it. The other day we taught them how to play duck duck goose and they think it is so fun! They say, "Duk duk duk FROOSE!" Haha, I try to work on their pronunciation but English was not their first language so it is very difficult. Yesterday one of the village children came to class and he fell and cut a really deep cut on his eyebrow. It almost looked like it needed stitches, it was very deep. So we put some medicine on his cut and one of the workers asked me to walk him home. He only lives 200 feet away so I asked her why we needed to walk him home. She told me that she remembers that his mother beats him and we need to explain to his mother that he fell on accident and it was not his fault so he does not get beat.
Playing in the flood! 
It was such an alarming thought to me, thinking of walking a child home who potentially may be beaten for something that was an accident...
Today I witnessed my first monsoon! It was a huge rain storm and after 15 minutes it had rained nearly 3 inches! The orphanage had started to flood a bit but the children enjoyed playing in the rain. They were running around soaking wet, playing games, laying in the flood, and having a great time. I have never seen it rain that hard in my life and I live in the Northwest so that should tell you something!

Laying in the flood waters
Well, today was quite eventful! This morning we were able to witness one day of the Khmer Rouge trials. For those who do not know, The Khmer Rouge was the ruling party in Cambodia from 1975-1979 and were part of the U.N until the 90's. They were responsible for mass genocide, torture, enslavement, sexual crimes, and much more. They killed an estimated 2 million people in Cambodia over the 4 years. These crimes happened quite recently and the country is still recovering from the times of the Khmer Rouge. Many people in the country were directly effected by the Rouge and nearly everyone over the age of 40 has a story to tell.  
Anyway, the Khmer Rouge trials started about 7 years ago and they are still in session in hopes of seeking justice for the individuals who were involved with such grave crimes. 
Today we saw one of the trials, we were nearly 50 feet away from Noun Chea (brother #2) and Khieu Samphan. 
Noun Chea was personally charged for crimes 
against humanity, genocide, and war crimes. Khieu Samphan has charges regarding  murder, extermination, imprisonment, persecution on political grounds and other inhumane acts.

It was so weird to be so close to people who committed such evil acts of violence. It was a surreal experience but I believe it was very good to witness at least one day of the trials. This truly is a historical event and the trials are very important to Cambodians. 

Anyway, I am currently in a SUPER western coffee shop with free wifi. It kinda makes me feel like I am at home. It is times like this that I feel a little emotional and wish I had someone here to support me and really see what I am experiencing. There has been so much going on and my emotions can get jumbled at times. When you travel alone, you really realize different facets of yourself and you never really know how strong you are until you are put in a trying situation. I am surprised at the strength I possess, I never knew I had this in me.    

Until next time,


Monday, May 28, 2012

Picture update for those without a facebook!

Sadi, he is such a sweetie pie

The area near the orphanage 

Lunch time at the orphanage

Playing games!

Angkor Wat in Siem Reap!

At Angkor Wat

Monkey near the temples

Me at Angkor Wat

Some Volunteers!

Awesome trees

Angkor Bayon 

Preparing for a fish pedicure

Fish pedicures!

The market food...

Local snacks

Last night in Siem Reap

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Khmer children, people, and places

Oh goodness I dont even know where to start writing when I begin a post. So much has been going on and it has been incredible! My mind is full of little stories and memories that I will keep forever.

First of all, I cant believe I am only here for three weeks, it is so sad. I am already growing attachments to the children and there are at least 4 that I honestly would like to adopt if I had a stable home. The kids are so silly and fun, I love being with them and they love being with me. Everyday they say, "Halloo!!!" and run up to hug me. I work in a very poor part of Cambodia, one of the poorest locations in the world. The orphanage is placed about a mile down a dusty road which is lined by shacks of sheet metal and wood for homes. The river is about 500 feet down a small cliff and during the rainy season the water rises so high that it floods the entire orphanage. The people suffice to traveling by boat rather than moto bikes or cars. It is a crazy thought.
The children are all in poor conditions. All of the girls are filled with lice. I am so paranoid about getting lice but I do not want to deny the children affection because of it. They always come up and hug or hold me so it is difficult. I just tie my hair up really tight and try to keep subtle distance from their heads. Though, I mostly work with boys so it is not too much of a problem. Most of the kids have rotting teeth and rarely can brush them. But they have the most genuine beautiful smiles in the world.
One of the little girls was left at their front gate at only a couple days old. It is very sad, but the children all love each other and they are so happy to play together. Though I also work with older boys, (13-19). I can see in them that they feel an empty spot in their heart and sometimes I see them dazing off with a sad face. My main focus is to ameliorate their experience by making them smile or laugh and practice English with me! I love all of the kids so much...they are so precious.
I cannot really feel my emotions while I am in the field. It is like my emotions are numb and then when I come home sometimes I get overwhelmed with their lifestyle and start crying. They are so, so poor. They eat random things off the street and are always...always barefoot. I like rubbing the little ones feet and playing "this piggy went to the market" with them...they love it! The placement is very dirty and you cannot be afraid to get dirty. I sweat all day, then I am covered in dust, and I have children hanging all over me for 8 hours, and there are bugs everywhere, so it is a very unclean environment. But it is mind over matter, I don't mind because I am there for the kids!
My days are split into two sections, in the morning I take care of the little ones. I play with them, take them to get washed up if they are dirty, comfort them if they are hurt and so on. In the afternoon I do two classes, one where I am the main teacher and I teach English for one hour, this class is for students around 7-13. Then in the afternoon I assist a Khmer teacher who teaches English to the older kids, 14-19. I provide them with the correct pronunciation of the words and will read out loud. One day I was teaching and a little girl came to me after class while I was grading homework and kissed me! It was so sweet. The little boys love teasing me and playing jokes on is really funny. But they told one of the Khmer teachers I pronounce their names very well in the Khmer pronunciation, so that made me feel good! (Mind you, none of the children I work with know English)

I almost resent writing about the orphanage because my words don't do justice for the reality of the situation. It is just an experience that one must see and feel.

Anyways! I can not find regular soap to save my life here..
All Cambodians want to be WHITE just like Americans want to be TAN! It is crazy! All of the soap has labels that say, "Extra white glow" "Become more white" "Beautifully white"and so on!!! It is so frustrating! So I subjected to buying baby soap...hey whatever works right!?

I somehow forgot my headache was the most important thing on my packing list and somehow it is not in my bag. So I went to the pharmacy the other day and asked the doctor for something for headache..he asked me if it was a strong headache and I said yes. Then he came back with codeine...I was like this is for serious pain like after surgery, I am not taking this! Haha! So he ended up giving me another one but I just thought it was crazy that you could sell codeine over the counter.

The men here think white women are crazy beautiful. I had a man stop me and ask if I am married and he tried to get my phone number. He was dead serious too, like not laughing or anything. Then last night a guy came up to mean and said something in Khmer. He said, "You know what that mean? It mean I love you!" Haha they are so funny...but I never wear makeup here and I am always soaking in sweat and they still try to hit on you!

I have become much more relaxed here, in the morning my guesthouse lights incense and they house is all open so it flows throughout the house, it is so comforting. I also have finally been hungry and enjoying food! But not really traditional Khmer food...just basic things like chicken curry. I have the most amazing breakfast in the mornings, it is a fruit plate with bananas, watermelon, dragon fruit, pineapple, mangos, and some kind of apple thing. The mangos literally melt on your tongue it is amazing!!!!

Yesterday we decided to go to Siem Reap to see the temples. It was a 6 hour bus ride, there were no highways or anything, all back roads and it was soooo bumpy! The bathroom was a 3 foot door with 2 buckets...
We had no time to eat breakfast or lunch because we were rushing so we were surviving off of oreos and chips, it was terrible. The temples closed at 6 and we got there at 3 so we only had 3 hours.
They are the most AMAZING temples in the world! Oh my gosh they are so intricate and beautiful! I was so in love...and it was raining so we were all drenched in sweat and rain. It was crazy. Afterwards we went out to the most western style restaurant ever and ate burgers and pasta. We are such cheaters...

Anyway, I am heading back on the bus to Phnom Penh soon. Watch my facebook for pictures..some are amazing!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It is setting in...

Finally I have time to write!
So much has been going on and I have not found the time to update.

Things are much better, initial shock is slightly going away, but sometimes I find myself still emotional or frustrated. We had orientation the first two days here with the other volunteers, so I was able to meet everyone and connect with them. Volunteers here come from all over, USA, South Africa, Denmark, Singapore, Dubai, England, France...etc. Everyone will be working at different places according to what program they wanted to volunteer with. Some will be at orphanages, some with NGO support, some with battered women, some with HIV/AIDS prevention, some with micro finance groups and so on...

Anyways, things are going well here! Except for the heat, it is unbearable, I am literally drenched in sweat all day and night. I already have lost weight here due to the heat and the food...
I cannot eat. I am not hungry at all. I have forced myself to eat so I dont get sick, but it is such a challenge. Initially I was so excited to try all the food and taste the Cambodian fanfare, but ohhhh my goodness it is not easy! Southeast Asia is not an easy place to "try new foods". The first day we went to a place called the Russian Market, it is where hundreds of vendors set up stands and sell goods + food. While in the market, I saw and smelled the most...lets just saw, unpleasant things. Whole pig snouts hanging from wires, whole ducks skinned with their heads still on, squids, snails, seafood and all kinds of meat. The most difficult thing was that they were sitting in the plain heat, not on ice or anything, so the smell was horrendous. I wanted to throw up and almost did several times. At the market I could not eat, I forced myself to eat some noodles and even that was a challenge. Even rice sounds gross to me because all I can think of is the smell. I am such a westernized snob and I hate it. I feel so guilty that I cannot enjoy any food. I really really wish I could. I am sure my body will adjust after awhile.
BUT last night we had an "introduction" dinner and I did try
-Frog (the whole frog, head and all)
-Cockroach (Doesn't taste bad but psychologically freaks me out and makes me think its disgusting!)
-Cricket (mehh)
-Silkworm (ew/meh)
-Beef with bugs (could not swallow, kept thinking of bugs in my teeth)

But other than the food the markets are great. There are no prices on anything and you barter everything. They have all kinds of amazing things to sell. The women will follow you until you buy something, or they will say "Laddddyyy, come herrr, i have dif calorr, I sell to you!" Everyone calls you, "Laddddyyyyy" It is funny, but I do feel so bad when I dont buy anything, I am trying hard not to feel guilty. There are tuk tuk drivers everywhere asking if you need a ride, they are so nice. "ehhh tuk tuk, you tuk tuk?"

The people here are so kind. They always are smiling and say "Hallo!", it is so cute and kind of them. I practiced some of the Khmer language with some of the workers at the volunteer house and they loved it. They would laugh at my pronunciation and smile while trying to teach me the words.

My most used phrases:

Sou s' dei - Hello
Aw khon- Thank you
Sohk sabaay te? - How are you
Sohk sabaay- I am fine
Thlai nah- Too expensive (for bartering at the market)

All of the volunteers have been going out together at night, but I am just not interested at this point. I am so tired by 6pm and then I wake up at like 4am every night. I didn't not realize jet lag would last this long but my body is so messed up with time right now. We are 14 hours ahead of WA State, so it is extremely difficult to adjust.

When I start thinking about home, or Gaston, I get emotional. I try not to think about it much so I can fully embrace my trip and so far it has been pretty good. On occasion I randomly will really miss him, especially when I am frustrated and just want to cry. He has provided a lot of support for me before this trip and he continues to message me and text when I have wifi. Errr, it is difficult but I am surprised at how strong I actually am.

Today I actually start working at the orphanage, it is 7 am now and I am being picked up at 8. I am anxious and nervous that my energy wont keep up. Yesterday I played with some children but became extremely dizzy after 30 mins in the heat. Other volunteers have told me they experience the same feelings on occasion...I have been drinking unreal amounts of water and eating nuts and stuff in between meals to keep the protein in my body. But I hope I can give the children the support and affection they need.

I feel dirty all the time, like I can never get clean. I take cold showers and after I am instantly sweating. Nothing will absorb into my body still! No sunblock or bug spray! So I always feel sticky. We walk barefoot when going to a house or sometimes building and it is very dusty and randomly wet also so I feel dirt all over my body. I need to get over feeling so concerned about being dirty and sweating, everyone else is also...but I literally sweat bullets and never have like this before.

Anyways, there is so much to write I don't even know where else to go from here. But here are some points that I want to remember to tell stories about when I come home:
-Moto bike crash
-Man with gun at market
-begging children
-begging adults with disabilities
-Lady at market saying no photo
-Girls bad news from home
-Kitten at Pagoda
-Women not being close to monks
-Being blessed by Pagoda worker
-Huge water cockroach at restaurant

Everything is going well so far and I am still adjusting, I hope my first day goes well!


Will write soon
 Love em

Sunday, May 20, 2012


I am super overwhelmed. Where do I start?
First of all I could'nt even find the person who was suppose to pick me up at the airport. I wanted to cry, I had no way of contacting them, I tried to ask some Khmer officials to help me and it didn't work. Eventually I found him out side with a sign saying UBELONG, I was very relieved.
I thought we would be taking a taxi from the airport..but it turns out we walked with the luggage out to the street then took a tuk tuk, which is a small moto bike with a wagon kind of thing attached.
Driving throughout the city was strange. There are people everywhere, moto bikes everywhere, cars and bikes on both sides of the road. Sometimes I would even see 4 people, a whole family, riding one bike.  There were shacks built out of wood and old sheet metal, these were some peoples homes. There are street vendors everywhere, trying to sell something to make their family money. Children running around, some with no pants, no clothes, or shoes. The smells...I felt as if I couldn't breathe because of the street exhaust from bikes and cars. And of course there was the smell of food, feces or something of that sort, and just street smells. Anyways, more about the town later.
It is so hot. I thought I would never enjoy cold showers but it is all I want to do. My room is 4 stories up and the heat and moisture can be felt easily. I couldn't sleep with a blanket because it was so hot. I went down stairs and a women gave me a fan for my room...honestly I don't think I could survive without it.
Right when you get out of the shower you are instantly sweating. Nothing would absorb into my skin, not even sunscreen, it just left a wet sweating look. It is very frustrating. I dont know how anyone would wear makeup here as it would just melt off.
There are other volunteers here, but I feel so awkward, some have already been here and I dont know how to connect with them. They are all talking and already close because they have been here and I just feel so alone. No one has made initiative to say hello...I just want to cry because I wish I could explain what I feel. Just sitting here hearing everyone talk makes me feel so alone.
Today is orientation, we will be touring the city and learning basic ideas of the culture.
 I woke up at 4 am and couldnt sleep since, now it is 7:10 and I need to eat breakfast.
Anyways, I am sure these are all natural feelings. I feel terrible and so frustrated with the heat and having no one to communicate to.
Sorry this is poorly written, I cant even think straight.
Wish me luck.