Monday, December 27, 2010

Cambodia blog 8: Daily Life

Daily Life
December 27th, 2010
For Mum. Merry Christmas! :-)

I have been in Cambodia long enough that life has begun to fall into a pattern. There are many variations, of course, every day there are new problems and challenges to solve around NFC, and different adventures to be had around Phenom Pehn. But my life has formed enough routine that I can write about it with some degree of truth.

My day usually starts at 6 or 6:30 with an hour of scrambling around my room and eating something cold out of the refrigerator. Elegant to the extreme I assure you ;-)  Then I catch a motobike (I use the same smiley driver every morning) to take a half hour ride across the city to NFC. I start by assistant teaching elementary english, a class of about 10 students between the ages of 12 and 17. The teacher I help out is very good, and a nice guy all around. His name is Long Ang. We went to his wedding just last week! My older kids are a great bunch. They have an impressive vocabulary but using it is still difficult for them to use it. Long Ang recently took a break from NFC to plan the wedding and I got to plan the lessons and teach the class myself for a week. We started working on creative writing, and the kids came up with some really great stuff! I will post a story or two sometime later.

The other volunteers and I usually go for lunch between 12-2. We have several places we like to go around the orphanage, from a local noodle joint to a bakery to (yes I admit it) KFC. It's a nice break, though we usually spend the time discussing NFC and trying to resolve problems that have come up with the kids or the staff or funding.

After lunch I have two hours  between lunch and my next class which I spend  planning lessons or working on random projects or just taking a nap in the library. At four o’clock my second class rolls around. This one I teach on my own. The beginning English class used to have students ranging in age from 5-14, which made it simply impossible to teach in a way that benefited all the students. So we split up the class by age, I teach the 10-14 year olds and Niamh (Irish volunteer and friend) assistant teaches the younger ones with NFC’s rather incompetent English teacher. I love having a class of my own! I have five kids for around 40 minutes, which is really not enough time to get a lot done but I manage to cram in phonics work, creative writing, an active game and reading into the brief time I have. It is my favorite part of every day! The kids are great, work hard, and are eager to learn and do well. It is still a challenge, I have one boy with some fairly serious learning disabilities and one boy with a lot of behavioral problems, but it is one I love with all my heart.

By around 5:30 I am headed home on the back of motobike, following a sunset across the traffic-ridden city. I pass by a major temple, Wat Phenom, on my way home in time to see the resident elephant patiently being photographed by tourists and hear the chatter monkeys.

So this is my life!  It is a beautiful thing. I am so grateful to be here every day.

I will add pictures when I have faster internet. It is incredibly slow right now!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Siem Reap!

Cambodia Blog 7: Siem Reap
December 16th

My apologies for the prolonged absence. I am scrambling to catch up on blogs, and really incredibly busy most of the time. But really before I can write about anything else I need to get Siem Reap out of the way!

Wandering the temples of Angkor is like shooting adventure directly into the veins. Prowling through the crumbling moss covered ruins you explore a different world. It is easy to let the chatter of tourists fade beneath the layers of frog-songs, bird cries, the wind dancing with ancient trees. It is easy to imagine yourself the person to push away the jungle and walk through a trapdoor to another time, were kings ruled with the sun from on high and giants and gods live in the stones.

Angkor Wat is the most famous of all the temples, a sprawling overwhelming mass of palaces and temples. But Bayon, famous for the enigmatic eternally staring,  eternally smiling faces carved from it’s wall. Something incredibly peaceful rests in their faces, and a bit of this peace is granted to each visitor who climbs the temple to rest with the giants among the treetops. While we wandered though the catacombs and faces of Bayon it began to rain, a warm, constant rain that blurred the world to the same shade of the stone of the temple. I perched in an alcove and watched the rain wash peace into the world.

The next place we went was the temple Ta Prohm which has made itself famous by the images of tree roots draped around and through crumbling ruins. Tim (a volunteer from Germany and friend) marveled that it looked post apocalyptic, but for me in this world where everything is broken it was as if something had been fixed. The boundaries between natural and created wonders have been erased by time, and so the temple sits seamlessly with the landscape.

Really there is no words that can describe the stunning visuals of Siem Reap and the temples. Pictures can barely capture hints of what it is like to see them in person, but I have done my best to bring a bit of it back with the lens. There are more photos on my face book account here:

A baby monkey near Angkor Wat. They spent nearly 30 minutes posing for us!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cambodia part six: Multi-orphanage party!

Cambodia Blog 6
December 4th 2010
Multi-Orphanage Party!

Any day that involves a zombie breakdance battle is a good day in my opinion. Today marked an event we have been getting ready for for a while, a big party for the children at NFC and several other orphanages and schools. We got more than 200 people in for an afternoon of games, an evening of dance performances, food and a dance party! Watching the children throughout the event has made me incredibly happy. They scampered around with new friends, playing musical chairs and soccer and alternately blowing up balloons and going on search and destroy missions for them. It was great fun trying to play ‘Simon says’ in a language I don’t speak, and being cheered on by my students while playing musical chairs.

But the best part was the dance performance. The older NFC kids and some children from another school did a number of dances and songs for everyone. The dances ranged from an ultra traditional, elegant and subdued blessing dance, a coconut dance, and of course the break dancing! Most of the dancers are in the class I assistant teach in the mornings. Seeing them on stage, having fun and performing confidently in front of over a hundred onlookers made me incredibly proud. A number of them really struggle in class, and watching them excel is the most incredible thing I can imagine. I must find some way to bring the confidence they have on stage into the classroom. If I can do that, if I can unlock a belief in themselves I know they possess, I will have succeeded.

The best moment: during the evening dance party the elfin seven year old Syna gathers flowers leftover from the performance, and runs into the midst of the dancing to throw them into the air. It rains white petals on all of us. She shrieks with glee, and runs to me, throwing her tiny arms around my waist. Today is the happiest I have ever seen her.

Tomorrow I leave to spend four days  in Seim Reap with my friends Niamh and Tim! Expect blogs and incredible photos later this week. I will try to get photos of the party up later, but right now I need to pack. I am so excited! Even living abroad I get insatiably itchy feet, and this is the first adventure outside Phenom Pehn sense I got here.