Friday, December 31, 2010
I wake up before the sun (around 5:30).
I exercise in my room for about 45 minutes.
I eat a bowl of oatmeal and peanut butter (I cannot break the habit)
then make a cup of coffee. (I have to stand and hold the thing because the plug doesn't reach the table...)
If I have class, I go downstairs and say hi to my host family and bike a few kilometers down a dirt road to the school.
At school, even when I'm late, I'm usually the first person to arrive besides the director and I make small talk with him and the other teachers as they show up. e.g. "Have you eaten rice already? (common greeting question here) Are you happy or not? (I'm doing literal translations here...) etc. School is supposed to start at 7, but when all is said and done and my co-teacher arrives it's around 7:30 or 45 and we teach two classes of anywhere from 25 to 55 students in a wooden building for about an hour and a half.
If I don't have school, I spend some time reading in my hammock, studying khmer (I'm learning how to read and write), and playing guitar.
Then around 11 I have lunch with my host family and sit around talking (kneetyay leng) for a bit with my host-mom and host aunts. I normally siesta for a bit after this, because it gets miserably hot. After my nap, I try and do some lesson planning or more reading and then around 5 I go for a run.
I come home and bucket shower
and then have dinner with the family, which consists of two younger brothers a younger sister and extended family siblings.
A few times a week I teach my siblings English for and it's been going great! When people are motivated to learn and have fun learning, it's wonderful! Afterward, I retire to my room play a bit more guitar and go to bed around 9pm.
Monday, December 27, 2010
A few nights a week, I teach English to my host brothers, host cousins, and host sister (sometimes, she seems to be more interested in her Korean Soaps). I like teaching them, and they are pretty excited to learn. We've got a whiteboard set up downstairs and a word wall. It's a pretty convenient setup. Last night they did the sweetest thing for me. When I came downstairs to teach them after I finished my Khmer studies, they were all waiting for me with Christmas presents. It was completely unexpected! I opened the gifts with them: a few bars of soap, two pairs of nail clippers, a santa hat, two horse ornaments, a santa ornament, and a little bottle of shampoo. Ignoring the implications of the soap, I was really overwhelmed. We watched tv together downstairs for awhile, they'd decided to take the day off, and then, wearing my santa hat, I played some guitar and went to bed.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
While once invoking the image of a person with a “holier than thou” attitude and a false sense of superiority, over the years, the word vegetarian has taken on new meanings for me. Now, I see vegetarianism as socially, ethically, and environmentally responsible behavior. To begin, I would like to cite, in part, the source of my conclusion, the book Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. After reading this book, I found it impossible to continue to eat meat with a clear conscience. In the following text, I will not attempt to do what Foer did in writing his book (I would suggest that everyone read the book). Instead, I would like to share some relevant information that led me to my decision.
The social impacts of an omnivorous diet are alarming. Given that, “upwards of 99 percent of all animals eaten in [the United States] come from ‘factory farms’” unless as consumers we are vigilant about knowing exactly where our meat comes from, we can safely assume that it was raised on a factory farm (Foer 12). Although we enjoy the nostalgic notion that the animals we eat are raised on farms, for the most part, this is sadly no longer the reality of the situation. When we eat meat, we support the processes that create that meat. In other words, “every time you make a decision about food… ‘you are farming by proxy’” (172). By purchasing meat, we support the factory farm system, for which, the bottom line is maximizing profit: “In the world of factory farming, expectations are turned upside down. Veterinarians don’t work toward optimal health, but optimal profitability. Drugs are not for curing diseases, but substitutes for destroyed immune systems. Farmers do not aim to produce healthy animals” (188). In other words, in order to make more money, animals’ welfare, and arguably, human welfare is disregarded. We’ve been eating sick animals, full of antibiotics, whose disease resistant strains of viruses are increasingly jumping the species barrier (Avian flu, H1N1, etc).
The day to day operations of the factory farming system raise two important ethical considerations, the proliferation of animal suffering and human sadism. Animal suffering is typically written off by two standardized responses, 1) they’re going to die anyway, and 2) they’re not us. Foer discusses the implications of eating dogs, which is relevant here, but seems a little outrageous in the States. I’ll admit that from an outside perspective, Americans, including myself, are weird about dogs. Although my relationship toward dogs has changed due to my life in Cambodia, I am more wary about petting them and have to be on constant guard while running, it still pains me to see a dog being beaten. With respect to the first response, I am unable to dismiss cruelty towards animals as just, even if I am told that the dog is being raised for food (not unlikely in some cases). The second response is telling of our disassociation with certain animals and fondness of others. Dogs are allowed just treatment, because they’re our pets, but what about pigs? We allow ourselves to disassociate from certain animals in order to justify the way they are treated. This is not based on reasoning. Pigs are arguably smarter than dogs and feel pain in the same way that dogs do. Fish are even harder to muster sympathy for: “We can recognize parts of ourselves in fish ¬¬–spines, nociceptors (pain receptors), endorphins (that relieve pain), all of the familiar pain responses – but then deny that these animal similarities matter, and thus equally deny important parts of our humanity. What we forget about animals we begin to forget about ourselves.” (37) As much as I have come to love sushi, the same profit driven lack of sympathy and environmental degradation is present in the fishing industry as well.
Illogically, a person with sympathy for eaten animals is generally regarded as a sentimental extremist while a person lacking the same sympathetic impulses for a dog would be looked at as damn-near sociopathic. Here are two telling questions posed by Foer: “Is caring to know about the treatment of farmed animals a confrontation with facts about the animals and ourselves or an avoidance of them? Is arguing that a sentiment of compassion should be given greater value than a cheaper burger (or having a burger at all) an expression of emotion and impulse or an engagement with reality and our moral intuitions?” (74) And yes, these are weighted questions, but worth considering none the less.
Although it is easy to forget about how animals get onto our plates, the reality of the factory farm is dismal: “At another farm, a yearlong investigation found systematic abuse of tens of thousands of pigs. The investigation documented workers extinguishing cigarettes on the animals’ bodies, beating them with rakes and shovels, strangling them, and throwing them into manure pits to drown. Workers also stuck electric prods in pigs’ ears, mouths, vaginas, and anuses. The investigation concluded that managers condoned these abuses, but authorities have refused to prosecute. Lack of prosecution is the norm, not the exception. We are not in a period of “lax” enforcement—there simply never has been a time when companies could expect serious punitive action if they were caught abusing farmed animals” (182). These are disturbing facts, here are some more: “animals are bled, skinned, and dismembered while conscious. It happens all the time, and the industry and the government know it. Several plants cited for bleeding or skinning or dismembering live animals have defended their actions as common in the industry and asked, perhaps rightly, why they were being singled out” (230). By picking these quotes, I left out some of the most egregious animal abuses mentioned in the book in favor of the ones that are common. It’s hard to think about these things. It’s uncomfortable. It’s especially hard to connect the purchase of a steak in a fluorescent lit supermarket for a family barbeque with the reality of the factory farm system. A telling quote by Frank Reese, a poultry farmer, accurately represents our dilemma: “People care about animals. I believe that. They just don’t want to know or to pay. A fourth of all chickens have stress fractures. It’s wrong. They’re packed body to body, and can’t escape their waste, and never see the sun. Their nails grow around the bars of their cages. It’s wrong. They feel their slaughters. It’s wrong, and people know it’s wrong. They don’t have to be convinced. They just have to act differently. I’m not better than anyone, and I’m not trying to convince people to live by my standards of what’s right. I’m trying to convince them to live by their own…How much suffering will you tolerate for your food?” (114-115)
In addition to the massive amounts of suffering that the factory farm inflicts upon animals, humans suffer as well. Temple Grandin, who conducted an industry wide audit of cattle slaughterhouses, “has argued that ordinary people can become sadistic from the dehumanizing work of constant slaughter. This is a persistent problem, she reports, that management must guard against” (231) As a society, I feel it is wrong to support a system that breeds sadism. Additionally, from a global perspective, the factory farm system is an inefficient way to feed large numbers of people: “The world doesn’t, by the way, need to produce nearly as many animals as it’s currently producing. Factory farming wasn’t born or advanced out of a need to produce more food—to ‘feed the hungry’—but to produce it in a way that is profitable for agribusiness companies” (209). It produces cheap meat, but one of the externalized costs for this meat is a shortage of food, “the vast majority of what we grow in the United States is fed to animals…The UN special envoy on food called it a ‘crime against humanity’ to funnel 100 million tons of grain and corn to ethanol while almost a billion people are starving. So what kind of crime is animal agriculture, which uses 756 million tons of grain and corn per year, much more than to adequately feed the 1.4 billion humans who are living in dire poverty? And that 756 million tons doesn’t even include the fact that 98 percent of the 225-million-ton global soy crop is also fed to farmed animals” (211). Using this quote, I am not trying to say that all animal farming is complicit in this wastefulness as, “such data is inapplicable to grazing animals kept entirely on pasture, like grass-fed cattle, goats, sheep, and deer” (218). But, if the majority of animals raised for meat come from factory farms, as they do today, we must accept the fact that the system is inherently wasteful and somewhat gluttonous: “Americans eat 150 times as many chickens as we did only eighty years ago” (137). Associations between diet and problems like obesity and heart attacks lead me to believe that we are not becoming any healthier by increasing our consumption of meat.
Another problem caused by the factory farm system is widespread environmental degradation: “According to the UN, the livestock sector is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, around 40 percent more than the entire transport sector—cars, trucks, planes, trains, and ships—combined…The most current data even quantifies the role of diet: omnivores contribute seven times the volume of greenhouse gases that vegans do” (58). Beyond animal agriculture’s role in global warming, it “is one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global… [Animal Agriculture] should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity. Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale”(59). It’s difficult for me to say that I care about the environment and continue to support “animal agriculture.”
In college when I stopped eating meat, I was confronted with the following question, “where will you get your protein?” This is usually followed by a story about a friend of a friend who was a vegetarian or a vegan and got sick. It’s easy to get worried about this because we all want to be healthy. Here are some facts about diet: 1) From the American Dietetic Association (ADA), “Well planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for all individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes” (144). 2)“Elsewhere the [ADA study] notes that vegetarians and vegans (including athletes) ‘meet and exceed requirements’ for protein. And to render the whole we-should-worry-about-getting-enough-protein-and-therefore-eat-meat idea even more useless, other data suggests that excess animal protein intake is linked with osteoporosis, kidney disease, calcium stones in the urinary tract, and some cancers” (144). 3) In Diet for a New America, the origination of the “protein myth” is debunked. It originated from experiments done on rats, but in the case of humans, “if people are getting enough calories they are virtually certain of getting enough protein.”
The trickiest part of my decision to refrain from eating meat, comes from the cultural context in which food is placed. As Foer puts it, “nothing—not a conversation, not a handshake or even a hug—establishes friendship so forcefully as eating together” (163). Given the previous points the following statement seems hypocritical; I cannot justify stopping eating meat here with my host family. My host mom here has never cooked anything remotely vegetarian besides rice. Every dish has some form of meat. The difference with this meat is that it doesn’t come from a factory farm. This fact, combined with the implications of what a rejection of their food would do to our relationship at this point, allows me to justify my decision. I do not believe that this decision goes against my belief that the factory farm system is wrong and needs to end, and the most effective way I can see to put a stop to it is to stop supporting it economically. As hyperbolic / cliched as it sounds, our day to day decisions as consumers truly have the power to change the world.
Happy New Years Everyone!
Friday, December 24, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
Then we drove the four k to the watt and there's a bunch of Cambodians standing around.
A picture inside the watt.
I am, of course, the only foreigner, and pappy decides to go have a smoke with his buddies and leaves me chillin’ with the family, who I’ve only just met. So I smile, and make small talk: "Have you eaten rice already?" "How many brothers and sisters do you have?" "What do you do in your free time?" I swear there's like the same 10 questions that you always ask and get asked by anyone. Maybe we have it in English too, but it seems so uniform here. Afterward we begin the march. Picture me all dressed up, holding an offering bowl that's cutting into my wrists, following a dancing puppet around a Buddhist temple: The vice principal’s daughter followed me as I marched taking pictures with my camera. I didn't even realize...she took like 25 pictures too.
I was here because ol’ pappy had invited me the day before and I think it may have been one of those offhand "hey do you want to come?" things, but I figured it would be a good way to integrate a bit more. And we’d just had a P.C. presentation on integration that stuck with me, so I said yes. I'm not exactly sure whether it was a religious ceremony or not. I didn’t really know what people were saying. I just kinda followed along and then there's this ceremony where everyone sits uncomfortably for 40 minutes while monks speak in a language that no one understands (it’s not Khmer). I asked ol’ junior about it and he said he had no clue. Then, and here's the best part, they chuck flowers at you and wand water at you. I got hit with monk water today.
Afterwards everyone watches the monks eat and then they leave. So then, I eat a giant meal sitting on the floor in a circle with people all around me. My legs are cramping like no other. The food's great though, but I'm eating with my hands, which aren't washed, and we're on the floor, and there's non-dewormed dogs prowling about inside. Almost everyone is barefoot and has walked where we are eating, but I felt that wasn't a good time to get all prissy, though I may regret it in a few hours. I proceeded to eat, fish and egg scramble, meat and peanuts with pepper, fish soup with potatoes and green stuff, very-likely-unwashed raw vegetables, something green, and then unshelled baby shrimp with fish paste. A feast to say the least. It was all Khmer traditional food, some of it was freakin amazing and some I quickly learned to avoid.
Then we hopped in the old camry and bumbled our way back to pappy's. I’m going to try and learn to cook the good stuff, so you can all try it. As soon as we got out of the car, pappy began to set up meal two. I didn't plan for a meal two. I was really full from eating at the watt, but it’s a big deal to eat food, especially as a guest. I was served another giant bowl of rice, bowl four in the last 30 min, and force fed. After the meal, we looked at family photos for a bit and then I raced home and booted up the computer, trying to catch up with Josh on Skype. The end.
P.S. I’m still considering whether this concept applies to animals. Sometimes animals just show up in our backyard here. E.g. I was doing my dishes the other day when these guys came to say hello:
So, I’d mentioned the staring, which is relatively normal and doesn’t concern me all that much on a good day. Then there was “the proposition.” As soon as I got to the house, the mother showed me to my room upstairs. Her son, followed us into the room and stayed after asking me / telling me (I wasn’t sure at this point, my language wasn’t all that great) that he was going to sleep with me. It would have been cute if the kid wasn’t 14… I politely, but firmly, declined. “In America I sleep with me.” It was a bit of circumlocution, but he got the point. I had to ask him to leave so I could change to go shower. I walked downstairs and headed toward the bathroom, he followed me to the bathroom and stood directly outside while I did my business. Afterward, I walked out and asked for some soap, because we wipe with our hands here. The son walked into the house and brought out their laundry soap. I was appreciative of this gesture. He walked back inside, and standing there in a chroma (basically a colored cloth)*pic I started to pour buckets over my head. Much to my dismay, the son came back outside, sat a few feet from me, and watched me shower. I really wanted to say, “in America I shower alone” but I didn’t know the word for “alone”. I said something like, “I know how to shower. Please, don’t look at me.” He just sat there smiling and nodded his head, not moving. I stopped and stared into his eyes and said “please” rather firmly gesturing with my head toward the house. Luckily, he got the picture. In my sporadically analytic mind, I saw the exponential continuation of each action over the next few years. It was overwhelming. I didn’t believe that I would ever get a moment of peace.
The next day’s events seemed to confirm this. The son came to wake me up, followed me everywhere I went, asked again if he could sleep in my bed when I went to nap, biked after me when I went out to breakfast and stood outside the restaurant waiting for me to finish.
That was one family member. They had a daughter too. She didn’t say a word to me the entire time I was there and didn’t respond when I talked to her. I’ve come to learn that this behavior is somewhat understandable in the cultural context. It was a bit aberrational, but nothing to be concerned with.
Then there was the father, he didn’t speak much, and the mother who just loved to yell. She would yell commands at me as if I was deaf. I was really trying to look for a positive, and having little success. A few of the teachers came by to say hello, which was nice, but I felt like I was going crazy. I took off for an hour long run, just to escape for a bit, and the next day I biked 20 kilos to the market and back. Despite the exercise, I still felt really uncomfortable. I thought about how my family would treat a foreigner if we’d hosted them in the states. Then I reminded myself that this is a different culture. Then I thought about how my first host family treated me. Something was definitely off.
In the afternoon on the second day, I brought down my clothes to do laundry. I was totally out of clean clothes after the bike ride and stood in the backyard, shirtless in my chroma, trying to figure out how to do laundry at the new house. I asked the father if they had a bucket to put my clothes in. He said no. A bit later the mom came out with a bucket. I asked her if they had any laundry soap (like the stuff I used to wash my hands the day before) she said “go buy it” and pointed towards a store. I proceeded to walk half naked, across the street, in the middle of a rural Cambodian village, down the road to the place that sold soap. I bought a bag, walked back, and started soaking my clothes. Now the only thing missing was a stool. I had to ask again. This time the mother storms out with a stool, puts it down, grabs my arm, and points at my clothes. I had no idea what she was trying to gesture. Thank goodness I’d brought a brush. I don’t even want to know what would have happened if I’d asked for one.
I survived the two days (leaving really early on the third day and leaving the rest of the bag of laundry soap, as a sort of backhanded present,) and came back to the city to meet up with some other volunteers. As I talked with the other volunteers, I realized that my experience was not shared by most people. A lot of people felt welcomed, were happy, and had a good (if not slightly awkward) trip. I decided to talk with Peace Corps about my experience and they came through for me finding me a different family to live with. A family I am very happy with now.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Thursday, December 2, 2010
I got up before my alarm this morning, slightly tired, spoiled from sleeping on a mattress for the last few days in A/C. I had the usual (oatmeal with peanut butter and coffee) and then I lifted weights for a bit until it was time to shower and go to school.
At school, I ran into my tutor and one of my co-teachers (not the one who was supposed to be teaching with me at that moment) and we talked in a semi-fluent manner in Khmer until my other co-teacher showed up, about fifty minutes late. I had missed class earlier in the week, thus had no room to complain. I have yet to lesson plan with my co-teachers due to their busy schedules and likely a bit of reluctance on their part, so I'm pretty used to teaching on the fly. That being said, I like to have at least a few activities prepped that are outside of the book and get the students engaged. I was off to a rough start with the first class after a failed attempt at "head, shoulders, knees, and toes" (an activity that had worked so well with my host-family / neighbor kids language group). I swear, at times, teaching can feel like stumbling blindly through wooden fences, but we came back and had some success with the second warm-up. Then, we did vocabulary together, which went smoothly and worked out of the book until our hour was up. The next class went significantly better (I decided to leave the head and shoulders bit out). Also, it's always easier the second time going through material, no matter how much you plan. We had an extra forty minutes for this class (it's hard to justify being late to the second of back to back classes) and I made sure it was used. With a little more than my usual gentle cajoling, I politely requested that my co-teacher help me set up a group activity. He hadn't really taught yet that morning, and probably assumed that I was just going to keep teaching away, but we stopped and set up an activity where the students came up with a news report about different topics. It worked! This was the first time anything without a rigidly fixed outcome had actually worked in class. The group element wasn't perfect, but there was some collaboration. I was beaming as I walked out of class.
After class, I met a Englishman. He was friends with one of the teachers at the school. We went out to coffee and spoke some English (speaking English is a luxury, like a nice bottle of wine). He lives a bit far away with his wife at an orphanage. I couldn't stay for long because I had to go eat lunch and still had two more English classes, but it was a pleasant chat.
My next class had eight students. Three of them were the best students in the class. It was the day after the test, and, like many college classes in America, a bunch of the students decided not to show up. The test had thrown off the lesson plan from the morning, but I was excited to work with a small number of students. About halfway into the period, everything was going splendidly, and one of my better students asked me to sing a song. I don't remember how it came up, but I thought for a second, and of course I began running through the Beatles songs that I could teach. I may as well give them something of quality. We had just learned "find out" as a vocabulary word, and bam! I thought of Lennon's "I Found Out" Being on the spot, I botched the lyrics. I wrote, "I told you before, don't knock on my door, I won't let you in, Don't even begin, I-- I found out, I-- I found out" well, it's not the original, but it rhymes. It didn't sound all that bad either... I really belted out the chorus (of course, the only part I really knew) I felt like I was singing along to "Eye of the Tiger". Does anyone really know the words to that one? Anyway, it went great! I had a blast, as did the kids. I repeated my performance in the next class and felt all productive and what not.
I went for a run with my English club group (basically the kids that live around my house). It wasn't my fastest run, but it was tight! We saw a snake, ran up to the top of the watt, and I had a comprehensible conversation on the way back with Michel (all in Khmer) There was a gorgeous sunset on top of the mountain as I ran down the fireroad followed by three Khmer kids.
I had dinner with the family a few hours ago, and I'm still full. Afterward, I taught another English lesson in the living room. I can't wait to go see Anchor Watt for more reasons than one!
It's bedtime (9:30 is late for me)
A pesar del espacio,
Thursday, November 25, 2010
About two weeks ago I followed my host family out to the biggest watt in our area on my bicycle. Both my front and back light holders were somehow broken, so I biked along, flashlight in hand, trying to keep up with my three host brothers on the moto. It's nearly impossible for me to describe the scene accurately, and the pictures don't do it justice. In a text from that night i described it as "Woodstock minus the sex and drugs." Everyone was fully clothed, dressed up actually, and there was a huge stage blasting Khmer music (think pentatonic). We walked around a bit and I got blessed by a monk. At least that's what I think happened. Due to the medium of the scratchy speaker, surrounded by really really loud music, I really had no clue.
Afterward, I chatted with my host-cousin who's about my age and we walked up to the giant Buddha. If I had to guess, I'd say this Buddha is around forty feet tall. He's big even for Buddha. At the Buddha, I had a culturally informative conversation about how Cambodian society views gay men and women. He said a word in Khmer that I know was offensive because he wouldn't say it until the transgender woman near Buddha left. From what I gathered, people are somewhat accepting of transgendered individuals, but they see all gay people as transgendered. There isn't really any room for someone who is not transgender to be gay. As we walked down the path leading away from the giant Buddha, he stopped to point out a group of transgendered people dancing. His English isn't great, so we generally switch off between Khmer and English in order to speak with one another. He repeated the word and stopped to stare. I kept walking and he quickly followed. "You don't want to watch them dance? It's funny." "No," I replied, "I know what it's like to be stared at here. I'm the only foreigner in our town. Everyone stares at me no matter where I go. I don't like it, and I don't think that they like it either." I'm not sure how much of my point I got across, but we proceeded back to the main gathering by the stage where I bought an over priced water bottle (17.5 cents instead of the usual 12.5) and stood for another hour until we went home.
Friday, November 12, 2010
Here's a view from the front of my home. The can is full of gasoline, and there are four children on the bike in the background.
Update on community activities: Rice. It's everywhere. Did you ever wonder where rice came from? I know I did. 'Did' being the operative word. Here's how it works (or at least my best guess from what I have observed) : rice grows in a lot of water. The stalks get to be about three or four feet tall, and then the plant turns from its typical light green shade to a grainy yellow. Once they see yellow, everyone and their mother (literally, I live in a farming community) heads out to the rice fields with rice-chopping-instruments (there's a word for them, but it's escaped me). After the rice is cut, the stalks are placed on a wooden cart pulled by water buffalo. At the end of the day everyone piles on top of the stalks and rides home. From here, the stalks are stacked in front of houses waiting to be whipped against wooden bed frames to separate the rice. That's what's going on outside my window. As of this morning, my host-brothers' room has been turned into a rice processing arena. My host-brother and sister are busily whipping stalks onto the wooden bed where they sleep. I won't try and speculate about what happens to the rice after this. I'm just going to assume that something happens, and I'll update you further if I hear more.
Update on work: I posted my posters on posts at the school. I'll be in on Monday to see if there is any student interest, and if all goes well I'll have two clubs getting started next week! As per the advice of one of my friends here, I'll be bringing in the guitar and singing some songs as an introduction. I can't wait!
Update on mental health: stable.
Update on french press: fixed.
Update on water filter: fixed.
Update on electricity: out for now, hopefully will be on later.
Update on time change: +15 hours (west coast) thanks to daylight savings.
Update on safety: I jumped over a snake the other day while running. I don't think it was a cobra...
Monday, November 8, 2010
Historically, the language education that students here have received so far seems to be a mix between the grammar translation method and the audio-lingual method. The grammar translation method focuses on the form of the language i.e. how we construct simple past tense in English, and the audio-lingual method which focuses on specific scripted uses of a language e.g. I always ask the students "How are you today?" and they always respond chorally with "I am fine thanks and you," without variation, without fail. I have heard from other volunteers that this is the exact same response that they get as well.
The students have never had to use English creatively. So how do I get them to start? I've been experimenting with different methods, some successful, some not. I need to get them talking, but they are forced to use a book that is way over their heads and their shyness is debilitating.
Teaching challenges aside, life here isn't so rough. Here are some more pictures from my Halloween island adventure.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Some days are classier than others. Yesterday being the latter. My french press broke while I was shaking it to dry it and the handle snapped off (brilliant right?). So I poured some grounds into a cup and poured water over it to start my day. I'd woken up the night before and used my chamber pot, which was sitting under my bed. I told myself that I'd empty it right away, but then the oatmeal and pop-songs, that make up my morning routine, cleared any thoughts of cleanliness from my mind and I biked off to school to begin my eight hour teaching day. I came home from school, had some lunch, and took a nap in my room, but I just couldn't bring myself to walk the pot downstairs to the bathroom and empty it out. So it sat there. I know, it's gross. At this point I was embarrassed to walk it past my host family, thinking they would assume that I used it during the day, which I did later, because I was too lazy to go downstairs. Haha, I'm hoping today is a bit classier.
Here's a picture from last weekend. I went on vacation to a mostly deserted island a few kilos off the Cambodian coast, and got to hang out with other Peace Corps volunteers. It was so nice to swim around in the ocean and to just speak some English. There are some really great people here too, and it's nice to start to get to know them a little better.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
I woke up this morning and went in to teach for the first time with the new teacher at my school. It was a frustrating experience. Earlier in the week, I taught with one of the veteran teachers, and we traded off teaching (eight hours on Monday) back and forth. Although not eagerly receptive to change everything right away (as to be expected) he let me do my thing and I let him do his. We kept the class mostly in English. I felt successful at the end of the day. The students had learned something. Today, not so much. The level of translation was so high that the students easily grasped the content of the lesson, but didn't have to use any English to figure it out. Instead, they would wait a few seconds and the teacher would tell them, word for word, what was going on in Khmer. I managed to force in a little bit of English in the second class, when I had the students give simple introductions e.g. Written on the board: "My name is ____. I am from ____. I am ___ years old." A few of the students had trouble with this. They've been studying English for three years... Patience. Patience. Patience. After four hours of hearing every word and every question translated into Khmer, I talked to the teacher (I had to bite my tongue a few times to keep from telling him off in front of the class, which would have been incredibly counter productive because of the whole concept of "saving face" e.g. don't ever correct the teacher in front of the students) I told him how I felt about translation and asked if we could try and not translate next time. He seemed to be receptive to this. We'll see how it goes next time.
From here, my day starts arcing like the upward slope of a sine wave. On my way home, I stop by the first host family I stayed with here and ask to buy some fried bananas. They insist on not letting me pay, and I sit and happily masticate warm deep fried banana and chat with them. Then, my co-worker, tutor, and friend Tola shows up and he helps me translate a bit of what first-host-mom-in-Srong was saying i.e. "you should come by more often" and "I'm happy you're here." Coming from a lady who I was pretty sure didn't like me, it was really sweet.
Afterwards, I went home and had some lunch, without having to eat fish heads, and took a nap. I woke up refreshed, did some dishes from my morning's breakfast, and started studying as I waited for Tola to come over for tutoring. The session went really well! We talked in Khmer for nearly the whole hour and a half. I wrote down about two pages full of new words, and I really felt like I could concentrate and respond to parts of conversation that were more abstract than the immediate here and now. We went out to coffee afterward and my host dad came along too. We chatted for awhile with each other and some of the curious people who wandered by, and then I went for an evening run.
I passed some monk children on the way, and I invited them to run with me. They were all smiles and challenged me to race. I sprinted ahead of them and turned to wave goodbye. I felt great, and, as I approached the watt with the giant Buddha, out of the forest came the beginning of the song "I've gotta feeling" by the Black Eyed Peas. Regardless of your 'feelings' about the song, it's got a good beat to run to. I got to the watt and turned around at the gate (a conditioned reflex from the first time I ran in and the dogs went nuts).
After a few seconds, the song switched to a Khmer song, and my stomach started churning. It was a feeling reminiscent of the recent diarrhea bouts I'd gone through when I was sick. I was afraid to fart. As I passed the monk children the second time, they we're as excited to race as before (there was even an older monk in the road with a digital camera.) I sucked in my gut and gave a last ditch attempt at a run and tried to smile. I kept thinking of Don Gately from Infinite Jest who said roughly "The pain at any one moment isn't too much to deal with. It's the adding up of all the moments seemingly stretching into eternity that becomes impossible to bear." I stayed present and made it home. Three trips to the bathroom later, I had some dinner. I played guitar and sang. I went upstairs and wrote about my day, and sat listening to music. So far so good.
In a similar way, I discovered that I had eaten congealed blood. My first host mom would cook up a variety of dishes in which there would be little brownish squares that soaked up the flavor of whatever they were cooked in. I thought it was brown tofu... Coincidentally, the day that we learned about pain and injuries in language class, I asked about what it was that I was eating. Bad call. The answer was straight to the point, "that's cow blood." I smiled, a nervous what-did-I-get-myself-into smile and then remembered that I'd been happily eating the stuff for a few weeks so there really wasn't any reason to pick around it now. I will admit that I stopped specifically searching it out with the spoon though.
The fish heads were a recent phenomenon. Trying to make conversation at dinner, I asked a question that no one should ever ask, "do you eat the fish's head?" Again, my Khmer host brother treated me to the same matter of fact answer, "yes, eat." Wow, keeping my mouth shut would have been a much better call in both cases. Twice since then, I've crunched through all the cartilage that is, a fish's head. It kind of reminds me of eating shrimp tails in Chinese food. Having had the choice to eat or not to eat, I can't really explain that one away.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Brief anecdote: I was cast into an impromptu lesson yesterday. The teacher finished his lesson, walked over to me and asked, "Can you teach now? I want to see how you would teach vocabulary." Me: "What vocabulary should I teach?" Him: "Just pick a word it doesn't matter." Me: "Ok, give me a second." I ended up teaching the students about the word "graffiti" as I figured it would be one they had never heard before. Then, I proceeded to play a word association game with them i.e. "where does graffiti come from?" "a pen" "where does a pen come from?" etc. Then I had them each come up with one word in English to share with the class. I basically just really wanted to get them talking and try to break up the general presence of silence that they've gotten used to in the English classroom. One class I observed today went on for about an hour without the students saying a single word! Once I'd compiled their words on the board, I wrote a few sentences using the words and had them come up and act out the sentences. I had fun, and I imagine that the students did as well. Some highlights: the students that acted out a mouse finding and sniffing the cheese (another student) and the dog being fed under the table. Humiliating for the students? Maybe. Entertaining? You bet. I need to take care not to abuse this power. Haha, oh the joys of teaching.
While I am not teaching, I've been keeping up my Khmer studies, running, and searching for bread. I love bread so much, but it is a rarity in my community. I had a bread lady in my training village who I visited daily. My toughest days were the ones where she ran out of bread. It's amazing how much of an impact food has on my mood. I've even been ordered by close friends to eat at times when I've gotten cranky. From a series of inquisitions and what could be termed prolonged jests, but not conversations, with my crazy host-aunt, yes I have a crazy host-aunt, (I use the term endearingly. She is, shall we say, eccentric. She generally dons a wide brimmed circular hat with circling, alternating, black and yellow stripes like a bumblebee. She speaks to me as if I understand every word that she says, and everything I say she finds hilarious. e.g. I am going to school. (burst of laughter -quick repetition of what I said, "going to school!") I love curry (same reaction) I miss my family (another burst of laughter)) and through her, I've determined that one way to get bread is to wait by the side of the road and flag down a person driving by who has bread. This seems to be a somewhat inefficient method, but somehow my host-mom managed to get a few loaves of bread for the curry we had last night. Therefore, I am hopeful about the prospect of eating bread in the future.
Saturday, October 16, 2010
(Me with my dirty-one-week-of-sickness beard)
Hi everyone. I am currently in my hammock, happy as a clam. I feel somewhat like a clam too, as the hammock is fully wrapped around me, except for an opening at the top (maybe more like a burrito, man i miss Mexican food!)
In other news, i was sick for about a week and now I'm better. So it goes. The other day, while i sat outside with my host family, I saw a bus go through our village, past the house. I looked up to see two white faces staring at me. For a moment we all shared the exact same thought, "what on earth (pg version) are you doing here?" likely coupled with the same surprised expression. It was a strange moment and i'm still not exactly sure what to make of it. Was i feeling a bit territorial? Have i been here that long that the sight of a white person is a spectacle? Either way it felt unique.
I begin another week of observation next week. I hope by the end i will know who i will be working with for the coming year and what grades i will be teaching with any luck beginning the following week. It's been a bit of a rocky start, but it seems like things are moving at last.
P.S. The title is a line from el amor by neruda. I'm still being enraptured by the captain's verses.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
So, I saw this poster and I couldn't pass it without taking a picture. There's the typical 5 person possy all schwagged out with various articles of bling. Not gonna lie, the headband guy with Jordan's number kinda reminded me of Questy. Not really sure about the various signs being thrown, but I think the guy on the right is advocating for peace. Master Wizard seems to be the group leader. I say this because he is on top, and he has the most bling. Also, he is shooting rays of fire, light, or gangster-related inspirational energy at the others, which makes him the leader by default. Then, there is the woman in the shiny dress, who doesn't really seem to fit in with either the gangster or wizard party. Maybe she's going to prom with one of them.
Throughout my travels with Guillaume in Central America, I could often be found eating peanut butter, sometimes plain, sometimes with a spoon, sometimes without utensils... Here I managed to find some bread, and while going on a mini-vacation this past weekend, I returned to my usual ways. Guillaume, I hope you are proud of me.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
The title actually refers to the number of kilometers I biked yesterday to get to the closest Peace Corps volunteer and get back to my village. I got a pretty decent sunburn and my legs are sore, but it was worth it to feel like I was not alone. Not that i've been all that lonely, my family is great, it's just nice to speak in English. The trip was an adventure through the depths of rural cambodia, and I wanted to share a few highlights / lowlights.
First the lowlights: I wasn't a fan of seeing the shirt "Equal Opportunity Asskicker!" in a country where women's issues are very prevalent and real. Although, as some of my friends will remember, I may have participated in my share of sexist jokes in high school e.g. "Do you want to hear a joke... women's rights." These jokes were made because of the reaction they evoked and never with any degree of seriousness. I consider myself a feminist in the root sense of the word. I feel that women really should have the same rights as men, and while I am not ignorant of our biological differences, I feel that in most cases where preconceived differences are attributed to sex, there is a misconception linking biological differences to socialized behavior. Luckily, I don't think the guy wearing the shirt knew what he had on his back. I've seen enough ridiculous shirts here to realize that most people don't have a clue what their clothes say.
The next "lowlight" really wasn't all that bad. I ended up lost in a river (yes, biking through a river). I was up to my pedals in water heading towards a particularly remote village. A few of the locals growled at me, which perturbed me, to say the least. I kept moving, heralded by the cries of "BARONG!" which continued to follow me throughout the ride. My route ended up being a shortcut, a fact I learned by taking the long road home.
I met up with my friend Bryan about halfway into the ride which was totally unexpected because I managed to mix up north and south thinking that he was biking a different direction. His knee was hurting and so we decided to head back toward his village. About half way back, we stopped for some cold soybean milk, so good! Then we went for lunch at his village / town and had some fried ramen noodles with veggies and cow. After lunch we ordered some bolboa (not sure how to spell it) it turned out to not be bolboa, but it was pretty good nonetheless. I bought a loaf of bread, pretty much my M.O. here whenever I see it (we don't have it in my town either which makes it that much more special now). Bryan took me home to meet the folks, who insisted that I stay the night, I declined, as I told my family I'd be back that day. Long story short, after stocking up my waterpouch (camelback knock-off) I was off.
It started raining on the way back and I was utterly soaked. The roads are all dirt and I got all dirty. See exhibit 1:
The bike ride back was long enough that I had some time to think. I realized that being in Cambodian society is sort of like being part of a giant fraternity / sorority. There are three aspects to this analogy 1) When they drink, they drink to get drunk. 2) Everyone calls one another "big/little" "brother/sister" and sometimes just "big" or "little." 3) They play music way too loud!
One last thing, in one of towns I biked through there were two girls playing in the road. The older one, around 5, rushed to pick up the little one and carry her out of the way. I guess she thought that if she didn't move the little one I would run her over. There was plenty of room to maneuver, and this scene surprised me. People don't really know what to think of me here. I have been treated like a vengeful deity, an unwelcome guest, a prince charming (come to marry and take a bride to America), an omniscient being, a trophy, an idiot, and, during the best of times, as a human being.
Excited about the day, I dance around the room throwing my most formal outfit, i.e. black pants, a belt (still getting used to that thing...), the nice collared blue shirt my mom got for me, and, of course, sandals. Next, I hop on my Peace Corps bike with my P.C. approved, goofy-looking, helmet and bike off to school. I weave in and out of potholes, puddles, teens, and children, who bike at what I endearingly call the "Khmer pace," to be distinguished from "the American pace" that I like to set.
I get to school and chat with a few of my co-teachers and vice principal. The vp asks me if I like wwe / wwf wrestling and tells me about how much he likes "The Undertaker" this is all in Khmer, with a little help from one of the co-teachers who speaks some English. As 8:30 rolls around (I was told to be there at 7:30...) things began. A stage was set up in front of the students, there was an m.c. and a table with the school director, vp, who I assumed were the district governor and the head of the education dept, and then there was me. Having been invited to sit at the front, I played the role of the trophy white person, sitting and smiling for two hours. I asked the director if he wanted me to say anything, but, without receiving a direct no, I realized that they just wanted me to sit. So i sat. That was it. School was done for the day, and I went home.
I spent the rest of the day, doing what is slowly becoming my routine, i.e. running to train for the half-marathon in December, lifting weights or doing yoga, reading in my hammock, studying khmer, playing kicki-feather with some of my host-siblings, and occasionally shooting the breeze with the mings (my host-aunts and my host-mom).
Bon Tope Dayk (Bedroom)
The wooden floor is covered
in a flowery plastic repetition
whose beginning and end are obscured
by its rectangular shape.
A bouquet of fake flowers,
whose floral attributes
resemble the laminated carpeting,
rests on the hard wood table.
Fireworks sound in the distance
as if timed to break
the silence softened by crickets.
I rock slowly
in a green mesh cradle
under a brick tiled roof
that leaks during storms,
while the cigarette-box-backed glass
mirrors my reflection
as I stare at an ancient temple,
the background of a beer poster
plastered on the wall.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
There were 24 in a minivan coming out to permanent site, a new record for me, to sum up the experience I will say that being tall sucks sometimes.
I saw a lovely t-shirt this morning while having breakfast with my school director which is the title of this blog, and he bought me breakfast, which was a really kind gesture.
On my first day at site, I was told to be at school at 7:30 and then I sat in the office being introduced to various people and doing a whole lot of nothing while a bunch of people talked about me in Khmer. I stayed until 11:30 and then went home and went for a nice one hourish run. I found a watt on the mountain with 740 steps, yes I counted, my calves are still sore.
I went out and played volleyball with the locals on Tuesday. They're very serious about volleyball here and they were amused by my efforts (being tall has it's advantages if you're not great at volleyball).
My family helped me to set up a hammock in my room. It's my new favorite place in the world! I've been spending a good amount of time laying there reading Pablo Neruda poetry and Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox.
Here's a Neruda poem I particularly liked:
Night on the Island
All night I have slept with you
next to the sea, on the island.
Wild and sweet you were between pleasure and sleep,
between fire and water.
Perhaps very late
our dreams joined
at the top or at the bottom,
Up above like branches moved by a common wind,
down below like red roots that touch.
Perhaps your dream
drifted from mine
and through the dark sea
was seeking me
when you did not yet exist,
when without sighting you
I sailed by your side,
and your eyes sought
bread, wine, love, and anger–
I heap upon you
because you are the cup
that was waiting for the gifts of my life.
I have slept with you
all night long while
the dark earth spins
with the living and the dead,
and on waking suddenly
in the midst of the shadow
my arm encircled your waist.
Neither night nor sleep
could separate us.
I have slept with you
and on waking, your mouth,
come from your dream,
gave me the taste of earth,
of sea water, of seaweed,
of the depths of your life,
and I received your kiss
moistened by the dawn
as if it came to me
from the sea that surrounds us.
La noche en la isla
Toda la noche he dormido contigo
junto al mar, en la isla.
Salvaje y dulce eras entre el placer y el sueño,
entre el fuego y el agua.
Tal vez muy tarde
nuestros sueños se unieron
en lo alto o en el fondo,
arriba como ramas que un mismo viento mueve,
abajo como rojas raíces que se tocan.
Tal vez tu sueño
se separó del mío
y por el mar oscuro
cuando aún no existías,
cuando sin divisarte
navegué por tu lado,
y tus ojos buscaban
lo que ahora
—pan, vino, amor y cólera—
te doy a manos llenas
porque tú eres la copa
que esperaba los dones de mi vida.
He dormido contigo
toda la noche mientras
la oscura tierra gira
con vivos y con muertos,
y al despertar de pronto
en medio de la sombra
mi brazo rodeaba tu cintura.
Ni la noche, ni el sueño
He dormido contigo
y al despertar tu boca
salida de tu sueño
me dio el sabor de tierra,
de agua marina, de algas,
del fondo de tu vida,
y recibí tu beso
mojado por la aurora
como si me llegara
del mar que nos rodea.
- ► 2012 (17)
- ► 2011 (40)
- A Typical Day in Cambodia
- The Sweetest Thing
- On My Way Back to Site,
- A New Year's Resolution
- Christmas Day
- It's Christmas in Cambodia
- Two more pictures from "Another Cambodian Holiday...
- Another Cambodian Holiday (as told to Taylor)
- Who are you? What’s going on?
- Host Family 1.5 or Windows ME
- The Last of the Phone Pictures
- Stumbling Blindly Through Wooden Fences
- ► November (5)
- ► October (7)
- ▼ December (13)