Disclaimer: These are my views and do not reflect the views of the Peace Corps.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Things Beside Food

A few times this week, I've reminded myself of Buster from Arrested Development. "Hey, brother," is the literal translation of how I greet my host brothers, due to this, a scene from the show will pop into my head. I'll smile and remember the countless times I watched the show with my roommates at 50 Del Mar. It's just the way that you address people here (earlier this reminded me of a fraternity and sorority colloquialism, now Arrested Development, what next?) I'm sitting here listening to Charles Mingus' "Rem Blues" on Money Jungle, feeling slightly tired and introspective. During training, one of the older volunteers told us that, "life would be like a roller coaster" and that "our highs would be higher because our lows would be that much lower." I remember thinking to myself, "yeah, and all the worlds a stage and all of us are actors." Cliched metaphors aside, she had a point.

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.

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