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

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giant Buddha at the night festival.

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

The Harvest Begins!

Picture update:

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

Oh Captain, My Captain...

It's Tuesday morning. For some reason, there are no English classes on Tuesday. My goals for today are to create a poster advertising for a "Beginners English Club" and an "Advanced Club," which I hope to use as a segway to an introduction to critical thinking. Critical thinking is not a skill taught in the schools here. In the few weeks that I've been teaching English, I've noticed that students have had trouble when there is not a clear cut answer. They have mastered the ability to memorize information, but, for the most part (and I realize I am speaking in generalizations), the students are unable to synthesize information or use it outside of the immediate context under which it is given. This has made the introduction of communicative techniques into the classroom very difficult. One of the major components of language learning is creativity. Some of the smarter students in my classes know thousands of English words, and they can explain to me the rules regarding the use of the first conditional and the future progressive tense. However, they are unable to use English in any sort of functional communicative manner. Communication falls apart if it strays from the script that they have memorized e.g. yesterday, instead of greeting the students with the typical [me: "Hello students!" them: "Hello teacher!"(it always makes me smile)] I tried, "good afternoon!" "... *dead silence*". This example is not meant to insinuate that the students are not intelligent, but only to show the depth to which the students have come to rely on scripts in language learning.

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

Miner's Coffee and Chamber Pots

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

A Giant Lobster and a Walrus

The lobster reminded me of a storybook project that my friends and I did for a government class in high school and is dedicated to Sam Beyea.

The walrus is a tribute to Ryan Thompson, who should have gone to art school instead of law school.