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

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Writing Olympics

For the past two months, the students in my advanced club and I have been devoting one hour of our club per week, and who knows how many countless hours outside of class to work on creative writing. Yesterday, the students had one hour to write about a prompt they had never seen and respond to it in a creative way. Of the 3o students who started in the club, 19 showed up yesterday and turned in papers. Their papers will go to Phnom Penh to be judged, on the merit of their ideas, not grammar, and all of the students will get a certificate, regardless of how they did. I was impressed to see my students writing away, and I felt accomplished seeing them do a task that would have been impossible, or at least much more difficult, a few months ago. It was also very gratifying when a few students came up to me after the test to ask if they could keep doing writing in the club after this week. I told them no and that the only thing that was important was the competition itself...I didn't really.

One of the assignments I had the students doing in preparation for the competition (and of course practicing critical thinking and using the language in a real way) was to write a letter to be put into a bottle and thrown out to sea, as if you were on a desert island, telling how you got to the island, what the island is like, and asking to be rescued. I particularly liked Samon's closing remarks on his letter: "Don't forget, I'm looking forward to getting your help on [this] desert island. From me, Samon"

Now that the competition is over, and I've got some free time this week due to teacher meetings and Buddha's birthday, I'm going to get back to finishing The Count of Monte Cristo and playing guitar. Stay tuned next week, I'll be in Phnom Penh for training and therefore have decent internet, so I'll try and put up some more pictures / stories maybe even a video. :)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My First Cambodian Wedding

It was kinda like an episode of Scrubs. Begin narration, "I really didn't know what to expect before the wedding and as I got dressed I wondered how many cultural norms, taboos, and customs I would unwittingly break. I put on my fancy pinkish shirt and went downstairs to wait with my host brothers/nephews/cousins/not really sure, for my host aunt."

(Looking freshy!)

We ended up waiting about an hour for her to get ready because, as it turns out, it takes longer for women to get ready (generally speaking of course) here too. And, no wonder, look at how much make-up my host aunts have got on:

We traveled by car to the wedding. It was the first time I'd been in a car besides one of those jam-packed vans in some time. Not surprisingly, there were still no seatbelts and we had three in the front and five in the back of a five seat car.

As we pulled up to the wedding I heard the blasting speakers and saw the elaborate tents and knew I was in the right place. I went to greet the school director whose daughter was getting married and he took me by the hand, away from my host-family, to a table of people I'd never met. If I hadn't been living in Cambodia for about half a year already, this would have surprised me. I made small talk with a few of my neighbors and waved to some of the teachers I knew at tables nearby. I did my best to take everything in and emulate what others were doing, but after about five minutes of this I pulled out my camera. Classic barong move.

(I don't know any of these people...)

The food was pretty spectacular. We had over-sized grilled fish, some sort of a salad, some sort of a soup (I really need to start learning the names of the food), and cashews. All of the guests were seated under giant multicolored tents, which is pretty common from what I've noticed of weddings here so far. Where there's a tent there's a wedding, or possibly a funeral...

(Live music and multicolored tents!)

I sat and ate. The band played on. I paid my dues (at weddings here guests are expected to contribute money to help cover the cost of the wedding. All contributions are recorded in a registry with names next to the amount of money that each person gave). What happened next was pretty unexpected. The director asked me to sing a song. I was really hoping he was joking, nope. Over the next half hour I went and talked to the guy at the keyboards and tried to figure out a song I could sing. He only knew Khmer songs, but there was one song that had been translated into Khmer in which the chords were the same, well mostly. I only partially knew the words because it was a song my students requested and I'd had them work with during one of my clubs, but I did have it on my phone. I played the song to myself as far away as I could get from the giant speakers and wrote the starts of some of the lines so I could remember. Then I got on stage and sang in front of about 400 plus people. It still doesn't seem real. It turns out the Khmer version of the song had a few differences from the English version, but I stuck it out and pulled off a semi-decent version of "Take Me to Your Heart." The song can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdCpASsqPuk After singing, it was time for the traditional circle-walk ceremony with sparklers followed by cake cutting (a borrowed tradition, as I'm told), and then the attack of the glitter and silly string. I've got a video of this, but it's way to big to upload with this connection.

(The circle-walk ceremony with the wedding party.)

After the ceremonies finished, I was asked to dance, mostly by men, and spent a few hours on the dance floor either pretending I could dance Khmer-style, copying who I thought looked the silliest, or doing some free spirited form of dancing, which anyone who's really seen me dance before would recognize.

(You've gotta love the pentatonic scale!)

Back to Scrubs voice...

"In the end, it doesn't really matter if you dance or sing or have a few too many due to the fact that all of your co-teachers, family members, the village chief, and random strangers want to toast with you. What matters is that you are there, that you show up, and appreciate those around you. So, as we say in Cambodia, lee-uh-sun-howie."