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

Monday, March 28, 2011

There and Back Again...

by Bilbo Baggins.

So, maybe it has been a little while since I have updated my blog (if it sounds awkward it's because it's an imitation of Khmer-English). This doesn't mean that I've forgotten about you all. I've been a little caught up in life lately and in lieu of writing here my creative thoughts have been poured into other vestibules e.g. I'm still working on my Cambodia cd, and I'm writing a few poems here and there. What I mean to say is that I will update this soon (as now doesn't really count and I have to go pack), and hopefully I'll have some cool pictures from Vietnam to show, because that's where I'll be for the next two weeks with my friend Matt.

Peace and love everyone,

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Little Trip In Kampong Speu

The camera's pretty shaky, but I think it gives a decent view of one of my favorite runs close to my home.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cambodian Escapade II

I'd given the second group of guys 9000r because they were nice enough to pick me up and trusted that I was telling the truth. So the total difference between what I would have paid to stay on the first van was 1000r or roughly .25c. When they'd seen the devastated look on my face as I realized that my bag was gone, the loader told me he recognized the driver of the first van and would try and find him. He didn't know the guys van number or phone number, but he'd seen him around. The loader gave me his phone number and I knew there was nothing more I could do. I clung to the tiny shred of hope but knew that I would probably have to do my best to cope with it and start replacing the things I could.

When I got home, I told the story to my host family. They asked me if I had the driver's name or van number (things I will be sure to jot down in the future) I didn't, and then they asked me what I'd lost. Knowing that most of the stuff was useless to any Khmer person, they told me that there was a chance I'd get it back. My host aunt called the loader of the second van and a few of her contacts to put the word out about my lost bag. She told me that some people were helping to look for it and that we'd probably know by the next day if anything turned up. Exhausted, I returned to my room, quickly tried to scribble out the lyrics to some of the songs I'd written before I forgot them, and went to bed.

That was last Tuesday. Wednesday came and went and there was no news. I had to go in front of my writing club and tell them, not only did I not have the certificates, but all of their essays were gone too. Also, just to add to their crushed spirits, my tenth grader Bora, who'd won best 10th grade essay in all of Cambodia, would have to re-write his essay, as my friend Aaron who'd organized and facilitated the project had accidentally left an envelope with a few dollars and with the winners' essays at an atm. He'd realized this as he was walking away, but when he'd gotten back it was gone (not a lucky week for PCVs). Besides the stream of bad news, I told the students how truly impressed me and the other judges had been by their work. They had written excellent responses to various creative prompts that they'd never seen before in English. They had come a long way from the factual retellings of an actual event that they'd started with, had used adjectives to make their stories more visual, and came up with their own original ideas. This was quite an accomplishment coming from an educational system where critical thinking is too often neglected. The students were sad about the certificates, but I promised them that I'd find the template and go and print off some more at Tram Knaa whenever I could.

Thursday, I taught for 8 hours and tried to forget about the bag. When I came home my host aunt had somehow discovered the route that the 1st driver ran and had someone she knew trying to find him. She told me that she was heading to Phnom Penh the next day to take my host cousin to see the doctor again about his nose. I told her I was willing to offer a 10$ reward to the driver or anyone who managed to get the bag back. I wasn't sure how much hope to put into this, and reading the lines of her face told me more than what I gleamed from what she said. I stayed hopeful, but my expectations were low.

Friday night, not knowing whether or not my host aunt was returning, I asked my host mom if she knew anything. She called my host aunt, who informed her that she'd tried to meet the driver, but he didn't show. She said she'd try again tomorrow. I knew that if she didn't meet him tomorrow it was a lost cause, and I wondered how much of my stuff had been lost already. My other host aunt, the one with the yellow and black striped bee hat, gave me a little lecture as I did my laundry about economics. "You know, you are willing to spend 10$ to get the bag back when you could have only spent, how much extra to stay on the van?" "3000r" I told her, giving her the largest estimate that I could honestly make. "So, 3000r or 10$? I think next time you should just stay and pay." "But, it was about doing what is right." She laughed at this and shook her head, "I've been ripped off by vans (lans) too. Some people are just greedy." I knew she was right and I smiled at her, knowing that what I'd done was stupid, but still feeling right about it.

Saturday morning I woke up early to get everything prepped for my field-clean up / start of a soccer club. I went over to my other host aunt's house next door and bought some water and snacks for the participants. Then I biked with the giant tub of water strapped to my bike and met a group of students at school. We gathered the tools, mostly ho's and a few rakes and baskets and set off to clear the overgrown pitch. Starting with around fifty students, the number soon dropped to the loyal 20 who stuck it out until the end. We worked for about two hours and cleared about one third of the field. Then, I set up a few makeshift goals and we played soccer for about an hour. It was exhausting, but really fun! I was stoked that the students came out to help me with their only reward being snacks and a clean field. Afterward, I biked home and returned the bottle to my host-aunt's house. Bee hat host-aunt was there and asked me if I knew anything about the bag. I didn't and she offered to call her sister, but I told her I was scared to know and set off to read Shantaram, a book that Tanen and his family had given me, to take my mind off of the bag.

I was reading outside when my host-aunt returned from Phnom Penh with her older son and his friend. They passed by me and stopped at their house next door. I turned around to see my host aunt walking toward me with a huge smile on her face, black bag in hand. She handed me over the bag and then my 10$ telling me that she didn't give him any money because things were missing and he was a bad person. Her older son, who speaks some English, elaborated on the story. She had tried to phone the driver but he wouldn't pick up. Then she and her son went to the taxi stand where he leaves from and found him. She grabbed the bag and there was some yelling and almost a fight. I'm sure she said some things I would have loved to have been able to say to the guy. Then, with a righteous stride, she walked away, giving him nothing.

That woman is amazing! To reiterate, using only the phone number of the second van I'd taken and her contacts, she managed to track down one driver out of the tens of thousands in Cambodia and get my bag back, almost fully intact. I was so impressed and so thankful I didn't know what to say. I kept thanking her and grinning widely and just lived speechless in the moment. Being practical, she brought me back to my senses and told me to check the bag. I looked inside and found that all of the most important things were there. I'd recovered my journal, books, teaching notes, magazines, certificates, and essays. The only things missing were a bar of dark chocolate, the English learning book I'd bought for my students, and the soccer ball (which, although expensive, is very replaceable).

I finished writing out the names on the certificates today and I'm really looking forward to giving them to my students. I'm really happy that this story had a happy ending, and I feel like it's brought me closer to my host-family, and, although they've been relentlessly teasing me about it and telling the story to anyone who stops by, I take it as a good sign.

Cambodian Escapade I

Returning from Phnom Penh last week I was overloaded to say the least. Carrying my guitar, a fully stuffed backpackers pack, and a black bag filled with books topped off with a soccer ball, I rode my bike out to the road where I can flag down a taxi to get me about 10k from my site. Riding safely from the PC office to the road in the blistering heat and keeping everything balanced while weaving through heavy midday moto traffic was miraculous. To top it off, I was fighting an ear infection and had a large piece of cotton jammed in one of my ears. I don't think I realized how much we rely on ears for balance until then...

I made it out safely and flagged the fleet of taxis with my hands gesturing the Cambodian signal for three (thumb and pointer pressed together, like the ok symbol). After about ten minutes of this, a van stopped. The loader, vans are normally run by pairs: a driver and a loader, hopped out and was happily ready to start throwing my things in the van. I knew from experience to ask for the price up front, after having been ripped off numerous times, and he gave me a straight answer. 7000 reel. This is the actual price for a person and a bike to go from Phnom Penh to Tram Knaa market. I was a bit suspicious and asked him to verify, "so, me and the bike go to Tram Knaa for 7000r ?" (this and the following dialogues are translated from Khmer) "yes." I was happy that he hadn't tried to rip me off, there's almost always some haggling involved. Pleased, I thought to myself, "I'm going to hand him two dollars, equivalent of 8200r, for being honest."

We stopped at the bakery, as most vans leaving the city do, and the driver began to pull my stuff out from the back of the van. I got out to check on what was going on and he told me, "you have a bike, it's 10000r to go to Tram Knaa." Greedy bastard. I was upset. I told him, "I live in Cambodia. I know the price. I asked the loader earlier how much it would be for me and the bike, and he told me 7000r. Normally, it costs 5000r to go from Phnom Penh to Tram Knaa and 2000r extra for a bike." He said, "it's 10000r" "No, he told me already that it is 7000r for me and the bike. I'll give you two dollars or I'll take another van." "He didn't know the price, it's 10000r." As streams of expletives drifted around my head, I decided that on principle I was not going to give in to this _____ (fill in the blank).

I grabbed my stuff, which had been thrown out on the dirt and walked 10m to another van which was going the same way. I explained my situation to them and asked if they could take me to Tram Knaa for two dollars. They agreed. Then the driver of the van came up to them and demanded money for taking me from P.P. to the bakery. I told the new team that this man had lied to me and then I told them the man had a bad heart (jet ah crot). They didn't give him anything and without incident we arrived at Tram Knaa. As I was getting out I froze. I didn't have my black bag. The bag had all of my students essays from the contest, their certificates (and I can't even begin to explain how much certificates mean to Khmer people, it's like heaven on parchment), all of my notes from the TESOL conference I attended, two new books Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Wind Up Bird Chronicle (which I'd just gotten from Rachel), two candy bars from Tanen and his family, my teaching notebooks, a whole slew of magazines I was going to use for materials development, a brand new book I'd just bought for my family club, one of the 17$ soccer balls I'd just bought to do a 50th anniversary project for the Peace Corps, and my journal (containing all of the poetry, songs, and creative gestures I'd written over the last 5 months. It was a heavy blow. On my bike ride home, which in retrospect was notably easier without the bag, I kept going over what had happened in my mind. "It was only .50c more, but it was the principle of the thing, but 50c, but principle, the guy was a jerk, principle, but 50c, wow I'm an idiot, the stuff's irreplaceable, grrrrrrrr, *)^_$, ." I was really mad at myself and used my rage to propel me back to my village.