It’s hard to know where to begin in retelling the past 2 weeks or so. This is why I’m going to try and update more often, then it’s not so much of a mammoth task…
Just woken up from a wonderful and very rare lie-in as it’s the weekend!! It’s the end of my second week working at Honour Village and so me and Trish are heading into Siem Reap town for a well-deserve weekend break. To say time passes at light speed here is an understatement. Two days after my birthday on Tuesday, it will have been a month since I arrived as a tourist simpleton, marvelling at tuk tuks and excitedly pointing out the first sighting of a real monk..
I feel pretty proud of how me and Trish have managed to adapt to our new lives here already. Home sickness is something we will both have to deal with time to time but overall we’ve coped with the situation pretty calmly and with a determination to be the best volunteers we can be!
Which of course brings me to the work at Honour Village we’ve been carrying out which has taken over our lives these past couple of weeks. It’s an intense 8:30-5pm day at the Children’s Village (the word ‘orphanage’ here apparently has bad connotations due to the frequency of corruption; I’ll go back to this point later!) I don’t think any amount of preparation could’ve helped me and Trish with how intense the days are and how tiring! However that is no way a complaint, each day is a rollercoaster of highs and lows but the high points make any amount of tiredness completely worth it.
I think the easiest way to give you an idea of what we’re doing at HVC (Honour Village Cambodia) is to go through our daily routine, which is pretty fixed. I promise I’ll try and make it as interesting as possible…
The mornings start with a groan as me and Trish realised it’s reached 7/7:30am and the phone’s irritating beeping signals the fact we both have to get up and disturb our deep sleep. One of us tries to drag the other out of bed after having a freezing cold shower. We don’t have hot water here, which is great when you’re sweaty and gross after a day’s work but in the morning when you’re all cosy in bed and then have to stand under ice-water, well that’s not so refreshing. As with all things, we’ve both got used to these freezing wake-up calls and I have a feeling I’d be a half-asleep zombie without them. Then as we both sit there in sleepy silence one of us tries to make breakfast. So far we’ve tried cheap cornflakes, yoghurts (bit expensive but tasty!), some mouldy bananas, frosties (however at 4 dollars a box we realised it was a bit too luxurious) and our latest venture of putting sweetened soy milk on yet more cheap cereal. I’ve forgotten to mention one experiemental breakfast which went pretty wrong (and yes it was me who found out of course!) Across from our house is a street which has lots of little food stalls that sell cheap packaged crap basically. Me and Trish decided to try the little sponge cakes they sell, and they were delicious!! We bought a couple of packets to eat for breakfast, as they were so cheap. Then I think it must’ve been Tuesday last week? I happily bit into a cake, with my blurry just woken up vision, little black dots were swimming before my eyes. ‘Of course it’s just me waking up’ I thought, then the horror of realisation dawned as I looked more closely at the cake I’d just bitten into and it was in fact infested with small ants.
The term ‘freak-out’ doesn’t quite sum up my reaction. Anyone who knows me knows I hate insects, of most kinds (hence why we have the strongest bug spray imaginable and a tennis-racquet styled insect zapper- which literally fries anything…) So that made for a wonderful start to the day! Safe to say we won’t be risking the cakes again, which is a shame as they were tasty when bug-less.
After going on that massive pointless tangent about how pathetic I am with creepy-crawlies, I’ll get back to our days out here. At about 8:15 we rush out of the door to get to our transport for the day. A bicycle!! To get to Honour Village me and Trish cycle 3km each way, every day (so approx. 30km a week!) When I heard ‘it’s a 10 minute cycle ride’ I was quite excited at maybe getting slightly less unfit while being out here. However the reality of it is quite a bit of a shock to my muscles… We’ve already had some hilarious incidents, especially as me and bikes often ends up with a tangle of metal and limbs in a nettle bush somewhere. As well as the countless motos and dusty trucks which overtake us on the journey and the fact there is no official ‘right side’ to drive on, me and Trish have had to deal with some interesting challenges on the dusty dirt-tracks of Cambodia.
The cows are the first thing and sometimes bulls which just lie in the middle of the roads. Herds (led by children who look no older than 8 by bits of string) just wander into the road, sometimes at a run. Then there’s the fact we are cycling in rainy season and a very unpredictable one at that. Once the rain starts and you realise you have no way of being waterproof it’s a steady endurance test against the pelting rain, hilarious for Trish when she spots my completely useless glasses covered in raindrops. The muddy roads become a bath of puddles and ditch ramps, which I’ve accidentally taken at speed. I’ve concluded that all of this is going to make me into some kind of bmx champion by the end of the year… Okay maybe not, but as we wash the caked mud off our legs when we reach our destination at either end I kind of wish I could be! All this said, we both love the bikes and the chance to be outside every day. The scenery here is breath-taking. Whether we’re cycling home as the clouds are lit up by the setting, golden glow of the sun or we cycle past the flooded rice-fields in the early mornings, it’s hard not to stop and get out my camera at every opportunity. The rainy journeys are pretty rare as we luckily miss it most days, and no matter how out of breath we get, a quick look around makes everything seem a bit better. Cambodia is a remarkably flat country, which again makes cycling hardly a challenge and the views seem to go on forever, stretching until your eyes fail you.
Bike and scenery! ^
When we finally reach HVC after realising just how unfit we both are, it’s a quick feeding of the 5 cats before me and Trish head off to teach whichever lessons we’re in charge of that day. Teaching is so hard! Genuinely feel bad for all my teachers if I was ever too chatty or irritated them (and as nerdy as you know I am, it did happen on occasion!) The fact it’s hard doesn’t make me want to give up on it but drives my determination to learn as much as possible at how to make my lessons really good, something I hope to achieve by the time I leave next year. So far I’ve taught a lesson to three of the four different classes at HVC. I started off with teaching a couple of class 4’s handwriting lessons, which consists of all the older boys and more advanced students. I hope to teach them full time eventually as that has been my favourite teaching experience so far. I then covered for a teacher who takes class 1. Now THAT class I’m not sure I could handle full time!! Ranging from aged 5 onwards, they are the cutest but most naughty students. In playing times, they are my best friends but as soon as I teach them all hell breaks loose… Luckily the teacher came back and saved me. I’m currently helping Becky with her class 3 classes. I’ve started feeling more comfortable with this class, although discipline is a huge issue, with a set of quite cheeky kids. Surprisingly I’ve been as strict as I can, which is my least favourite element of it. It’s hard to tell off a kid who has the cutest face and has a pretty tough background, but as Sue our host points out, it’s the only way to make sure they know the difference between right and wrong.
Each class starts with an hour of maths, then an hour of handwriting. Then we all go to ‘meditation’ at 11am every day which is so fun. All the kids and volunteers sit together with Sue and we sit in complete silence for about 5 minutes, a well-deserved rest from the chaos of lessons. Then the kids are all insanely cute and sing songs together. My favourite is a Khmer one which I have no chance of learning the words to, but it’s amazing when every child from little 5-year old Riem to 16-year old Thai sing together. Sue is absolutely incredible with them, she holds this almost head-teacher like power over them, which of course comes from the fact she’s been there since day one! After meditation and usually some khmer notices which involve several children being told off… we head off for lunch. At 11:30!! Yet we’re all starving, and every day we have rice plus something else. It’s actually really nice and we’ve both gotten used to the hugely increased role of rice as our main food of the week. Yesterday we had some crazy marinated fish thing which looked horrible but tasted amazing, sometimes we have an unknown salty meat on tomatoes or a soup of… stuff? Haha it sounds unappetising but most of it tastes perfectly fine! We’re really lucky we can stay for lunch and dinner at no cost, it saves a huge amount of money and we get more time with the kids.
The volunteers all sit together at lunch times, which bring me onto the wonderful people we’ve met so far with this work! Ben and Becky I think I mentioned in the last blog post are the first people we met when we arrived and they are the most experienced HVC volunteers, hailing from Sydney and Brisbon Australia. They’ve been a huge support and help at getting us settled and both of them have been happy to let me teach some of their lessons or help with ideas and planning, (and of course where the best places in Siem Reap are!) they seem to have seen and done all the best things in this part of the world so will definitely be getting some tips for travelling.
Then there’s the lovely Anita!! She’s from Christchurch New Zealand and had been there about 2/3 weeks before we arrived. It’s great as she’s our age and here for another 8 weeks yay! Hearing her stories of the earthquake there were amazingly interesting, never thought I’d meet so many people from different parts of the world! We’re meeting up with her this weekend and she’s already given us the 1st season of misfits on a memory stick, which we watched most of last night. Then there’s Sue (another one!) from Australia as well but this time from Adelaide. Me and Trish basically see her as our second mum (hope she doesn’t mind us saying this!) but again she has so many interesting stories and experiences to share with us all. Dionne is another volunteer, from Bournemouth in good ol’ England but had been travelling all around S.E. Asia for the last 3,4 months. We’re sad she’s only here 3 weeks as we have both loved getting to know her! Again some amazing anecdotes about her travels have made this whole experience more fun. We then had a couple from Canada on their honeymoon (so unexpected!!) who spent a week at HVC. Ryan and Kate were lovely and though their visit was brief it was great to meet them too.
So yeah! That pretty much summarizes how many different people we’re meeting here! It’s so great so many people want to volunteer, as teaching 48 kids or so is a tough challenge for only a small group of people. We all went for Tapas on Wednesday, an awesome 1 dollar night at a local restaurant in Siem Reap. It’s the best night I’ve had here so far, all the volunteers were so much fun to be with! To say I’ll be sad when the group eventually disbands doesn’t cover it. L
Back to our daily routine, with another huge tangent over! After lunch we have a 2 hour break to discuss lesson planning and Sue often does some training with us. Then we have a chance to play with the kids before English conversation lessons start at 2pm and go on for an hour. It’s definitely the hardest one to teach as the point is to get them talking, pretty hard when they are still a long way from fluent. We’re all trying to improve them day by day with some games and a way to keep their attention for the whole hour. Then at 3pm most of the volunteers head home. But not me and Trish! Because we stay for dinner we get almost 2 hours to just play with the children. Sometimes if its sunny we play games out on the grass, or draw inside or we’ve now started reading to and with the kids. This is our favourite bit of the day as lessons are over and although we’re both pretty shattered, the kids are so much fun.
This is when my comment about having rollercoaster days comes into play. If you’ve had a pretty rubbish lesson then one of the kids might give you a drawing to keep, or a massive hug, or just be so much fun in general! It always lifts any mood you could be in after a really draining day, which could’ve started with a traumatic bike ride in… Haha! That’s the best part about volunteering here, no day is the same and it’s all constantly changing, volunteers come and go, lessons change, days turn into weeks and soon I’m sure they’ll turn into months without the blink of an eye.
The most recent news at HVC is that we’ve tested all the children in a standardised English (written and spoken) and Maths assessment. I helped Sue to create a draft of the English and Maths written papers as I’m pretty good at word formatting. All the volunteers had to help yesterday, either as assessors on their spoken English or in helping the kids get to the rooms they needed to be in. We then marked all the papers and now Sue and her team have to decide their ability levels. It was a tiring day but probably one of my most favourite yet as we didn’t have to teach all day haha! The afternoon was free for everyone and we spent hours sitting with the kids, taking photos and watching them ship in furniture for the new classrooms.
I should explain one last thing before I let you all stop reading this essay! The village children all start coming to Honour Village to learn English and Khmer on the October 1st and that is also when HVC kids start school again. So can you believe we’re doing all this teaching and it’s actually the summer holidays for them?! There have been over 200 village kids who have shown interest in coming to HVC but we can’t take them all in (lack of space and volunteers!) so we’re testing all 200 or so on Monday. It’s going to be a bit of a crazy day… The local village doesn’t actually have a school which is why there is such high demand to learn with us. Me and Trish both spent a day last week on the back of a moto with one of the Khmer teachers, spreading the word about HVC, but the story of that day will have to wait until next time as my fingers are tired!
I will try and be a bit better at keeping you updated so it doesn’t all come in one huge post like today. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading and it hasn’t been too much of a contrast to my Phnom Penh entries!
Love to everyone,
p.s.added note from later in the day: a bit of our bathroom ceiling fell down in a storm last night and today in Siem Reap we were joined by a rat as we ate our lunch. Hilariously terrifying.