My Dad complained my last blog post was too long, but I’m afraid there is just too much to write about with not enough time or space, so that won’t be changing much (Dad I still expect a FULL read-through ;D) I wish I could update more often but most evenings I’m shattered or actually sleeping aha!
Since my last blog post on the 15th I’ve turned 19!! I don’t feel any different, but the day itself was definitely not the usual birthday at home… I got some cards from the kids at HVC and sung Happy Birthday to by more than a few of them which was so lovely! Trish made a card for me and so did Becky and Ben, which just made an awesome start to the day. Then after a day at HVC, we headed down to somewhere called ‘Swensons’ which is an American ice-cream shop that sells THE best ice cream sundaes imaginable. While shovelling huge spoonfuls of chocolate covered goodness into my mouth, I skilfully skyped my parents. There is never a time when eating cannot be combined with important family communication. After the ice cream, we went to this amazing place called the Rivergarden which I think I mentioned last time too. I had steak! An actual steak in Cambodia, so that pretty much made my birthday. The other volunteers bought me this huge present of food and snacks and lovely bath kind of stuff which I really love as it’s hard to get stuff cheap that’s western here (I know this makes me sound even more obese but I got DAIRY MILK!! Couldn’t have dreamed of a better present.) After feeling crazily full, I got home and then spent all of Trish’s phone credit calling home… oops! I did replace her top up for her though, I’m not that much of an evil person…
The rest of the week passed by as a busy blur, each bike ride home on a Friday evening seems to come so quickly! This particular Friday however, we went out in Siem Reap for the first time…DUN DUN DUNNN.
Okay so sorry guys but, forget freshers, Siem Reap is where it’s at! I know we are here to volunteer but work hard and play hard right?! We hadn’t really let ourselves have a night out since moving up to SR and to celebrate me being an old fogey at 19, we headed out with loads of other volunteers to the Angkor Famous bar. I won’t go into too much detail of the night out as I should focus on the volunteering we’re doing! BUT after dangerously cheap cocktails we did go to a bar called ‘Angkor What?!’ It’s a play on the Angkor Wat name of the huge temple Cambodia is famous for, which is right next to Siem Reap. It’s an awesome place and safe to say we were dancing on tables… we even ended up in a hilarious Khmer club called ‘Hip Hop’ by the end of the night. I can’t remember how many different people we met but we just made friends wherever we went, just pure fun and dancing like a crazy idiot (I feel sorry for those of you who have witnessed this sight before!)
We don’t really get out much so it was a great release from a lot of the stress and change we’ve been through these past few weeks, plus we met some more amazing people!
Then on the Saturday Sarah came to visit! She’s another Project Trust volunteer working in Phnom Penh and it was great to catch up. After her 6 hour journey in, we showed her the streets of Siem Reap and she couldn’t believe how quiet and dead it was compared to Phnom Penh. Me and Trish were trying to think of a comparison to cities back in the UK. Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is like London to a much much quieter Oxford. Whereas Sarah falls asleep to the sound of crazy blaring traffic horns and constant noise, we fall asleep to the sounds of cockerels and weird insects (no joke, there is a frog here which sounds like a giant cow/donkey…) We had a pretty chilled night in with some movies and then a visit to the Rivergarden again on the Sunday (pretty much regulars now!) Hopefully we can meet up with the whole country group soon and go on holiday somewhere, as we both miss the first 2 weeks we had with everyone in Phnom Penh!
Apart from our ‘crazy’ Friday night, the week has been pretty peaceful. HVC is in a kind of limbo at the moment as we wait for the village children to start lessons. So far we have an estimated 200 extra kids coming onto the site, me and Trish are slightly terrified! The way things are done in Cambodia is really different to the western world, especially in education. A lot of the people who run schools here probably never went to proper schools themselves and have nowhere near the qualifications of teachers back home. This makes co-ordination with lessons we want to teach pretty damn hard and it’s a constant battle for information that’s accurate! However I know we’ll get there eventually- the path to success here is full of challenges and much windier than any in Western society.
Instead of teaching we’re trying to do odd jobs around the site, from litter picking, laundry, helping to cook, fixing chairs, cleaning rooms, and sorting stock to of course playing with the kids as much as possible! The older ones have already started secondary school and the younger ones will all go off next Monday, so we won’t really have as much time to spend with them after this week. Everything changes day by day so for all we know the village kids might be set back another week due to the khmer way of organising! Sue says we can learn a lot culturally from how laid back they are in almost all situations, but when co-ordinating 6 different classes of Khmer, English and Maths combined with 250+ children in total? Maybe the uptight Western way of being prepared will stop all of us going insane… haha! I’m pretty nervous to teach the village children as some know no English at all, whereas most of HVC’s kids can understand basic instructions such as ‘sit down’ etc. We might even have translators in our lessons, yet another thing to co-ordinate!
This is where the volunteering at HVC really stretches you and makes me in particular realise I actually do love to plan out the future in quite an orderly way… But at the same time we’re constantly having to think on our feet and our input is really valued so every suggestion they take on from what we’ve said makes you feel like you’re making a real difference.
Now I haven’t really mentioned much about the kids themselves, I can’t wait to upload all my photos of them so far! They are the best. Now I know I’m a little, and only a little, biased but they just make every day so worth it. They love to call the volunteers ‘chaa’ because they can’t say ‘teacher’ haha! Also all kids here seemed to be obsessed with Angry Birds. Now I’m not sure why I didn’t see this coming, but is it only me that thinks that is so random?! They have so much merch from it, from watches to t-shirts, to shoes. One of the volunteers actually has the Angry Birds game on their iphone, needless to say the kids went mental and she has been harassed for it ever since!
Ben 10 is also a huge hit out here. It’s funny because Ben and Becky, the lovely Australian couple, have been named ‘Ben 10’ (for Ben of course) and Becky has been named ‘Angry Bird’- somehow I don’t think the kids will ever forget them! The boys love to play football, but luckily I haven’t been made to join in yet, now that would be worth laughing at. The field is usually a sea of mud so they end up pretty much swimming across the pitch to score. We went to go and see a football tournament they were in on Sunday, while Sarah was in SR. It was such a scorchingly hot day but we all turned up to see their last match which they unluckily lost and were not happy about at all! However the best bit for us was probably seeing 15 of the boys in one tuk tuk!! We thought 6 of us was a squeeze in Phnom Penh…
I’ll try and remember more things about the kids to tell you, as it’s strange how well we know them after 3 and a half weeks! I can proudly say I know all their names and pretty much their ages (maybe not quite, but working on it!) I can’t wait to get teaching again, as I think we’re all missing interacting with them all because it’s the best way to make the most out of volunteering here.
So I’m sitting here on my bed and it’s 20 past 6pm Cambodian time, dark outside and of course I’m sweating in the heat (mmmm!) I was inspired to write this post in particular, as there is just so much we’ve seen here already…
- The weird things people use motos (mopeds) for. So far I have seen: 4 live piglets on the back of one, a whole family, 2 babies, panes of glass, giant sacks of rice, huge metal frames for doors, a mirrored cabinet and about 20 ducks/geese. This is all very impressive cargo usually precariously balanced while the driver skilfully dodges potholes and wades through giant pools of mud. Often a little kid will just be balancing ontop of the stuff, like an accidental circus act, performing out of necessity.
- The amount of buffalo. But more importantly the fact tiny children are herding about 10 of them at a time, usually with a piece of string. They have huge horns which look slightly terrifying and I’m pretty sure if a stampede happened, the kid with the string wouldn’t stand much of a chance! Saying that, the chance of a stampede is pretty unlikely as they seem really docile anyway… plus I’m comforting myself as I have to cycle past loads every day! Today we saw one taking a swim in a rice paddy flooded with water, which was actually pretty awesome. Last week we saw a tiny child, probably about 5, having the time of his life riding a HUGE one and laughing at the expressions on our faces.
- The fact everyone says hello! This is lovely, on our bike rides loads of the locals shout it across the fields or as they cycle past. The kids love to get a reaction and when you answer back the grin across their faces is just brilliant. I’ve never felt so welcomed as a human being I swear! Everyone stares at us, even though they do see foreigners from time to time, it’s still pretty rare that they’re cycling Cambodian bikes through their part of the country.
- The mud, the storms and the rain. Wet season definitely isn’t as popular which is a shame as everyone misses out on the amazing lightning storms! The other night, coming back from Siem Reap it wasn’t raining but in the distance we could see the clouds being lit up by flashes of lightning miles away. It was a pretty dramatic backdrop to coming home on a Sunday night! The mud I don’t love as much, we get caked in it pretty much every bike ride, especially when it rains WHILE we’re cycling… not so good. There is this one part of the dirt path by our house that is just cursed with the worst mud and of course where I’ve fallen off my bike (mentioned with much exaggeration in the last post.) The rain has met us with mixed feelings of hatred during the cycle rides and also we kind of love it when it’s hot and we get soaked in town- much to the amusements of the hundreds of tuk tuks standing with their umbrellas.
Every day comes with some kind of discovery and pretty much I just love Cambodia!
So happy to be here, even with missing home so much I can really distract myself with the work and it’s all totally worth it.
Love to everyone as always.
p.s. I’m reading The Hobbit at the moment (due to lack of tv) and I’m so jealous of everyone who gets to see it in December!!!