To start this, yet again, overdue post I will prioritise and tell you all about our food discoveries since I last wrote! When you have a lack of television and extremely limited internet, the contents of a mini-fridge becomes strangely much more interesting…
On the last Sunday of September we took it upon ourselves to try out every café in the guide book by doing a sort of cycling tour of Siem Reap. Yes, cycling! Finally we have overcome our fear of traffic and been set loose on the pavements of Cambodia with a somewhat basic means of transport (there are no gears on bikes here, and not exactly the best brakes either.) I say ‘we’ have overcome, actually it’s more that I have managed to stop hyperventilating every time a giant 4×4 decides that it’s going to own the road which I’m pedalling along. It is certainly saving us a lot of money on tuk tuks and it’s a much better and quicker way than walking along in the scorching sunshine. Back to the more important subject here, the food. We decided to target 3 places and try out what they had to offer. However, we had foolishly undertaken this bold cycling adventure on a Sunday, when all cafes shut and it in one case are even demolished. Not exactly the best start to a food-filled plan of the day. Hot and sweaty (as is the usual state of things here) we pulled up by a place called F for Falafel. From the bikes to the entrance we were repeatedly harassed by tuk tuk drivers who had seconds earlier seen us lock up the bikes we’d been cycling… (Sometimes I think they do it just because they can.) Safe to say I had an amazing falafel experience and managed to get some houmous into the mix, which I didn’t think I’d be seeing again until I next raided the dip-filled fridge at my house back in England. We also had the best smoothies in the world. No this is not an exaggeration. They were AMAZING. And cheap.
Then as if this place we’d chanced upon could actually get any better, there was a talking parrot. Trish seemed to be pretty nonplussed, I think she’s seen them before. However I thought this was pretty much the best thing since sliced bread. The parrot/bird thing wolf whistled and then said ‘hello’ ‘what’s your name’ and ‘very pretty’. This sounds really unimpressive but it was with an ACTUAL HUMAN VOICE. I swear I just sat and tried to make the bird talk for about an hour. So much entertainment in one bird haha!
Also on our fruitless café search we’d seen a place called ‘Common Grounds’ which looked amazing, so last weekend we made it our mission to go. Safe to say we spent about 6 hours in that café with the free wifi and steady flow of cakes/toasties. I don’t think I’ll ever take melted cheese for granted again. It’s so good! This place will definitely be a regular haunt for us this year, so it was really worth doing a bit of research on where to go.
Though not all of our food adventures have gone quite so smoothly… Last week I accidentally bought Trish and I bbqued frogs on sticks. I honestly thought it was tasty bits of pork or something! We’d polished off about half the frogs when I asked Trish if she thought the weird leg-like things attached to them were a bit odd. After asking one of the other volunteers, we were given the terrifying news that we’d tried a Cambodian delicacy. Trish freaked out and I wasn’t sure whether to be sick or carry on eating it. I think it tasted alright; it was bony but stuffed with lemongrass and garlic, so not too bad! Rather than just saying ‘it tasted like chicken’ which is how everyone seems to describe interesting food, it tasted like really strong and garlicky chicken! Next time we eat something creepy I’ll get a photo and show you all as evidence.
So much food news! I’ll finish with the fact I now have the beautiful condiment of MARMITE! The true food love of my life is back and currently staring at me from the surface above my fridge. Again a highlight of the past few weeks was spotting the yellow label in the food isles of Lucky Mall and having a mini celebration among the stupefied Korean shoppers.
Now to something not so delicious – Trish’s feet. The trials and tribulations of her poor toes has been a big development since I last wrote. She unluckily picked up a very nasty bacterial infection which she then had an allergic reaction to! I won’t post you a photo as it will definitely put you off your food for the next few weeks but it has been a bit of an ordeal. Rainy season often means the water which comes up to the roads contains some pretty bad parasites, which me and Trish have the luxury of cycling through daily!
However every cloud has a silver lining, and this one was getting to see inside the amazing International Angkor Hospital. So the typical image which springs to mind with hospitals back in the UK: busy, noisy, sterile, huge waiting lines, crying children, not enough beds, and of course free medical treatment. A private hospital like the one here is an entirely different experience. The hospital itself is deadly quiet. As the tuk tuk drives up to the grand palacial entrance, the thought that medical treatment is the main purpose of the architecture seems slightly surreal. The emergency entrance is empty, there are no bandaged drunkards or limbs in casts of small children. Instead there is simply a team of staff quietly waiting for the next rare patient to arrive. Trish’s feet when we first visited were so bad she was given a wheelchair (we both found this hilarious and yes I got it on camera.) Inside the hospital itself, high ceilings stretch into the sky and the floors blind you with their highly polished surfaces. After being consulted by a doctor who spoke fluent English, all of her huge blisters were burst (YUM.) Trish was so brave through it all! Then we went to the cashier, the next logical step with medical care here, and waited on plushy sofas in the grand entrance hall where paintings of the bayon temples hung among plasma screens. Every day we have to go back to get her dressings changed and the nurses (all men) work to the sound of a ticking clock. It sometimes feels like you’ve been in another world altogether when you step back outside and reality hits you with a hot humid impact.
In this reality there are no general hospitals which administer free health care, if a poor person in a village nearby collapses from a heart attack, they will most likely die or be taken to a local doctor who will have very basic resources. As foreigners, we are in an incredibly lucky situation compared to the majority of people here and it pains me to think that the treatment Trish has received is unimaginable for so many.
More light-heartedly, before we encountered the hospital Trish was briefly seen by a doctor at a local clinic who looked like Jabba from Star Wars. I laughed about this for pretty much an hour when we got home and am not sure we will ever be able to go back to the clinic in case I accidentally call him ‘Dr. Jabba’.
The important thing in all of this is that Trish is on the mend! Her feet are slowly recovering and life is becoming a little easier for her day-by-day. I’ve told her to look back on it all as a great anecdote at uni of ‘that time on my gap yah’.
At HVC, it has been incredibly busy. Yep, I am actually still volunteering there and haven’t just abandoned it to stuff my face with food and write detailed descriptions of hospitals. We were scheduled to start the huge increase in teaching on October 1st. But this is Cambodia! So infact it took another week of sorting hundreds, almost thousands, of assements and registration forms to get a rough idea of the classes. Then on the first day we did teach, it was utter chaos. Half the children who had signed up never turned up, new ones turned up who hadn’t signed up and the others all either had incorrect spellings of their names or were lost into the muddle of things. After conquering the first full week of teaching 4 hours a day, we’re almost sorted. Almost. There is still a lot of shifting about and last minute lesson planning but after dealing with the first few days of confusion I feel I can handle anything! So far I’ve realised I’m a complete dragon when it comes to discipline and I have perfected the ‘scary face’ worryingly quickly. I owe all of that to Nell, who is excellent at telling people off without shouting – genuinely appreciate that skill now.
Currently I teach 4 different classes for a full hour of English tuition. My first class at 9am is with 4 boys from the village ranging in ages 16-25. I can safely say this is one of my favourite classes of the day! I’m teaching them to read but also to understand the stories they are reading, much easier said than done. I feel comfortable already which is really reassuring and enjoy it far more than I’d ever hoped! After my older boys, I have 8 students from HVC who are all at a similar level and are also developing their reading and understanding. Then from 11-2pm we have lunch and teacher’s meetings/planning lesson time. At 2pm I have another class of 11 children (this changes a lot) and teach them a variety of English conversation, so far covering basic introductions and opposites. At 3pm I have my last class who are again about 9-12 students depending on the day and I teach them a slightly advanced version of my previous lesson.
Overall, teaching 4 hours a day is draining. I have no idea how people teach full time and as a career! I know teaching foreign students is of course a whole new set of challenges but the basics remain the same. The amount of energy you have to put into keeping the full attention of everyone in your class is astounding and then there’s the problem of making sure they’re actually learning something… I can’t wait to improve my teaching this year and hope I can become good enough to make a real impact on their English abilities as its incredibly important for children hoping to get a decent job in the future.
Apart from teaching and chaos, we recently went to a pub quiz held in HVC’s honour at a place called ‘Rosy’s guesthouse’. It raised so much money! My team lost by miles (and I got a question wrong about Andy Warhol, unforgivable! What would Miss Chubb say?!) but it was great to see how they fundraise for the kids.
Last weekend on the Sunday, we had an ‘Everybody’s birthday’ party. The kids at HVC often don’t know when they were born or even their actual ages, so birthdays are often not celebrated. So instead Sue arranged a day for everyone to have a big party together. It coincided with a trip of 15 Australian schoolgirls who donated a huge amount of presents for the kids and played party games with them all. It was so strange to be on the grounds at the weekend but really nice to see the kids when we weren’t teaching! It really showed me how far we’ve come already, as they all ran to see us and clambered all over us in excitement. I feel like we’ve been accepted into their family, as cheesy as that sounds, and it makes me certain our year here will be a happy one. 🙂
One last thing before you all nod off from my ramblings. HVC now has a real proper xylophone! A bit of an anti-climax for many of you reading but for those who know me, this is just the best thing ever. The Australian girls were amazing in their donations of gifts to HVC: hundreds of pounds, birthday presents and sacks of rice and mosquito nets for local villagers. But they also gave Sue an alto xylophone! She then asked me to play it in front of all of the kids and the staff and the schoolgirls on the spot. Luckily I didn’t embarrass myself too much! Anyway I can’t wait to start some music lessons with the kids who are interested. Pretty much my dream thing to happen here!!
Next time I write I can tell you all about our holiday which starts tomorrow. We’re off to Battambang for the weekend and I can’t wait! HVC is closed until next Wednesday as Pchum Benn (festival of the dead) means all the kids go and stay with relatives to celebrate. Some well-deserved time off for us and a chance to explore a bit of Cambodia!
Thanks so much to everyone who has even bothered to read this far and for reading all the essays. 🙂
Miss everyone a lot but living the dream!
Love to you all xxx