I cannot believe I haven’t written a post since I was back from Sihanoukville! I honestly don’t know where time goes here.

The scary thing is in ten days or so I will have been away from home for 5 whole months, that’s almost half a year gone! Our desk officer at project trust is coming out to visit at the beginning of Feb. for her 6 months visit and will be giving us letters we wrote to ourselves 6 months ago at our Training week on Coll (will be interesting to see If I’ve changed!)

I think what I’m trying to say, apart from the obvious ‘time flies’, is that my whole perspective of time has really changed out here. At home the continuous years of school felt secure and planned out, each summer I knew that after 6 weeks I’d be back in school with new textbooks and a badass set of stationary from Smiths. Yet now life seems so much more unknown and exciting really, I feel like 6th form was years ago and can’t really imagine myself being back at AHS worrying about the politics homework I haven’t done (again…) I have Edinburgh uni to look forward to when I’m home but even then I have no idea what those 4 years will bring! As days turn into weeks and weeks into months I know that this amazing adventure of a year out in Cambodia will be over before I know it.

Anyway why I don’t I tell you what I’ve actually been up to? As usual it’s hard to know where to start as I’ve left it a ridiculously long time!! December was a crazy crazy month and went by in a blur, I felt like I didn’t do anything that wasn’t related to Christmas in that time! Whether it was planning for the huge Christmas party we held for over 400 children or sorting out lessons, all whilst hunting down Christmas presents for the kids in the local markets, I was constantly busy. Needless to say by the time our holidays came on the 28th of December we were ready for a break. I’m currently still in Vietnam! Yes Vietnam and not Thailand, we changed our plans quite dramatically last minute but that’s all for a different blog post when I’m back in Cambodia (stay tuned and all that.)

-FAST FORWARD TWO WEEKS-

So you know how I was saying time flies? Yeah well I never finished this blog post 2 weeks ago and so that pretty much is a demonstration of how ridiculously busy I’ve been!!

I am no longer in Vietnam, having travelled back last Tuesday and am now very much back into the thick of it at Honour Village! We have more volunteers than ever before which means more organising than ever before, plus lesson plans, plus developing a new Kindergarten, all equals a very busy Lucy that neglects important blog posts! I think this has to be the longest I’ve left between posts which is a shame as it means I probably will leave out (intentionally and unintentionally) a lot of experiences I’ve had. I promise (as always) to be a bit more committed to this blog.

Believe it or not this is a post all about December and that big festival everyone celebrates each year… I think it’s called Christmas? Yeah I know it was so long ago now but bear with me and pretend it was last week so I don’t feel as guilty… haha!

The first major Christmas event we had was a Carol concert at the very much five star Sofitel Hotel. That was on the 6th of December and was the first of FIVE, yes five Carol concerts that we held with the kids. All the children have been learning Christmas carols and songs since about April 2012. That is some hardcore preparation and if anyone sings Feliz Navidad to me again I may just about go insane… However it was so much fun being involved in something musical with them all! I’ve really missed being able to play music as it was such a huge part of my life back in the UK but I had the opportunity to create a whole programme of accompaniments with xylophone, hand drums and even a small glockenspiel! It was a really rewarding experience as I got to work with one of the older boys, teaching him the main tunes and introductions to the carols. He did so well in every performance, not feeling the pressure of being on a stage and in front of so many people; I have to say I think we made a great team!! Our main role in the concerts was to sing as loudly as possible (I felt really bad for any audience members near me) and encourage the kids to be confident. That is what the concerts were all about in the first place. None of the children at Honour Village will ever sing or dance for their own benefit as it’s often part of the nature of corrupt orphanages to use their kids almost as an enterprise which is morally wrong on a whole load of levels. Instead, any money that was donated went straight to Angkor Children’s Hospital in Siem Reap. It not only taught the kids about giving back to another organisation in need but they had a chance to sing and be listened to, which ultimately gives them the confidence to do almost anything! I don’t think I’d be the person I am today if I hadn’t forced myself to perform in countless school and music concerts, overcoming the nerves and feeling like I achieved something when I didn’t screw it all up!

The Sofitel Hotel concert is something I will never forget, it stands out as the most extravagant place I think I’ve ever been in my whole life. Trish and I were overwhelmed by the sheer size of this place, we could only imagine what all the kids thought! Each hotel we visited to perform at gave the kids a free meal and loads of Christmas sweets to take back to Honour Village as a thank you. We performed at Sofitel once at the beginning of December for their Christmas lights turning on and then once at the Paul De Brulle school of hospitality (where one of our boys hopefully wants to go one day to be a chef!) and finally 3 concerts at the Grand Soluxe Hotel. There was a hilarious moment on the Christmas Eve performance where the hotel decided a smoke machine would be necessary (this is along with a 10ft Santa ice sculpture…) Guess who was sat in front of the machine? No other than yours truly of course! Trying to play xylophone with dry ice floating dramatically around my head is definitely one of the harder challenges I’ve had to undertake!  I think next year Sue is limiting it to 3 maximum as it was very chaotic and we all felt the last rendition of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer was performed with just a tad of relief.

Needless to say the concerts definitely made a lot of people’s Christmases extra special, often people were moved to tears by some of the numbers and nearly all the volunteers were weeping by the time the little ones had picked up their mini tambourines and jangly bells to wave around. The whole experience of carol singing with the kids in these new and strange places brought us all closer and has to be one of the highlights of my year so far! Every time I hear a Christmas song that we sang together I will be able to picture them all in their red t-shirts and matching santa hats (all 47 of them) belting their hearts out in accented English, somehow sounding so much better than the originals.

As well as the business of the Carol concert rehearsals and performances, we planned a giant Christmas Party which was held on Sunday 23rd December. That again I think is one of mine and Trish’s greatest achievements this year. We organised with Sue and a handful of other great volunteers a big event held at Honour Village with 5 different game ‘stations’ that included pass the parcel, talent shows, dancing games and even a showing of Christmas Shaun the Sheep! Everything had to be thought out beforehand from how to organise the children into teams, to how we were going to find enough prizes and wrapping for 40 pass the parcels!

The whole day was a massive success thanks to the help of so many volunteers who turned up especially and worked crazily hard until the last village child had cycled their bike through the gate, at which point we all collapsed with the leftover banana bread, talking excitedly and slightly deliriously (from exhaustion) about the crazy numbers of kids who turned up! I am proud to say that over 400 children benefited from our hard work and each went home with a Christmas present thanks to an amazingly generous donation from a primary school in Australia. I don’t think I’ll be able to wrap another pass the parcel for a couple of years though…! My personal role was as pass the parcel leader in one of the rooms and explaining the concept of the game became the main entertainment for most of the kids as I ran around miming the ripping of the layers. Each parcel had loads of forfeits in too (lovingly handwritten in English of course!) which also became my role to mime, I’m now an expert at ‘eating raisins with no hands.’ It was so much fun to meet so many local kids and see them all win prizes when most haven’t had a gift their whole lives!

However the day itself wasn’t even the best bit! Once most of the children had left and only the resident HVC kids remained that was when the massive sound system turned up…

So in Cambodia you can hire a club worthy set of speakers about the size of a small house for four hours for at I think roughly… 14 dollars? That works out about 10 quid. Crazy stuff! It arrived on a ramshackle pick up and parked itself in the middle of our playing field where it then cranked out hip hop and gangnam style for the next 4/5 hours. Gangnam style was played no less than 6 times, more if you count dodgy remixes with J-Lo’s ‘On the Floor.’ If I don’t know the full dance routine to that song by the time I get back I will have failed Cambodia and all it’s Gangnam obsessed kids!! In Khmer weddings and parties they make a circle around something (a table, a box, a dog, whatever happens to be around) and sort of rhythmically step around in a clockwise direction whilst gracefully moving their hands. Really hard to describe but look up Apsara dancing and you’ll kind of get the idea… They all love trying to teach us these dances and especially like to laugh when we fail completely! I think I have about as much Apsara grace as a horse.

Talking of weddings we were invited to our second in December. This was for one of the Honour Village house mothers! So it was a bit more of a special event as we knew the bride personally. Needless to say she was transformed with bronze hair spray and the most amazing satin dresses into an unrecognisable khmer goddess!! We were so happy to see her getting married and had some more crazy traditional khmer food, including the good ol’ black chicken soup and spicy mango salad (blew my head off with half a chilli by accident…) All of the house mothers and staff from HVC came along as well as some other volunteers and it was so much fun seeing everyone a little bit tipsy, dancing to yet more hip hop.

The actual day of Christmas was probably the most hectic and unique I will ever have the opportunity to experience! Our friends Sally and Lucy from Phnom Penh who are also volunteering with Project Trust came up on Christmas Eve to watch the kids perform at The Grand Soluxe Hotel and of course laugh at me and Trish in our fetching Santa outfits. We all stayed up together until midnight and pulled crackers when the clock struck 12 and our Cambodian Christmas had begun! I think we were all a bit delirious and went crazy with crackers our family had sent us and ate a LOT of chocolate. Me and Trish were then up a mere 5 hours later, not to see if Santa had brought our gifts but to start our 17 hour day!! We ate our cake and chocolate breakfast and actually wore our jumpers… yes it was kind of cold here on Christmas day, clearly trying to make us feel a bit more at home! We loaded onto the coach with all of the HVC children and sang carols all the way to the hotel for our first performance at a lovely and early 7 am.

Then we headed back to Honour Village slightly exhausted and full of Christmas feeling to watch about 3 or 4 hours of Tom and Jerry, Shaun the Sheep and Pingu! I’m pretty sure that rivals all of the usual Christmas telly on at home… Everyone fell asleep on pillows in front of the T.V. (Trish and I included!) Then we had a break to open all our presents back at our house before heading back with the girls to watch the HVC kids open their Christmas presents!!! Definitely the most exciting part of the day as we’d worked hard with Sue to ask each child what they wanted for Christmas and to scour the markets of Siem Reap. From Angry Bird belts to Khmer custom CDs, the range of gifts was huge and again funded by the amazingly generous Australian donors! Watching the kids’ faces was the best part as one by one the bags were opened and they each received something brand new, specially for them- something some of them will have no concept of! Cambodians are not materialistic in a lot of ways which means often in big families children rarely have any of their own possessions, either hand downs or shared between a large number, something every child at Honour Village will have grown up with.

Later on we headed back to the same hotel for our very last carol concert which ended around 8:30pm. After being up since 5am we were pretty exhausted. Yet our day was not over! We had of course booked a full Christmas dinner at an Irish Pub in Siem Reap, where we stayed until about 11pm in the end. A very tasty turkey dinner it was, but nothing compared to home cooking (just in case Dad and Nell are reading this…) Really we should’ve gone for something crazily un-turkey-meal-like but I was craving mashed potato so badly!! I had a chance to Skype all my family on a terrible connection for about 20 minutes back home in York which made my day, getting to see all my little cousins so grown up-  have to say it did make me a bit emotional but in a happy way (must’ve looked a bit crazy wrapped in tinsel skyping from the balcony of an Irish pub in Cambodia but I couldn’t care less!)

I have to say that although I was away from my home and my family and my Dad’s roast potatoes, I had a really special and unforgettable Christmas. Mainly thanks to the amazing people I’ve met from this experience (TRISH and all the Project Trust girls!) and getting to spend a Christmas with so many young children who although don’t believe in Santa or Jesus, do believe in the joy of receiving gifts and the chance to eat as many sweets as humanly possible.

So although this is a very much delayed and overdue post-Christmas post, I’m glad I finally got round to telling you all about this amazing experience! It seems so long ago now due to our crazy adventures in Vietnam and it’s now almost a month since the day itself but hope you managed to get some insight into how being away from home at a time like Christmas doesn’t necessarily end in crying down the phone to your parents, alone – but that it can be equally as amazing half way across the world with the right people and let’s be honest, 47 incredible children!

My next post is going to be all about VIETNAMMM wooooo! That will be another essay as I take you across the South of Vietnam where we encountered near-death minibus rides, a NYE street party with 8 million Vietnamese people, experienced quad biking across sand dunes and of course my epic canyoning adventure – I’m basically a pro abseiler now just to let you all know.

Much love to you all. I cannot believe you’ve had so much snow!!

I’ve been here for exactly 5 months and 5 days!?! Woah. xxx

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