Sunday, January 24, 2010

Cutest event in the universe reported yesterday at 1700 hours

So somebody's been spreading rumors among the children that I like to sing, and now everytime there's a lull in conversation (and there is the occasional lull), the kids ask me to sing. I was walking around with Sovann, Panha and David and they asked me to sing. I said I would sing for them if they sang for me. So, Sovann started and Panha and David joined in singing a Khmer song, and so did the kids who were setting the tables for dinner (the kids eat at 530, and we were sitting at the edge of the dining hall). Pretty cute already, right? Well brace yourself: when I came through with my end of the deal and sang a little song for them, each child immediately started playing the airguitar, airkeyboard and airdrums. It was the best band I've ever been in! Sugarbasket, you should get out here and, you know, jam!

(Edit: The cutest recorded event in the universe actually occurred last Sunday at approximately 1700 hours. I just didn’t have time to blag about it because I was spirited away to Siem Reap for a week.)

That’s right, faithful readers, I was in Siem Reap for a week! Several of the staff here at the orphanage were evidently concerned (with good reason) that I hadn’t gotten out of FLO much in the month I’ve been here so far. (A month already? How crazy.) This concern happily coincided with a handicraft fair in Siem Reap that a few staff members – including my pal Fancy Chansy – were going to be attending. Chansy, by the way, is totally the Addie of my FLO experience. For those of you to whom I've never gushed my adoration of Addie, that's the highest of compliments. (I'm in the regular habit of saying that if the only good thing to come from me living in Chicago were meeting Addie, it would be enough. Totally enough!) After processing quite a bit of welcome but required encouragement, I packed my bag and boarded a van full of silk products. The better portion of my week was spent helping out at the handicraft fair, but the real highlight, of course, was catching my first glimpse of Angkor Wat. It’s amazing! Just like everyone says. Who knows, maybe I’ll include a photo or two for your viewing pleasure (yes, your personal viewing pleasure). Maybe. Our first evening in Siem Reap, my Khmer travel companions sneaked me into the temple and Chansy took me on a frantic whirlwind tour. Later in the week, I treated myself to the pleasure of renting a bike and touring around a few of the temples – by my lonesome, but lovely nonetheless. I spent the most time back at Angkor Wat and at Bayon (the Bayon? I don’t know how to properly talk about these places), a ruined temple full of stone faces within the ancient fortified city of Angkor Thom. I met a few traveler friends, and also had a really great time being back on a bike. (I miss Bikey!) I made it out to the temples and back to the fair without so much as breaking ol’ wristy.

Since my little journey, I’ve resolved to make myself a little more regimented in my blagging. I’m going to try to post more regularly, maybe even a few times a week, even if I don’t have much to say, if I do have anything to say. Even when I feel like I’m falling into something of a routine, the crazy truth is that there are new things springing up around me (around all of us) all the time! And since even my pretty insignificant new things are springing up in ways with which I’ve been heretofore unaccustomed, I might as well set them down here for you all to see. My resolution is really in response to a couple wonderful ladies in particular (That’s you, Auntie and Fallon!) who have remarked on their habits of checking up on me, and I want to give them something fun to read. Incidentally, if anyone has any questions about what I’m doing or what things are like around here, please ask! It’s nice to see that people are interested, or at least that someone’s reading. Makes me feel less like I’m just releasing pieces of my mind into the ether. Not that releasing thoughts into the ether isn’t just a fine use of writing space and time.

Another resolution I made on this trip is, next time I travel by car, to spill more beverages on myself. I’m not sure it’s possible, but that’s not going to stop me from trying!

Oh, in other very exciting news, I’d like to welcome a very special new reader: Hi Grandma White Bear! Thank you so much for blog following me! I’ll try to clean up my language J

And while I’m shouting out to individuals, Happy Birthday Kevin!

As I’d begun to say (or at least begun to think) earlier, it’s interesting how easy it is to settle into a routine, how quickly strange and new things can come to seem normal. As Chansy and Tey and I talked about returning to FLO at the end of the Siem Reap trip, I even found myself saying, “Back to normal.”Just a month ago, everything I did every day was part of something I’d never done before, and within a matter of days those things have become habitual; I was even struggling to think of what to write in this contraption because even new things were starting to feel the same. The truth, however, is that new things are new! So I'll write about them.

And for now, off to class. Til next time ~ am

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

51% Sugar, 38% Cream, 11% Coffee

The above description is the ingredients listed on the package of instant coffee I typically consume each morning. Now, if you know me, you know that as a matter of principle I drink coffee strictly recreationally and not according to any sort of dependency or addiction. But when I do drink coffee, I want Coffee: strong and dark, no sugar or cream, thank you…but I’m an absolute sucker for Phearun’s flawless hospitality. So I’ve been drinking instant coffee…rather, instant sugar with cream and coffee, every morning that Phearun offers it to me. This guy is “so great” (A handful of you reading have heard the characteristic way Phearun says, “so great.”) Today, I walked into the canteen, and he said, “Ann Marie. What a woman, Ann Marie.” I about died laughing; I think that’s the best ‘good morning’ I’ve heard yet in Cambodia.
Good news, everyone!
This week, my beginning writing classes will begin! It’s been something of a challenge to organize, but I’m quite happy that these classes will finally get rolling. Alright, not being used to using any teacher lingo, I’m going to do my best to describe my new classes properly: I’m already teaching two sections of a rather advanced writing skills class for the older students whose English is very strong, and who are practicing academic writing in particular. The interest in these classes has really grown, however, and I had new students coming in every day, pretty much at random. So! I’m beginning two new sections of a grammar-intensive writing skills class for students who need to hone a few skills before entering a class like the intro to academic writing class. For the students whose schedules don’t allow them to join either class, I am meeting weekly with those smaller groups and arranging at least one other time during the week when I can meet them up individually. Fun, right? Yes, fun is right. Morally right. Right? Of course right. Perhaps obviously, these new classes are likely to change quite a bit as I assess the abilities of the students; fortunately, the class sizes are pretty small so it should be easy to transmute a lot of that individual attention I so love to give.
This seems like a good opportunity to clear up what precisely I’m up to over here – over here being in a village nearby Phnom Penh – and what I’m not up to. So, I’m working as a volunteer at the Future Light Orphanage of Worldmate (alias FLOW). I think it’s alright for me to say that as long as I also say that the views and opinions reflected upon in this blag in no way represent the views and opinions of FLOW. (Incidentally, (Hi, Joe Grange!) (Also, hi Ryan O’Neill!) Alright, I think I’ve explained sufficiently about the classes I’m teaching….Oh, it’s completely worth mentioning that the kids here are incredible students. They are all smart, motivated, and respectful – in short, probably about the best group of kids with whom I could have an initial teaching experience.
Just to be clear, don’t be too nice to me, everybody: I’m not actually running any marathons. Mika, this very nice and awesome Hawaiian (actually, Samoan) fellow ran a marathon around and about Phnom Penh in support of Cambodian orphans in particular, and orphans the world over in general. He did the whole marathon-sized marathon; I (and a handful of other nice and fun folks) ran about 10km, from FLOW to the airport and back. Not even a quarter marathon, you guys! It was more like what I prefer to call a “mini marathon”. Still lots of fun, still supporting the orphans, but – sadly enough – not an actual marathon, for me. Maybe someday. Some day in the distant, distant future. For the time being, however, all that training I did for a half-marathon I had hoped to run in October sure came in handy. Yup…all that training. Makes me tired just thinking about how hard I trained.
Ah, thinking about running makes me think of a few people and things that I miss about Chicago and the general US: I miss Fallon, of course, and I miss yoga. Now I’m going to list a few more people and things that I miss! I miss Amy, and the South Loop Wine Cellar, and wow do I miss drinking wine. I miss real coffee, although I did have some very delicious coffee in Vietnam and Thailand. I miss ice cream, but I’ve heard rumors of a very good ice cream parlor in Phnom Penh. That will be checked out imminently.
Of course, for everything I miss, I’m constantly discovering new things that delight (or at least intrigue) me and make me so happy to be here. For example! Green mangoes and chili salt. Pineapple soup (I struggle to recall a soup I’ve consumed in Cambodia that has not featured pineapple in some way). Oh, these really awesome tiny eggplants and (not tiny) green tomatoes. Well, those new delightful items were all edible but this next one isn’t: being called Sister (“Sisteh!”) all the time. (Thanks Pat for noticing that that is, indeed, awesome!)
Regarding my boasting about learning kids’ names last blog: individual attention means the world to these kids. I got so proud of myself for learning so many names (I think rather quickly – though I had no idea how hard it would be to learn names in another language. I can’t tell if it’s gotten easier of more difficult as I discover kids with the same names as others) because they So Love to be remembered individually. I said hi to one of the girls in my beginning English class by name the other afternoon and she responded, “Ooh! I love you Sister!” She was so happy; my heart glowed!
Well, this has been unnecessarily lenthy. Now, for my mom, I’m including a photo of the view from my window. It’s ephing pastoral.
P.S. Chansy just brought me a cup of black coffee. !

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I've learned the names of all the sudents in my elementary English class and BOTH writing classes!

That's over 30 kids altogether, plus the few randoms I've learned just because they're always hovering about - and i do mean hovering about in the most affectionate, adorable sort of way. So I am beginning the wonder if the world might be full of plenty of people who have something to give and a great desire to do good but really no idea what to do with that. There’s probably a pretty good chance that I’m a person like that. These past days I’ve had to look seriously at myself, several times, and remember that this is a place where I can really do nothing but good, and the capacity in which I’ll be best able to do that is something that I have to consider thoroughly and just take one day at a time. Of course, trying my hardest.

I realized after I wrote a few days ago that I kind of interrupted myself right in the middle of the whole “average day in my present life” bit. So as much as I enjoy talking to Phearun, my day doesn’t begin and end chatting him up over breakfast. Right now I don’t have any classes during the day on Mondays and Thursdays, but that will probably change as my schedule develops. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I teach two writing skills classes to some of the older students; most are in grades 10-12, though I have one college student and one in grade 7 (I know! He’s amazing.) The writing skills classes have generated a lot of interest, however, so I’ll likely take on an additional weekly class or two for the students who want to be in the writing skills class but need to hone their English a little more. A few of said kids will become my first tutoring students! About which I’m pretty stoked, as I feel much more comfortable teaching one on one than I do in front of a whole class – although it’s admittedly much easier than I’d feared to be in front of a classroom. No disrespect, actual teachers: as I’ve always suspected, teaching is a lot of responsibility and challenging in its own right. In the evenings I am teaching three English classes with intern teachers (who are all wonderful, bright and hardworking), two beginning English classes and one elementary.

I spend most of the rest of my time during the day outside, maybe somewhere around the kids, trying to look approachable, reading, writing, or otherwise attempting to be a good example. If I feel like I need to do more before the night classes I go over that material, but I usually try to prepare enough for class the evening prior. Getting the ball rolling on this writing class is turning out to be something of a challenge, so I kind of feel like I’m really inching my way around trying to prepare adequately for that.

I stay here on the compound in a guesthouse, and I recently moved from a big room on the first floor to one of the more manageably-proportioned volunteer rooms upstairs. There are fewer frogs and lizards, which is slightly disappointing, but more geckos, and I’m pretty happy about that. My two favorite things about this room are the tree outside my window, which grows incredibly fragrant flowers (they have six thick, waxy petals and smell like bananas!), and my view of the pond, fields and village over the wall around the orphanage. Is it okay to say in a blog that I’m working on an orphanage? Well, if it isn’t okay, don’t tell anybody. But for now, since I've let the orphan kitten out of the bag, I'm going to post two photos of two of my favorite fellows who always seem to show up wherever I am, and I absolutely love them for it.

(Honestly, genuinely and sincerely loving over 200 tiny people is about the craziest emotion I can imagine. It's really, really amazing.)

Well that’s what’s new! I’ll write again when I have something interesting to say. Please keep thinking of me! If you’re reading this, I can pretty much guarantee that I’m thinking of you.

Til next time,

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hours-long trip on the back of a motorbike!

Hello again everybody!

Thanks so much for wanting to read about my adventures out here. Apologies in advance for what will assuredly be haphazardly-timed updates. My schedule is still straightening itself out, but even when I do settle into a more regular pace, I know that my days will be rather busy. Write now i'm writing this in realtime, in the office, late morning (after class and before lunch), but i'm going to try really hard to write in the evenings and post sometime in the day. I presently spend my evenings (after class, which is from 5-740, and dinner, which I usually eat around 8) reading over and planning what i'm going to teach the next day, then I read and write until I fall asleep. This usually happens around midnight or one am.

During the day, I get up around seven, and I try to in some manner mentally prepare for my day. I eat breakfast around eight and chat up Phearun (who manages the guesthouse and eatery). If he has any questions about English (anytime we see each other, really) I help him out, and he's attempting like a soldier to teach me Khmer. I'm awful, but hopefully I'll be picking it up with more ease soon.

Now for the mega-fun part: I had the most amazing weekend, particularly on Sunday. My morning started at 430, when the other two volunteers (both of whom have since departed, sadly), some of the older boys, one of the staff members and I ran to the airport (about 5 km) to meet Mika, who ran a marathon around Phnom Penh to raise awareness for orphans. So we ran back with him. Hooray! Then i went with one of my colleagues, Chansy, into the city to see the Royal Palace and the National Museum ~ as I told Chansy, I've seen the sad parts already! (It was incredible to see the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng, and i'd never trade my experiences there, but it's something I will need to wait longer to be able to see again.) After the national Museum, I ate lunch with Chansy and her friend, a former student at this school and really lovely tourguide, and she was very concerned about my health as we dined on white rice, snails, salty fried fishes, and dishes i didn't understand (but enjoyed!). Then - now here's the best part! - Chansy took me to her hometown! It was amazing! We rode on her motorbike about an hour and a half away from Phnom Penh, toward Saigon. Ah it was so great! I don't know where to begin. I met her 4-year-old niece, who pulled me around by the hand, chattering away in Khmer and, I'm sure, thinking I don't know how to talk or something. Her dad and his friend attached a machete to a bamboo pole to harvest some coconuts for us, and her father's cousin complemented me on my nose, showed off her dogs and puppies, and sent us home with enormous, delicious grapefruits - they tasted like candy!

Oh wow, I'm late for lunch. I'll post photos soon, I'll try to write often, and whether there's any e-evidence of it or not, i'm continuing to send my love!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

“My heart feels tender, and at this moment I am contemplating my whole life as if I were living it all anew . . .”

Su s’dai, loved ones!

For those of you who were curious, concerned, or are for any other reason reading along, I’ve arrived safely and as far as I can tell at this point successfully back in Cambodia and am right now (right now!) living my first whole day ~ complete with responsibilities and all ~ at school. It’s great! Though my anticipation and dedication never ebbed for a moment, I was feeling a little apprehensive . . . I guess really just nervous, about coming here and starting out. But here I am, feeling very welcomed and much more secure and quite at home already. In fact, I was unable to walk for more than a minute or so without being stopped by a thronging horde of children! I was very happy and (and my heart comforted) to chat with a few of the kids.

Regarding this little blog qua 'a blog', I don’t really have any idea what shape it’s going to take. I never really considered myself blogger material, and this e-manifestation of my time abroad is really just the result of many people requesting regular updates on what I’m going to be up to whilst I stay in SE Asia. Truth be told, I’m even a little apprehensive (this has evidently been my overwhelming emotion recently . . .) about how much to say, due to the sensitive nature of working with children and all of that. So, many of you all probably were alerted to my newfound bloggy persona thanks to our mutual pal facebook, and most of you who will read regularly probably already know the basic details (yup) of my situation out here. I’m also beyond happy to (do my very best! to) keep up with individual correspondence, but I know that that will be challenging. So, curious people, write me, please, if you want to! In all likelihood I miss you a lot. Less curious people, suffice it to say I’ll be spending the next few months working at a school outside Phnom Penh, teaching English and doing whatever other helpful things I can. I’d love to be writing something more creative and interesting than just the thoughts I’ll have while I’m doing it, but at the moment, creativity (and interest?) elude me.

Or do they? I’m pretty happy to let you be the judges.

Do I have any other thoughts so far? Hmm . . . honestly, my recent reading has been taking up a lot of my brain space. I’m currently rereading my very favorite book, The Brothers Karamazov ~ in fact, the heading of this blog entry is a quotation from said book, not just me feeling sappy. Or maybe I am feeling sappy! Who can say? Man you guys get to make so many judgments! Neat. Anyhow my most pure and original intent regarding this rereading was to ease my mind into a comfortable place for what I predict will be a bit of a crazy time that I’ll spend here in Cambodia. This book never fails to bring layers and layers of contemplation rippling to the surface of my soul, and this rereading is no exception. And it does bring me comfort, this solid and trusty artistry, intellect and examination; I don’t know if I’ve read anything else that makes my mind feel like a working part of myself like this book does. It’s possible I’m lending it too much credit out of sentimentality or something similar in its undependability, but at least even in brutal honesty I know it makes me happy. Additionally, my two favorite Kyles are reading it at present as well! Or they were last time I checked. And I mean it’s a long book. In addition to that, my best, most beautiful and truest Homie supplied me with an absolutely gorgeous translation that I am all but devouring. Lots of good things happening surrounding tBK. As though that’s surprising. Additionally (!) reading something so great makes me desire, in a more concrete way than I’m used to, to write myself. Lucky for you?

So! I'm about to go do actual work. Today and this week, I think, I'm going to help some other volunteers who are staying til Friday. I'm assisted a visiting children's therapist who is giving a class on hygiene, feminine hygiene particularly, and I'll also be helping two people who will be presenting on environmental care. I believe I'll get my own English classes beginning next week, but the plans are still developing, according to my understanding. The point is, I'm beyond thrilled.

I will do my best to write regularly ~ but for now i have to go! I'm sending all my love, all over the place.