Friday, April 23, 2010

. . . and counting.

'lo everybody!

It's Saturday, April 24th in Cambodia and that means that I'll be departing Cambodia in under a week already, next Wednesday. And I sure can't believe it.

I also can't believe that I misspelled "mango" in the title of my last blog post. In the title, really Ann Marie, that's awesome. And yes, I realize you can go back and edit and change these things, or just hope no one notices, but gosh, wouldn't that just be a coward's way out? I think it would. I choose, instead, to draw attention to it, and then to pretend that there are actually two fruits that I eat every day, mangoes and magnoes, and each day the magno I eat is tastier than the mango I ate the day before. What, you guys never heard of magnos? I guess they don't grow outside Cambodia. Maybe not even outside FLO. Weird.

Khmer New Yearsing in Chansy's hometown was an experience full of all it's own mangoes! (No magnoes there, either. How evidently noteworthy!) Chansy and I spent much of our time meandering from house to house, visiting her family and neighbors, bathing multiple times a day, and eating all the food we could. Cambodians know how to treat a guest: with plenty of food! And, I suppose, plenty of baths. KNY falls on the hottest part of the year, just as the dry season is having enough of itself and about to turn things over to the rainy season. Spending a bit of time in the countryside and bathing so frequently made me think of a few things I've gotten better at during my stay in Cambodia. Among them:

All sorts of bucket showers. And there are all sorts of bucket showers.
  • A bucket shower is totally no problem.
  • A bucket shower in a sarong ~ Trickier, but still doable.
  • A bucket shower in a sarong in the open air ~ Very tricky! Doable, still, but . . . very tricky! Even seasoned Cambodians like Chansy agree!
  • A bucket shower in a sarong in the open air in the dark ~ Trickier and easier for all the logical reasons. For a bucket shower pro, though, no problem!
The Khmer language. Alright, that's sort of a lie and sort of not a lie. I’m not sure I can vouch that I’ve gotten any better, really, at speaking Khmer, though of course I pick up a few new words and phrases every week. I’m just as confounded as ever by written Khmer, and the alphabet will indeed remain a mystery to me until I get some good book~learnin’ in. (Speaking of goals ~ okay, we’re not speaking of goals yet, but trust me, in just a paragraph or so we will be ~ I fully intend to take on some Khmer classes when I return to the US in preparation for my return to Cambodge. And mistake me not, I shall return.) But improvement! Right. I’ve gotten a lot better at understanding Khmer. Given that I know the topic at hand, I can usually follow about 20% of a conversation. If someone just walks up to me and says something, there's about a 50/50 chance I'll be able to figure out what they've said, but really only because there are only so many things that people just walk up to one and say. For example, if a random Khmer dude in Phnom Penh walks up to me and says something, he probably wants me to employ him as a moto driver to take me somewhere. If one of my students walks up to me and says something, they've probably just told me I'm beautiful. (I'll miss them . . . ) Oh! Remember, Visal, the little guy who never called? When everybody got back to FLO after KNY, I went over to say hi to the kids, and he tried to sneakily tell me in Khmer that he loves me. Little did he know, I am completely capable of understanding that statement!

I might, just might also contend that I’ve gotten better at understanding Khmers, or if I haven’t gotten better at that, I’ve realized more that I don’t always understand Khmers. Sometimes I think we (we westerners, maybe) get so caught up in reminding ourselves of all the ways in which people are the same that we forget all the amazing and special ways in which people (or peoples) are different. There are so many interesting and noteworthy idiosyncrasies about Khmer culture, Asian culture (oh any culture, but I'm in Cambodia right now!) that I couldn't do them justice even in a blag entry entirely thus focused, but one that jumps to mind immediately is a focus on appearances. I'm so used to thinking about appearance~consciousness signifying superficiality at best, but it's actually kind of nice to be around people who notice so much about how things look. People are frank about appearances in a number of ways that are actually much more comforting than disconcerting. It's so interesting what people notice, too. After an afternoon and evening of dancing in Chansy's village, all the older ladies kept telling me I looked Khmer except for my nose!

Oh! I've gotten much better at Khmer dancing. All my kids will vouch.

(Before I veer completely onto another topic, I'd like to note that giving and accepting items with two hands is a conscious action I've really grown to appreciate.)

Attention to the needs of others.
Four or five summers ago, I decided to make some goals for myself. This was the summer following my now legendary goal to eat ice cream every day, which transformed from a summer goal to a way of life (I’m pretty sure I ate ice cream every day until I started trekking on my trip to NZ last year). Spurred on by my success, I decided the next year that since I’d warmed up to this whole goal~setting/attaining process, I’d give it a slightly more serious go, and set three goals for that summer:
1. Notice beauty in more things.
2. Focus more outwardly. (You know, be less self~absorbed.)
3. Create something. (Hopefully something beautiful ~ though I guess goal number 1 would be helpful in finding the beauty in whatever I could come up with to create.)

I made a little progress on each of these goals that summer, but the time I've spent in Cambodia has done more for me than any experience prior to help me become aware of what I can do for the people around me. I'm sure this made me a much better travel companion than I would have been otherwise for my auntie when she graced me with her visit, and hopefully it's made me a more effective teacher. I'd actually be really happy if that awareness has helped me to be a better person to have been out here, because . . . well, I've been here for awhile now, and I certainly hope to return. So I've got to get better at doing things for folks somehow, even if it's just by throwing myself back in here, over and over again.

I think that's a nice note for a blag to go out on. Oh hey! I'll throw in a couple photos, too.

love love love

Monday, April 5, 2010

Every day I eat a magno that's better than the mango I ate yesterday. That's not even a metaphor.

Su s'dai, loved ones!

Sorry (once again . . . ) for the delay in writing, but things have been effing (sorry Grandma White Bear, Ron Tom, and all the other respectable persons I'm constantly forgetting are reading this) crazy around here! Fortunately, that does provide me with some tasty stories upon which to update you all. Prepare to be updated upon!

Some welcome obstacles to the regularity of my online communication were a few wonderful guests who popped into FLO for a week. Four incredibly lovely young ladies from the UK & US came to volunteer and hang about with the kids, and I had a blast hanging about with them as well. I believe they would all be obliged to vouch that I talked their ears apart without ceasing ~ but I couldn't help myself! They were the first native English~speakers with whom I'd conversed face to face in over a month! We probably all know I'm ever willing to converse with anybody, but the kids just don't play the preferred amount of attention to all that clever wordplay I'm always employing. Thanks, ladies, for putting up with well over your fair earfuls. Your company was so appreciated!

Near the end of the week the ladies were staying, still more exciting visitors made their way to FLO: a few foster parents, a few visitors along with them ~ one of whom just became a foster parent! ~ and my own foster parent: my auntie! Look at that, foster parents of all sorts. I had a blast touring my auntie around a bit. We gallivanted off with a couple of kids and families to Kirirom, a national park in between what I believe are the Cardamoms and the Camelback mountains, although I might be completely wrong. Tim, I think you're the only cartographer who's reading this. Someone tell me if I'm wrong on this one; I lack the internet capacity to check up on my own geographical statements.

The auntie and I also took a lovely trip up to Siem Reap so she could check one more wonder of the world off of her "to see" list. Meandering among the temples of Angkor, we were lucky to run into half the quartet of rad ladies who'd visited FLO the previous week. We ate touristy foods, stayed at a touristy hotel, got the whole tourist experience!

Upon our return to FLO and Phnom Penh, we meandered into the city for a couple days to take in the must~sees of PP. Rather than scheduling a sad day in Phnom Penh and a happy day in Phnom Penh like I did for myself, with my auntie and I split up the sobering and rather painful stops with more fun, exciting, interesting places to see like the Royal Palace and the National Museum. My second viewing of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (the former S21 Khmer Rouge prison) was not so . . . just hard as my first, but that will never be an easy place to visit. It's just too enormously tragic.

I kept my auntie captive around FLO for a few more days before allowing her to return to the US. She's been gone about a week now, and things have just continued to be nuts around here. Like they will. Most of the kids went to their homelands this week to celebrate Khmer New Year with their families. KNY is the biggest holiday of the year: basically the cities shut down completely and the entire populace makes their way to the countryside to celebrate. Whole villages gather at pagodas, where the festivities only begin with offerings to monks for good luck in the new year. (It's the year of the tiger. Brace yourselves, everybody) As the day wears on, there will be lots of music, dancing and traditional games. Traditional game~playing is one of the only venues in which it's acceptable for Khmer teenagers to flirt, so the whole social scenario should be rife with potential for entertainment . . . and, dare I suggest, romance?

In fact, just to practice for KNY, we had quite the shindig here at FLO on Saturday. A whole afternoonful of traditional games followed by a lovely dinner and a dance party that rivals any other I've ever attended. If you're lucky, my Next blag post will involve some snappy KNY photos or all sorts.

Happy Khmer New Year everybody!