The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own. [ or hers :) ] ~Benjamin Disraeli ~

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Pleeung - khmer for rain

This evening it rained – real rain!!! It was amazing, thunder and lightning too. I sat at the front of my house watching the lane become a river – much as it used to in Vikindu. I was fascinated by the activity. Children  splashed around and raced up and down throwing cups of water at one another. People came out with brooms to sweep their yards, one man washed his motorbike and another his car. A lady opposite washed her pots and pans and Joe's Mum rinsed her hair. Joe is Mary's translator and lives in our lane. I love his Mum as she understands my khmer. There were many people watching me, watching them so I managed to explain to her that when it rains, British people stay inside and that our children generally don't play in the rain as it's cold. She enjoyed relaying this to everyone else. In an attempt to get photographs I ventured out for a paddle and she  rushed to get me an umbrella, I think the entertainment ran both ways!
Joe's Mum

This is a very happy street and it will probably be much cleaner in the morning. I feel lucky to have such lovely neighbours.

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Palace within

VSO booked a taxi to take me from Phnom Penh to Sisophon. There were two other passengers who were quite shy of travelling with a foreigner so the first part of the journey was very quiet but I enjoyed seeing how many words I could recognise on the radio news. The ice was broken after a toilet stop and the 3 men disappeared into the bushes. On their return there was some agitation – I gathered that the guy in the back with me could speak some English but was too shy. The driver finally said to me 'Urinal?' I was able to explain in khmer that I hadn't had much to drink and would be ok til lunch time.
We stopped for lunch in Battembang, the destination of the other passengers. At a local cafe I was the centre of attention, everyone wanting to know where I am from, what I'm doing etc. I took out my khmer book to help me with vocabulary and people were fascinated that I could read words that look to them like English yet were khmer! We use a romanised script instead of the Cambodian alphabet. My taxi driver  wanted to find more passengers  so I had a long time to practice my language skills. A lady selling bread adopted me as a friend and gave me snacks of sticky rice with mango (I think!) wrapped in banana leaf. Eventually, with 2 more passengers, we set off for the last leg of the journey. On reaching Sisophon, I impressed myself by being able to direct the driver right to my front door!!
And so I arrived...
Not a palace exactly, but better I'm sure than you imagined. Downstairs is the living room, a study and the kitchen. I was really pleased when I saw it. There was no sink in the kitchen when I looked round but the landlord kindly agreed to have one fitted. He also provided two gas rings, a fridge, beds, a wardrobe and a desk in addition to the furniture which includes a large Cambodian bed where families either sit to drink tea or lie down to sleep.
Upstairs there are 2 bedrooms with proper beds and a toilet/shower room. Another education volunteer, Mary, is going to come and live with me until December. For various reasons, she has been living in a guest house til now. It will be nice to have someone to share thoughts and ideas with – good company in the evenings too.
A Cambodian family with a house like this will often use the front room as a shop or cafe, living at the back.
My first job was to do some cleaning. I tried in vain to find some rubber gloves at the market but Mary was ahead of me and had already bought some. On opening the packet I found that the rubber had perished in the Cambodian heat so that put an end to all thoughts of protecting my hands! 
So... I'm very happy to have arrived and am looking forward to my first day at the College tomorrow

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

A Weekend to Remember

To encourage us to practice our khmer, VSO organised for volunteers to spend a night in a village with Cambodian families. Armed with mosquito nets, insect repellent and toilet rolls we set off in a mini bus. First stop was at the commune headquarters where we were greeted by the village leaders and asked to introduce ourselves - in khmai! First hurdle cleared ok, we then piled into a truck to be taken to our families.
 This is the house where I stayed. Downstairs the room has a mud floor and is used for storing rice, bikes etc. Chickens, ducks and dogs wander freely through. Upstairs was a large room with a wooden floor and a TV in one corner. The whole family sleeps here on mats. As a guest, I was given a mattress which made my night more comfortable than some other volunteers!

Cooking and bathing are done out the back. I watched as the children drew saucepans of  water from these urns and soaped themselves down. I was not asked to bathe out there with the cows and pigs, but invited to use a washroom in the house next door - what a relief! I still used a saucepan but at least it was behind a closed door.
 These are my hosts with 2 of their 8 children, Lin and Tumnow. They were really kind and made an effort to speak slowly so that, with the aid of my notes and a dictionary, we managed to find out quite a lot about one another. Chith, the father, was a farmer and speaks some french which helped occasionally.

Food was cooked out the back in a wok on a charcoal burner - nice food but rice with everything. We ate at a table in front of the house with a spoon and fork. The spoon is used to put the food in your mouth. I'm also becoming quite adept with chopsticks!

Chith also very proudly showed us his sugar palm trees which was really interesting. If you look carefully you can see a man up the tree harvesting  the sugary juice from the flowers. Rickety bamboo ladders are placed in the trees for access - unlike the way Tanzanians clamber up. Bamboo containers are used to transport the sugar which has many uses. I was given a taste but found it too sweet to drink.

More about Sugar Palm Tree

Bamboo Ladder

Containers made from bambo
So, a wonderful cultural experience that gave me some confidence in my language skills. They are still very basic but those who know how worried I was about it before I left UK will appreciate how happy I am to be getting off to a good start.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Out and About

Floating homes
Whilst still working hard to learn the language I am also exploring as much as I can. I've taken a boat trip to a river island, visited Wats and attended a local ceremony where young people performed traditional dance. I think the best way to give you a taste of all this is to post photos so I hope you enjoy. The Mekong boat trip took us past a variety of floating homes. Some are very basic whilst others are well furnished with TV. One family even keeps pigs.

 On the island there is no electricity and homes are very basic as you can see. Water is pumped from the river. During the dry season this river does not flow very fast and is not very clean - to put it mildly!!        

Farming is done by hand or using oxen. The main produce is tobacco and the fields went on as far as the eye could see. Women and children strip the leaves and prepare them for drying.

When the work is done, the families enjoy sitting together on a Cambodian bed to drink tea - or maybe the occasional rice wine!

A local NGO, run by monks to help disadvantaged youth, was having an opening ceremony for a new room and we were invited to attend. It was a lovely evening of traditional music dance and food.