Saturday, September 27, 2008

TIME: August
LOCATION: Kampot province/Kep, Chamkar Bei Commune

Emerging from the wild, lush, green forest of Kampot province in southern Cambodia, a stretch of accessible oceanside beckons. Kep (pronounced kipe) used to be a French resort town in the 1960s and 70s. French colonial holiday homes are scattered along the coast and when I say scattered- it's the truth. Kep was a hard hit area during the khmer rouge regime and the once charming holiday homes are hard to recognize amongst the rubble and remnants of these once elegant buildings. But, a quick walk around this local favorite weekend picnic spot and you can see the attempt to stage a come back. Many small resorts and backpacker havens have established themselves and small restaurants are finding their niche to the nationals and visiting tourists. The famous crab shacks line the edge of the strip of beach offering excellent squid, crab and prawns. Combine seafood caught right off the beach with locally grown Kampot pepper and the $2.50 seafood extravaganza is born. On with food (my favorite subject), if you want to splurge and add some variety to the seafood binge, you can walk up the dirt road to the Veranda resort. The best thing about the laid back french guesthouse snuggled in the moutainside overlooking the ocean is the BREAD!! I had the opportunity to meet the baker one early morning (4 am!!) and see the process and resources the amazing baker works with. He was trained at a restaurant in Phnom Penh called Comme le Maison and migrated south to find himself as the head baker tutoring aspiring local bakers at Veranda. Assortments of croissants, rolls and loaves of unique and characteristic bread all made with the classic french taste are all freshly made every morning. It is very easy to bring a book, drink some tea and savor the fresh baked bread for the whole morning at Veranda while watching the ocean play with the coastline of Cambodia. If you are fiending for some cold sweetness later, rich creamy gelato is available.... expensive, but if you want to splurge, it's worth it! Right behind the resort, the French man that owns Led Zepplin Cafe has take the initiative and has constructed cute informative signs that lead you up the mountain and around to a look out point where you can gasp at the expanse of the beautiful green coastline hitting aqua waters for miles and miles. This view also gives you a glimpse at Rabbit Island, which is a favorite for the PCVs as a cheap, quick, vacation spot where bungalows go for $5 a night and phosphorescent ocean dwellers entice visitors to partake in nightswimming off the white sand beach.

I answered the call of the sea undine that is perched on the coast of Kep and found myself living in Kep for the month of August volunteering for the NGO Bridges Across Borders.

At first, two other volunteers and I, started out on a project to remodel a house on a newly acquired UNESCO site so that future volunteers would be able to stay there. We painted and re-thatched the roof with two local men who lived close to the site in the village known as Chamkar Bei. Chamkar Bei literally translates as 'the three farms' and was named for three Chinese farmers that found the fertile land of Kampot province welcome to their pepper plants. Three plots of land were cleared and the farmlands have been successful ever since. Now, Chamkar Bei is known as the site that the Cambodian government and the UN designated as a re-integration effort for former Khmer Rouge soldiers and their families who up until the 90s were still hiding out in the mountains outside of Kep. This is where BAB (Bridges Across Borders) has put down roots and they have two branches of outreach, education and livelihood. The project that I veered off into was a coconut jewelry start up for the youth of Chamkar Bei. The young women that were trained in coconut jewelry carving were amazing individuals to work with and made 'coming to work' everyday a pleasure. Greeted with hugs and broken attempts at English (the fav saying that I taught was 'I am a princess') we chatted away the day while experimenting with different earring/necklace ideas made from donated coconut shells.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Wandering around another PCVs local wat. We met the head monk who explained to us what the translation of 'seeing' a girl was in khmer. Turns out monks in Cambodia are down with the flirting lingo. He is a very intelligent man with a unique zest for life and his commitment to his job as 'head monk' really is seen in the happy vibe from other monks and the PCV that lives with them. This visit was followed by a quick visit to 'the best hostess in cambodia' where curry and veggies were served on a wooden balcony accompanied by great conversation and golden girls re-runs. RIP Estelle Getty. Although we had high hopes of waking up early the next morning to beat the heat and bike down to a PCV-run futbol tourney, we were finally able to reach the tourney and witness the local school team beat the local orphanage team in the final. Matches were well attended and players never faltered despite not having subs and the intense afternoon heat. A great tradition was started and hopefully will be continued in the future.

Girls out on a morning stroll watching over their family members work the field in the distance. The stretch of road from Prey Veng town to Neak Loung was bustling with oxen and cows being led to the fields to start plowing to prepare for the transplanting of the rice stalks from the smaller farm plots. Sometimes farmers will walk kilometers away to transport their bundles of rice stalks and transplant them into the more spacious fields where they can grow. July brings the season of plowing and preparing for the hard month of August where the manual labor of transplanting requires all family members to head to the field decked out in kromas wrapped on heads, long-sleeves, pants, overshirts and hats. This is the method of sun protection while they wade around in the warm water that coats the muddy, plowed fields planting by hand every individual rice stalk. One rice stalk will produce anywhere from 10-20 grains of rice. Think about it, every time a Cambodian bends over in the hot morning sun and uses their thumb to press the stalk of rice into the fertile, muddy field they are securing a spoonful of rice for the following year.

Coming back to site after the vacation at home was a comforting feeling. Turns out I missed out on a lot of drama while I was gone (story in another post). My 'nephew' pictured below is always one of my favorite people to pull funny faces on and accompany on the great adventures that eight year old boys get involved in. Right before I left he had just gotten back from the rice field where they were transplanting rice with a little bucket of small fish he had caught by hand. He took that bucket of fish and that pride in his smile and marched straight up to me to inspect the days catch. His proud puffed chest covered in mud (as was the rest of his body) made the juxtaposition of little man vs. playful boy very present.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

So, it looks to be that this blog is more of a once every six month update. That's about the time it takes for me to sit down at a computer and look back at everything that has happened in between. I really think that pictures are more informative, but some text can't hurt.
Let's see. In the spring we were able to tile the English Resource Room and have found interest in the students for running workshops through the new center. Books will be put in at the end of this month after the paint dries and bamboo furniture from a local NGO will be ordered and arranged before August. I would love to have a big party at the beginning of the school year next year to send off the project running. The involvement and interest of the students, teachers and my director has really been surprising and inspirational in the planning and development stages of this project.

During this time, wedding season was in full swing and I attended many a Cambodian wedding around my village and a special one in Phnom Penh. A lot of rice wine drinking and dancing around bushes. All in all very successful celebrations.

Now, the rains have started. Don't get me wrong the day is still burning, but now there is something to look forward to come 4 or 5 in the afternoon. Pounding rains and cool wind. Evidence of rain is seen in all the rice fields saturated with much needed water. With this water, plowing season has begun and water buffaloes and their owners can be seen in the early mornings tilling the land getting it ready for the rice planting.

In April I was able to visit the northern province of Rattanikiri over Khmer New Year, a celebration that is scheduled to last 3 days, but persists for 3 weeks. Rattanikiri is a perserved province that is home to most of the hill tribes of Cambodia. The market of the main city, Banlung, has everything from bat hides to precious gems... and avocados!!! Very interesting treks and adventures to be had up there. We went and explored a tribal village across the river and around 40 k outside of the town. The tribal village had its own dialect of the language and believed in animism. We walked through the village and saw the burial grounds of the small villages families. Unlike Cambodian culture, this tribes ritual is to bury their dead while sacrificing an animal to the Gods. The elders of the village have a dream the night before that decides which animal must be sacrificed for the funeral. We arrived the day after a water buffalo was sacrificed for a 16 year old girls ceremony. The horns and hooves of the animal were hanging over her canopied cemetery plot. Memorabilia of her life were decorating the area... a bicycle tire and boquet of pencils described her dedication of riding to school every day to study.

In May, two other volunteers and I developed a workshop to give ideas of different teaching methods that English teachers could use that would work in the large numbered and material-less Cambodian schools. After three workshops we were pleased with the response and are planning on implementing them through different outlying villages later this year.

After a long flight, June brought me home to Alaska to see my family and friends. The trip was a blast and am glad that I was able to be in Juneau and fall in love again with everything a beautiful home town can offer. Familiar smiling faces, endless summer nights and the feeling of cold ocean air rejuvinated my senses. As much of a homecoming it was, it was also a good bye. I am happy to be back here in Cambodia and motivated to get into the projects that are in progress right now.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Where to start. Here are some myths I would like to set straight after being in Cambodia for almost a year. 1. There is no cold season. Despite what locals say that there is a cold season that comes along with the rain, the temperature does not drop. Occasionally there will be an overcast day and I revel in it. Other than that, the climate is the same yaer round.. hot! I haven't actually seen a temperature gauge since I have been here, but the way I read the degree of hottness is by checking what time in the morning I start sweating. Now we are around 10 am which is pretty good. In the really hot months (April and May)(and June and July and August and September and October) I start sweating around 7 am. So, I have been enjoying the mornings these days. 2. Rice wine does not have poison in it. I have tested this out on the visitors that have come to visit me here. They are not dead. Rice wine is a.o.k. to drink. Unless you are any of my little brothers, then it is just a disaster. Patrick you owe me for life. 3. Fried blood is nutritious. I just can't wrap my head around this morsel of goodness that is plopped into the morning soup. So I don't and let it float on by. I haven't done further research on it, but I can't imagine it being a health booster.. unless you are a vampire. There are so many more cultural enigmas that have been found over this year. I really should write them down.
Recent events: Ran a half marathon in Siem Reap early december. Running through the temples early in the morning giving high fives through the gauntlet of children was amazing. Hopefully next year I'll be able to do it with a camera!!
Family came and visited for xmas and new years. Stayed here in Cambodia for a week and then ventured down to an island off the coast of Thailand. The week here was a show to be seen and a lot of fun. The week in Thailand=== so spoiled. Time went by fast and I enjoyed every second of it. Adjustin back into the village was a bit difficult, but now things are going smoothly and I am charged to finally finish the library project. Looking into putting tile down to make it less dusty and to preserve the books. The world map (in the picture below) is basically done. Had a lot of great help from my students and am looking forward to implementing this room into more of a study center for next year.
Plans: Hoping to see some visitors come through here in the next couple of months. It is always a last minute deal and I totally encourage that, because it won't work otherwise. It is easier not to plan in Cambodia. Spring is looking pretty packed with meetings and what not taking me back and forth to Phnom Penh. Setting up a small NGO a couple k behind my house for me to teach/develop over the summer. Planning is a joke. It is seriously a day by day thing for me. Which could be a good thing or a bad thing. Who knows. Great example of things that deserve planning. A lady working for an ngo outside of town invited me over for spaghetti. Now that is something to plan for... i have been salivating for a better part of a week looking forward to it. The little things in life.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Monday, September 17, 2007

the beautimous pitcher plants...

night market in Sabah, Borneo.. best squid so far

at a rest stop on the way up the mountain..

sunset from the hut we stayed at before the summit climb

canopy walk up in Sabah Borneo

a beach that we found around the backside of an island off the coast of Borneo

the baby goats at a local ngo... the goat sucking my finger was named bobby joe

making our way back among the "king of the trees"

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

So, this is going to be a brief note. But I just wanted to add some pictures. The month of August was a wonderful break from the hot of Svay Rieng. Did some traveling around the Cambodia coast jetting out to Rabbit Island and enjoyed the amazing seafood. Venturing further up to Bokor Mtn. where we were put through the rinse cycle and felt coldness for the first time in a long while. After a breif stint in Phnom Penh we took off to Malaysia to hike Mt. Kinabalu and enjoy Kaula Lumpur for the last week before our meetings commenced back here in Cambodia.
Now, we are enduring two weeks of USAID powerpoints and valuable monitoring, reporting and evaluating information. The best is that we are finally making connections with the many NGOs in Phnom Penh. Many projects are being planned and teaching curriculum/schedules are in full swing. I am really excited to go back to site and start the school year charged with all these new ideas.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The bungalos on Rabbit Island off the coast of Cambodia