things that have been happening

I haven’t really had a lot of time to write on this blog recently so i just want to tell you a little bit about some things that have been happening in my life here and at SCAO. About some of these topics I might write a bit more detailed soon.

1. My family visited me (December & January)

Mid December my mother, her husband and my brother came over for two weeks. I showed them Phnom Penh and SCAO and after that we went to Siem Reap, visited the temples of Angkor Wat, went swimming on the beach in Sihanoukville and ate Seafood and walked through the jungle in Kep and Kampot. We had a great time together and I was so grateful I could spend Christmas and New Years together with them. Plus they brought me a bunch of great stuff from Germany. I already miss them a lot already. And I’ll write more about our travels together as soon as I find some time.

 2. Christmas Celebration at the SCAO Schools (December)

We had two Christmas Celebrations at SCAO. One at SCAO I, where I work, and one at SCAO II. Unfortunately I missed the one out in Sam Roung because I was travelling. But both of them were a blast.

We bought food and drinks for all the children and gave out free toothbrushes and toothpaste to each student as a Christmas present. Afterwards we had a talent show that involved a lot of dancing and singing, played some games and enjoyed each others company. It was great to see all the volunteers, staff and children come together. Even though the spirit of Christmas is not really believed in in Cambodia, it was still a nice reason to celebrate and be grateful for each other.

3. Trip to Sihanoukville with the Center Kids and some volunteers (January)

One weekend in January “Estrellas de Camboya” a partner organisation of SCAO sponsored a trip to the beach in Sihanoukville for all the children living in the Center. When me and some other volunteers heard of it we immediately decided to join them. We left early on a Saturday morning, arrived around noon, spent all day on the beach and had dinner all together. Same procedure the next morning – the kids got up around 6 o’clock just waiting to run to the beach. We spent as long as possible splashing around in the water and riding banana boat until we finally had to go back in the early afternoon. It was a great weekend and a wonderful opportunity for the everyone to see the beach and let go and relax for some time.

4. Weekend on Koh Rong Samloem (January)

I spent a wonderful weekend together with Mira and Svenja, two other German volunteers, on an Island called “Koh Rong Samloem” just off the coast of Sihanoukville. I’ll write about this soon. But for now let me just say, a lot of sleep, beach, snorkeling and fruit shakes.

5. 3D painting workshop at SCAO I (January/February)

At the end of January a former SCAO volunteer, Carl, returned and brought some friends with him. Unfortunately they couldn’t stay for a longer time but during their time here they made a huge 3D dot painting with the students of SCAO I. Please read more about the workshop on Carl’s blog:

http://volunteeringabroadblog.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/dot-painting-in-3d-2/

 

 6. ID Cards for students at SCAO

We have decided to let all the students at both SCAO schools have ID Cards. For this we have been taking pictures of every single student, had everyone fill out an application form in Khmer AND English and collected money from everyone (around 30 cents for one ID card). After all of this was done the real work began. Typing all the names of all students into word documents. Sounds easy, but gets really tricky when you have to type Khmer. Luckily I some of the girls in the Center helped me out and did all the Khmer typing for me – I owe them big time. Soon after we brought the files to the copy shop and today Peter and me picked up the finished prints. Tonight we put all cards into their plastic sleeves and prepared most of the ID cards. Hopefully we’ll be able to hand them out in two days, on Thursday. I can’t wait to see the children receiving their cards and everyone running around with the ID cards around their neck.

7. Spending Valentine’s Day with pals! (obviously February)

This year I spent Valentine’s Day with some of my students and one of the Khmer teachers at SCAO.  We actually had a day off for February 14th, however not because of Valentine’s Day, but because of Meak Bochea, a Buddhist holiday.

We met at the room of Srey Lat (Khmer teacher at SCAO and friend of mine) did our nails, hair and makeup and then went to Phnom Penh. First stop was Wat Phnom, a small temple on top of a tiny hill in the north of the city. We walked around the hill and took a bunch of pictures – with/without sunglasses, hands in the air, peace, smile/serious, etcetera etcetera. Same thing at the riverside and Royal Palace. Afterwards we walked to the independence monument. At first the plan was to do the whole photo shoot thing again at the monument however it was already dark when we got there so we “just” walked there, sat for a while and took some pictures of the monument itself – without us. Even though this is probably not something that I would have done in Germany – or have done the last time in grade 8 – it turned out to be a lot of fun!

8. Improving my Khmer

I have now been studying Khmer for almost 4 months already. Everyday Leon and me come to study at Srey Lat’s place for one hour. In the beginning we concentrated a lot on learning vocabulary and our spoken Khmer. Around December we started to learn how to actually write and read Khmer. Even though we are far from actually writing long sentences and reading whole words, i already do know all the consonants & vowels and am able to write2 or 3 sentences. All of them being similar; I go to the market and buy vegetables and meat. She goes to the market to buy vegetables and meat. Srey Lat and Lilli go to the market and buy vegetables, and so on. Yes, I know, great conversation starter.

So i hope this gave you a quick peek into some things that have been going on recently. I know i’ve said this before, but i will really try to write on here more often.

All the best from Cambodia,

Lilli

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Trip to Kampong Cham

The past weekend I spent traveling to the countryside with one of my students from my Pre-Intermediate class.

On Saturday my student, Channa, came to the Center and asked if I would like to go to Kampong Cham with her. “Today?” “Yes”. “Now?” “Yes. And Lilli, can you stay for a night?”

So there it was, decision made. Twenty minutes later I had packed my stuff and was ready to go. Only then it occurred to me to ask: “How are we going to get there?”

We went with Channa’s moto. 3 hours on the back of a moto riding on dusty, bumpy streets. For me it could not have been more fun to be honest. Even though it was not the most comfortable way of traveling we sure had a lot of fun and I got to see so many things along the road.

For the people in the countryside we sure must have been an odd picture. Two girls on a moto, one Khmer and one barang, wearing our masks + helmets, only our eyes visible and one backpack in between us.  We passed rice fields, water buffalos, villages completely covered in beige dust and abandoned looking schools. Since Kampong Cham is in the east of Phnom Penh, we crossed both the Tonle Sap and the Mekong. A long part of the way we drove along the banks of the Mekong, the lifeline of Cambodia.

After three hours we arrived in the village where Channa’s relatives live. We first visited her grandmother who is living in a wooden house on stilts, next to mango and banana trees. Even though I now speak enough Khmer to get along and have something that you could almost call a conversation, I could hardly understand a word that her grandmother said and I was just constantly smiling and nodding while Channa was translating.

Later we went to the market, bought fresh food and then cooked over the fire. Another occasion where I was asking myself what have I really learned all these past years at high school in Germany? Sure I know a lot about academics, but when It comes to really basic and simple things I’m screwed up. Yes, I can cook some easy meals, but cooking the Khmer way and over fire I was just stunned. And Channa could not understand how I could not have learnt that when I was younger.

After having a really delicious dinner, which for some reason also included watermelon with salt – a thing that I just cannot understand, I love adapting to the culture and tradition in Cambodia, but pairing nice sweet watermelon with salt is something that I will NOT get used to – we met some friends of Channas family and after a while it turned out that the wife was also a High School teacher at the local High School in Boeng Chhuk, where I live. We spent quite a while talking to them and I could also convince them to bring their children to SCAO.

That night Channa and me slept at her grandmother’s place. On the bamboo floor, just a small mat underneath. It was one of these moments that I was so stunned to be in Cambodia. Even though I’ve been living in this country for almost 6 months now, I still have days that I can’t really believe I am in Cambodia.

Even though I didn’t sleep too great, due to the hard floor and the praying of the monks at a nearby funeral, I had a good night. Next morning at 8am I was the last person to wake up in the whole house. Channa and her grandmother had already been up for hours.

After a quick shower in the outside bathroom, Channa and me joined the funeral of one of her far relatives.

In Cambodia people have a funeral 3 days after someone dies, and then 100 days after and 300 days after the death again. The funeral we went to was a 100 day after funeral, so maybe imagine it more like a memorial, instead of a real sad western funeral.

Channa knew nearly everyone at the funeral and I stopped asking who was who quite soon after I realized that I would never be able to keep up. There were some cousins here, some neighbours there, aunt or wife of someone etc.. In the end it didn’t really matter. Everyone just comes together to commemorate the deceased and enjoy each other’s company.

Channa and some of her cousins and other children showed me the corn fields and we took a walk through the countryside. A walk in Cambodia equals walking reaaally slow and stopping every minute to take some pictures with your phone. Not exactly what I’ve known from Germany, however still a lot of fun to see the Cambodians posing for all the pictures – and yes I’ve also done some posing myself. Why the heck not?

Around noon we had delicious food again. However this time I was the subject of conversation due to the fact that I’ve told them I could not eat any meat or fish. Well I’ve had these conversations before so again – smile and nod. Actually it didn’t even bother me much, I was just way to happy to be there and enjoy the food – nice seafood salad without the seafood. We also handpicked some guavas, and had freshly boiled corn from the field just behind the house.

After the funeral Channa showed me another part of the village and we visited her aunt. This time though, we didn’t do much because we were so full from the food at the funeral and tired as well. We just relaxed in hammocks for a while, had some more food – fresh mango this time – and then Channa showed me the place where people cut the bamboo, put it into water so they can slice it and then later sell it. Again pictures of us in front of the bamboo were taken.

Around 2 o’clock we decided it would be best to go back, because we wanted to arrive back in Boeng Chhuk before it would get dark. So we hopped on the moto and drove all the way back. This time we also had to take a detour because there was a construction ahead and nearly lost the way. But thanks to a bunch of friendly and helpful people from a village we could find our way back and got back to SCAO safe and sound.

I’m so thankful that Channa asked me to join her and showed me her village in Kampong Cham, I had a wonderful time, one that I will certainly never forget.

Excerpts from the 1st quartely Red Cross Report

For the German Red Cross Schleswig Holstein i have to write a report about my life and work in Cambodia every 3 months. Here are some excerpts from the first one, talking about my classes, my free time and reflecting about my first months here.

At the moment I teach three English classes and one Computer class a day. Two of my English classes are Beginner level. At first it was really hard to get used to the fact that my students understand nearly no English at all and that now I would be the person in charge of their education. However after the first two weeks I figured out how to handle my young students, who are often loud or run around the class, and by now I feel really confident about what I teach them and about how to treat my students. Especially as a young person, who just 6 months ago was still going to high school and listening to teachers, now being the teacher and no longer the student is a bit tricky at the beginning. I do feel though that the best method was to just get thrown out there and start teaching. Here in Cambodia there is often no better way than to improvise and just try to figure things out on your own.

The other English class I teach is a Pre-Intermediate level. Many of the students in that class are around the same age or even a little bit older than me.  All of them understand quite a bit of English and they start learning more complicated grammar. I instantly started to have a lot of fun teaching that class since it was great to have students who understood most of what I said and who I could actually have a conversation with. After my first few days of enthusiasm with my Pre-Intermediate class I quickly realized that this class was also the toughest to prepare since they would actually start to ask a lot of questions about the grammar I had to teach them or about more complicated vocabulary that I couldn’t explain without looking it up first. Since it is important to me to keep up the motivation of my students and encourage them to improve their English constantly and to take studying at SCAO seriously I started to let them write at least one vocabulary test per month, let them do homework for which they can get points, give points for attendance and also have a final exam at the end of every month. At the end of the month I print out the list with all the scores of my students and I also rank them so they know who the top ten students of the class are. This is similar to how the Cambodian Public Schools grade their students, only that students can fail classes and get sponsorships at the public schools. So far I’ve noticed that many more students do their homework when they get points for it and that they care a lot about how good they are in class now.

[…]

Around three weeks ago Leon and I started to go to Khmer class every day from 4 to 5 o’clock. So far it has been a lot of fun however it is also quite a lot to learn and another addition to my already busy schedule. Right now we only study how to speak Khmer but maybe in the far future we will give a shot at also learning how to write and read Khmer.

Even though we still have lots and lots to study I already start to understand a lot more when I hear people talk Khmer and I’m already able to go shopping at the market or talk to Moto & Tuk Tuk – drivers completely in Khmer. It is a great feeling to be able to understand and speak a little bit of the language and see the reactions of the Cambodians. It makes me feel a lot more at home in Cambodia than before.

On the weekends I either spend my time in Phnom Penh or I stay at the center in Boeng Chhuk. When I stay at the center I usually try to sleep long, do my laundry do some more work for SCAO, go to the internet café nearby and research for classes or Skype with friends and family. When the kids come home from school we sometimes play monopoly together or try singing recent chart songs together, it’s always great to enjoy some time with the center kids and get to know them better. Weekends at the center are pretty quiet most of the time, but I like to spend some time alone, without all the students around me, just hanging out in my bed and relaxing.

Weekends that I spent in Phnom Penh are quite the opposite. Most of the time I share a room in a guesthouse with at least one other volunteer. During the day we are either procrastinating and using the wifi in the guesthouses for almost the whole day and then go out for dinner somewhere on the streets and later for drinks and going out with the volunteers or we spent the whole day running around Phnom Penh, from market to market, from fruit stand to fruit stand and browsing the shelves of the biggest supermarket. However these days also end at dinner and drinks with other volunteers quite often.

[…]

One of the moments that was quite new to me, was the day that a monk from the local pagoda joined my beginners class. At the new school many monks have been coming to conversation class for a while, but before that one monk came to my class we didn’t have any monks from the pagoda joining us at the Old School. In the beginning I was not really sure how to treat the monk. I had read about many rules regarding the relationship between monks and women. I was not to look into his eyes, not too touch him and if I would greet him he wouldn’t be allowed to answer. Some people even said I wasn’t allowed to talk to him. Since the monk was now my student not talking to him was not an option though. After some classes I figured out a way how to treat the monk that worked for him and me as the teacher at the same time. Obviously I did speak to him and I also looked at him, however I still try to not look into his eyes for too long or in a way that might be mistaken. Whenever I walk through the classroom or I pass him the marker, I make sure that I do not touch him and that I give something with my right hand.

Now I’m really happy about the situation. The monk in my class has a great level of English and is always very interested in learning more about Germany and my German life.

Having a monk in my class also helped me a lot to be a bit more relaxed about Buddhism and monks in general. The first weeks I’ve always been very careful that I wouldn’t do anything that might be against the rules of Buddhism. Having the monk in my class though helped me realize that I do not have to be that tense all the time and that even monks are normal people, like everyone else.

 

I hope everyone had a good start for the new year and i’ll write some more posts about my family visiting me and recent changes around here soon.

All the best from Cambodia,

Lilli

Mondulkiri

Due to the “Water Festival” SCAO closed the school for three days and I had the chance to go explore Cambodia a bit more.

This time we, we being Leon, Emilly, Karo, John, Cecile and me (all of us are volunteers working for SCAO) decided to take a bus to Sen Monorom, a small town in the Province of Mondulkiri.

Mondulkiri is in the north-east of Cambodia and together with Rattanakiri, one of the most unexplored and remote provinces of Cambodia. Other than most of Cambodias countryside, which is flat and full of rice fields, Mondulkiri is very mountaineous, harsh, and much colder and windier than the rest of the country. Many of the hills are covered with rain forest and the province is known for it’s wildlife and enormous waterfalls.

We started our journey on Saturday morning at seven. This time we did not go with a large travel bus, but with a ford transit with only 15 seats. Alas the bus was way faster and also did not stop every 15 minutes to let someone out or in. Because Emilly, Cecile and me already got up at 5 o’clock in the morning to go to the market to buy some fruits and snacks for the journey, we slept a long time of the busride. When I woke up there were already no more rice fields to be seen and instead I could see over the hills into the beautiful country of Cambodia.

Upon arrival in Sen Monorom, the one and only town in Mondulkiri, we started to look for a guesthouse. This time we had been clever and booked out bus tickets in advance, however we didn’t think that I would be necessary to also make a reservation for a guesthouse … – well I definetly would have been.  At first, we waved everyone who offered us a moto or a guesthouse away, because we wanted to look in our travel books before deciding on a guesthouse. The first guesthouse we checked out was really nice and even had a room for three people left, however they wanted to charge us 20 $ a night. Deciding that it was too expensive for us and the bed too small, we called another guesthouse – they were completely booked. Then we remembered a guy that had offered us his last bungalow and called him. He picked us up with his car and we were already super happy to have found something. Then however we noticed that the drive out to the bungalows was quite long. We decided not to care, unless the bungalows would be really really nice – they were not. Or at least they were not what we wanted to settle for. We then went back into town, after apologizing to the guy that we would not take his kind offer, and looked for other places. We called all places listed in out three different travel books – all of them either being completely booked or not answering the phone. Then we called the first place again to see if we could still take the small room – surprise, surprise, also taken. After at least one and a half hour of calling guesthouses and wandering down the streets of Sen Monorom, we decided to call Mr. Den again (our bungalow guy) to pick us up and stay in one of his bungalows.

Karo, John and Leon, who took a different bus than Emilly, Cecile and me, had also arrived by the time and were already waiting for us at Mr. Dens Place, since they didn’t even try to find another place. All of us pretty tired from the journey and especially the guesthouse search, we decided not to do anything to big anymore and just rented motos to see a small waterfall close to our bungalows.

At dinner we met Peter, SCAO’s development officer and some friends. They made the whole trip from Phnom Penh to Sen Monorom by big bike and had arrived approximately 5 hours after us.

The next morning we got up early (again) and went Elephant Trekking. Mr. Den took us to a small village of the Phhnong, the natives of Mondulkiri, where we met our elephant and our guide. We started off with Emilly and Cecile sitting in the basket on top of the elephant and me on the neck of the elephant. Karo, John and Leon walked alongside us.

Sitting on the neck of the elephant was an indescribable feeling. I could feel the every movement of the giant animal, its leathern skin and its long bristles prickling through my pants. Riding through the jungle on top of an Elephant you suddenly had to look out for all the higher leaves and branches and duck yourself constantly.  After about one and a half hours we reached a river and made a rest. We had some lunch that Mr. Den gave to us and afterwards swam in the river and climbed a small waterfall. Later the elephant and our guide also joined us in the river and we had the chance to wash the elephant and swim with him.  On the way back, we changed, and Leon, Karo and John were now riding the elephant. It also started raining – what would a rainforest be without any rain? – and at the end of our hike my feet were completely muddy. However all of us were smiling like little children after the adventure that we had just been part of.

After going to “Mondulkiri Pizza” for dinner, where they told us we had to wait 50 minutes for the new dough to be prepared, just to tell us after 15 minutes of waiting that they were out of cheese and could not make any more pizza for us, we decided to come back the next day and ended up having dinner at the same place that we went to the night before.

On Monday morning we had to move out from our bungalow and move into other rooms at a Khmer Hotel, because Mr. Den, owner of our Bungalows, had a group of people coming that wanted to rent out all bungalows so he decided to offer us the hotel rooms for the same price and basically “threw” us out. The whole procedure took a while and when we were finally finished and had some breakfast we had to solve another problem.

We- now already seven people, since a German-Canadian guy, that we met, had joined our group – all wanted to go see the Bou Sraa waterfalls, 38 kilometres east of Sen Monorom. However we only had 3 motos and couldn’t find another one in whole Sen Monorom to rent. Since we did not want to go with 3 people on one moto on a street that was just red dust and/or mud, we decided to split up. The guys took the motos and us girls wanted to take a shared taxi.

The taxi that should’ve picked us up at 2 didn’t even bother to show up so we quickly decided to hitchhike and just stop a car to bring us to the waterfalls. Easier said than done. We stood at the road for at least 40 minutes without getting at least one car to bring us to the waterfalls. After waiting for what felt like hours, we finally managed to find a car that was going in the right direction. Only negative thing, the driver wanted each of us to pay 4 $. Since we were all desperate to see the waterfalls we agreed to pay the price.

The Bou Sraa waterfalls were incredible. Both of them are quite high and it’s amazing to see the water crashing down on the rocks with that much power. It was so loud that we had to scream at each other to understand anything. Since the waterfalls are the most famous attraction of Mondulkiri it was packed with people having picnics and taking iPad photos in front of the waterfall. Not only were there many people, there were also masses of garbage lying around and you could always see some empty cans or bottles floating in the water. Nevertheless the experience was amazing.

Because we had arrived quite late we didn’t have the chance to stay very long since we wanted to be back in Sen Monorom by sunset and we figured that we wouldn’t find a car to take us back if we waited any longer. Luckily we left at the right moment. The boys were already back on their motos and drove off. Only three cars were left on the parking space. All around us jungle. The first car didn’t have any space left for 4 girls, the second would have taken us back to Sen Monorom but then they remembered that they were going back the next day and the third car first denied but when we offered them to sit outside on the truck bed they agreed to take us back. We were so glad that they offered to take us.

The ride on the truck bed was probably one of the most fun things I have done in a while, and one of the coldest as well. After 20 minutes we were all freezing and wrapped in our towels.  We were almost back in Sen Monorom when the car suddenly stopped and some of the children that had been sitting in the front came out and joined us on the truck bed. We were quite confused and asked where we were going. They told us that we go up to a mountain to watch the sun go down. Lucky us, we had also planned to go there, however we wouldn’t even have made it, since we were too late and the boys had the motos and did not bother to go on top of the mountain with us. Hence we drove up there with the family, watched the sunset – which was one of the most stunning sunsets I have ever seen – met the boys up there and took a bunch of pictures together with the family.

After a while we all climbed back onto the car. We were sure that now we would go back to Sen Monorom, but the family decided against it and drove off into the wrong direction. A little bit afraid that they were not staying in Sen Monorom and hadn’t understood us we told them to please turn around. One of the children however explained to us that we were just going to go to another tourist attraction called “Ocean of trees”. By the time we arrived, you could hardly see the “Ocean of trees” and it was freezing.  We climbed of the car again, acted like we would take some more pictures, smiled, and then climbed back up the car.

We arrived back at the hotel, the boys already waiting for us, and together with Peter and his friends we went straight to “Mondulkiri Pizza” looking forward to have some delicious pizza with mozzarella cheese. There was not a lot going on but this day the guy told us he had enough dough and cheese and everything was fine. Aside from the fact that we had to wait 3 full hours to get all the pizzas. It took them at least one and a half hour to bring out the first pizza, and another 20 minutes for the next one and so on. Plus they forgot one of the pizzas we ordered and just because Karo was to fed up with waiting we told them to leave it and Karo grabbed some food at another place. The pizza was really nice, unfortunately what we will remember is not the nice pizza but waiting 3 hours for it. If some of the boys would not have had a snickers from the supermarket in between waiting they probably would have gone crazy.

The next day we left Mondulkiri and headed back to Phnom Penh. After a six hour bus ride there was nothing better to see all the familiar faces at the center and arrive back home.

Daily life at SCAO

Since two months now I live and work at the Save poor Children in Asia Organization, afterwards referred to as SCAO.

SCAO has two schools and is planning on building a third one. One (SCAO School II) is located in the village of Som Roung, around 15 kilometers north of Phnom Penh. The other one (SCAO school I) is in Boeng Chuck, a village close to Phnom Penh, and besides the school there; this is also where the center is located and where I live.

“The center” is the home of Mr. Sameth, founder of SCAO, his wife and 18 children, and since September my home in Cambodia.

My tasks at the center include many different things. Together with Leon I’m responsible for paperwork, the volunteer planning and for the smooth running of the school.

In the mornings I usually get up at around 7.30 and have breakfast together with the other volunteers before the first classes start at 9. Right now my first class starts at 1, so I have the mornings off to answering emails and doing paperwork for SCAO, planning my classes or doing my laundry (by hand).

From 11 till 1 we have lunch break and there are no classes at the school. Usually most of the volunteers go to have iced coffee at a small little shop down the street and after that we all have lunch together.

We have 4 different classes at SCAO; ABC class, which is the lowest level, beginner, elementary and pre-intermediate, which is the highest level.  I teach two beginner classes (from 1-2 and from 3-4) and one pre-intermediate class in the late afternoon from 5.30 to 6.30. After 6.30 I assist Lion, who also lives and teaches at the center, in another class.

When classes are finished all the volunteers have dinner together and the day is nearly over. Most of the time you stay up a bit longer, playing with the kids, reading books or watching a movie.

I hope this gives a short insight into my life and work here in Cambodia. If you have any other questions or comments just let me know.

All the best from Boeng Chuck,

Lilli