Here we are, end of week 2 in Cambodia. It feels significantly longer than 2 weeks, for the Cambodian way is so much slower and more gentle than the lifestyle we find ourselves in back home.
We start early on the projects, by 8am there are TukTuks waiting to carry us out to our projects, and we return for lunch by 1130. After lunch we retreat to our rooms for much sought after downtime away from the fierce heat of the day. We are back out by 3pm for the afternoon shift for a couple of hours, and dinner around 6pm. I should mention here are many shower breaks during this routine, my minimum is two, and the most I have squeezed into the day is four! Our routine very much follows that of the Cambodians. School starts early with a long break in the middle of the day, and local folk are snoozing on hammocks and lazing with their families. There is a very strong culture here of eating – Cambodians are often eating – snacks from the side of the road (including BBQ rat), family meals, and a market which runs from dawn to dusk. We have met with the management team and have developed a focused schedule from hereon in which is a mix of the computer lab project, business planning for income-generating craft store, English teaching, and the pagoda garden. We have negotiated Wednesday afternoon downtime, and 4pm Friday football.
We have achieved so much on projects this week, and more importantly in getting ourselves settled and less startled by being here. A real breakthrough came last weekend with the offer of some new accommodation – we couldn’t believe our luck and now find ourselves behind the volunteer house in Kean Thay Guesthouse. We have a small room on the ground floor with a bathroom and the most luxurious additions.. flushable loo, sink AND air conditioning!!
We all whooped for joy and the boys particularly are significantly happier to have respite from the heat. Even cuddling the boys had been uncomfortable in the rooms we were in before, it was so hot sticky and dark. The move has made a massive difference to being able to get into a more structured routine.
Oscar and I have discovered a rooftop terrace which is really rather pleasant. Us early risers creep out of the room and ascend four flight of stairs to watch the sunrise. Oscar seeks this quiet time – he is silent and draws & colours, whilst I take myself through some yoga. It is a peaceful time for us, and something that has become rather treasured in just a few days. I am so proud of the boys. They have both now shown signs of adjusting well – Oscar has really struggled since we arrived, but by Thursday this week we have seen a paradigm shift in his self-confidence, comfort and behaviour. This maybe partly due to the time it has taken him to settle, but also partly thanks to a superbly constructed email from Mimi (my mum). Zachary takes it all in his stride and has interacted extremely well with the kids during our visit to observe an English class at both the school and the CAD centre. He has also achieved his first milestone by counting over 500 TukTuks.
Playtime with the boys at CAD1
Chillin’ with the boys – they are age 10, Zac age 7!
Each lunchtime we have come back to the room to cool down and rest. We have spent an hour or so focused on educational work with the boys which has been extremely productive. This has made us feel much more settled ourselves as we being to bring this learning into our day. Often we head out a little earlier before the projects to pacify our addictions – for the boys, banana smoothies and for J & I lime sodas and iced coffee. It hasn’t taken long to find the most fabulous little coffee place called Kinyei with the 2012 Cambodian Barista champion on board! A moment of freedom was discovered this week as we braved the world of Battambang by bicycle. Bicycles are everywhere here – push, moped and motorcycle. There are no road rules other than travel slowly, be gracious to follow road-users and display no signs of anger. Quite simply, Ordered Chaos. Boys hopped on the back and off we went. It was nerve-racking to say the least, but a massive sense of accomplishment and freedom which we all enjoyed. Next challenge is to secure use of bikes for the remainder of our time here with a back seat for the boys!
Most evenings, we return to the room relatively early for the boys bedtime. It has taken a little while to settle and those of you who are parents out there can imagine how tricky that can be when piled into a small room in 2 double beds. Oscar is normally out like a light, particularly if accompanied by a cuddle,and Zachary always takes a while longer to complete his day. Finally, they are asleep and room lighting returns. I forget to add we now have wifi available most of the time (!) – a massive difference for J and I to be able to research something we have been thinking about, to look ahead on our journey, or even for me this week researching much around Oscar and the subtleties of his sensitivities. This is luxury time we have missed for so long.
Today is Saturday, and already we find ourselves in a groove of a routine. Off on the bikes to Green Mango Cafe where we have discovered the very best loaf of banana bread, next stop to our favourite iced coffee venue and venture into the market in search of apples – it is vibrant and chaotic, and as Oscar put it “Mum there are some extremely pongy smells in there”!
A couple of visits this week to the CAD centre to observe the teaching, and I took the opportunity to observe Shiree a fellow volunteer teach at the local primary school. Shiree is a seasoned teacher and has been volunteering here with us for a couple of weeks. Myself and the boys sat in the classroom and soaked up the very different educational environment to that which we see back home. They did their best to join in, although one more keen than the other!
We have worked hard as a family on the computer lab this week – with the painting pretty much completed including lingering drips on our bodies, shoes and clothing. A near death experience as Zac lightly splashed his face and with no clean cloths or water it was a delicate operation to remove it! By Thursday we saw the arrival of some old desks and our NGO has sourced 7 second hand computers ready for the initial training. By Friday we were able to clean these down and attempt to get them working. Ants everywhere and the filthiest keyboards I have ever seen – health and safety would’ve had a field day. No antibacterial sprays to hand, but some hardworking wet wipes. I felt so guilty cleaning those computers – I have taken items in this state straight to the tip without a second thought, and here we are cleaning them with wet wipes, inside and out, tightening a few screws and wires and now they will provide a valuable educational resource for the children. I will now work with a local Khmer student to put together a computer learning programme for the children over the next couple of weeks. The computer training will be provided as part of the increasing suite of supplementary lessons for the impoverished CAD children.
Nary’s Kitchen Cookery School
Wednesday downtime this week was totally my highlight of the week. J took the boys to the Battambang Resort swimming pool while I joined Nary’s Kitchen Cookery School
from 4-7pm. It was quite the best cooking class I have ever experienced. Myself and mother & daughter volunteers – Shiree and Felicia. We first were taken across to the market and shown all the main delights ranging from fresh snake fish, smoked meats and an array of stunning exotic fruits. We selected key ingredients for our cooking which included fresh coconut milk made before our eyes. I wasn’t quite so keen to learn of the lightly boiling duck eggs which have been selected to cook just before they hatch – a local delicacy – the unborn baby by this stage in its development has hair and fingernails and is eaten with a spoon as one would eat a boiled chicken egg in the West. We returned to the kitchen to cook 3 dishes – Fish Amok, Beef Lok Lak and Pork Springrolls. We were taught how to chop the galangal, turmeric, lime leaves and chinese ginger – all oozing with freshness from the market. A triumphant finale – to eat our delicious fayre. Chef Toot was exceptionally progressional – perhaps mid 40s and they have been running the restaurant and cookery school for 5 years or so – they have managed to get themselves ranked well on TripAdvisor and in the Lonely Planet which is a great achievement.
World Environment Day – June 4th
6am up and out ready to help the students for World Environment Day
. We completed a roll check at the university with 80 high school and uni students and piled into TukTuks and motos for the 45 minute ride out to a nearby “mountain” – Phnom Sampeau
. On arrival we were issued with binliners and latex gloves (nice addition in the heat.. ) and prepared to climb the steps to the summit, clearing piles of rubbish strewn along the way. Hard work in the heat but extremely exhilarating to see the difference we had made on our journey back down. The students were keen to practice their English and loved having the young boys with them.
To end the week we continued the digging project out near one of the CAD centres to create a football pitch so football skills can be added to the ever-growing portfolio of supplementary classes. The ground is rocky and hard, and at the moment quite high on the risk list for potential injuries. Ourselves and a new volunteer, Daniel, dug away a few more of the lumps and bumps, rewarding ourselves with a game of football with the kids. I am not sure if J will walk again – the sheer joy of being out on the pitch meant he was a little more zealous than perhaps he should considering the heat and current levels of fitness!
Week 2 complete, another busy schedule for week 3 which includes developments in the Pagoda garden, computer training, paddy fields and the circus!