Battambang temples, Camodian wine and the circus
I see how natural it is now for human beings to seek comfort in established routines. Wherever you are in the world and whatever your lifestyle, routines are a source of comfort and stability. Particularly for this children I’ve noticed, they relish the safety of something they have done before. Our routine I explained last week is fully established, which in turn has seen another week slip by seemingly unnoticed here in North-West Cambodia.
I am sure you may be curious as to how we are going with laundry… well, indeed we are the proud owners of both laundry powder and a scrubbing brush. But believe it or not, I haven’t touched either for the last 2 weeks. I myself am still somewhat bemused, but yes, J has assumed the role of Chief Scrubber. This is truly a paradigm shift in housekeeping responsibilities and admittedly I am in shock. I still can’t figure out how this has happened, but J seems to have voluntarily taken responsibility for the washing. Extra dirty and predominately any white items go to the laundry for a $1 per kilo. All had been going well with this plan until we discovered the guesthouse laundry ladies are partial to the use of bleach. A couple of items destroyed in the past week, although I guess two less items to carry around once we are on the road. I spent a while trying to persuade these ladies perhaps to avoid the use of bleach when washing our clothes.. they were so upset I found a peace offering of fruit to the room the next day. This is something I have not yet mentioned, the Cambodians handle all situations diplomatically. Anger is not well received and losing one’s temper is considered a great loss of face. I haven’t heard a single cross word or expression of anger in 3 weeks (other than from me to my 3 roommates), despite the totally chaotic road system. No-one shouts or appears frustrated at anyone else, and all emotions are displayed with a cover of a smile, or alternatively no expression at all. I understand angry outbursts are not the done thing, but certainly it proves a challenge a times with a high-energy pair of boys in tow.
Heat v Rain
Two weeks ago I complained of unbearable heat, heat rash, cravings for cold water. Today I can officially confirm the rains have arrived for I have seen no break in this torrent of water for 48 hours. The rain is warm and refreshing, yet muddy and treacherous when travelling by bicycle. There are many positives to the arrival of the rains of course. For one the temperature has dropped. Tanks are filling with water. Our beans will flourish at the Pagoda. Rice farmers will at last see their crops being to sprout and the fields turn from a dusty brown to a vibrant luscious green. We visited one such rice farmer this week, father to Vannlyta one of the local ladies working with us on our projects. Vannlyta shared with us her family and home, and taught us of how the rice is grown and harvested. We understand it has been an anxious time for the farmers with prolonged heat and delay in the arrival of rains.
Wat Banan & Winery
Sunday last weekend we teamed up with Samath our favourite TukTuk driver and off we went at 8am to visit the mountain top temple, Wat Banan, around 30km drive south of Battambang. It was a fascinating journey the whole way, amazing to see the difference between city and countryside villages where everything seems more ordered, tidy, peaceful. We arrived and prepared ourselves for the 358 step climb to the summit. Hot and sweaty, we were rewarded with the most stunning sight of crumbling ruins set amongst lush flowers and trees and views across the province. En route back to Battambang, we stopped at the sole winery of Cambodia. Little known for its wines, this is the first (and potentially the last) vineyard in Cambodia. An extraordinary site to see a field of vines which must be starved of water for most of the year. The story goes that a Khmer student returned from a visit to Southern France with a vine plant hidden into their luggage. They produce a ‘fine Cambodian red wine’ and a brandy, though I have to admit malt vinegar perhaps would be easier to drink.
Projects have been busy this week. A first week of teaching now we have finished some of the other manual work. I am working with a beginners group ranging from age 9 to 15. The class runs for an hour from 10-11am and it is important to have the hour planned to cover the curriculum and support the local teacher. Our lessons this week have been the letter Y and Z. I have been very anxious about the teaching and this alone has taught me so much about myself. I have watched other student volunteers come and go into the classroom with a skeleton lesson plan but with a bucket load of fun and energy. Their classes are inevitably successful. Why do I always have to be prepared? Prepared for everything. No sense of just try it and see, go with the flow? Admittedly, it is a completely new experience to teach children other than my own (and I am only just beginning that whole journey), and second to that without English as their primary language. So I did prepare my lessons using some free lesson plans available on the internet and teaching aids available from past volunteers at the house. Young Zachary accompanied me as the Assistant Teacher (which he proudly wrote on the whiteboard!).
Cambodian culture deeply respects teachers and the children are attentive, polite and diligent. It was an incredible, moving and joyful experience with the children responding well and a pleasure to work with. Together we learnt many new words, practiced pronunciation and practiced language through play. We made Y collage’s from some old woollen threads and paper, and each created and coloured their own Z creature into their books. The attention to detail from both the girls and the boys was quite phenomenal and incredibly rewarding to see, they took so much care of each and every crayon and made sure each was returned to me at the end of class. The test comes next week when we recap. An abrupt finish to our first lesson.. Zachary had left the class and had joined Oscar and J in Samath’s TukTuk outside waiting for me to finish. We heard the most almighty metal-twisting smash, the class leapt to its feet and raced to the balcony. All I could see was J’s head running along the road and my heart skipped a million beats. Dashing outside I Samath’s TukTuk was still parked as normal, but another one a few feet away completely over-turned and smashed. Zachary was white as a sheet and Oscar meanwhile running round in circles and practically hyper-ventilating with a mix of shock, curiosity and terror. “Mum I knew this would happen. I just knew it”. It was awful and took a while for me to make sense of the situation. A drunk TukTuk driver had swerved across the road and overturned itself just alongside ours and the boys had witnessed the entire scene. It was a wake-up call for sure. The driver was fine apart from a split webbing on his hand, but perhaps the scariest aspect was the fact he had his children on board. Unhurt but shaken. O & Z have recounted this episode many times to calm themselves. It is a journal entry, and a topic of many conversations.
Our other projects are progressing well with the beans at the Pagoda now beginning to sprout, and a couple more beds cleared for cabbage and sweet potato. Irrigation and the construction of sheds are the major tasks that lie ahead once the uni groups arrive. It is a peaceful place to hand out, and never short of a monk or two to come along and practice their English.
Battambang is rapidly becoming known as the arts and culture centre for Cambodia as it sees a rapid revival of traditional arts and culture. One of the highlights of this cultural heritage is the circus, Phare Ponleu Selpak. PPS is an NGO using arts to support social change, “”Phare Ponleu Selpak” which means “the brightness of the arts”, began life in 1986 in the Site 2 refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. A group of 9 of children who took part in drawing workshops in the camp had the idea to form a creative association to help other children express the trauma of war. Circus shows start at 7pm and are preceded by an arts exhibition of work from current students. It is a sensual place, it feels magical, and I understand by day you can visit visual arts, traditional Cambodian music, digital media, circus and performing arts classes all in action. The show was absolutely outstanding – it was funny, vibrant, clever, athletic and the entire audience was hooked from start to finish an hour later. Extraordinary balancing, fire spinning, rope swinging throughout the show left us all aghast with their physical proweress.
It has been a full and busy week with treasured breaks for iced Khmer coffee and banana smoothies. We spent our Wednesday afternoon back at the pool, and again today although I think it was drier in the pool than out. I celebrated Friday night with a long awaited cocktail and am slowly acquiring G&T credits for babysitting as J secures his venue for each and every bloody World Cup football game. As a family, we are feeling good. A few ups and downs with the boys as would any family, but on the whole they have settled well into this new pace, and their parents random approach to their learning. We have had tears and tantrums for every short session of math we do with Oscar, but still we are determined that this journey is to teach him to have confidence in himself and to believe in his own capability.