Thursday, March 24, 2011

weddings part deux

The Wednesday and Thursday following my coteachers' wedding was another teacher's wedding. Saret, the bride-to-be, asked me to be a bridesmaid. I didn't really know what all that entailed, but she said just show up and everything would be taken care of.
Being a bridesmaid in Cambodia is not the same as being a bridesmaid in America, shocking I know. For example, you DO NOT ask your good friends to be bridesmaids in Cambodia, because you like your friends. Instead you choose people you may vaguely know who will make the pictures more beautiful. You might, say, choose two students who are very thin and pale and one foreigner who will add a certain cache to the wedding photos. Also, the wedding party does not help with anything except looking nice, but not as nice as the bride.
I did as requested and showed up, which I was told later meant being at the bride's house at 4 am. Yes, you read that right, four o'clock IN THE MORNING. The next two hours were consumed with applying enough makeup to paint a house on the bride and three bridesmaids, and teasing everyone's hair like there was some sort of eighties look-a-like contest to be participated in. Just in case your own teased hair wasn't big enough, there was plenty of fake hair to tease and pile on as well.
My personal favorite part was the eyebrow shaving. I'd like to remind everyone that is was FOUR A.M. and I can barely make it anywhere on time by seven, so I was not fully conscious when they began to shave off part of my eyebrows. When I realized what was happening I did have enough where-with-all to say, "Hey! Please don't do that. Just a little," to which the response was obviously, "No problem! Don't worry! It looks good." In case you were wondering, it doesn't look good. They are still growing back and that doesn't look good either.
The first step of the two day celebration was to go visit a few places in Siem Reap town and take pictures. This was so funny. If the experience alone wasn't enough there were all the tourists who asked to take pictures with us. I was loving it. The best part was the Japanese tourists who wouldn't notice as first that I was not Cambodian and then would make small noises of surprise maybe two minutes into their photo fest when they realized I was "French". Or the American tourists who wandered up and asked if anyone spoke English. They were really impressed with my language skills when I explained what was going on.
After the morning of picture taking, and outfit changing (I was on my second outfit, the bride was on her fourth or fifth) we returned to the house to eat rice. Then it was time for outfit number three (pink top, red pants, least comfortable) and the hair cutting ceremony. Everyone in attendance has a change to come up and pretend to cut the bride and groom's hair. I'm pretty sure money is collected too. A lot of perfume was sprayed. It was really interesting, but man did that outfit HURT! The shirt was squeezing my shoulders so badly I wanted to cry by the time it was over.
Unfortunately we only had a short dinner break before the "eating of cut fruit". I was excited by this, because who doesn't like fruit? Except that we didn't actually get to eat fruit. I did have a nice moment when I was walking in circles around the pile of fruit and firecrackers on the stage in basically a big wedding dress when I just thought, "...WHAT?!?!"
That was a pretty entertaining ceremony, though it was more just fun and less ceremony. Especially when I was handed the microphone to say hello into. Look, it speaks English!!! I especially enjoyed the lighting of the sparklers and watching the bride and groom try to take a bite out of the same apple while maintaining a Cambodian appropriate amount of space between them.
That was the end of day one and I was more than ready for a shower and some sleep, before my 3 a.m. wake-up call the next day.

to be continued...

Monday, March 21, 2011

weddings part one

A few weekends ago my coteacher was married. He invited me to the wedding. Cambodian weddings are very different than the typical "American wedding" you may think of. There are multiple days, several ceremonies, and one big party. Most guests only attend the party at the end of the wedding, which is what I did. Some students came over to my house beforehand as they wanted to travel to the wedding together, which was about 3 kilometers away. Also, it turned out, none of them knew how to apply makeup but they all wanted to wear it. So they asked me to help with their makeup. It was like high school homecoming dance all over again.

One of the other teachers offered us a ride in his car so we all headed over to the wedding at around noon (it started at eleven, but guess how long it took three teenage girls to get ready...). Weddings are a chance to eat fancy Cambodian food, but I recommend avoiding anything uncooked as that is the surest way to get a big case of giardia or amoebic dystentary. The food was pretty good.
While my coteachers' bride and the bridesmaids and groomsmen greeted everyone and handed them a pen, my coteacher was making the rounds to cheers everyone and get drunk. When guests are finished eating and enjoying the wedding they write their name on an envelope provided and put money in it, to be deposited in a giant heart-shaped box on the way out. As a reward, you are given a stick of doublemint gum usually. By the end, when the bride and entourage were accepting money envelopes, my coteacher was dragging me onto the dance floor to dance with him in front of the camera. An important part of anyone's wedding is to dance with the barang. I stood there awkwardly, moving around a little, and wishing I had had a few beers. I asked my coteacher, "Don't you want to dance with your bride?" to which he responded, "Yes! I am surprised!" He was very drunk.
Probably the icing on the cake (of which there was none, and this is my chief and only complaint about Cambodian weddings) was watching my coteacher grab the mic from the DJ repeatedly and slur something into it that was so loud and garbled I had literally NO IDEA what he was saying. But it made all the guests really excited and feel like they needed to scream in response, so I guess it had the desired effect.

Since the music at a wedding is crazy-blow-your-eardrums-out loud the party is usually mercifully short. About two hours after our arrival, the same teacher gave us a ride home. My wedding experience was quite enjoyable and the perfect duration. My next experience would not be so brief...

Sunday, March 6, 2011

do you know how to harvest rice?

People always ask, "Do you know how to eat rice?" It really means do you eat rice, or have you eaten rice here, but for some reason that is how people phrase it in Cambodia.
Now I not only know how to eat rice, which I know a lot (how you say you know something well ex: I know Cambodia A LOT!), but also how to harvest it.
A few weekends ago (I'm catching up on old blog material since I've been busy lately) my friend Abby came to visit me at my site and the next day I went to visit her site. While at my house we made baba ghanoush and falafel. We had a lazy day other than that.
At Abby's (which is only about 30k from my site) we ate some breakfast of noam, which is like Cambodian sweet rice cake and comes in many many forms, and then went on a looong bike ride. We biked along meeting different people and stopping to chat or take pictures of interesting things. One thing we came across was this rice threshing machine. It was shooting the stalks up into the air and separating out the grains of rice. A very apropos picture of rural Cambodian life.

We kept biking and eventually the rode dead-ended into rice fields. We could see a ton of water buffalo and cows and wanted to take some pictures of them (the water buffalo are one of my favorite things in Cambodia, especially the babies). A woman offered to let us leave our bikes at her house, so we parked them and followed her into the rice paddies. She and her family and some neighbors were harvesting rice. They were almost done by the time we got there, so they let us try it. It was fun for the five minutes or so I participated, but doing it for a whole day would be back-breaking work, not to mention how incredibly hot it was out. 

WARNING: if you don't like disgusting stories about mice, stop reading now, and don't move to rural Cambodia.
After we walked out further and snapped pictures of the water buffalo we started to walk back when we saw all the people who were harvesting rice screaming and running around, beating something in the grass. I thought it might be a snake so we hung back for a minute. Turns out while harvesting rice the people had run into a whole den of mice, and were chasing after and killing them. They just kept coming and everyone, especially the young boys, were running and beating the mice with sticks and sickles or picking them up and throwing them HARD against the ground. 

One boy was even reaching up to his elbow into a mouse hole, dragging them out by their tails, and then slamming them down from his full three feet of height to the ground.

This was one of the more disgusting things I've seen in Cambodia. The mice just kept coming! By the end the people had a basket full of at least 50 mice. One little girl was going around collecting all the dead mouse bodies by the tails. I was grossed out and also intrigued. I was standing right next to the action, which would never have happened a year ago. If you live here, you just have to become numb to rodents and other gross or scary things if you want to survive. But I digress... I kept asking why they had all the mice and whether they were going to be dinner. One woman said yes, the people would eat the mice. Another woman said no. I think she was lying because she knew it was kind of "Cambodian ghetto" to eat mice. But you gotta do what you gotta do, and I didn't see many other food sources out where they lived.

Finally we finished staring at the dead mice, and biked back to Abby's house. I have never been so sweaty and dirty in my life. 

I don't know much about life after Peace Corps, except that priorities one and two as soon as I get off that plane are taking a shower and eating In-n-Out. Hold the mice.

Friday, February 25, 2011

catching up

It is amazing that I manage to fall behind on things like updating my blog when I feel like I have nothing to do... anyway...
The students' favorite work of "art"
I've been busy since my last update. At school the week after Chinese New Year it was my turn to host the art show. I had the best works from all nine schools participating displayed in a classroom. Students could come by and look at all the art and vote for their favorite. Of course the picture of the HUGE house with a pond and three cars and a white Asian man in front got the most votes. The theme of the art show was hope. Says a lot about the hopes of this new generation of Cambodians. Capitalism... blah blah blah

The one I thought was the best, sorry for the glare.

Students checking out the art.
All the students really seemed to enjoy the art show, and it was a chance for me to do a project involving all the students, even those who don't speak any English, which is nice. Soon the winners across all the schools will be announced and invited to meet an artist who runs a gallery and art school in Siem Reap. It is exciting stuff.
Unfortunately, along with the art show came a nice round of laryngitis/horrible cold. So for the third month in a row I was sick for a week. I'm starting to take doxycycline (anti-malarial) again, I don't care how horrible it is put that much antibiotic in my body every day. It keeps away some minor illnesses, which I could definitely do without.
In other news: it is HOT. So so hot. It was sooo nice during cold season, some days I didn't even break a sweat! And then out of nowhere something snapped and it is hot again. Like in the nineties with ninety percent humidity hot. I am not taking kindly to the heat. I will end this rant there, because I have nothing pleasant to say about the weather. IT. IS. HOT.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Gung Hay Fat Choi!

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! It has been a bit of a slow week since everyone is celebrating... even people who are in no way Chinese... I asked one of my students why she celebrates Chinese New Year if she is not Chinese and she said her parents went to an astrologer, who told them her father might be a little Chinese. Therefore, if they do not appropriately pay homage to the ancestors they won't have any money. First of all, this girl does not look Chinese AT ALL. She is extremely Khmer. Second, her family doesn't have any money anyway. 
I think this is one of the big differences between American and Khmer culture. Americans are very "pull yourself up by your bootstraps," believing if you want to succeed you just have to work hard. Cambodians are much more fatalistic. Even students who know really value hard work can't escape the idea that your destiny determines your life's outcome, and you have to pay homage to the ancestors or you will be poor forever. I've wondered over this difference a lot, and I think part of is that there are so many fewer opportunities to change one's situation here its easier to blame it on fate than society, or any fault of your own. But this is just one idea. I have no idea if its the right one. 
I often have a hard time understanding aspects of Cambodian culture, or why Cambodians do things the way they do because my mindset is so wildly different from that of most Cambodians. I guess that's part of the value of this experience: recognizing and experiencing the differences in societies and ideas around the world. Sometimes when I get frustrated, and I know I'm not alone here, I will chalk it up to Cambodians just not thinking, or being uneducated, but the truth is more complicated than that. 
My landlord invited me to celebrate Chinese New Year with her (also, not even a little Chinese) so we had Cambodian noodles and curry for lunch yesterday. It was delicious, of course. Everyone else was pounding the whiskey or ABC stout beer, but I explained I had to teach later in the afternoon, and thought it would be wrong to show up to work drunk. That didn't stop the people who work at Acleda bank from throwing a few back before getting on their motos and heading back to work... nor did it stop the doctor who lives next door from having a few beers before he went back to work. I really hope I can make it the next 5 1/2 months (!) without needing urgent medical care in town, especially on a holiday.
All in all, it has been a boring week, just sitting around waiting to go to work. I've been trying to prepare for a bunch of things I have going on next week, but since everyone I need is in their "homeland" (aka their hometown, but for some reason they all say homeland) and not at school I haven't been able to get anything done. Hopefully things will go smoothly next week, and I'll have exciting things to write about.
Happy Chinese New Year!!!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

nice to meet you, Ms. Ambassador

Last weekend I was in Siem Reap and saw a flyer advertising an event at Angkor Hospital for Children. The flyer just said, "expats come meet your ambassador" which was enough for me.
It was a little intimidating walking into the event, actually. Networking and making conversation used to be so easy, but I'm a little rusty after a year and a half. Also, I was there alone and didn't even really know what to expect from the event. It turned out to be a really interesting and worthwhile evening. I met several expats, most of whom live in Siem Reap, and a few based in Phnom Penh who were temporarily working up north. There were a number of RPCV's there (returned Peace Corps volunteers) who were really friendly and interested to hear about my experience.
Carol Rodley, the US Ambassador to Cambodia, answered some questions along with several staff from the embassy and then the mingling continued. It was a fairly small event, fewer than 30 people I'd guess, so everyone had a chance to speak one-on-one with the Ambassador! I patiently waited my turn, trying not to feel creepy about standing/lurking there while the Ambassador finished her previous conversations, and then got to introduce myself! Ambassador Rodley was so friendly and open, and very enthusiastic about Peace Corps. I asked her about her appointment to Cambodia (did she get to choose?) and her opinion on development in Afghanistan (where she worked prior to returning to Cambodia as Ambassador) and her answers were interesting and thoughtful. She told me when she got the phone call that she was chosen to be an Ambassador she thought it was a prank call because it was midnight her time!
I am really glad I made my way into Siem Reap for this event, and glad that I overcame my hesitancy and nervousness about going alone. I mean, if I can come to the other side of the world not knowing anyone it shouldn't be hard to walk into a room of strangers, right?
On a side note, it appears Cambodia has begun blocking blogs. For some reason I can still post, but I can't see my own blog. So my apologies for any type-o's which I usually catch by viewing the post after I finish it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

let me show you around

Since I haven't posted any pictures of my new house, I thought now would be a good time! I just cleaned the kitchen and bathroom :) I live in a room with an attached bathroom and a small kitchen area, both of which I get all to myself. It is really nice and usually pretty clean, unless I get busy and forget to scrub the floors for a week. My landlord lives in a big house at the front of the property with her family and a few renters. Behind the house there are individual "apartments" and that's where I live!
The view from my front door. Neighbors clothes drying and the trellis.
 Most of my neighbors are really nice. I live next door to a doctor who works at the Angkor Children's Hospital Satellite Clinic where I teach English twice a week. A lot of the other residents work at the Acleda bank in town.
My kitchen area. Not a lot of counter space, but it gets the job done.
 A giant cockroach just crawled out from under my bookshelf... nice.
storage for dishes
The kitchen sink... by which I mean a water spout and a hole in the ground.

 The room had just been built when I moved in. It was finished the day I moved actually. That means everything is as modern as you can get. I have a nice overhead fan hanging precariously from the ceiling that usually works.
The new desk my landlord just put in all the rooms.
  The house is basically right next to school, which is convenient. I spend a lot of time indoors because I like it so much. :) When I lived with a host family I was always trying to think of somewhere to go just to relax a little and be alone, but there isn't really anywhere. It is so much quieter here, and more peaceful. I love it. Also, my friend from the market lives a few doors down. She's usually working, but she told me this week she'd teach me how to make "cha gruen" or fried ingredients. It's just a stir fry with this delicious sauce on it. I'm excited about that.
desk and bookshelf
 Check out my awesome Cambodian pajama pants in the mirror in the above photo. Don't be too jealous.
my bed, mosquito net, and storage trunk
 Unfortunately there is no shower head, just a bucket and another water spout. But after a year and a half I'm quite used to the bucket showers so its not a big deal at all. The one bad thing is the water often comes out icy cold from the storage tank outside. In cold season it is pretty painful, but I always feel like I'm wasting gas if I boil some water for my shower. I just try to do some jumping jacks before bathing... and brace myself. I'd rather be chilly in the shower and enjoy cold season, than face the hot season again where you shower 18 times a day just to try and not be sweaty for a few seconds.
the bathroom

buckets for laundry and showering
There is plenty of space between the bed and the desk for me to do yoga, which I've been doing almost every day since I moved in. I can also jump rope in the yard area outside my door, which is nice. Usually the neighbors keep to themselves and don't stare too much when I do my weird foreigner exercises in the yard.
my digs!
So that's my place! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I do. Not bad for only $50 a month plus utilities and water. No charge for garbage, of course. I just walk through the duck/chicken coop and throw it over the back fence where it will be burned later... oh Cambodia.