From a very, very hot and sunny Bou Savy
Today is yet another public holiday -King's Coronation Day, Norodom Sihamoni - however, he died two years ago whilst I was here, and was 90 years+, and living in Beijing! Cambodia has many more of these holidays than other countries, but they only affect the government sector. However, GH and other NGO's have to take them if they are affiliated to a gov department, and as we have education and social work accreditation, that is the case. Within employment law only 10 days statutory holidays are included so these days do give some people a few extra days break.
Today I am going to meet Lou, Jill and Sarah for lunch at the French Tea House, although I have been assured that coffee is served, and then tonight I am meeting both Khymer staff and other volunteers at the Road 60 food stalls and funfair. Although I have cycled past in the day I have never been at night, probably 45 yrs too old and too fussy! However, I do think that I should it experience it once, but am not sure whether I'll be able to face eating or try a ride. Will it be snake, cockroaches, frogs, snails, insects, grasshoppers, snails with rice, or plain rice? Or perhaps, 19 day old duck embryos - with feathers and beak intact! To my shame I chickened out, and opted for deep, fried shrimp rolls at Angkor Famous with a 50 cent beer. Unfortunately, the the French Tea House was closed too, a pleasant afternoon gossiping was spent in River Gardens.
Sun 1 Nov '15
It has been an interesting week, with many different things to see, do and learn about. I know all the children I am teaching from last year, and knew that the boys, in particular, were not easy, but too my dismay they have got worse. Mainly due to the fact that they have had a new Khmer teacher who is young, inexperienced with poor classroom management, and pronunciation. Phearom was a very hard act to follow and I miss her, but we intend to meet this week for a chat. However, Thida seems a very pleasant person and one who is keen to learn, so I am goint to be team teaching and coaching him to develop his skills and pronunciation - grammar, spelling and punctuation fine. So the boys have had a shock this week, but I do think they have responded well to a new regime, and hope for further improvement next week. The developments at GH are amazing, another classroom and to see the Special Needs students arriving daily is brilliant - as yet I haven't met the students who are living in the residential accommodation, but that appears to be doing well. The local authority are now sending children to the unit, but of course, no funding! The Khmer staff are well supported by volunteer physios and OT + Sarah, a S African who is staying for the year to develop their education programme and special need therapies. I don't know where Bridget gets all her ideas and energy from to fund and manage so many aspects of GH. She always looks so tired and works virtually 24 hrs a day contacting and communicating with sponsors and potential ones. Tesco's F and F department now have clothes manufactured here, and so are supporting GH financially, as one of their chosen local projects. The older students are still trying to come to terms with Sophat's death, and are finding it difficult to have lessons in the room which he did, so Dani and Rith has been doing some counselling with them which does seem to have helped, as it has allowed them to talk and share their feelings.
Unfortunately, two 14 year old girls I have taught and really enjoyed being with have now vanished from GH to work in Phar Chas - Old Market - not selling goods, but their bodies! Giving massages and prostitution of young girls is a major problem here - GH have tried, supported and worked very hard with the girls' families to try and keep them in education, but ignorance and ready cash still win. Both girls come from very poor homes which are extremely disfunctional, so it was going to be a very difficult battle to win, although one hoped that particularly for Sreykuch, there would be a different outcome. She is Bunlong's sister, as yet I don't know what has happened to him, nobody seems to have seen him for a while. Dani, the Khmer social worker at GH really empathises with the families and works well with them, so she is finding it hard to accept what has happened.
Sparkies, Alan's electrical business with the boys he has trained are now fitting out and setting up a 9D cinema in town for a Chinese guy - a great challenge for them (I didn't know such things existed). Apparently, the boys are completely shocked by it all, and as it is so complex can only work on that project under his constant direction. However, they are still getting plenty of work from ex pats and businesses in town. Next week his present students are taking their exams, and if successful will then begin two years practical experience with the social enterprise.
All week, it has been extremely hot and dry with only a couple of rain storms, unfortunately, I happened to be in one on my way home on Tuesday afternoon and got absolutely drenched, despite sheltering for a while. The heat has been unbearable, both day and night, so sleep doesn't come easily, so great big bags under my eyes. Everyone is bemoaning the lack of rain this wet season, and the consequences of it - very poor rice in both quality and quantit, so many villagers will be short of food and income from a bit they may have been able to sell.
It's great meeting up with people I've met on previous visits, both Khmer and vols/ex pats, everyone is so keen to greet me and chat. The tuk drivers are having a very tough time, as not many tourists about as yet, so they are always on the hard sell. However, this time as I have got such excellent bike lights I have been using that, so not needing a tuk. They are always telling me it is good fexercise for mebut bad for them - no money, no honey! Their latest gambit is, "Two for the price of one, lady - you and your bike!" Fortunately, as many recognise me, or see me talking to other drivers, we can turn it into a joke and all have a good laugh. It is good to see a few Khmer now walking for health along the river as the sun sets, but it is still really hot then. The half marathon is a month today, so people will need it a bit cooler for their practice runs.
It's hopeless sitting here in the restaurant trying to write, there is alaways somebody wanting to chat - some very interesting in their reason for being here, and others for just listening to their travel tales. Last week, was the Austalian group of Phd students studying trafficking and its consequences between here and Thailand, and today an American guy, who is here from Thailand for a break whilst working on an alcohol and drug addiction programmes in a Thai/Burmese refugee camp. Apparently, Burma manufactures amphetamines and smuggles them across the border, plus the ready availability of other locally made drugs and alcohol, so the refugees are soon involved in them. It is fascinating meeting and talking with so many interesting and different people.
Bovorn, who is the boss of this family business has just been to welcome me back to Bou Savy, I wandered why I hadn't seen him, but he is away in another part of Cambodia on an Administration course, and will be away for another 3 months.
Yesterday was the expats 'cycle ride' to but to my dismay nobody appeared, luckily just as I was about to depart to do a ride on my own a guy appeared. Quickly, we established which direction to set off in - me leading, as he didn't know that way very well. As we got talking we realised we had met a few years, but as his NGO is in Battenbang he is not in Siem Reap very often. His project is involved with teacher training, primary age range, focusing on Maths and PSHE. However, it is mainly Khmer teachers coaching, team teaching and mentoring other Khmers with INSET by Westerners - mainly Aussie with some Brits. Progress slow, and difficult to sustain - altough education authorities want change won't support it by paying higher wages. Again, he struggles to fund raise, and maintain it as a Khmer by Khmer initiative with involvement from the west. Back to the ride, we went via the countryside to the lake, a route I know well, it remains little changed and then reached the lake. I was shocked to see what I normally see at this time of year, dry, the lack of monsoon rain has stopped its usual expansion.The consequences of this will be devastating for the locals whose livelihood depends on this - so many Cambodians are fisher folk, catching and selling it and the alluvial deposits which remain after wet season helps to fertilise very poor soil for the growth of rice and other crops. However, around Chong Kneas there is more development for tourism, but I don't think it helps the locals much - most of it is owned an run by Koreans, with perhaps some of the labouring done by khmers. After circling the bottom of Phnom Krom once we set off back on a totally new track for both of us, as an adventure. Luckily, he spoke reasonably fluen Khmer and the locals assured us we would get back to town. I suppose we cycled for nearly 2 hours, at a fair pace along narrow sandy tracks with acres of lotus flowers growing in the water on both sides of us, and then it became small rice paddies and a few very huts and families living in them. By now, it was the heat of the midday sun, so we needed to stop frequently to drink. At one point we came across a newWat and its stupors, built beside one which had lost its roof, and behind ithem were the monks accommodation. Unfortunately, no one came out to speak to so, so I still don't know where I was, and that part hasn't made google maps yet! After, 4 hrs we eventually arrived back in town, exhausted, and completely covered in a film of gritty red dust - a sight to behold! Once here, I had to drink 1.5 l of water and have a shower before I felt human again. However, I can report that I am not suffering from any after effects today, ither than lethargy which may be due to the extreme heat and humidity we are experiencing today. There are a few blackish clouds about, so I am hoping for a storm to clear the air a bit, for a short while. As yesterday was Halloween, a few of us decided to eat away from the town where there was a big parade and spectacle - it was begun initially by the expats for themselves, but each year the Khmers who live in town have started to join in the fun too - although it is a Buddhist thing and they are afraid of spirits, and now it is quite a big event. We had a very peaceful meal in the peace and tranquility of Tangram's garden and at about 9pm decided to head home. I had taken my bike and was going to walk back to town with Kill and then cycle back here. Nothing prepared us for the crowds who were leaving town, a very short walk took me 40 mins pushing my bike, before I was able to get on it to finish my journey home. Luckily, everyone was in a happy mood and at that time nobody seemed to be drunk either, so at no point was I bothered.
Cambodia now has machinery working on its roads, digging drainage canals etc, cranes lifting heavy loads, and as I cycled past the new Ford Dealership, this afternoon there were six, new John Deere tractors for sale too. However, I did watch a guy ploughing yesterday with his two cattle and riding on his wooden plough. Within the town and its immediate environs there is much development, but immediately you leave, it is back into abject poverty again. A friend ofmine who has her own hotel here, pays well, but expects a high standard of service is struggling to find staff. Although there is mass migration from the countryside the education level is very poor, and so many people seem to lack determination, motivation, loyalty and commitment within the work place. This isn't true of all, and I know some very determined students who work desperately hard to better themselves and their families, but perhaps the support of an NGO and mixing and working with westerners has helped them. I don't know, but this country still has many, many problems to address, and I do fear for it.
Today has been preparing for next week's teaching, washing - by hand, in a bucket, buying some food for school lunches, and having lunch myself, and having a restful day. However, I just decided to cycle to the hotel where Eileen and Colin will be staying next week, and discovered it was much further away than I thought, not the walking distance I thought and hoped. So tuks will be needed next week, some of my driver friends will be very pleased to get some work from me. Next Friday is Grace House's 7th birthday, so we will be spending it as a party day with the children. However, on Sat we are having an Open Day for the local families and anyone else who would like to visit to see what goes on there. Luckily, the following Monday is another public holiday - not sure for what at the moment, so that will allow some recuperation time.
I hope everyone who has had half term has enjoyed their break and is raring to go for the next one. Take care everyone, love to all, J xx