Cambodia = Kampuchean

Cambodia = Kampuchean

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cookie's New Year Musings

It's already nearly "spring semester", and all I can think of is what I've done with my life since last January the 17th. Has it been a year? A year since I did the human dissection and anatomy J-term? What milestones has this passage of time seen, if any? I don't feel like I've much at all, and yet here we are Jan 17, 2011. It has been further impressed upon me that time isn't moving, we are. As if time is a book with empty pages, unmoving and unchanging, while we're the ones turning the pages, choosing to scrap what we will on each page. (Life as a book is one of my mum's favorite metaphors, one that I have happily co-opted.) At the same time, I feel myself losing the urgency of making every moment memorable beyond belief; I am able to see merit in the slow ways of the mundane. Profundity in the mundane.

All of this ties to the idea of how big things are achieved through small, seemingly inconsequential, steps. (So, I suppose in that sense, I still maintain the integrity of my pursuit - to witness big changes. ultimately.) But it is the small things. In terms of development work, this translates to the spirit of patience with slow changes. You cannot expect sea changes in a flash. One year? two years even? Short short blips in time. I watched a TED talk yesterday by Shukla Ghose, the lady who started the Parikrama Schools for underprivileged/ slum kids in the city of Bangalore, India. One of many take-aways from her, unfortunately contrived, yet incredibly inspiring nineteen minute talk was the phrase: It is not a numbers game. We don't always have to scale, scale, scale. If we're creating opportunities in the life of  one child from primary school all the way through college, that's one unequivocally profound occurrence. One more discerning citizen to the fold, one more person equipped to impact at least one other person by way of interaction. Pay it forward style. This is an incredibly rejuvenating thought for me.

I am continually reminding myself of this little fact in my work here in Cambodia. I work with the organization called KAPE (Kampuchean Action for Primary Education) in the capital of the eponymous province of Kampong Cham. My main charge is to implement projects that fall within the realm of IT-integration, a project that in turn falls under the IBEC Project (Improved Basic Education in Cambodia). The IBECP is an integrated(joint) project between KAPE and the international org. called World Education Inc. But I am considered a KAPE employee as it's designation is that of "the on-field local implementer." Now, IT-integration relates to diversifying the ways in which IT is introduced and/or used by students. In the past four months and counting, I have been working on implementing what we call the "School Newsletter Project": we're creating starting newspaper student clubs that will promote student journalism, writing, questioning, art and design - all the while working with the medium of information technology. Pretty neat. The pilot involves 3 schools where KAPE has already established its IT Labs.

It was slightly disconcerting to find out just last week that at one of the three schools, the teacher who had volunteered to act as club advisor/student trainer, and had therefore attended and received training from yours truly all the way at the KAPE offices, had now expressed definite inability to continue. A bummer of the first order. There are so many different layers, of nuance and complexity, in the way that different people process expectations, that it was imperative that we treat this matter as delicate. Whether or not this individual had interest in the club, the individual began to express rather negative and bitter feelings toward KAPE; he'd felt forced into joining. So now, there was the matter of explaining that KAPE always stood for volunteerism without implicating the School Director who might have been mroe authoritarian than required when identifying "volunteers", and also that there was no shame in stating the truth about the pressures one felt. I got the sense, in my tete-a-tete with him that he was simply misdirecting his frustration with the perceived lack of autonomy toward  KAPE...

Now, I'll draw back from the tangential anecdote to wrap up. During this phase, I kept thinking about what a pity it would be if we we were able to complete the launch at only two of the three original schools. I thought of all those kids who we'd miss in terms of the "reach" of the pilot project. (Instead of around 60, we'd impact only 40.) And then I realized, why! surely it's almost more important that the pilot will have been successfully launched at least two schools?! The positive occurrence per se was a matter of excitement. So I began realizing, even more acutely, that when we impact one, that's one more than none.

Here's to that. *Clink*

Friday, December 31, 2010

Goodbye 2010 - With and Bang and a Bust!

In general, "Cambodia"  is going so well! SWELL, indeed. Although work matters are on a bit of a hold right now. The general mood of holidays and that sort of thing...

The school newsletter project that im implementing (in collab with folks here, of course!) is going as per plan. we will kick start the next year with first meeting (and therefore, "training") sessions with students who volunteered for the student-run newspaper clubs that we're launching. this pilot project is only being launched at 3 secondary schools that we picked out of all the schools KAPE works with. each school will produce their very own school newsletter/4-pg newspaper every month. exciting and very tangible stuff. yahoo!

It is now the best (=most comfortable) "season" in cambodia. the cool-and-dry season. come feb, it will transform to hot-and-dry. and then later in the year it becomes hot-and-wet, which is perhaps the least comfortable, albeit most beautiful, I'll bet. So the days are cooler this time of year; there's always a wonderful breeze about, and the nights can sometimes get chilly. There was this one night that I actually had to turn the fan off and pull on a heavy sweater. Whoppa.

I can speak rudimentary Khmer now. How are you? Fine? FINE! Where are you going? The market? How much is that? TOO MUCH MONEY, OLDER BROTHER/SISTER/AUNTY/OLD LADY!, NO MONEY!! and important stuff like that... :P I've also quickly picked up the necessary words that, when strung together, allow me to be sassy-in-khmer. Of course I did.

Laurel asked me what the coolest thing was that happened to me this past week.  'Well, nothing really COOL happened to me this past week. but something incredibly memorable did. and boy, can you say THAT again. ;) i was in a road accident. christmas day/ christmas miracle and all that warming-of-the-cockles-of-the-heart kind of material. I got t-boned smack on the left by a speeding motorbike fella as I was biking across a road. No mortal injuries. No broken bones. No head trauma. Oh, hello there Sheer Luck! But she did leave me some tokens: sore torso, bruises and scratches, and an bittersweet appreciation for the diversity of peoples. I encountered both, disturbingly stoic and indifferent people (who, btw, proceeded to just stand and stare at me as I lay heaped in the middle of a busy thoroughfare), and unbelievably and unfathomably kind and caring few others (whose actions made me weep).

Anyhow, all is well. Convalescence is swift and incredibly successful. Perhaps another 2 days of rest (I stopped taking painkillers couple days ago) and voila! fit as a fiddle.

Headed to Phnom Penh (PP) for some New Year's festivities. Yahoo!

Jhoom Reap Soo-er 2011!

ps- (Uh, btw, that was me saying, how are you 2011. So, this tells you how often I use the wrong phrases. Cute. But inappropriate phrasing.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Water Festival Shenanigans: A Day Trip

Cambodia - the "Kingdom of Wonder" - loves its Water Festival. What other reason could there be for the good and long four-day weekend and the arrival of the masses witnessed by the city of Phnom Penh? Seriously. Millions upon millions of people come flocking over to Phnom Penh to partake in the festivities that constitute the annual "Water Festival".

Here's what makes this festival something to cheer about:
There are two characters in this short story - the Tonle Sap and the Mekong  (tonle pronounced tone-lay means "river"). The two ribbons snake their way southbound and meet in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. After heavy showers a la the monsoon season, Mekong - the mightier, more aggressive and rather well traveled one - gathers up speed and force as it makes its way to the South China Sea (via Vietnam). And since "something's always gotta give," the result is a rather unique phenomenon wherein there is a reversal of Tonle Sap's flow to a northbound course. Rare and quite neat, yes? Well, it appears the historic peoples of Cambodia felt the same way, and thus was born the Water Festival.

 There are stalls and stalls of food and drinks and promotional marketing. There was the feeling of being at the Fair. I think I may have seen a Ferris Wheel out in the horizon.

This is also a time when people enjoy the water games and boat races.

Pedro, Leonard and I headed to Phnom Penh on an 8am bus, arriving at 11am. While Pedro went about his own uncharted plans, Lenny and I took to a nice long walk towards the river and then hung out at a restaurant which was perfectly located for aviewing of the semi-finals of the boat races.

An unfortunate incident involving a sinking boat along the bank of the river! I have to admit, it was a bit comical.  Also, this was a team that had just finished a race, so no real harm done. :)

Lenny and I on a motor (pronouned mo-toe) on our way back to Central Market.

That is where the Sorya Buses leave for various destinations. Mine? Kampong Cham, of course. Usually the ticket costs Riel 15,000 ($3.75) one-way, but during the Water Festical everything is hiked. So I paid a solid Riel 20,000 ($5) for the bus ride.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Urban Wedding

JaNise teaches at a local secondary school here in Kampong Cham. This young woman in her acquaintance at the school invited JaNise to her wedding. JaNise even received a personalized wedding invite - hello! So, the rule, apparently, is that if you receive an invite, you can go ahead and invite other friends as your Plus One or Two or Three..... Or maybe that only applies to barangs (= the word for "french folk" that has come to mean "foreigner"), who knows? :)

Erin, Lauren and I joined JaNise in attendance. [The two ladies are also Peace Corps volunteers in the Kampong Cham province, but only JaNise works in Kampong Cham town within the province.]

JaNise had a few pieces of traditional Kampuchean outfits that we borrowed. You can see me here sporting a typically shiny and incredibly frilly blouse(?) that goes with the pencil skirt that is called a sampot. Of course, as you can see, the one I borrowed from JaNise is a a toned-down everyday-use version of the hello-there-sequin-and-lace-overload which ALL the Kampuchean ladies (and JaNise!) tend to show off at weddings. The more the bling, the more the bang. The wedding hall was filled with glitterings and all - of all shades of the rainbow and of all shapes of people.

 Here are some pictures to tide us over the lack of visuals.

Bride's Outfit #1

Gosh, she's gorgeous, eh?
Bride's Outfit #2

An addition to the Family

I've been in  Cambodia for nearly 2 months now. (Whoa!) About a month and a half ago, I moved into my own apartment here in Kampong Cham. About three weeks later, I was joined by a

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What am I doing here anyway?

Hello there, curious one. I am here to tell you about my work.

I work with the organizations called World Education Inc. and KAPE (Kampuchean Action for Primary Education). KAPE is the local implementer of the projects involved. The "Improved Basic Education in Cambodia Project" (IBECP) is an integrated project involving the two organizations. One of the IBECP initiatives is the IT-integration project. It aims at diversifying the presence of

Siem Reap - Land of the Angkorian Temples

It was early October, and I'd decided, quite spontaneously, what I would be doing with my Pchum Ban (pronounced puh-choom bun) vacation. This is a four-day long weekend (Oct. 7 -10) during which all Cambodians head off to their villages/ native towns to celebrate in memory of their ancestors, leaving all urban areas rather empty and bleak.

Three newly found friends, who are also in Kampong Cham working with Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) had made plans to travel north to the Province of Siem Reap. I found myself jumping on their wagon barely 12 hours before