Thursday, September 29, 2011

Third World Country Sick

You haven't been sick until you have been "third world country" sick.
Our weekend trip was nearly ruined by an unwelcome stomach bug. Shortly before we left the last temple on Monday I started to feel miserable. By the time we got home, I was completely miserable. Little did I know that was just the beginning. I don't get fevers. In fact, I can't remember if I have ever had a fever over 99 deg F. I just don't get them! But by dinner time (or as my Aussie counterpart Kara calls it, "tea") I was on fire. Every part of my body was burning- except for my feet, which were inexplicably cold. And any time cool air from the air con or a fan blew on me, my teeth would start chattering, and I was covered in goosebumps.
Starting to get the picture? That was just the beginning. Montezuma's revenge kicked in shortly thereafter. (Montezuma seems like the wrong ancient icon here. And it seems inappropriate to call it Buddha Belly, and yet I'm so swollen, that almost seems right.)
I was miserable.
But of course, I'm in a hotel room in a flooded out town. We had attempted to go to an ATM on our way home just to find the ATM was out of money. And no one takes credit cards around here. With absolutely no money, no drugs, or anything to really help me, I ate a very small cup of soup, and went to my bed. On the one hand, at least I was in my bed for a few hours. But the rest of the night was spent sleeping on the hotel bathroom floor. You haven't been sick until you've been so sick that you've had to sleep on the floor on a developing country bathroom floor.
I'll just leave you with that image and move on.
Because I was sick I had to stay behind in the hotel while my friends went out sightseeing the next day. The girls had to force me to leave the room to ride the elephants - and I am very glad they did. The highlight of the elephants may actually have been when Kara said, "Just think of the story you will have to tell if you throw up on the elephant." (Yeah, she's at home sick today where I bet she doesn't think she's so funny anymore!) Thankfully, it held off till I got off the elephant. But that poor jungle will never be the same. (We then left and I went home so I could return to my sickbed.)
Being sick in a developing country, or away from the comforts of home anywhere, is just miserable. Add in a language barrier, unfamiliar products, etc, etc., and it is just plain awful. You really have to dig deep into yourself to have the strength to get through it. You never what kind of person you are going to be until you have been truly tested. It isn't the kind of test you ever want to endure.
I was very blessed to have wifi in my hotel room and a few friends who weren't afraid to stay up late a few hours just to talk to me online and check in on me periodically. They will never know how much that meant to me to not be "alone" while I was sick. (Thanks Amigos!)
Having arrived back home in Phnom Penh, I have finally found a drug store and got some medications. Unfortunately, I seemed to have only traded one ailment for another. But this second ailment is more manageable.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Riding the Elephant!

No, Mr. Elephant, you may not eat my camera!!

Funniest part? The Asian tourists taking pictures of us on the elephant. Second funniest part?  When the elephant turned to walk on a different path, and the Asian tourists all jumped and screamed. 

I'm on an elephant!

Woohoo for elephants!

Hey look! A drowned rat on an elephant! 

I swear the elephants know how to pose for pictures. 

I don't remember running away from the elephants. I also don't remember them running away from me!

I gotta tell ya, its a little freaky having that trunk get right up in your face like that. 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Anti-trafficking in Cambodia

The article I have written about what I have been doing in Cambodia is up and running on Meridian Magazine. Warning: this is a fairly in-depth and gritty article about sex trafficking. It is not your typical family-friendly fare on Meridian. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Angkor Wat

In spite of multiple warnings that the entire country is flooding, that buses aren't making their destinations, and that Angkor Wat is closed and had to evacuate out tourists thanks to the flood, Kara, Susanne, and I got on a bus Saturday. So here I sit in a very nice little inn, paying about $14/night for hot water, free internet, a pool, and absolutely wonderful beds. The whole trip was worth it just for the hot water and internet I can access while sitting in my bed!
Is it flooding across the country? You betcha. Is Angkor Wat still open? You betcha. Did I walk through a flooded out path with muddy water over my knees just to see the temple where Angelina Jolie filmed "Tomb Raider?" You betcha. Am I now in my bed suffering from the worst case of "doxy burn" I've ever had? Oh you betcha!
Was it all totally worth it?

I'll let you decide!

(Captions and explanations coming soon. It is bedtime here!)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cambodian Blahs

I can't believe my time here is half over. I'm on the downhill to going home now. But I feel like I've just hit my stride, and I'm just getting the hang of this place. I'm not ready to leave.
Unfortunately on Friday I ate something that decided it hated me. Within minutes of lunch I got horribly sick. Five days later and I'm only just now keeping everything I ate in me. On top of that we've had a head cold passing around the volunteers, and it is my turn to deal with it. It is minor and a little Nyquil and Dayquil are doing the trick. But yesterday was just plain awful between the stomach problems and the sinus problems. I spent the whole day literally in bed. The other volunteers made regular trips up to see me, and it even resulted in a fun and impromptu girls night in my room. We all just hung out, laughing and talking like girls do. In the middle of it all I just stayed curled up on my bed, but participating the best I could.
It is moments like these where you find your inner strength. There are no familiar foods to help you. And the pharmacy is questionable at best. I spent a lot of money to come here and I'm not going to waste it stuck in bed, no more than 10 feet from the loo. I got up and went to work today, and was only a little sick. I'm pretty happy that so far dinner has not come back to bite me yet. I'd rather be completely well, and not awkwardly eating and timing myself before daring to leave my bedroom. But I'm glad to be well enough to be back at work. I only have a few more days left at the placement, and I want to get so much more done.
The Cambodian equivalent of Christmas vacation has begun. Everyone is traveling home to see their families in far off provinces. Over the weekend the girls and I will be taking a small vacation to a popular resort town to see Angkor Wat, the most popular tourist place in Cambodia. Our house mothers, drivers, and guards have all been given a few days off for the big holiday. I'm looking forward to our weekend excursion as it will be my first and only chance to see “real Cambodia.”
I guess there isn't much of a point to this post other than to whine. Sorry about that. Hopefully tomorrow will be more interesting.  

The real world awaits

The Real World greatly lacks fish amok served in coconuts, and sweet green drinks

Over the weekend I got two new roommates in my room. I am very happy to finally have someone in my big room with me. I was getting lonely at times in there knowing that everyone else had a buddy. Well, my wish came true! And I got two roommates! Yeah!
One of them (Canada) asked me yesterday what it feels like to be going home so soon. She's here for 77 days (apparently she's counting). I laughed and said, "I wouldn't know. I haven't thought about it at all!" Home and my real life seem so far away that I can't even imagine it all.
Well, that was until this morning (Cambodia's morning, not the US morning) when I got the email that floored me. The Peace Corps. It's finally time. We set up a time for them to call me (in a WEEK! I may die of anticipation!) and do my absolute final step. And it is entirely possible that I will find out in that phone call where they are sending me.
Now the real world is kicking me in the butt. I have a life back home. I have to start thinking about it! I don't know if I want to yet. I'm not even sure I can. Suddenly the Peace Corps is a really scary thing. No, Cambodia hasn't scared me off from the PC. If anything, being here has me seriously contemplating other options. The options where I go the NGO route. Or maybe get a "real" job and buy a house and get to work on adopting. But I don't think I could ever do it- that is, not do the Peace Corps. If I miss my chance now it will likely be another 20 years before I could do it again. Maybe less, who knows?
Either way, the real world awaits. And apparently it requires that I think about it. I'll see you in about 2 weeks, Real World. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

English to English Translation

An Australian and Canadian engage in high level talks (about how much it costs to text their boyfriends back home)

Living in such a multi-cultural environment has some fun perks. We are all learning a lot about not only each other, but also about our different countries. We have several countries represented here- Australia (“heaps” of them around here!), Canada, England, Japan, Denmark, France, and Germany. We each go off to our placements each day where we learn about Cambodia, and then at night we come home to learn about ourselves. And all day long regardless of where we are we find ourselves playing a game we like to call “English to English Translation.”

English to English translation is not just trying to understand a Cambodian's English, which can be confusing at times. More often than not it is when we are trying to understand each other! Do you know how many different ways there are to say bathroom in English?

Bathroom, restroom, toilet, dunny, loo, and WC

And a few more of our favorite words-

Bobby pin, kirby grips, hair pins

Bandaids are plasters in the UK.

Sweaters, jumpers, zip ups, jackets, hoodies, and bunny hugs can cause some confusion as well.

Chips, crisps, and fries all mean different things.

We all pronounce yogurt different. Not to mention Vietnam.

Chapstick is also known as lip chap and lip balm depending on where you call home.

Do you wear sneakers, runners, trainers, or tennis shoes?

Cotton candy, fairy floss, and candy floss are delicious regardless of nationality.

Adults and kids alike drink juice boxes, poppers, and fruit boxes.

Did you know magic markers are called texters in Australia?

Air guard is insect repellant.

Of course, being an American I like to say I want to go to the store. Most of my counterparts here call it a market. A store is where you buy other things, a market is where you buy food.

Have a headache? Need some Tylenol for that? Australians have no idea what Tylenol or DayQuil/Nyquil is. They prefer Panadol. However, we all like Advil it turns out. (Sidenote- in the course of learning about Tylenol, Panadol, Nyquil, Advil, and several other medications, we also learned that you can get Ambien for $3 without a prescription here. In fact, you can get pretty much every drug possible here without a prescription, and dirt cheap. Except for Tylenol. They wanted to charge me $34 for a bottle of Tylenol PM! No thanks, I'll take the Ambien!)

Another favorite is when someone asks where their thongs are. That one definitely caught me off guard the first time. Turns out thongs are just flip-flops and someone was not asking me about missing underwear.

Apparently only Americans go to college. Everyone else goes to uni.

And don't get me started on how many different sports are called football!
Americans- well, we all know what football is, right? (Go BYU and Go Redskins!)
English/European/Spanish- their football is our soccer (Go Real Salt Lake!)
Australia has American football, Australian football (which greatly resembles Quidditch), and soccer.
However, I think rugby is always just rugby!

Don't forget the dozens of different English words for a school bag, back pack, duffel, port, knapsack, satchel, book bag, etc. (All versions I have heard this week.)

Last night at dinner some of the girls ordered a “mango pineapple crumble” not knowing what it would be. When it came out it turned out to be nothing more than a cobbler (made with mango and pineapple). That lead into another funny discussion- cobblers, crumbles, apple crisp, and apple betty. “Why do Americans have to call it so many things?”

Sometimes you really have to wonder how anyone else can learn to speak English when we can't all agree on the same words ourselves. Not to mention you then have to deal with our accents. There have been more than a few hilarious conversations with all of the native English speakers trying to figure each other out. Since arriving here I've fallen back into my usual habit when I travel of speaking in clipped, simple, unaffected and unaccented American English. There has been no hint of a Southern accent in my voice lately. However, the last 2 nights I haven't felt well, and I haven't been making the effort as much. The girls all got a good sampling of my real accent last night and thought it was hilarious. You should hear an Australian try to imitate a Southern American accent. Its a riot. (I hate to think what they think of my Aussie imitation!)

Visiting the Killing Fields

To understand the significance of visiting the Killing Fields and S-21 you need to know the history of Cambodia. Back in the 1970s there was discontent and a revolution in the country. But the good guys (if there even were good guys) didn't win the fight, and instead the Cambodia Communist Party took over. Their leaders were Pol Pot and a man that came to be known as Duch. We don't know if you pronounced that dutch, duke, or doosh, but we've all decided to call him Douche after learning more about him. Pol Pot and Duch are equal with Hitler in the crimes they have committed against humanity. They are the lowest of the low, and hell isn't even good enough for them. They took over the country, and began rounding up anyone who appeared to be intelligent. This included anyone with an actual education, most storekeepers, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals, and inexplicably anyone who wore glasses. Nobody knew what they were doing with them. They just all disappeared.

Right in the middle of Phnom Penh was a high school. The communist army marched in one day, killed everyone inside, and took over the school. This was your average American sized high school with a few hundred students. And they just marched in and killed all of the unarmed students. The school came to be known as S-21. The army brought all of the “intelligent” people there, calling them all spies, and supposedly interrogated them. Tortured them to death is a more accurate description. Over 3,000 people were taken there to be “interrogated” and only 10 survived. Of the 10, 3 were artists who were forced to make pictures and painting for the army and Pol Pot. One of the artists who escaped went on to paint a series of depictions of what it was like in S21 and out at the killing fields, and the original paintings now hang in S21. The paintings hang in the actual rooms where the torture depicted occurred. And because many of the torture devices were built in the rooms they cannot be removed, and are still in the rooms. You could still see the blood stains on some of the walls, and places where prisoners in the solitary confinement cells had scratched tick marks into the walls. The buildings smell terrible. One classroom was filled with glass shelves holding hundreds of skulls. On many of the skulls you can easily see the hammer marks, nail holes, and other cracks and dents from the torture.

I would easily compare this place to Auschwitz. You can't feel happy there. Just being in the buildings is dark and depressing. There is a terrible feeling about the whole place.
After that we left to go to the “Killing Fields.” I had actually said I had no interest in visiting such an awful place. But when the time came, I went anyway. I'm glad I did now, but still, it was just as horrible as I imagined.
Not unlike how the Nazis rounded up the Jews and killed them, the army did the same thing here. They rounded up people from the slums, the intelligent people, and anyone they felt was not of a pure blood, stripped them naked, forced them into trucks, and drove them to a field 15 km outside of Phnom Penh. Its nothing more than a large field at the edge of a lake or river (I never could tell which). They first made the prisoners dig deep, huge holes. And then made them all go stand down inside the hole, where they shot them. They then covered the holes back up and left. They killed over 300 people a day for 2 years like this. But after a while they had too many people arriving and not enough space left to hide the bodies. So they began torturing the women by taking the babies away from them, and smashing the babies' heads into a tree, forcing the mothers to watch. After the women had then been tortured into submission they forced them to work in the fields, preparing them for the next round of prisoners. This work often involved pouring chemicals over the dead bodies (including their own children) to make them decompose faster. There was one mass gave of over 100 bodies found of women holding their babies' heads. All signs indicate that some of the women had been buried alive. I don't even want to know the rest of the story.

We walked around the killing fields, which really weren't that big, for an hour or so. There is a small museum on-site that we went into and read about everything. Pol Pot died in captivity in the 1980s and was never tried for his crimes. Duch is now about 65 yrs old I think, and has been in prison off and on since the 1980s. (He was in exile for over 10 years.) He was only tried for his crimes in 2009, and was sentenced to a mere 35 years. He did take the credit and blame for the atrocities committed under him, and apologized to the people. Many of the other leaders never did that.
When you look around Cambodia you do notice a missing generation. There are very few old people, and even fewer people between 40-60. And the few people in that age range you do see tend to be very poor and uneducated. Anyone who was educated in that age range would have been killed. These atrocities were committed at the same time as Mom and Dad when they were newlyweds and when Natalie and I were born. If our family had lived in Cambodia we probably all would have been killed. Dad is a lawyer and Mom wears glasses, which is all it would have taken for them to be tortured for supposedly being spies, and then been killed.

When you learn about all of these things it is easier to understand how there can still be such an uneven divide in the wealth of the country, and why there are still so many slums and poor people. You have to understand Buddhism to appreciate the rest. Buddhists believe you are always preparing for the next life. Your gifts to Buddha are more important than your acts to others. So they do not help the poor people around them. They think it is more important to go to the wats and make offerings to Buddha. They would rather put $100 in the donation plate for Buddha than give $5 to a starving person. Combine that mentality with the missing older generation, and the fact that no one has an educated elder to look up to, and you start to understand how they got where they are. The best thing we can do here is give anyone who wants one a better education. Give them a chance to break out of the cycle of poverty. Just 30 years ago their families lost everything- their parents, their homes, their money. Then their country went through a deep depression, and struggled to rebuild. It hasn't been that long but they are making progress.   

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Just another day in Phnom Penh

Guess what?
Elephant butt.

No parade, no special occasions, no good reason at all. Just an elephant walking down the street.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Happy Birthday Sisty Ugler!!

Happy Birthday Sisty Ugler! If I can figure out how to make international calls, I promise to call you and wish you a real happy birthday "later" today. (And by today, I mean I will call my time tomorrow, which will be today your time. Mind blown yet?) I think you will like your Khmer birthday present! Love you!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to be Humbled by 8am

When I got to my office this morning there was a bag of women's clothes on my chair. My local partner came in and explained that a woman arrived at our shelter last night 8 mos pregnant, homeless, and abused, needing help. The clothes were for her. The woman is now sitting in my room while everyone around me works to find 
her emergency aid.
I was humbled to find that the bag of clothing came from the country director's wife. I wonder how often he and his family make donations like this. In the short time I have been here I've come to know him as a very kind, smart, and loving man, committed to the cause of fighting child and sex trafficking. It is probably a miracle that they have anything left to give. 
Tomorrow I will be making an unusual Saturday trip into the office so that I can be given a tour of the slums. I don't think it is appropriate to say I am 'looking forward to it.' How can anyone 'look forward' to seeing the absolute saddest scenes of humanity? 
When I come in I am bringing two of my dresses that I brought with me. They are loose and baggy and should fit a pregnant woman. I've had a few friends ask how they can help here. It isn't practical to send clothing or toys from the States. What you would have to spend in shipping alone would be much better put to use in a cash donation. Even just $10 makes a huge difference to the families here. $10 is easily grocery money for a week. Or would buy this woman a dress, shoes, a mat to sleep on, and a good meal. If you would like to make a donation (large or small) visit If you are Stateside sending the money via Paypal is easiest. Look for the blue box on the side and have your donation made in less than a minute!


Hey Elder Part 2

On my way back to work after lunch on Thursday I passed the same 2 missionaries on bikes going the opposite direction, that I saw a few days ago. I know they saw me, but there wasn't time to say anything or even wave.

After work today on my way home I was alone in the tuk-tuk as we passed through the slum. Suddenly I heard an American accent very close by me say, “Hey look, there's that same white girl we saw earlier.” I turned around to see the missionaries no more than 3 feet behind me on their bikes. (I knew they had to be talking about me. Trust me, there are no other white girls in that area!) I smiled and said, “Hey Elders! What's up!” The American elder nearly fell off his bike with surprise. The Khmer (Cambodian) elder just laughed. I guess that was the last thing they expected me to do! I can only imagine how completely unexpected that was.

Moving along in the crush of rush hour they attempted to ride alongside my tuk-tuk and talk to me. It wasn't easy for them to dodge cars and motos, and go so slow while talking, but I think they had fun trying. We kept next to each other for a good distance, at least long enough for me to find out that Elder Wright is from Connecticut, and Elder Sick is from a nearby province. I told them where I work, and they said they would be sure to keep looking for me. I didn't hear their answer but I think they may live close to my office.

So there's a fun follow up to the missionary spotting the other day. I hope I do get to keep running into them. It will make for some fun experiences in the future I am sure.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Day to Day Volunteer Life

The view from the roof when I'm doing my laundry

Is it really possible I have only been here for a week? (That's an in-country week, not starting from when I actually left my home 10 days ago.) I cannot even fathom that. It feels like a lifetime since I left, like everything should have changed. Today I got a good look in the mirror for the first time since arriving here and noticed my hair is getting much blonder from the sun, and my usual “summer” freckles are loud and pronounced. Even the little freckle under my chin that only comes out with my deepest tans and sunburns is visible. I haven't seen that little guy in years.
Life here has taken on a routine and a good familiarity. I'm comfortable and feel like I know what I am doing. I'm ready to stop feeling like even the most mundane task (ahem- laundry) is an adventure. I'm comfortable talking to moto and tuk-tuk drivers, and giving instructions around the city. I know where the preferred expat stores are located.
In other words, I feel like I live here now.
I thought it was about time to share the day to day life and schedule we experience here.

6 am- Wake up to an unforgiving sun, and the noises on the street.
6:30- the alarm clock tells me to pull the pillow off my face and get out of bed
7:15- walk down to the corner shop, “Drink Mart” and pick up something for breakfast. Today it was “jackfruit yogurt.” (It wasn't bad.) Sometimes it is potato chips. What can I say? We're pretty limited down there.
7:45- our drivers all start to arrive to chaperone us all off to our various parts of the city.
8- work!
9 – complain about the heat to anyone online on the other side of the world
11:30- take the tuk-tuk back to the apartment house for lunch and siesta. Funny fact- everyone I have met either calls it siesta or nap time. No one seems to know what the Khmer word for it is.
12- house mum serves us lunch. I'm pretty sure she is trying to kill me with the three different types of green vegetables she serves with every meal. 
12:30- NAP!
1:30- walk down to Drink Mart for a cold Coke, Fanta, or Sprite. ANYTHING as long as it is cold. (Sadly, they do not have Coca Light.)
1:45- ride back to work
2- work
3- get online and complain about the heat again
4- the little kids get out of school next door and start sneaking into my room to look at me. Tomorrow I'm taking a bag of candy to give them. I'm pretty sure this will have the exact opposite effect I am hoping for and we'll have a forced tradition on our hands.
5- the tuk-tuk comes back for me. Try not to doze off in traffic. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't.
5:30- Home! Oh my blessed air conditioned room! Crash on the bed for a few minutes until I convince myself that a shower would solve all of my problems. Possibly look in the mirror for the first time. Realize I managed to go a whole day without brushing my hair.
6- Shower. It took me way too long to figure out that the water source is on the roof, and gets heated by the sun all day. Water in the morning= FREEZING. Water in the evening- lukewarm and just perfect.
6:30- Continue to sit on my bed exhausted, wondering why I can't go to dinner naked.
7- Dinner with my housemate, and the girls from a different building. We usually chat about what we did at work. The Aussies discuss the various plans they have for getting drunk. Curse the green vegetables and rice. Do you have any idea what this does to your bowels?
8- Our evening activities vary. Usually the girls from the various apartments get together to relax and do something. We may go for a walk (back to Drink Mart- we're big fans, can you tell?), watch bootlegged DVDs, or find a tuk-tuk and go to a store. Some nights I end up back in my room working. I find that I get a ton more work done in the quiet, air-conditioned solace of my room than I do in the oppressively hot, loud, noisy, and craziness of my office. I'm only here for one month, and I have a ton to do. And I really want to get everything done for them and I want to do a good job.
9:30- Crash land in my room. Take a few minutes for personal writing, blogging, reading, praying, etc.
10- Put the ear plugs in and sleep. On the nights I just can't fall asleep I watch some downloaded iTunes TV eps.
6 am comes very early.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Emotional Life

Today was good – and bad.(and by today I mean yesterday) It is hard to say that a day spent reading and writing stories of sex trafficking is good. But today was good, because today I know that what I produced was good. I know the fruits of my labor just might save a child from being the next victim of child and sex trafficking. And nothing compares with that feeling.
I'm working at an NGO with an eye focused solely on stopping child and sex trafficking. My job is two-fold: help find new micro-business opportunities for the women in the morning, and in the afternoon I help with the fund-raising and marketing efforts of the overall program. Being privy to the inner operations of this organization is overwhelming and heartwarming. I get to see how hard people work to make this program come together, and I get to see the funds raised and how it is put to work. And I can tell you this- not one cent is wasted.

And now, some completely unrelated pictures of our day to day life here to keep you entertained-

I did my first "load" of laundry this week. See that teeny tiny little stool? I was supposed to sit on it. However, I find Cambodian bums to be much smaller than mine. I fell off of it. The water comes out of the tap on the wall. And the rest you do by hand!

While doing my laundry I discovered we have an amazing terrace/rooftop. Nobody had mentioned it to me before. I predict some nice nights with a good book up here soon.

Dinner! Our meals generally look like this. A huge pot of rice. (I'm so sick of rice. So very very sick of rice.) Vegetables with meat (in this case it looks like seaweed, celery, unidentified thick green veggie, and some beef, a plate of fish that was amazing, and my much despised celery and chicken seasoned with pepper dish. We get that with almost every meal. I hate it. After dinner our house mum always gives us a nice big plate of chilled fruit. i love the pineapple here. It is very different from what we get in the US. And I LOVE jackfruit, which I've never seen Stateside either. We get watermelon regularly too. Interesting fact- I always spit out the seeds. But I've noticed my counterparts (from Australia, Denmark, and Japan) never do. They swallow them.

My Denmark and Japanese dinner companions and friends. They are standing in the kitchen to model for you just how low the counters and sinks are.

The helmet corner.

Looks like we will be getting lemon grass with dinner tonight. (A most tasteless and chewy veggie that I am not so fond of. I blame it for locking up my insides.)

This will only be of interest to my family. I HATE BANANAS. I NEVER EVER eat bananas. Just the taste and texture is enough to make me gag. I just can't eat them. However, the bananas here look very different and even smell different. I have been eating bananas! Warning- the world just may end tomorrow!

Kara and I on our way to work in our tuk-tuk. This picture just made me realize why the back of my neck is so sunburned. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Slow Moving Vehicle Ahead

This is the story of the time I didn't get to mess with the missionaries' heads. Also, it is all the proof I need that my tuk-tuk driver is the slowest driver in the world.
First, the background. All volunteers have an assigned or dedicated driver to take them to work each day. Most of my comrades have a “moto” driver. The motos are neither motorcycles or scooters, but somewhere in the middle, and we simply call them motos. The other volunteers all sit on the back of a moto, wearing a helmet, and get whisked around town. But since there are two of us going to my “placement” (our word for the orphanage/school/newspaper/NGO we have been assigned to), we get to take a “tuk-tuk.” As I have explained before, I think, a tuk-tuk is basically a moto driven rickshaw. On the brightside, we don't have to wear helmets, and therefore don't have helmet hair all day. On the downside, our driver is SLOW, and there is a seriously lack of padding and shocks in that contraption!
Oh and have I mentioned it is being held together by a water bottle? Need proof? Here's the picture.

I have noticed that the water bottle changes every few days. When your safety depends upon that water bottle, you notice these things.
Our route to and from the placement takes us through a somewhat sketchy area. Having now seen the real slums, I can say that we are not actually in the slums. We are the precursor the slums. Nonetheless, the sight of two white girls in a tuk-tuk, especially a slow moving tuk-tuk, is pretty interesting to many passersby, and we get a lot, and I do mean A LOT, of honks. But to be honest, I don't think they are honking at the girls. They are honking because our driver is so SLOW!!
This afternoon as we were passing through the sketchy area during rush hour, where the roads are clogged with tuk-tuks, motos, bicycles, and actual cars, I suddenly noticed something odd in the sea of bikes and motos ahead of me- American bicycle helmets. You just don't see that here. No one wears bike helmets! And bike helmets look nothing like the moto helmets. I couldn't help but see them. And that's when I noticed the white shirts, dark pants, and more noticeably, dress shoes. (No one wears real shoes here. Its flip flops or sandals. Never dress shoes!) We were about 20 feet behind them, but I knew they had to be Mormon missionaries. Missionaries look like missionaries, even in the slums of Cambodia.
I got all excited to yell, “Hey Elder!” (because that's what we do, right?) at them as we approached them. But that dang driver of ours! Nothing was between us and the Elders, but he drives so slow we couldn't catch up to them! We are in a motorized vehicle and they are on pedal bikes, and we couldn't catch up to them. So pathetic! Of course, within seconds the sea of motos and bikes filled the gap between us, honking at us as they sped around our slow-moving vehicle, and the elders disappeared into the tide of traffic.
Dang it all! Well, maybe I'll see them some other time. How will anyone ever know I'm a nice Mormon girl if I don't yell, “Hey Elder” at passing missionaries?  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Little Girl Time in Phnom Penh

Today started out questionably, but ended beautifully.
First I went to church. Here's a fun fact for you- Cambodians can't read maps, and rarely know a street address. They operate off of neighborhoods and landmarks instead. So armed with nothing but a street address and a map today, I attempted to find the LDS Church in town (English speaking branch). For a full visual effect, please picture me in a knee length skirt, carrying my big bag I tote all over, with long wet hair hanging out under my helmet, as my moto-driver takes me on a very roundabout tour of Phnom Penh. I don't know where he thought he was going, but I do know it wasn't where I wanted to go. It took nearly 30 minutes to go what Google maps told me would be 2km. And when we finally did find the street the chapel was on, he just dumped me off and said, "have fun!" Another fun fact, street numbers mean NOTHING here. House #288 may be next to #51. You have no way of knowing. I really don't know why they even bother. (Also, no postal delivery to homes, so it isn't that.) So there I was dumped off next to some night clubs numbered #51, and I am headed for #267. I had to walk about 6 more blocks before, lo and behold, there it was. A completely normal looking LDS Chapel (with a few cultural architectural details changed). I had been expecting to find just any old building with a plaque on the door. But nope, there it was- a totally identifiable chapel, complete with minivans and SUVs in the parking lot.
It was great to get to go to 1 hour of church and hear American accents for a bit. The Khmer speaking (which is to say Cambodian speaking) branch was meeting at the same time in a different room. Throughout the meeting I could hear a group of little Khmer girls in the hallway singing (and dancing to), "All the Single Ladies!" There were periodic outbursts of "putcher hands up!" followed by incessant giggling, until a missionary went out into the hall and silenced them.
My trip getting back to my apartment house was just as eventful, but this time with a tuk tuk driver who insisted he could read a map. Trust me, he could not. If he went where he thought we went, I'd be in Vietnam right now.
After church and lunch back at the house, the day took a very different turn. A few of the girls and I decided to go out for pedicures and massages. Sounds like a luxury, no? Just wait for the pictures!

Dr Fish Massage!! In the States you may very well pay $40 for a "fish pedicure." But here on the streets on PP, we bargained our way into a 10 minute "fish pedicure" for a "dollar half." ($1.50 USD)

 (if the embed doesn't work, you can see the video of it here-

The inevitable questions- what does it feel like to have a zillion tiny fish chew on your feet? Well, something like a cat tongue licking you and little electrical shocks over and over again. I'm not a ticklish person, but this freaking tickles. There was a great deal of screaming from all of us.
Did it work? Well, in spite of the "Dr Fish Massage" name, there was a serious lack of massaging. And apparently fish aren't into lotioning, polishing, or buffing either. But I can tell you that when a few tried to wiggle between my toes to nibble I kicked them. Worst.sensation.ever! But they did get a lot of dead skin off. I don't think I'll be going back to do this ever again. But hey, at least I can say I have done it!

My toes would be the pink ones, with the awesome flip flop tan line. 

Just another awesome "Engrish" example. I have no idea what the "daily test" is. I should add we were over at "Riverside" which is where all the tourists congregate. Plenty of white people to be seen in Riverside. And as a result, the food prices are ridiculous!

So then it was time to get our massages from the "blind clinic."

I chose to get a Khmer massage for 1 hr for $6. The story goes that there is an NGO behind all of these blind clinics. They supposedly take the blind men to Japan and train them in massage. I'm quite skeptical about the legitimacy of their lack of sight! For the record, we were clothed, so it wasn't anything like that. There were times in this massage where I truly yelled out in pain. Note to self- you like Swedish massages! Stick with Swedish and hot stone in the future! This was some sort of evil form of torture where a blind man rams nails into your pressure point and then says, "soft?" NO! NOT SOFT!! PAIN!! Also, there were no oils or lotions involved in this either. Just baby powder.
But in the end, after the torture session ended, I felt good. Maybe I was just happy to escape the grip of death, but I did feel somewhat relaxed after it was all over!
And in a footnote to the day, I have to add this-
It is customary here for people to remove their shoes when entering a home or even a place of business. You don't have to take them off in most stores though. But at the orphanage I do remove them. I'm not a germ freak by any means. But I do have to say this- have you ever tried to walk into a public third world bathroom barefoot? It doesn't even have to be a public toilet. Even at the apartment I find it difficult to do! I've yet to actually go into a public toilet barefoot. I just can't do it! 

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