This morning I woke early to go adventuring with Shiho - a lovely volunteer from Japan - to the Tonle Sap & see the floating village of Chong Khneas. We hired a guide - whose name was Lee - from a local company for a private tour who was great with his explanations of the scenery we were driving by & the way of life here. The ride to Tonle Sap got a bit bumpy when we were forced to go off road due to one of the bridges we needed to cross being under construction. You can imagine what four wheel driving would be like in a tuk tuk - it was an uncomfortable 15 minutes being thrown around in our seat passing through a muddy, bumpy road in a village until we were back on paved ground.
The rice paddies on the way to Tonle Sap were pretty & it was great seeing all of the houses on stilts - some immaculate structures due to the wealthy owners located next door to what looked like shanty’s propped up on sticks to escape the flood waters that come every year. The lake itself was a murky brown mess & whilst I enjoyed seeing the scenery at Chong Kneas it was a bitter sweet kind of visit as our loud motor boat went past people’s homes, interrupting their day. I feel sorry for the people of Chong Khneas who are trying to go about their daily business while us tourists gawp at them & take photos but at the same time the floating village is an expensive outing & brings in a lot of money to the community so we help as we hinder. It must be a difficult life on the river - the villages move depending on the water level - although some communities there are quite well off now thanks to fishing & tourism & have generators to supply electricity to their homes.
Fortunately being with a guide we were barely harassed by the locals selling & begging, asides from when the boat docked at a market/restaurant & was immediately surrounded by kids in little metal tubs all of whom were sporting pythons around their necks to attract money from the tourists. Shiho got followed by kids for a while, our guide explained that the children thought she was Vietnamese & they are accustomed to Vietnamese tourists handing them money. Morning was a great time to go see Chong Khneas as we escaped the heat & the crowds - on our journey back to the dock there so many big boats full of tourists heading out to the mangrove forest, by the time they all got there all you would see were other boats, not the scenery.
I’m looking forward to heading back to AOEO after lunch to spend more time with the kids before I travel to Battambang in the morning (another early start, the bus departs at 7:30am). At this point in time I am most excited at the prospect of staying in a guesthouse with a private room that's only setting me back US$6 a night. More to come on that when the weekend is over.
I found this sign to be amusing
Floating Village of Chong Khneas
One of the python children
Small fish farm
Little guy from AOEO who has attatched himself to me
Just as a forewarning this post is part frustrated bitching & part observational musings & is being written to help restore the order of thoughts which are currently whirling around my head - more talk of orphanages & sight seeing will be posted after I‘ve been to visit the Floating Villages at Tonle Sap & returned from my weekend getaway to Battambang. Anyway lets start with the whinging. I had hoped that paying an extravagant placement fee to travel to Cambodia - with all of its history, both intriguing & devastating - to work with an NGO would attract other open minded, free thinking, mature individuals. Alas for the most part this is not the case. I have met some lovely people here in the Projects Abroad villa, but I have also encountered some of the most petty, small-minded fools in existence. You can immediately pick the difference with the people who worked to earn the money to pay for their volunteer holiday - and those who have parents who help support their lifestyle & take that help for granted without sincere gratitude for the fortunate situation they find themselves in.
My father walked out on our family when I was 10, draining my parents joint bank account & leaving my mother to raise four children aged 10 - 15 & pay off a mortgage by herself. We lived on the support of welfare & the minimum wage jobs that my mother suffered through to make ends meet. She faced the horrid situation my father had left her in with what seemed to me to be a fierce determination & bravery & while we were poor by Western standards, it never felt like it as my mother sacrificed all of her wants & needs to make sure we always had what we needed & to her I am infinitely grateful. As such I have never had parents who could afford to or in my father’s case were willing to support me financially & following the example set for me by my mother I have worked/fought incredibly hard to live the lifestyle that I currently enjoy. Ergo I have always envied/despised spoilt rich kids & here I find myself having to share a house with a group of them who gossip & carry on like 13 year old girls in the school yard.
I imagine this is what boarding school would be like - an endless stream of dumb bitches who lack the intelligence to hold a stimulating conversation so they mindlessly point out faults they see in others as they have nothing of value to say & are tragically insecure. It’s really disheartening but at the same time amusing for me as the girls who carry on like that are all French & do not understand sarcasm & nor can they tell when they are being mocked. There is one in particular - everything she does is a grand production designed for her to be the centre of attention at all times. If I am forced to endure any more of her brain dead chatter (which is always gossip about what other people in the house have been up to) I may just smother her with a pillow & be done with. I am of course making a large assumption that she is spoilt & has had an easy existence & that’s why she behaves like a brat & projecting my own complex about struggling through first world poverty & an emotionally distraught upbringing onto her, the alternative is that she is just stupid - which is an even more depressing thought.
The other big drain on my emotions here - that bothers me far more then the immature mindset of some of the volunteers - is seeing the horrific marks that the Khmer Rouge regime & the ensuing clashes with the Vietnamese troops when they ‘liberated’ Cambodia from Pol Pot’s army, has left on this country. I doubt Cambodia will ever recover from Pol Pot & his lingering legacy - by slaughtering the majority of educated people & burning the country’s recorded history he has set this civilisation back by a hundred years. The survivors are courageous & when you take money out of the equation here the people have beautiful souls, they are good humoured & always smiling & laughing in spite of it all. They work very hard for little pay while their government sells their natural resources to international buyers, making kick backs on their kick backs & taking the easy way out for themselves instead of standing tall & investing the money in their country to slowly build a better tomorrow for everyone.
I find the scams here to be disgusting - you cannot walk 10 metres down the street without being approached by someone offering to sell you a trinket for an inflated price/help you for payment/begging for milk or food - & the majority of them are not genuine. The women who carry their babies with empty bottles & grab at your arms begging for you to buy milk for their child are in cahoots with the local super markets where you buy the milk - they return the cartons & split the profit with the shop keeper. People put their kids in danger by making them beg or sell trinkets to the drunks & diners on Pub Street - the kids will tell you they haven’t eaten & the soft hearts buy them food or give them money but those children all have enough flesh on their frames to dispute that claim, unlike my kids at AOEO who are all disastrously thin as they often go without meals due to the poor management & lack of funds.
While I’m loving my time here & wistfully wish that I could continue to escape responsibility & reality here forever amongst stunning scenery & inspirational people, I’m also constantly disenchanted with the bold face lies the locals tell to wheedle your money out of your wallet & into their eager hands. They look at us tourists as walking money trees & if you’re complacent they’ll take you for everything you’ve got. It almost makes me miss the beggars in Melbourne who only ask you for a dollar & will usually walk away with merely a snide comment if you politely decline their request. I made the decision before coming here that I wouldn’t give money to anyone or buy any goods that aren’t being sold at a market & while I’ve stuck to that, the constant harassment from locals & the poverty that is everywhere - which I imagine stems from the desperate situation they & their families were landed in post war recovery - is starting to break me inside.
I hope I never live to be able to understand first hand what they’ve gone through in order to have ended up this way. I wish that I could wave a magic wand, improve their standard of living & end the corruption that is halting this country’s progression but there is nothing I can do to help the bigger picture. Seeing both sides of this culture has been confronting to say the least. One of those cathartic moments where I am inexpressibly happy to have been born to a mother who didn’t leave me on the streets or throw me into a crocodile pit when she couldn’t afford to keep me anymore. To have been raised in a country whose government is far from perfect but functions well enough to support both the rich & the poor. To have the freedom to complain & protest about historic landmarks being torn down or proposed cuts to the latest EBA & what has been deemed as ‘unfair working conditions‘ (which at this point in time seems stupid, selfish & completely unimportant). To be well educated at university to improve myself, my career & my community. To have been born in a country where I am free to express, live & love as I please.
When I first visited Melbourne I fell in love with the city & thought that I would live there forever. Seven years later I left Melbourne with no intention of residing there again as it doesn’t feel like home to me anymore & since I’ve been gone I’ve figured out why this is - home is people, not place & given that in the past year I’ve lost the relationship I had with the one person in Melbourne who was home to me I no longer care to stay there. The past six years of my life have been tumultuous suffering through depression & anxiety that worsened as I learnt to live with grief & its ensuing guilt after the sudden & unexpected death of my father 3 years ago & now that Ashleah & I have chosen separate paths I feel like there’s somewhere else that I need to be.
I’ve grown & evolved & am a completely different person to the resentful, angry, self-loathing girl who moved to Melbourne back in 2007. Back then I loved the city & the fast paced excitement that I could easily lose myself in. Now that I am strong both physically & mentally the city leaves me feeling restless & alone. I feel settled into life here in Siem Reap & that restless feeling I was experiencing in Melbourne has returned so it’s time for me to be moving on. I hope that the restlessness will leave me & I will find home again & I hope that day comes soon - as much as I enjoy travel with its grand adventures & life affirming experiences - the empty, desolate feeling that I have no home & that I don’t belong anywhere is a heavy burden to bear, one that I carry with me everywhere, one that I wish to be rid of. Every step I take leads me closer to my home & when I arrive with the person/people who make me feel that way - then I shall be complete & I will be able to leave this world knowing that I have no regrets, with a satisfied mind, feeling at peace. I live to maintain my inner peace & I live to share that peace with others. This is the positive mark I hope to leave in my wake. Remind me of this new found clarity next time I’m having a sad/selfish/angry/anxious kind of a moment.
For the first time since I’ve gotten here I forgot about the language barrier at work. It’s not that Ravvy and the other teachers can speak to me or I to them…it’s more like I didn’t have to frantically mime concerns and questions to them. Today followed its normal (well, I am proud to say my school is far from normal) rhythm. The kids greated me with enthusiastic “THANK YOU BONG WILEY!! THANK YOU!” to which I tried for the sixth time to explain to them the difference between “Thank you” and “Hello”. But at the end of the day, who really cares? If anything the kids will seem extremely gracious whenever surrounded by westerners. I consider that a job well done on my part. Later Soltei (the chef’s mischevious two year-old son) decided he is worthy of learning English with the six year olds. This resulted in my every five minutes stopping teaching to pry Soltei away from the older kids as he grabbed at their small chalk boards. The “time out” area at my school is ingenious. It is an ancient Cambodian secret that never was discovered by us lesser Americans. Basically, when a kid is bad they are put upon the “tower of shame” which consists of at least 25 stacked plastic chairs. From up high the kid is stuck there to watch the others play and try not to fall off. This is Soltei’s stomping ground…or sitting ground. I finished up the lesson while checking outside every now and then to make sure he didn’t fall a tragic 6 feet. Don’t worry. He was fine. He was singing “Ali Ba Ba”. For those who don’t know Ali Ba Ba it’s probably the most catchy song I have ever heard. And I mean that, Carly Rae Jepsen. The song is like a Khmer, disco/ska hybrid. Go look it up on google. I haven’t yet but I can only imagine the music video is amazing. Anyways….after teaching, the kids ran outside for recess and I took over my more important role as the kindergarten’s jungle gym. Despite running in the mornings (yeah, our DukeEngage group is RIPPED) my real workout starts when at least 6 of the kids grab my legs and arms and make me carry them everywhere. I feel just like Mr. Incredible in that scene when he’s being attacked by the giant iron blobs in that one fortress thing. (Terrible attempt at a movie reference. My bad).
I love lazy Sundays & this is the first one I’ve had since I left Melbourne. I have the bedroom to myself so I got to sleep in until 10am, take an indulgent lengthy shower & then laze around under the air con in between doing my laundry & listening to some tunes (I‘m still firmly entranced with Kindness‘ album, I heart Adam Bainbridge in a big way). I twisted my ankle out & about with the girls on Thursday & while it’s still a bit fat I can walk without pain now so hooray for that. The Projects Abroad dinner on Friday night was delicious. We ate at the Khmer Family Restaurant & I got garlic prawns & a double cheese pizza. The dinner was to farewell the kids who were here for the ‘two week special’ that Projects Abroad offers high school students & whilst there was no one else there who was as lively as me, it was still a pleasant evening. The girls who were here for 2 weeks were funny, I’ll miss their conversation at the dinner table.
I rose early with Fiona on Saturday & we took on the temples at Angkor again. We hired a driver to take us out to Banteay Srei - which is a good half hour drive from the main temple grounds. I’m glad we did as the carvings at the temple there were beautiful. It’s sad to think that we’ll never know what those structures originally looked like or what the carvings really mean as the Khmer Rouge destroyed all of their recorded history along with everything & everyone else. Still the painstaking restoration that has been done at Angkor is nothing short of amazing. Fiona hadn’t been to see the smaller temples so we dropped by Ta Prohm, Preah Khan & Ta Som again before going to check out Angkor Thom. We saw The Terrace of the Lepper King & The Terrace of the Elephants before being awestruck by the Bayon. The sheer size of that temple is mind blowing - to think of it being built thousands of years ago with such intricate design & no modern machinery to aid in the construction is staggering. The belief that the ancient Khmers must have had in their Gods to build them such decadent monuments is inspiring to say the least. Sadly given that we had to wait out a torrential down pour & then a mix up with our driver & gates at Preah Khan there wasn’t time to check out Angkor Wat so I’ll be heading back to the temples before I leave Siem Reap for a sunset viewing that comes with free entry & no crowds. I love the atmosphere at Angkor. There is something special about the grounds - they are tranquil & hallowed - I really wish we knew why that particular site was chosen to build the temples.
Afterwards we dined out at Viva - a Mexican restaurant in town. Their food & frozen margarita’s are delicious. I’ve had a lot of fun the past 3 weeks running around with Chanita & Fiona but the time has come to reign in the chaos & stick to my budget so I’ll have enough money to continue travelling until December. I’m making a solo mission to Battambang next weekend to see the sites & have made a solemn vow not to eat anymore ice cream whilst I’m in Cambodia as I can feel my thighs growing fatter as I type. I’m intent on walking into to town after lunch to use the internet & catch up on some of my music blogging work this afternoon before having a final dinner with Fiona as she’s off to Thailand tonight. I’m looking forward to waking up early tomorrow & heading into AOEO to see the kids. Will need to brainstorm some more ideas of activities to do with them next week as they’ll be sad that Chanita, Faye & David are leaving them on Wednesday. Alright I better go strap up my ankle before seeing what cook has made us for lunch - fingers crossed for more seafood soup - it’s one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.
Just for the record I didn't get seafood soup - it was just the regular rice & 3 stir fry combo & the walk into town only takes 30 minutes. It was great to get some proper exercise.
To be frank - the climate here is still busting my balls but now that I’ve gotten through the severe culture shock I was in during my first couple of weeks I’m very much enjoying my time here in Siem Reap. The kids at AOEO are a delight - always happy & smiling & laughing at everything I do. They do it tough there - given that AOEO is non-government & non-religious they have no source of funding asides from donations from the bleeding hearts such as myself & the other volunteers who travel to Cambodia yearly to visit there and spend time with the kids.
It’s frustrating watching the director and his 2IC funnel the money they receive into useless ventures - they want to set up a restaurant at the orphanage site for tourists & serve coffee, alcohol & have cooking classes there, no amount of logical reasoning about the many, many reasons that business venture will fail will make them take heed & spend the money buying things that the kids desperately need like food, toiletries,
school supplies, paying the rent & utilities, clean filtered water etc. etc. I understand they want to raise revenue to put back into the orphanage but a restaurant 2km out of town at dirty, dilapidated building is hardly going to attract foreign visitors.
AOEO also has a farm that they pour a lot of the donations into while the kids go hungry - they rarely have breakfast & I imagine when their “grandparents” aka Faye & David the older couple from Bendigo who do a lot of fundraising for the kids back home, aren’t in town that they’d be lucky to have one meal a day. Now that the crops are planted at least in a few months time they should have adequate food to keep the kids nourished - granted that the weather stays good for growing & they don’t decided to sell all of the produce & waste the money on more of their business ideas.
Anyway I’ve fallen into a routine now of waking up at 6:30am, putting my dirty clothes out to soak, showering, finishing my laundry, breakfast, moto to AOEO where I help in the kitchen (when they’ll let me, apparently I don’t chop vegetables in the correct fashion so I’m only allowed to help peel & not much else as the kids call me lub lub in the kitchen), play games with the kids, chat & read with the older boys to help with their English & chat with the other volunteers. The afternoons I find to be more difficult as I’m usually exhausted from the heat by then & only spend 2 hours letting the kids jump on me before my driver comes to take me back to the villa. I’d really like to clean that place top to bottom & get the older kids into a cleaning roster so the bathroom facilities & kitchen are kept clean. It’s the other frustrating thing about AOEO - the director doesn’t care for cleaning anything nor does he care for the hygiene of the kids so they have no one to clean & the kids haven’t been taught how to clean themselves & have no routine.
Dennis, Sandy, Chanita & myself sat a group of 12 kids down this morning & attempted to teach them the importance of hand washing. The language barrier made that challenging but 2 of the older kids acted as interpreter & I think the children understood the concept by the end of the hour long lesson. Dennis & Sandy did well getting the kids into teams & making them answer questions for points & rewarding the team who had the most points with lollies. I covered my hands in chalk & made the kids shake my hand to show them how you transfer germs with your hands & then we went through all of the reasons to wash your hands & did a hand washing demo using the technique I learnt from the lab (something I learnt at work finally turned out to be useful) & made the kids wash their hands with soap. Their water supply is not always on - which made that difficult but we got there in the end. We want to cover hand washing, bathroom cleaning & a clean water supply before I finish up there - which should be at the end of next week or at a stretch the week ending September 6th.
The afternoon at AOEO was spent colouring - it would be ludicrous back home to attempt to get a group of boys aged 8 - 13 to colour in but when I pulled out the Winnie the Pooh pictures & coloured paper I’d gotten at the Projects Abroad office & some crayons they all went mad for them & sat down & got busy colouring in the image. Then we made paper planes & masks & hats & spent the afternoon jumping around before Chanita & myself hopped a tuk tuk into town & came back with pizza and cola to treat the kids. Seeing them smile their genuinely happy smiles & call out ‘hello Kat’ to me as I walk into the grounds before rushing up to crush me in their bear hugs is the highlight of my day. The way they handle the brutally rough hand life has dealt them without complaining or being self pitying is incredible. Their bravery is inspiring and as keen as I am to get on with my free travel time it’s going to be hard to leave them behind.
I’ve decided for a farewell gift I’d like to buy them a 50kg sack of rice & lots of soap & toothpaste. I’m reluctant to give money to anyone here as I do not trust that it will be spent wisely - which is to be expected as kids here aren’t taught about budgets & financial smarts so when they reach adulthood if they haven’t been educated at university than their ability to manage money is incredibly poor. Which is a shame for the kids as a bit of organisation at AOEO would go a long way to improve their quality of life but that is a problem which is too big for me to solve.
In other news I went quad biking with Fiona on Tuesday night & had a blast. I did a quick 5 minute test drive around the street which was fun but given that I don‘t have a drivers license I didn‘t want to kill us both so Fiona drove for our 1hour sunset tour. I ended up covered in mud (I’m still pretending that it was only mud - not cow pats) from the heavy rains earlier in the day which left the roads muddy & slippery. The scenery was amazing & the sunset was breathtaking. The tranquillity outside of the city made for some nice moments as we sat on the bike, listened to the crickets & frogs chirping & watched the sun go down as some local kids splashed around in the puddles.
Fiona, Chanita & I went to Temple Bar last night & watched the free Apsara dance show - which is the traditional Khmer dancing - over dinner. Their dancing consists of slow, controlled movements & is the same as what the kids at COFCO were forced to learn & perform. I enjoyed the Coconut & Peacock dances but grew bored with it after 30 minutes. Watching dance has never been my thing though, live music is my one true love & there is a severe lack of it here. I can’t wait to check out the rock bars in Phnom Penh & hope against hope that not all of it consists of poorly executed muzak like the few bars in Siem Reap where I’ve watched a few cover bands slaughter popular western songs.
Fiona is heading to Thailand next week before going back home to Brisbane so we’re going out for dinner tonight for a last hurrah & heading to see Angkor Wat on Saturday morning & Projects Abroad is having a social dinner on Friday night (which was not the best planning as the majority of the house has already left for their weekend trips - I was going to go to Battambang but when I realised all but 4 of us would be away for the weekend I decided to stay & enjoy some much needed alone time - I get the bedroom to myself, bliss). I’ll have more to report as the weekend unfolds.
Sandy & I with some of the kids at AOEO
Savay - The oldest resident at AOEO
Sreylia & Me - she's such a sweetie
I can't remember his name but he always tries to sneaky tickle me & then run off
Making masks & planes with the coloured paper I found. The kids went nuts for it.
The Apsara dance show at Temple Bar
The Projects Abroad volunteers with the kids at CDO when we were finished painting their dorms.
My second week in Cambodia has been similar to the 1st but with a few differences such as volunteers leaving, new volunteers coming and travel to new places.
On Tuesday evening, volunteers were invited to the projecst abroad office for a care and teaching workshop. The workshop was basically a group discussion about our placements and we could share any problems we were having, share solutions to other peoples problems and share some ideas of fun ways to teach the children. This resulted in me having to teach heads, shoulders, knees and toes and tha rainbow song to a he whole room becase I suggested English songs as a way to teach the youner children about simple things like colours and their bodies. The french volunteers did not know any English songs so that is where my singing lessons came in. Overall though it was a really god night and I think everyone gained some valuable information.
On Wednesday after work, Steaph and Leslie were to going to get massages and at spa called One, which is run by the Cambodian Kids Organisation and is a training spa which trains and employs women off the streets who may have had histories of sexual and physical abuse and are struggling to survive. So of course because it was such a good cause, and I really wanted a massage, I went with them. The place was beautiful, like a really expensive spa in Australia woud look, and it was expensive (in Cambodian terms at least). It was still only $10 for a 60 minute massage, instead of the $3 you would pay most other places in Cambodia. I chose a traditional Kmer massage, I figured I had to experience it at least once whilst I was here. They start by cracking your fingers and toes and then it is a series of pushing, poking, pinching and chopping all over your body. They lift your arms and legs up and strange angles and when doing the face even pinch along your eyebrows which felt so strange. I accepted it though and am glad that I did it, and I felt so loose and relaxed after the hour was done, so there must be some method to the maddness because it definately acheived the desired effect. Whilst we were there we also got a delux pedicure which included a foot scrub and massage. I also found it strange that everywhere in cambodia, the rub lime into your nails when getting a manicure or pedicure.
Thursday was lice treatment day at the orphanage. All of the children, and the 2 nannies lined up to get the shampoo lathered into their hair. It was charming. After work, I tagged along with Chelsey, Leslie and Sylvia to meditation at a Buddhist temple, another thing I though would be good to experience whilst here. Sitting straight, and still for a whole hour, without thinking about anything was the hardest thing I have ever done. Oh and did I mention that it was complete silence as well. Let's just say that I lasted about 1 secnond with the not thinking, and at best about 2 minuets sitting completely still. The monks gave me a little book to read about how to meditate which gave me something to do for 10 minuets but after that was terrible. All I could think about was mum telling me to sit up straight and pull my belly button to my spine, which surprising helped for about 30 seconds. I made it through the hour alive though, and the one thing I did manage to do succesfully for 1 hour was not talk, however there was not like there were heaps of people I could talk to. The monks tried to convince me to come again, saying the first time is hard but with discipline and practice it gets better. I will think about going again, not sure if I will.
On Friday, Anod, the volunteer who runs English classes, was away. It became my job to stand up at the white board for 2 hours and teach 2 different groups about how to tell the time. I think it wnet ok overall but they kep saying things in Kmer to each other, and I don't know if they were about me or not, but I think they now know the basic concept of reading a clock. I am teaching again tomorrow because Anod is not back until Tuesday. It is good practice though, because I am plannng on studying teaching, it was a little scary being thrown in the deep end though with no time to prepare.
Steph and I also had a meeting with our director and Sophan about Sareth being moved. Sophan said that the minestry of social work requires each orphanage to have a least 1 disabled child, though I don;t understand why. In order to get Sareth moved, the director needs to write a letter to them saying that now after having Sareth for 3 years they do not have the money or the staff to look after her and offer her the care and physical therapy that she needs. Sophan also said that because of how corrupt the government is, it's very likely that after the letter is sent we will need to pay someone from the minestry to allow her transfer, in other words, bribe them to sign the papers. We will just have to see what happens though.
When we were leaving, a bunch of children jumped into our Tuk Tuk and our driver is so lovely, he took them all for a ride, just up to the end of the street and back. It was so good to see them all smiling and laughing, they were all acting like it was christmas.
After work on Friday, we had our monthly dinner where all of the staff and volunteers go to a reastrant and projects abroad buy us dinner. It was a really good night.
Lisa, me, Chelsey, Corralie and Sylvia at the dinner.
On Saturday Morning, Chelsey, Steph, Leslie, Syvia and I all went out to Blue Pumpkin, a bakery/cafe on the riverside. It is very modern and nice and has these amazing beds/couches you can sit on with little tray tables, and freee wifi. We went because it was Chelsey's last day before she headed home to San Diego.
IN the afternnon, Sylvia and I wnet to the Killing fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide museum, or S21. The killing field used to be an orchid, so i is actually a really beautiful place. Just walking through you would never know that the indents in the ground were actually mass graves that were later dug up and that the tree you are finding shade under was used to beat children against until they were dead. When you actually read the signs and liste to the audio tour, you start to realise that it is a terribl;y sad place where horrible things were done, and thescraps of cloth on the ground and white bits of shard on the ground are bits of clothing and bone. There is a baeutiful memorial stupa in the middle that I was admiring for it's beauty when I first arrived. That is unil I got closer and realised that inside was a 17 teired glass cabinet filled with skulls and bones found in the mass graves.
The Genocide Museum was even more daunghting. It used to be a high school, but then in 1975, the Khmer Rouge took it over nd named it security office 21, hence the name S 21. I was used as a prison for detention, inttergation, torture and killing after confession. They soon realised that there were too many prisinors so they made the killing fields where they wopuld transport people after interregation and confesion to be killed.
There are 4 buildings all made of grey brick/stone, all surrounding a courtyard in the middle, which is now a memorial and graveyard to the last 14 people killed in S-21 whose bodies were found, still strapped to torture beds after the Khmer Rouge fled. The rooms used for torture and interregation were cleaned, but left for people to see. Each only contains a metal bed and some chains and torture implements. The cells are tiny, just big enough for one person and were built inside classrooms out of brick or wood.
They were very thourough with their documentation, as every prisinor was brought to S-21, they were photographed and assigned a number, Their confession and stories were all carefully recorded. These were found and are now on display. You can read stories and fake confessions of people, who all say they confessed to things they didn't do just so their torture would stop, because most of the time they had not done anything. The Khmer Rouge took out anyoe who was a potential threat, some people's only crime was that they had been to school. Their photo's are on big boads all around the museum and they stare right at you. Some people were photographed before and after torture.
There are stories of these people all around the museum. I was surprised to find out that there were also some foreign people killed here, 1 of them was Australian. There were only 7 survivors of the Tuol Sleng Prison.
There is a special court set up in Phnom Penh just for the trails of the Khmer Rouge. These trials started offically in 2007 and are still going today.
Saturday night we had to say goodbye to Chelsey, and that sums up my second week in Cambodia.
I am so attached to all of the children here already, and there are 3 children who call me mummy, even though they know my name, one who is particuarly attached to me. I have only been here2 weeks, after 3 months i'm sure we will both be even more attached and it will feel like I am abandonig them. I am very greateful that I have the experience to come here and meet these children though, seeing their lifestyle and hearing their stories, and seeing how happy they seem despite all of that makes me appreciate my safe and happy childhood so much more, and makes my complaints about not having enough food that I like or not having cold water seem so petty. These children eat scraps they find on the floor- despite me telling them not too- and can't just go to the tap to get some water when they are thirsty.
I am also very grateful and lucky that I can go home to a safe country with plenty to eat and drink and family and friends who love me and care for me.
Well as here are the photo's that I didn't include in my last blog and a quick summerise of what has happened since i wrote yesterday.
The Dirty Weekend:
Chelsey and I painting
All of the Volunteers who attended
Country Side and Temple:
Leslie, Sylvia, Chelsey and I in the country side.
The little girls who stalked us through the temple, with the cow who doesn't speak english :-)
After I wrote yesterday it was back off to work. On the way there was a random heavy bout of rain that came out of no where but had most of the streets slightly flooding. Whilst driving I saw some children playing in the rain. They were so happy and running around, jumping in puddles, making mud pies, it reminded me so much of my own childhood. I have so many memories of making an absolute mess playing in the mud, and Emma and I doing aerobics in the rain and hail. It got me thinking about how that all seems lost in today's generation of children. Most children these days sit inside and watch tv or play the computer when it's raining, instead of being a kid and making mess and getting drenched and having fun. It may also be partly to do with parents being more protective of children and not wanting them to get sick etc... I can understand that, but I have decided that my children (when and if I do have children in the future) are going to know the joys of making mud cakes and pies and dancing in the rain and jumping in puddles.
After work in the afternoon we all went out for Corallie's birthday which was so much fun. We had a great time, and she was so surprised when we brought out a cake that her mum had arranged (through Seang, but it was still a nice surprise).
And quickly before I log off, as promised a quick tour of my orphanage.
When you first walk through the gate you enter this courtyard which is where the children can play ball games and run around. There are also some old swings and a fence that clothes get hung on to dry.
This is the area where children wash/get washed, and at the back is a little bit of the kitchen
This is the rest of the kitchen where the cook prepares all of the children's meals.
This is the nursery where the babies are cared for. They sleep in hammocks, and this is where all their things are kept.
This is the office area, and also where the children can use computers for study
This is the space used as a classroom for english lessons which is in the same space as the nursery.
I won't bother putting a photo of the bed's, but to give you an idea the boys have bunk beds which are all to the right of the classroom (you can kindof see them), and the girls have single beds but they are all just large wooden benches that they put very veyr thin mattress over. (you can see them in the picture of the nursery).
On one last note, We had a little boy get adopted yeaterday afternoon by a rich cambodian family. We knew he was adopted but he actually left yesterday. It was sad in a way because he was so beautiful, and he was everyone's favorite. He won me over the minuet I walked in. But I am so happy because he will have such a good life now, he won't know what hit him, the family was telling us they have a mansion with 30 rooms and tv's in most of them. We also think one of the babies got adopted because there were 2 babies when I first came, and yesterday there was only 1. I asked the children but none of them seem to know, and babies get adopted easily.
I am starting to really enjoy Cambodia, although I still miss home.
I will leave you with a picture of Sareth, until next time, stay safe everyone.
This morning I was taken to the new orphanage that I will be volunteering at for the remainder of my time in Siem Reap. It’s called Angkor Orphanage Education Organisation and to say that I enjoyed my first day there is the understatement of the year. The 2 directors (who incidentally are both ex COFCO boys) both speak English & told me that while I’m there I have the freedom to do as I please, pick my own hours & can cook, clean, play games with the kids & teach classes if I want to. They have 36 kids at the centre & have a few different teachers who volunteer there & they teach classes for both the residents and the community - all children who live in that area are welcome to drop in & be taught for free. AOEO also run a farm that’s 100km out of town where they’ve recently planted crops to feed the kids & hopefully raise some funds for the centre with the surplus. They have no income asides from donations so while the kids there do it tough, the donated money & goods is actually put toward the children & improving the facilities. At least they do when there are volunteers around - which is the most you can hope for in this community.
Unlike at COFCO. There was an older couple - Faye & David from Bendigo - who do a lot of fundraising for AOEO back home & they told me when they first visited Cambodia they did a lot of work with COFCO until they realised that the director was keeping the bulk of the cash donations for herself. At the very least it’s good to know that my instincts haven’t failed me & my suspicion’s about her & her assistant were correct. “Mamma” from COFCO drives around in a new 4WD & apparently she threw 12 boys who refused to take part in her dance shows out onto the street. The directors at AOEO found all of the children and they now live there. When karma catches up with “Mamma” I hope it doles out adequate justice for the racket she’s running & the children she’s withholding funds from for her own gain.
After speaking with Faye & David and 2 of the other volunteers there - one was called Dennis, he’s from Bulgaria & there was a girl I forget her name but she was from Ireland, they’re both working with Engineers Without Borders to build bunk beds for the kids & to teach the older children there construction skills so they can maintain the beds once the volunteers go home - I think the next few weeks will be spent trying to teach the kids about hygiene. They actually have nice shower & bathroom facilities at AOEO (they were donated by a group of Korean visitors who help out the orphanage with regular donations) but they’re filthy as no one cleans & the director’s don’t care to impart cleaning & hygiene skills onto the kids. Never fear - finally my OCD love of white king cleaning products can be put to good use. Dennis is going to email me though the info sent from his organisation about teaching basic hygiene & when I go into town later to post this blog entry I also want to look up hygiene lessons & games for kids. The idea is that me - with my advanced knowledge & nerdy love of infection control will lead the class while he & the other girl assist. Chanita my friend from the villa is also at AOEO so we may be able to get her on board to help with the lessons. I’m really excited to be able to do something that may actually benefit the kids in the long term. I had a darling little girl called Sreylei follow me around all afternoon. She sat down & asked me to braid her hair like mine while playing with my arm flab - who knew that the excess skin hanging off my frame from the days when I used to weigh 140kg could provide hours of entertainment for children? - to be honest their comments no longer bother me. I turn their curiosity into a game & laugh & play & when I’m tired from the heat I can lay back in the chair while they poke at my flab & I get to have a rest. It works for me. I may have to teach them the bootylicious dance just for kicks.
I have a moto driver called Stinson who takes me to & from work. He has a lovely smile & laughs at how afraid I am of the bike. I am getting much better at being on the moto though & now hold onto the back of my chair instead of clinging to the driver & I smiled all the way home today (I did have a vice like death grip on the back of my seat though - the roads here are so bumpy & full of pot holes it does get a bit frightening flying over those).
Anyway I am very happy & flushed with a new found energy. I can’t wait to get stuck into this project & get to know the kids before I depart. In touristy news I plan on taking a weekend trip to Battambang on Friday, & may head to the floating village with Dennis & co when they go next week. Remind me to talk more slowly. I sat around for the last hour this arvo while Sreylei & her counterparts slept & chatted with Dennis, the engineer chick & one of the older boys who lives at AOEO. She & Dennis found my ironic statements to be hilarious but the poor Khmer boy just looked at me stunned until he blurted out ‘ how do you talk so fast? I only understand a few of the words you say. Slow down I want to laugh to!’. Sadly that was me talking in my slow voice - which is still too quick for Cambodia. Will have to remember to adopt the awful FOB voice that comes out innately whenever I speak to the kids. I hate it but I can’t help it - I get this weird tone & speak very plainly & with my hands. Dennis & the engineer laughed as they do the exact same thing. I worry it’ll seem like I’m patronising everyone - which I don’t mean to do but that voice comes with no warning whenever I talk to a local so oh well. At least they understand me when I use it.
Alrighty I best go wash up before dinner. We had prawns with a variety of vegetable dishes for lunch - here’s hoping for something equally as decadent from our cook this evening. I can already see me gaining 5kgs on this holiday. The food here is so tasty & I eat ice cream from The Blue Pumpkin whenever I go into town. There’s only so much weight you can sweat off. I’m not worried though as I’ll swim that off in no time when I land in Adelaide.
On Saturday I spent the morning at CDO with the rest of the volunteers from the villa helping to paint the orphanage a garish shade of blue. They’re recently constructed nicer dorms for the kids there that were in need of some colour so we all slaved away in the sunshine until the paint ran out. It was so hot I was dripping sweat on the ground mid-way through the painting but we got 2 layers on the front of the dorm & one layer on the entire back & side wall which was a sound accomplishment for a morning’s work. The kids there are adorable & happy to have attention & to eat all of the goodies that Projects Abroad provided for us to hand out to them. It’s such a two-edged sword doing work like this - I do believe that being able to make a child smile, particularly when they’ve been through as much as the kids here have, is a wonderful thing - however the fact that none of us can make a life long commitment to their health & happiness & simply come & go from their lives which leads to even greater instability for the child is not a good thing. I also think that the kids are used to it though, it’s the life they’ve grown up knowing & while it seems horrid to me it’s just how things are here. So hopefully in the long run my presence here is doing more good than it is harm. The cultural differences are immense & I doubt they’ll cease shocking me until I finally board a plane back to Australia to a culture I know how to be a part of.
After lunch Anita (another volunteer from our villa) and I went to relax at the Sokha Angkor Hotel’s luxurious pool. It’s worth the price of admission just to use their showers. The household had dinner out on Pub Street before heading home early as we were all wrecked from doing physical work in the heat. I don’t remember the last time I was in bed at 9:30pm on a Saturday night but I’m glad I made the sensible decision this weekend.
On Sunday I rose early & got my tuk tuk to Angkor to do a circuit of the smaller temples. Between 9am & 2pm I managed to explore Preah Khan, Neak Poan, Ta Som, East Mebon, Pre Rup, Banteay Kdei, Sra Srang and Ta Prohm aka the Tomb Raider temple. I was not aware of my body’s capacity for sweat until I was climbing the many, many stairs at East Mebon & Pre Rup in the sun - I was drenched to the extent that it looked like I‘d wet my hammer pants, which is always an attractive look (#comeatmeboys). The thing I enjoyed the most was the serenity of Angkor. You enter a different world in there. The grounds are majestic - lush green forest surrounds each temple & the eloquence of the architecture is breathtaking.
That being said the wonderment was easily disrupted by the hoards of locals harassing you to buy trinkets at every temple. Unlike the people at the markets a simple ’no thank you’ doesn’t stop the kids & adults from following you & begging you to buy a scarf/fan/bracelet/guidebook/water. By the time I’d finally stumbled through the exit at Ta Prohm (I got so lost in the tomb raider temple, ran out of water, started feeling very dehydrated & exited at the wrong gate, wrong as in not the gate my driver was waiting for me at) only to be surrounded & followed by begging kids as I tried to get my bearings & figure out where I was almost led to me smacking the crowd away. Unfortunately the only thing that seems to make them go away is to snap at them as otherwise the children follow you & beg in the most pitiful voice you can imagine for you to buy something that they’re selling. It was sad/infuriating all at the same time.
The sellers (who are kind of like beggars with their sales technique) greatly disrupt the ambience of Angkor. It’s about time the caretakers of the grounds had a Jesus moment & expelled the moneychangers from the temples. It was particularly bad at Banteay Kdei where the entire back room of the temple was full of clothes being sold that covered up half the carvings on the walls & you could see the men laying in wait for the next tourist to come along - so I didn’t even bother finishing my tour of that temple. I imagine the concept of a gift shop would be lost on the average citizen here. Anyway after a few angry phone calls - angry because the driver I originally hired is not the one who ended up driving me through Angkor - which is a long story that I can’t be bothered going into - so I did not have my drivers number to call him & ask him to pick me up at the other gate, which led to a long drawn out process of broken English mis-interpreting things before the driver finally got the message of where I was & came to collect me & then I was on my way home to re-hydrate & rest up. The fact that everything is a dodgy scam here irks me to no end. Nothing is as it seems & you can’t take anyone on face value - they‘ll be honest with you when the price is right. My inner cynic is becoming more embittered with every passing day.
Regardless I had a grand time exploring Angkor & am looking forward to heading back to see Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom in a couple of weeks. On another note for a society who insists on modest dress & conservative behaviour there sure was a lot of cock & vag symbolism going on their temples. The irony of which amused me greatly. It was fantastic to be able to get some exercise climbing around the temples as there’s nowhere to go for a jog here where the ground won’t break my ankles & I imagine if I tried to jog on the roadside I’d be followed by a swarm of drivers & their cries of ’tuk tuk lady?’. The pools are also too expensive to swim in everyday. I miss being active & am hoping there’ll be more chance for working out in Phnom Penh where you use the Olympic track for free & get a monthly membership to some of the hotel gyms. Climbing up the stairs at Pre Run did remind me of that pesky right knee problem though which is fine most of the time but flares upon exertion. By the time I get there my left foot may have healed enough for me to swim laps again (I got stomped on very, very hard at the pub last weekend by a retard in heavy soled shoes - 3 of my toes are purple on all sides & the lateral side of the foot is black - am lucky none of the bones are broken, I can walk fine but my foot aches by the end of the day & of course there is no ice here to help with the healing process).
Alright I think that’s all of my whinging done for one day. I shied away from describing the temples of Angkor as this is one of those scenario’s where pictures are worth a thousand words. Enjoy.
My first week here in Cambodia has definatelty been an adventure. Continuing from where my last blog ended, Thursday I woke up sick :-( I think my body was still getting used to the heat and the new food, although it was somewhat of a delayed reaction. I spent the whole of Thursday morning in bed, but luckily it didn't last long and I was feeling well enough after lunch to go to the orphanage for my afternoon shift. Steph, the other Australian girl at my orphanage, went to have a meeting at a disabled orphanage about possibly getting Sareth moved. The director was saying that because it is a government owned orphanage they need to ask the head of social work in Cambodia, or something like that, so we still don't know anything more.
Friday was a very exciting day. One of the french ladies that volunteered at my orphanage was going home, so we had a day packed full of fun to say goodbye. We started the day by bracelet making (they are amazing at this) and just playing with the chilldren. After lunch, Steph and I returned to the orphanage early and we did face painting with the children, and there was a big presentation of some professional photo's Anod had done of the children.
After a fun filled day at the orphanage, with lots of happy children, Friday night we (being volunteers from projects abroad and Seang, our social events coordinator) went to a drum show. This was really cool with lots of different drums and whistles and all sorts of things, and they were very good.
Daturday was another great day because we had Dirty Weekend. This is an event that is held once a month in which volunteers are invited to go and paint a school or orphanage to make it brighter and a happier place to be. I spent most of the day working on a room with Chelsey, Steph and Sylvia doing insects and flowers, then we put a bunch of world flags on the wall as well. It was a great day spent bonding with other volunteers and having a good time helping the local community.
Photo's of this will have to come with the next blog because my Camera just died.
After dirty weekend Chelsey took Sylvia and I to her orphanage for a visit. All of the children at her orphanage are disabled, some very badly and some just have small things wrong like they are blind in 1 eye or can't speak, but in Cambodia even little things are deemed disabled. I was so shocked at the children and staff in this orphanage, it is so different from mine. All of the staff are so amazing and so caring towards all of the children, no matter what their disability is, and all of the children helped each other and were so happy the whole time I was there. This is the sort of environment that I originally imagined I would be working in and that all orphanages were. This is the orphanage that Steph and I are trying to get Sareth into.
I started Sunday by going for iced coffee with Chelsey, Sylvia, and a new American volunteer, Leslie. After coffee we made our way to the centralo market and started barganing our way through the stalls until lunch time. After lunch we jumped in a tuk tuk and made our way to the Cambodian country side. we only made it about an hour out of Phnom Penh but it was so extremely different. Everything was green and lush, and although there was a lot more poverty, it was so much more beautiful. We stopped at an old temple in one of the provinces and as soon as we stepped out of our tuk tuk we had 3 little girls stalking us through the temple and the gardens trying to sell us indence and flowers to give to buddah. After we politely rejected them hundreds of times they ended up giving us each a little for free because they still wanted us to give offerings to Buddah. When we went into the temple the girls showed us how to give our offerings, then an old lady who was there blessed us on behalf of buddah so we would have good luck.
The girls were so funny. Even after we left the temple and started to walk through the garden out the back they kept following us and trying to sell things to us. When we came accross a cow just chilling in the middle of no-where, we were trying to get it to look up so we could take a picture. To this, one of the little girls took Leslie's hand and told us that the cow did not speak English because he does not go to shcool, and she was fully serious.
I can't belive it has already been a week in Phnom Penh. It has gone so fast. Tonight we are all going out again because it is Corallie's birthday (a French volunteer from apartment 1). Her mum called Seang at the projects abroad office and asked if we could surprise her by taking her out and getting her a cake. It should be a good night.
Until next time, stay safe, I love you all.
I will post some more photo's of the things I have mentioned with my next blog.
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