Commencing Day 7 in my epic battle against the almighty Jet Lag, a fierce beast that has effortlessly pinned me to the sofa- my eyes barely cracked to watch old episodes of So You Think You Can Dance, my hand with strength enough to lift chocolate covered blueberries to my weary lips. It’s tough being back. Needless to say, I am incredibly happy to be home with my family and both comforted and concerned by the fact that my dog Mocha gained more weight than I did despite my continuous consumption of rice over the past two months (not to mention fried bananas, banana shakes, and banana soup…). However, much of my mind is still in Cambodia, with my friends and colleges a world away who I already miss so dearly. Continue reading
Back home in my Global Poverty and Practice classes, “voluntourist” rings like a curse word when directed at someone, a serious insult, a sound that should burn as it roles off your tongue. We continually discuss how voluntourism can contribute to deeper, broader problems that underlie the immediate concerns that well-intentioned volunteers come to address. We discuss the dangers of blind optimism and oversimplification for hours, and occasionally pause to address “paralyzing cynicism” as it exists on the opposite end of the spectrum. I have done my best to analyze my work with WOMEN and the Stellar Childcare Center (my orphanage [SCC]), carefully contemplating my position and responsibilities, hoping to distance myself from the dirty label as much as possible. Despite my best attempts, however, I remain (at least partially) submerged in the muddied waters of the voluntourist industry. Continue reading
Muddied, burnt, and bruised, I returned yesterday, so completely content, from the jungle province of Mondulkiri. Today my Khmer friends were much amused by my rosy cheeks and numerous tan lines which, as Cambodians prefer lighter skin (supposedly signifying one’s ability to hold down a stable office job) reflects my diminishing beauty.
After 8 hours of winding road and a sounding thunder storm, we arrived in the small, central “city,” home to the Bunong people. As a mountain dweller, I am no stranger to bad weather and unfavorable road conditions. However, traveling in a large metal bus surrounded by only trees and potholes, I was a bit concerned by the lightening and downpour. On the way to our hotel, my moto driver gave up on the ride (just before a rickety bridge), leaving me to hop on the back of Chris’ bike which powered through the rest of the journey. Finally, we made it safe and sound to the Nature Lodge where we had reserved a little bungalow surrounded by the world’s happiest cows.
On the second day, Chris and I ventured on to complete the ultimate mission of our stay here in Cambodia: RIDE AN ELEPHANT. Our noblest of steeds, Bon, was perhaps the most spirited creature of the group. He loved to stop and eat every 5 minutes, which required a bit of offroading from our jungle path such that we dramatically lagged behind our 2 elephant peers. I did not mind (who doesn’t love to snack?), even as I sat precariously perched atop of Bon’s shoulder blades which continued to wage subtle war against my upper thighs. I did mind, however, when Bon unknowingly walked us into lower branches covered with ants, leaving me to battle the demon insects with my one free hand. Continue reading
Just as I start to really settle into Cambodian life, I realize I have just two weeks left! How did that happen? I don’t understand. The days are zipping by like buzzing motos while I ride by on my bike wondering “Why the rush?” (simultaneously navigating the oncoming cement truck). Between field visits with WOMEN, work with the orphanage, and outings with the peeps, I have become very attached to my busy schedule here in this country, which feels a little more like home now that I am less frequently lost. I love my kids in the orphanage, I love my host family, and I love the feeling of familiarity that is finally settling in.
On Wednesday Chris and I accompanied our WOMEN team out into the province of Prey Veng to observe HIV classes and survey work. Across the Mekong River, these remote villages are filled with people that have never encountered a foreigner before… ever. I laughed on the boat as they stared at me smiling, attempted to speak to me in Khmer, and pointed blatantly at my white skin and non-Cambodian nose (good thing I have reasonably sturdy self-esteem). Even the cows stared at me as we motoed by. This is slightly different than in Phnom Penh, where I merely feel like a duck amongst chickens. In Prey Veng, I was a unicorn or a chupacabra or some other mythical creature that we’ve all heard about but never seen. I mention this because my Caucasianess was perhaps both beneficial and distracting to the serious conversations my team conducted throughout the day. I certainly captured the curiosity of many passerby’s who the joined the audience as my partner, Kuntheay, spoke about HIV and prevention techniques. However, I could definitely tell when the conversation switched from the illness to the mysterious fact that foreigners like to tan (“You want to be black, yes?”). Continue reading
Hey all! Just wanted to share a couple shots from last weekend in the beautiful province of Battambang. We went to visit Chris’ family (cousins of cousins of fathers of brothers….) who are all very warm and welcoming and always determined to induce a food coma. Excellent escape from the city!
Since my first trip to the orphanage on Tuesday, I have not really been able to sleep. I thought that running and playing and being jumped on by dozens of kids would wear my body right out, but it has left my mind reeling. Gorgeous smiling faces, lit with energy and hope despite separation, heartbreak, and the desolation of the surrounding area. I plan to visit this larger orphanage whenever possible, where the small, rough hands sweetly latch to mine and guide me to play.
I have since started officially volunteering in a smaller center with 3 teenage boys and one 18 year-old where my housemate Chow also volunteers. These boys are also extremely kind and well behaved with a touch of teenage cheekiness. They focus remarkably well as we review homework and learn English songs, though I refuse to teach them all the lyrics to Adam Levine’s One More Night. I just taught them the Cup Song and all three of them picked it up in half the time it took me! One boy (perhaps my favorite of the group, shhh….) is destined for music, I’m convinced. This fella, Paul, currently hobbles around on wooden crutches as a run in with a tuk-tuk left him with a broken leg several months ago. He remains the cheeriest of the group. Continue reading
Tonight was my first time visiting an orphanage and my heart is bursting with mixed emotions. I accompanied a returning volunteer on her visit and have really been left speechless. The kids, all 60 of them, were so wonderful. As soon as I walked in I was immersed in play, smothered in laughter and excitement. Few seconds passed where I didn’t have a child on my back and/or in my lap. The girls immediately took to teaching me songs and games while I ran around like a monster “eating” and tickling the boys. I read Khmer versions of English fairy tales (riddled with typos) to a captive audience who handed me book after book. We played soccer and keep-away and thumb-wrestled until I was completely drenched in sweat, and then… we danced.
Let me tell you something about these kids: SWAG. I watched with wide-eyed amazement as several of the youngsters performed a hip hop routine that completely outshined all Bieber-ian performances I have had the grand pleasure of seeing. These little acrobats flipped fearlessly over one another, gliding and break-dancing with infinitely more grace than I could ever dream of achieving. Seriously kiddlets, hot damn. Continue reading