As I write, I am sitting in a hammock, swinging gently in the breeze from the open windows. There are geckos lurking in the corners, and huge spiders just waiting to jump out at me. Above me are open rafters, covered in old spider webs, and the rough wooden walls are also dirty with many webs. Tremaynne is sitting on a plastic mat near my hammock working on three digit multipliers, and Andrew is downstairs hand washing his laundry. The cat is sitting on the railing, looking for some unlucky gecko to come out, contributing to her supper. It is warmer today than it has been, but the breeze feels nice and cool. I can hear the squeak of the pump handle while Andrew gets water for his washing, and in the distance there are noisy monks, chanting over loud speakers.
Our house is a two story wooden affair. It is quite roomy, with two bathrooms and a kitchen, entry room, wash room, two bedrooms, and a loft area. All the windows have bars over them to keep the thieves out, which is a good thing, since I have already lost one persimmon to them. I left the food too close to the window, and when I returned, my precious persimmon was gone. Both toilets are the squat type, with a cement reservoir for water that you dump in the toilet to flush it. It is much better than what I have at home, but it takes a little getting used to. When the bathroom gets dirty, you just take a dipper full of water and throw it on the floor and swish it around with your feet. There is a little hole in the back wall that the water drains out of.
I have been given the job of being the cook’s helper this week. She does not speak English, so she shows me what she wants me to do, and then I do it, or at least I try to do it! This morning she showed me how to cut pineapple the way they do. It is very pretty when they are finished, but I had only done one when she took the knife away from me and set me to work on pealing onions instead. I guess my pineapple cutting is not quite up to her standards yet! They do all their cutting away from them, and I find it very hard to manage. But, the cook is very nice, and we get along well. Maybe I will be a first class Cambodian chef by the time I leave here? I have asked Tremaynne to describe the food for you as his writing assignment for today.
Roy and Travis are working on the studio, and it is a very frustrating job, to say the least. Every time they need something, they have to run all over the compound trying to find it. They have 35 Australians working for them, and trying to keep them all busy under these circumstances is a real character building experience. They have already sanded the outside of the building, and now they are painting it, while Roy and another crew are getting the main studio part ready to pour concrete for the floor tomorrow. Another crew is working on fixing the cement mixer so that they have a way to mix concrete in order to pour tomorrow!
Yesterday I attended two of Andrew’s classes. The first one was 7th grade Math, and the next was 7th grade geography. He did an excellent job of both, and I was really impressed with his teaching skills. I never thought of Andrew as being a teacher before, but I do now. His students are really cute. They call him “cher”, as in “teacher” the lazy way. They all look at me as if I were the 8th wonder of the world. They ask me how old I am and if I am not really Andrew’s sister, as I must be far too young to be his mother. Yep, I like these kids a lot! Many of the kids are HIV positive, and they have many health problems, but they are happy and very well taken care of.
I had been led to believe that it would be very hot and humid here. I have not found it to be that way at all! It is humid, at least compared to home, but not as bad as Texas. At night I get down right cold! The first night, I hardly slept at all, I was so cold, so the next night I tried wearing my fleece jacket….I was still cold! So, the third night I wore my fleece jacket, my only socks, and my warm pajamas, and Wendy brought me a wool blanket, now I am able to survive. Ben tried to warn me, but I thought that he was just crazy from being over here so long. I have not been here long at all, and yes, I can freeze at 75 degrees! So, if you happen to be sending packages over here, how about throwing in some warm clothing?
Andrew and I decided that instead of eating at Tim and Wendy’s house for every meal, we would try to make at least one meal per day at home. We chose breakfast. So, the first thing to figure out was how to ride the motorbike. All I brought with me to wear was dresses, since that is the accepted thing for Karen women to wear. Wendy went and rummaged through some old suitcases that had been left here by other volunteers, and we found just the thing! Then, Andrew and I set off for town. The road going in is terribly rough, since it was washed out by the flooding a few weeks ago. Along the way are houses, chickens, and scrawny cows, naked children, hoards of motorbikes, bicycles and pedestrians. There are little shops along the way also. One might sell some gas in bottles for the motorbikes, or they might have coconuts, or other things. There is usually not a great variety at each shop. ( a shop is either just a cart, or a three sided shelter.) The traffic is really something! I have seen driving schools advertised here, and I am convinced that they are to teach people how to drive like maniacs! You can drive on the wrong side of the road, for instance, until you have a break in the traffic so that you can get over to your own side. If your horn does not work, you better not drive! So, we went to what they call the evening market. It is a bunch of stalls with everything imaginable to buy. It is very crowded and noisy, and incredibly dirty! People do not use trash cans there, so there is every imaginable kind of filth. We looked through all the things for sale, and then we go to someone and try to find out how much something costs. Andrew is pretty good at it, since he can speak quite a bit of Khmer. So, we find something we want, bargain for it, pay for it, and stuff it in Andrew’s backpack. Then, you go to the next stall, and do the whole process over again. Finding toilet paper was really challenging! It is not common here, to say the least. (it makes you not really want to shake people’s hands) The other interesting thing about the market is the professional beggars. They come right up to me and look really pathetic, and make all kinds of unintelligible sounds and try to get me to give them money. Since there are so many illegitimate beggars, it is better to give them food rather than money. But, the ones we met did not want food, just money! I learned my first Khmer word because of the beggars. Now when one of them comes up to me, I shake my head and look real sad and say “tday” in no uncertain terms! (tday means no) It took Andrew and I two shopping trips to find everything we needed just for breakfasts! Today we decided we are not going to town! It is much more quiet and peaceful here at the school.
The needs here in Cambodia are huge. There is so much need everywhere you look. But, after being here at the school for less than a week, I feel that the greatest need here is for teachers who will make a long term commitment, and that have very high standards. They also need to be people who are flexible, adventurous, and not afraid of creepy crawlies! (or at least able to accept the fact that the creepy crawlies live here , and sharing a house with them is a brave and sensible thing to do! Wendy says that I should think of them as friends….. FRIENDS??????) And, to round out the perfect teacher, they must be able to squat on the ground for long periods of time without keeling over. There are lots of people coming and going all the time, but in order to really reach the kids for the Lord, you have to be able to understand the language, and the culture. If there is a new teacher every few weeks, it is hard to get the continuity that is needed for the kids to be able to really learn. The second need that I have seen is the need for funding. Tim is trying to build this studio with very little money. Even in Cambodia, it takes a certain amount of money to accomplish things. But I am also seeing God provide for this school. Today Tim told us that the money came in for the roof of the studio! Roy will be engineering the trusses for it before we leave here. God is good.