January 13, 2010

Blisters, Karma, and Wyclef Jean

The blisters and bug bites on my feet are proof that I walked home from school today. Nursing the wounds and munching the hottest ever wasabi peas (with a thorough handwashing between), I watch Khmer TV in my air-con room. Walking is an art in Phnom Penh. The sidewalks are usually too crowed—ironically, with parked cars and motos—so instead, you walk against traffic in hopes that you will see your assailant before you are roadkill. I tried to walk to school, but I only made it to the big roundabout intersection, eyed the swarming ant farm of traffic and hailed a moto to take me the rest of the way. On the way home, I avoided that intersection and had a relatively pleasant walk to the guest house to change shoes. Then, I walked to a western-style cafe called Jars of Clay. The air-con space was perfect for a light lunch (smoothie, croissant) and a heavy-duty study session. No one ever said that learning Khmer consonants was easy.

An entire pot of tea later, I was ready to venture into the touristy part of town to stop at the post office and stroll the touristy main-drag. Okay, “stroll” is a stretch. I shuffled through a mob of tuk tuk and moto drivers for five blocks. That's the downfall of the tourist area. Drivers know that they can make money off of westerners, and westerners congregate in this part of town.

Bewildered, sweating and wishing I had different shoes, I gave in to a tuk tuk driver with particularly good English. On the drive home, a sign announcing “Asian Driving School” made me laugh. I had to stop at the ATM (scariest thing I've done yet) near the Russian Market. I never like to have a lot of bills in my wallet, and for a few minutes, I had enough money for the average Khmer to live on for a year dangling from my shoulder.

Money safely tucked away at the guest house, I'm starting to accept Phnom Penh as my place of residence for the next several months.

The director of CWF sent me an e-mail today that helped remind me of my purpose here. At the end of the list of things that he would like me to help with before my semester starts, he wrote, “Thank you for doing something to help Cambodia.” It's pretty simple, but it made me feel like I was really contributing.

By the way, the TV in my guest house gets CNN, and I was watching the coverage of the massive earthquake in Haiti this morning. Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, will need incredible international support, and I encourage everyone to donate even a small amount to help.

Check out Wyclef Jean's website Yele.org to make a donation.

I think it's a karma thing--never miss an opportunity to improve it.