April 30, 2010

Visak Bochea Holiday

It's easy to forget where you are. I don't mean getting lost and I don't mean to pose yet another existential thought on the world. Today, I remembered that I am in Cambodia. Indeed, every day I am the all-too-conspicuous blond girl struggling through traffic on a Chinese bike four sizes too small. And it's true that every day I find something less than desirable about the blast furnace heat or the redundancy of nightly stir-fry; but, in all of this, I sometimes lose the reality of life in a developing country.

Today was a public holiday, Buddha's birthday. No school and no meals prepared at the volunteer house meant a field trip. My Khmer teacher insisted that I visit Udong mountain, the one-time capital of Cambodia. Four other volunteers and I piled into a tuk tuk and cruised through the 25 kilometer drive. The defiant majesty of the pagodas and stupas atop Udong mountain drew many Khmer visitors on this important holiday. The reconstruction of the massive golden Buddha was the most interesting part for me. Refusing to be brought down by wartime bombings and the ruthless Pol Pot Regime, the golden Buddha shines once more.

Exhausted and desperate for sustenance, my only lunch option was fish on a stick. Not fish sticks, not even the usual gutted, head-chopped-off fish on a stick. This was as though the living fish had swum on to the grill and been frozen in time between two sticks. For a whopping 75 cents, I got to experiment with fish de-boning technique, gut a fried fish with filthy fingers, and then promptly shove bites of fish meat into my mouth with the same fingers used for the previous two activities. I couldn't bring myself to eat much of the head region, and instead I gave it to the little boys who had been standing hopefully next to us for ten minutes.

If that weren't Cambodia enough, my experience trying to play volleyball that evening at the Olympic Stadium surely was. The story begins with several volleyball-desiring volunteers wandering around the stadium grounds looking for the CWF director and interim volleyball coordinator. Apparently “near the entrance” has many shades of meaning. Anyway, there we were, shuffling through football pitches, dodging lap runners, and returning errant balls from many different courts. No volleyball in sight. After a few phone calls to clarify the directions, we ended up outside the stadium in an alley half a block down, wading through ankle deep garbage on top of muddy gravel (thank goodness for running shoes). The volleyball courts on the other side of the fence seemed a world away from our footpath through the slum. Naked, hungry children peered out of windows and people who were no longer children, but still hungry, watched with curious contempt as we hurried down the reeking trail of sludge.

It was like the pictures they show on commercials to inspire people to sponsor children. Especially in Phnom Penh, this extreme is usually covered up and reserved for the back streets where it is out of view. Today, it was in my view, and frankly, I really didn't like it. I was totally disgusted and uncomfortable. I am glad that I can go home to someplace that doesn't look like this.

April 26, 2010

A woman's place...

Leave it to my Khmer Teacher to offer a glimmer of hope for the advancement of Cambodian women. This morning she was a little Gloria Steinem at the whiteboard. In the middle of our discussion about things to do on the weekend, she remembered something she wanted to ask me about. Education and a Khmer proverb. As she doodled the letters on the whiteboard, she told me that I would probably have to ask Pheap because she wasn't sure how to explain it in English. I asked her to try to explain. She circled a group of characters in the middle of the phrase. “Kitchen,” she said. I recognized the Khmer symbols for "woman" and from my experience in Women's Studies, I predicted, Women should stay in the kitchen? Affirmative. She nodded vigorously and said, “Yes, that is the Khmer proverb. Especially in the province, women stop going to school because they have to take care of their families.”

It never fails to daunt me how different American and Khmer cultures seem, but how similar they can be. “We have the same proverb: a woman's place is in the kitchen.” I wrote it on the board beneath her's. The proverbs stacked next to each other, I pointed to the word kitchen. This is the part I don't like. She pointed to the circled part of her phrase, “I want to change this.” If destiny has a feeling, that was it.

What should it say? I asked. She wrote lender. I wrote lawyer. She listed several professions. We settled on “A woman's place is anywhere.” I wrote Houseman. She approved. We laughed. She said, “I want to know the reason why the men think like this way, and especially the older women don't want the daughters to go to school...” She pointed to the proverb, “I want to start a group about this.”

Dumbfounded, mega-inspired and feeling—for the first time—hopeful about the plight of women internationally, I left the school wondering what's next? How can I help? When did the soft-spoken, young woman with the bow in her ponytail become a feminist with a mind to change status quo?

April 24, 2010

G-L-A-M-O-R-O-U-S

There are some things you should do just because you can. Today I did one of those things: Khmer glamour shots. Drop a twenty dollar bill and you can spend an entire morning with a posse of women scurrying about, fussing over your hair, makeup and wardrobe while a cheeky photographer and a team of Photoshoppers click away to make you totally unrecognizable.

Giving up vanity has been rewarding for me in Cambodia. I've learned that I'm not so bad au natural, and I've saved a lot of time by eliminating all cosmetics and settling for pulled-back hair everyday. There are sometimes, however, that I miss that extra zing in my look. Today I got to play Khmer dress up, and I think it fully satisfied my inner girly-girl.

The make up artist had one shade of stage make-up foundation. For many Khmer women, the perfect pinkish-white skin tone is the most important element of this type of photograph. She smeared it onto my face. The “powder mitten” cemented the foundation into my suffocating pores. A perfect basecoat for the yellow-gold eyeshadow and massive tarantula-style eyelashes. As she put more than a dusting of blush on my cheekbones, I watched the tomboy in the mirror morph into a femme fatal, complete with fake hair and a golden crown.

The first outfit was a beige toned, bedazzled and cinched corset top with harvest gold Khmer traditional pantaloons. The pantaloons are deceiving because they begin simply as a long piece of silk. First you stand in the middle of the sheet, then someone helps you match up the ends and twist the fabric into a rope. The rope goes between your legs and tucks into the waistband to form pantaloons. They are wonderfully practical for a girl who never finds pants with enough leg room. Checking my reflection, I felt like an Apsara dancer, even though I could barely breathe. Thick gold jewelry was clamped around my ankles, wrist and neck. Final adjustments to my makeup and hair were completed by the tiny women who had to stand on chairs to reach my head. I took a seated pose, sitting fully upright (as you do in a corset made for people half your size). Channeling my inner Cambodian beauty queen, I smiled into the lens, hoping for a decent Facebook profile picture.

After the first round of photos, I switched outfits into a royal blue color that was my destiny in fabric hue. My friends kept saying Grace Kelly as the big crown with blue jewels was tucked into my hair. I felt like real royalty as I looked in the mirror at a woman with the sultry eyes and blinged-out crown. More matching jewelry and another round of photography, this time standing with more traditional poses. I felt good in the spotlight, pretending I was more important than just some foreigner paying for a good time.

I may never be Khmer, but I can have a good time being a tourist. I get to pick up the retouched photos next week!

April 23, 2010

One Uninspiring Lesson about Inspiration

The lesson was supposed to be about inspiration. Who inspires you? How do you inspire others? In the segment of the film we watched yesterday, Mandela asks the captain of the Rugby team how he inspires his team. They talk together about leading by example. Today I posed the question: Who inspires you? And the answers I received were more fitted to the question: Who tells you what to do? I half-expected this cultural difference, but I did not prepare to explain the difference between two. As I stood at the board, the words “Tell”, “Influence”, and “Inspire” written in all caps, I struggled to explain how inspire is somehow self-created, even though it comes from others. It was not well thought-out and the three students who had shown up for class frowned disapprovingly.

I put down the shovel and posed a new question: How do you lead by example? I told them about my time as captain of the swim team, arriving early, practicing hard and staying late. They approved and told me some experiences with siblings and classmates that illustrated their comprehension. I made a reference to Mandela's assertion that he was being paid too much and that he would donate 1/3 of his paychecks to charity to set an example of generosity. The two out of three students who had seen the movie nodded along. I asked them if government officials should be paid a lot of money, hoping to spark a conversation about responsibility. And at first, it went there. Yes, government officials need high salaries because they have important jobs with many responsibilities. Should they have big houses and nice cars? I asked, hoping to spur a discussion about limits and maybe tap into Marxian frustrations. Perhaps it is here that I went awry.

The student who had been obviously studying for an exam during the entire conversation said, yes, as long as it's not corruption money. I countered with a smile and, how do you know if it's corruption money? The conversation continued timidly for about 10 minutes. I was trying to ask them about how government officials lead by example, for better or for worse. I don't think my message was clear.

After class, the student who had been studying came up to me and said: I don't think you should talk about corruption because that other student is in the military. This I knew, but since we had talked about corruption during nearly every classtime prior to this one, I immediately went on the defense. If he is uncomfortable, he can say something. Mid-sentence, it occurred to me that perhaps this student was really saying freedom of speech isn't the same here. I took a verbal step back, oh, I shouldn't talk about corruption? The student nodded and left. My face flushed and panic swept my body. So many times we are cautioned about that topic. Even though I am certain that I said nothing specific about Cambodian government, the possibility that I offended students (or put them in a vulnerable place) made me want to hide in a dirty bathroom (which I did for about 30 seconds between classes).

The lesson was supposed to be about inspiration. Instead, it was a reminder that this is still Cambodia.

April 20, 2010

Mandela comes to Cambodia?

I never thought that I would come all the way to Cambodia to teach students about Nelson Mandela and Apartheid. But my advanced discussion class (hello, it's 6 AM) was hungry for some meatier discussions. Though I am desperately curious, I have been warned many times about not bringing up the Khmer Rouge regime. For many of my students, Pol Pot's Kampuchea was a world they lived in, or were born into. Even the youngest of my students still feel the effects of what happened in 1975—when Cambodia went back to year zero.

I asked them instead about apartheid, and I was not surprised that most of them knew nothing, not even where South Africa is geographically. But a few older students lit up when I began talking about Nelson Mandela. I admit that until I saw the movie Invictus, I hadn't given apartheid much thought. I bought the movie in the Russian Market because I thought I could use it to talk about sports and leisure time in my lower levels. Sound the buzzer, I was totally wrong. The movie is indeed about the South African Rugby team, but when it finished, I didn't find myself thinking about how big sport matches can unify nations; instead, I found myself in deep thought about Mandela's universal appeal as a leader, and as a symbol of audacity and forgiveness human beings are capable of. In the film, Mandela gives the rugby captain a copy of the poem that he carried with him at Robben Island. As the film's namesake poem and the backbone of the story, this poem is the bridge between South Africa and Cambodia. In the fell clutch of circumstance/I have not winced nor cried aloud./Under the bludgeonings of chance/My head is bloody, but unbowed. The Khmer Rouge regime battered Cambodia, but they could not break the spirit of the Khmer people. The resiliency of this country and the respect that the Khmer people have for tradition is a nod to the strength of character built by adversity.

This morning, as I said, “Even when the laws change, it takes a long time for the minds of the people to do the same,” I got chills. I realized the incredible opportunity (and responsibility!) that I have as a short-term teacher. Especially for my advanced discussion (though don't sell my level 4's short, they will definitely be able to pronounce s and sh perfectly by the end of this), I am a window to the world that Cambodia often keeps shut. I can't tell if Cambodia wants to be isolated or if they just don't have the means to really connect with the rest of the world. I guess that's a common dilemma in developing countries. If we lower the cost of better education or the internet, anyone could use it. If we connect to the world, we might not have as tight of control of our people.

Critical thinking (that very, very 1980s term) is not a learning skill in this country. More commonly, students copy information from the blackboard, sit silently in the classroom and they might even have to pay the teacher to get a passing grade. The other volunteers and I have discovered that it is frustrating to ask students how and why questions only to look out on a sea of downcast eyes. In western cultures, these types of questions are taken for granted. We are allowed to ask and answer these questions without fear. They never tell you this stuff before you become a language teacher.

I love to see students learn, and to see them think gives me a feeling of true accomplishment. In a place like Cambodia, the growth of the nation depends on a new generation of thinkers. With such a violent past still in the rear view mirror, a new generation must have the courage to navigate the course. This is the part of the poem that really floors me: It matters not how strait the gate,/How charged with punishments the scroll,/I am the master of my fate:/I am the captain of my soul.


I can see the headlines now: Matt Damon flick inspires young volunteer to show movie in class and write another blog about humanity and poems. Whoopdy-do.

April 18, 2010

Catching up with myself

This morning I finally caught up with myself. I carefully unloaded my backpack of stank laundry into the shoddy washing machine, impressed at the small dust cloud that puffed off my clothes. The brilliant red dirt in Mondulkiri left nothing untouched. As I scrubbed and rinsed my once white tennis shoes, I realized how dirty they had become on our treks through the jungle, on the backs of elephants, and through the town. Even after the washer, my clothes came out orange-tinted and stiff with grime. I've decided that most of the clothes I brought here will have a final resting place in Cambodia. Between the sweat, sun, and questionable washing machine, most of my clothes are one adventure away from being rags.

Still processing the Mondulkiri trip, I am happy to have vivid memories and a journal full of thoughts. When I opened my camera on day one of our trip, I realized that somehow the lens had been open since I packed the camera, draining out all my battery. Though I'll never leave home without my charger again, I will admit that not taking pictures with a camera helped me enjoy the views for their own sake. Pictures don't usually do justice to beautiful views anyway. My true regret was not bringing a sketch book—something I will do on all subsequent trips. The box of Mondulkiri coffee is my only souvenir, but the pile of orange laundry and my war zone feet are proof that I emerged from Khmer New Year a little more experienced than before. Pictures or not, I'll never forget the week in Mondulkiri.

Dirty Dancing 3: Mondulkiri

After the foot trek and being rocked by Randy, we took Wednesday off as a reading day. Happy to read, write and stare at the big sky views, I savored the day to rest my weary body. That evening, Cambodia struck back. The staff at Nature lodge brought in big speakers to have a small party, but before anything could get off the ground, the electricity cut. There we were, in the restaurant, in the dark, wondering what to do next.

Smartly, we went to bed, but not without first trying out a shower in the pitch black. I had a tiny flashlight that seemed to make everything scarier, so I gave up on it.

The fourth day, ready for more adventure, we walked into town with some very adventurous volunteers who planned to rent motorbikes and ride to a nearby coffee plantation. How could I say no?

Nervous, Francine and I saddled up on Pat's moto (he's the only person in Mondulkiri bigger than I am, so I felt safer on his bike). Once we got going, it was a fun ride to the plantation. Covered in red dirt, we ordered iced coffees and sat in the shade, surrounded by coffee trees. It was wonderful to sit there and chat while a familiar breeze whipped the dust up the road.

By some miracle, we didn't die on the way back to the Nature Lodge, though when we all fell off the bike, I did see a portion of my life flash by. Unscathed minus a few engine burns, we washed up for dinner and a party.

Nature Lodge co-owner turned DJ, Mr. Sokha, put on the electronica early to make up for the previous night's power cuts. Beer was flowing (buy 2 get one free), and guests were out on the dance floor. Sokha challenged Francine and I to bar dance for a free beer, and we didn't disappoint. I must say it was a bit ironic to come all the way to rural Cambodia to dance on a bar during Khmer New Year, but the atmosphere was perfect. The celebration continued until late, with Khmer staff and western guests mingling, dancing, and bringing in the new year.

With sore feet and a need for one last adventure, Francine and I headed into town for our last day in Mondulkiri. We found the meat we had been missing in our meals at a small Khmer restaurant (two plates of pork curries, please!). Our walk continued through town for an iced coffee and up the hill to the Pagoda. That pagoda is one of the coolest I've seen. Besides the awesome views from the hill, the vibrant paintings inside the pagoda were worth the walk. After the temple, we tried a shortcut that backfired wonderfully into a massive exploration of the town in full sun. I could sum up Mondulkiri in a few visualizations: my dirty red-orange shoes, some blisters, delicious pancakes, and giant skies. I can't remember the last time I did so much walking in such a beautiful place.

My first and second jungle adventures

I spent the Khmer New Year holiday in Mondulkiri province. With night skies so clear you can practically see the answers to life's questions, Mondulkiri is a sanctuary for weary souls and a countryside oasis for Phnom Penhers.

Many other volunteers decided to journey to Mondulkiri, but my core group of like-minded and similarly-scheduled friends (David and Francine) stuck together. It was nice to have a smaller group of people to organize. We stayed at the Nature Lodge (nice pick, David!), a cluster of huts on the outskirts of Sen Monorom town. I've never been anywhere comparable to this place. Even though it's in the middle of rural Cambodia, it has all the comforts of home, plus more adventure and whimsy than any place I've lived. Francine and I split a $10/night hut that gave us just enough outdoorsy feelingwith the right balance of security. The wooden building had a cozy bed, porch with hammock and attached bathroom. My favorite part was the bathroom because I could look at the stars while I was shampooing.

Despite our plan to take the first day easy, we ended up on a foot trek to the K'bal Preah waterfall. The first hour felt good, invigorating even, but as the sun climbed higher, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. We followed red dirt roads, we stumbled through tall grass, we scurried over the ash of slashed and burned fields, and then we entered the forest. This wasn't get-out-your-machete rain forest, but it was certainly a hot sticky jungle-type forest with loose soil and tree roots doing their best to topple me.

With legs of jelly, we descended deeper into the forest, following our flip-flop wearing guide to the sound of water. I didn't mind that this one was small by waterfall-viewing standards—I was just happy to finally sit down after such an intense walk. We devoured our small fried rice lunches and rationed our dwindling water, unsure how long the afternoon return trip would take. It took much coaxing, but Francine and I eventually joined the others for a swim in the catch pool. As I scooted reluctantly across the hairy, slimy rocks to the deep water, something changed. I felt the high of adventure instead of the fear of the unknown. Sounds corny, but given my distaste for all standing bodies of water not filled with chlorine, I consider it a big step forward.

Speaking of steps forward, the trek back was a hot mess of steps. Some of our crew trekked on as though it weren't 100 degrees with full sun, but I lagged behind, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. My usual foot problems were negated by the ripping blisters that come from six hours of trekking on uneven ground. The strange forest party we came upon seemed more a hallucination than an experience, but after I threw back a (very dirty) cup of alcohol at the insistence of the locals, I realized that I was in the middle of nowhere with people who didn't speak my language, sharing a moment of celebration. Only after we finished the trek did I ponder the diseases I was going to get from the dirty liquor. So far, so good.

Back at the lodge, we found ourselves coated in red clay dust. My once white shoes were orange, and my khaki pants were all sorts of jungle colors. It was satisfying to see the dirt as evidence of our work.

To further punish our bodies, the second day was an elephant trek. For just twenty-five dollars, you can hoist yourself into a tiny wooden basket atop a wild elephant for the entire day. It sounds pretty adventuresome, or at least touristy, but the best word to describe it is simply painful. Butt on the wooden board seat, legs stuffed into the basket that wasn't wide enough for size eleven flippers, I held on for dear life as Francine assembled herself on the other side of the basket. The two hour trek to a waterfall even smaller than the day before was a miraculous act of contortionism for the two of us. With each step, I felt less blood flowing between my legs and my body, not to mention the growing pain in my knees. With only a few options for sitting position, Francine and I had to re-situate every few minutes to keep blood circulating properly. My newly achieved appreciation of adventure helped me climb off the elephant with as much grace as a giant lady with no experience de-elephanting can have.

We had a pre-lunch swim and a long post-lunch wait for the elephants to be re-herded for our riding pleasure. Apparently there are rules about how many hours a day these elephants can be held captive, so they get a long lunch in between trips to and fro. Francine and I named our elephant “Randy” because of his affectionate behavior, but we appreciated his discretion when the other elephants were misbehaving in the forest. It's humbling to be at the mercy of an animal that much bigger than yourself.

Randy got us home safely, but not without lots of uncomfortable basket-perching. Bow-legged and nearly broken, we slumped into booths for a well-deserved dinner.

April 10, 2010

Khmer New Year: Staff Party

The best thing about my work with CWF is how much I get to learn. Today marked the halfway point of the semester (gasp!) and the beginning of the Khmer New Year holiday. I had each student draw me a scene from his or her Khmer New Year celebration. As usual, they were shy, but the pictures were incredible. They drew the traditional games that children and adults play. They drew Pagodas and temples and monks and Buddhas. They drew families and people and themselves enjoying the festivities. Some even drew Thevada, the goddess figure who changes every year. Typical of the culture and religion, nearly all students sketched a table of offerings for the gods, and they drew people taking alms to the pagoda for the monks.

Through the pictures, we were able to have interesting conversations about the traditions and the events of the holiday. I didn't know that Khmer people don't celebrate birthdays the way we do. Instead, during Khmer New Year, everyone adds one year to his age. It's like birthday, en mass.

All day, the CWF staff had been running around the volunteer house to prepare for our staff party. It was fun to see the receptionists and the security guys preparing food and moving tables. The party itself began after our evening classes. We ate fresh spring rolls, curry and fruit. A royal feast. Then we moved on to Coke, wacky Fanta, and beer.

The fun really began once we started playing Khmer games, like the Khmer version of PiƱata. The rules are the same, but instead of a paper mache donkey full of candy, it is a terra cotta pot full of baby powder. Imagine swinging a bamboo rod at such a pot—yes, shrapnel. I did pretty well on my turn. Not only did I bust the pot and get covered in powder, but I also managed to avoid getting hit with the large chunks of falling pot.

After surviving the games unscathed, the dancing portion of the evening was great fun. Khmer dancing is very complicated, but the CWF staff love to give lessons. Pheap is especially fond of dancing, and it's fun to watch her. For as much as they have been through (and as much as they do on a daily basis), the Cambodians know how to party. Even when the Khmer version of Akon's "Right Now" comes on, they dance like there's no tomorrow (blissfully unaware of the adulterous lyrics).


I look forward to experiencing more of Khmer New Year this week. I'm headed northeast, to Mondulkiri province. Hopefully the "Alaska" of Cambodia will be the break from city life that I am seeking!

Susadei ch'nam Thmei! (Happy New Year))


April 9, 2010

Happy

Today I finally got the package my mom sent. On the moto ride home from the Post Office, drive-by parcelnappers stood no chance to pry it out of my steely grip. The hour's trip across town was worth it: I've never eaten such delicious Twisler's, nor read such a great fashion magazine. And the fun pack of hair ties is now the most fashionable element of my wardrobe. As I handed out pieces of licorice to the CWF staff and neighborhood kids (and as they tried to nab the bag out of my hands), I felt so happy to share part of my present.


Thanks Mom!

April 7, 2010

Nebraska: my late night poetry session

Nebraska

I desire but a simple life
something to engage in
A family and a job
A house and a car

The nomadic existence
leaves me wandering
searching
for exactly what I've left behind

Let me trade in my suitcase
for the keys to my castle
views of the great big sky
The windchimes playing

The long and biting winters
contrast brutal summer heat
Thunderstorms on the horizon
The first winds of autumn.

In a strange reversal of mind
Suddenly it's the place
I couldn't wait to leave
that is the only place I wish to be

April 6, 2010

Best Khmer Lesson Yet!

Bong Srey. In Khmer that means "older sister". Although I was uncomfortable with this title at first, with my Khmer teacher, I realize how lucky I am to have a sister (of sorts) here. She is the P'own Srey, younger sister, I never had. This morning she took us out for breakfast (just like I did a few weeks ago). We drank iced coffee with sweet milk and ate pork on rice. I even ordered my food in Khmer--that's a fruitful way to practice any language!

We talked about our families over breakfast, and we laughed about the why English makes you ride a bike, you can either ride or drive a moto, but you must drive a car. As we slurped out the last of the sweet coffee from our glasses, I felt like the luckiest Bong Srey in the world. Even if I don't learn all the Khmer vowels, I get to spend time chatting and laughing with my Khmer sister, and that's what matters (plus, who can remember 20 vowels!?).

April 5, 2010

Rabbit Island on Easter

The pile of Kleenex and throat lozenges next to my bed is the surest sign of a good weekend. Instead my usual approach to the weekend (prepare for the coming week), I went along on a random trip to Rabbit Island, just south of Kep, Cambodia. Some of the volunteers have a strong urge to travel on the weekend, and I decided to try out this ambitious lifestyle.

Instead of the bus, which is far too scheduled for our group, we hired two taxis. At $40 one-way for each Toyota Camry, splitting the cost between 12 volunteers was very economical. Economical, but about as comfortable as water-boarding. In a lapse of judgment, the German guy (the only other person over six feet) and I were in the front together. It was human tetras to finagle all of our limbs into that seat. He ended up slumped forward, resting his arms and head on the dash. I used his back as a pillow, and I did my best not to knock the gear shift with my butt (though I did once—thankfully into 3rd).

Three hours later we arrived in Kep, shook out our asleep body parts, ate breakfast and boarded the boat for Rabbit island. Rabbit Island is one of the undiscovered gems of Cambodia. Still relatively undeveloped, the small and stunning beach area has bungalow huts for visitors to overnight in. A few restaurants serve up the usual beach fair, plus Angkor beer and fruit shakes.

Quiet beach, minimal activity, lots of food—I was happy. The little bloody wounds from the sea urchins made me rethink the sea volleyball game, but did not deter me from lingering in the hammock, journal at the ready.

I felt very indigenous sleeping in the little hut with no fan, watching the uber-geckos scatter in the moonlight. What a strange place for a high-maintenance girl like me. After breakfast (pancakes with lime and sugar), Christie and I took the swim of a lifetime. I wonder what's around the corner, she said, pointing at the far-off edge of the island.

A half-hour swim later, it was a surreal scene. On the other side, it was a deserted island (except for the monks who were on holiday). Palm trees galore, wild animal noises, plants, rocks, clear ocean, hot sun. Is this really happening? Christie and I were both thinking aloud.

Thankfully, it was. We were floating there, watching Rabbit Island on Easter Sunday. Our huts were no longer in sight, and there we were, drifting out to sea, drifting away from reality.

Later, we took the boat back to Kep, ate Kampot Pepper fried squid and repacked into our 1987 Camry. My nose was runny and I felt that feeling of an impending cold. By the time we got back to Phnom Penh, I was certain that I had caught cold from the first car ride. Even though I'm guzzling honey and lemon water today, Rabbit Island was worth it.

April 2, 2010

No, it's not an April Fool--Lady Gaga as a teaching tool.

As a supplement yesterday's lesson about cellular telephone vocabulary, I brought music into the classroom. Lady Gaga's duet with Beyonce, called “Telephone”, tells the epic story of having a night out with friends ruined by a needy boyfriend's cell phone habits. With countless references to our vocabulary words set to a bumping beat, the song gave us context for talking about telephones.

The tiny speakers (from the Russian Market--where else?) connected to my ipod literally “brought the noise” for my class. We listened to the song a few times, read the lyrics and I even made them illustrate the scene. My students really hate it when I make them draw, but they all drew something today, even if it was only a disco ball. I liked listening to them describe their drawing to the class. This is Lady Gaga and Beyonce. They are at the club, drinking champagne and dancing. The man is calling. Lady Gaga is getting a text. She is annoyed.

A successful lesson. Thanks, Gaga.

By the way, my students are definitely prepared for any conversation involving "sippin' that bub" or "blowin' up my phone".