Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pic {Foods of Cambodia}

Cambodia offers many wonderful flavors we've never had before. It was like a party in my mouth everyday. The cuisines and exotic fruits there were an explorative experience itself. Below are some of the foods we had that were delicious.
From left to right and row by row:

  1. pickled fruit, not sure what the English name is
  2. rice, grilled pork, pickled veggies on the side
  3. jack fruit
  4. rice, fried pork, pickled veggies on the side, 
  5. grilled frog, actually really good
  6. spring roll
  7. dragon fruit, kind of tasteless surprisingly
  8. lok lak, stir-fried beef, fresh veggies, on a bed of fries and rice
  9. rambutan. yum!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Building Houses in Cambodia

We had a wonderful opportunity to work with a local NGO called, Tabitha, to build houses in the Battambang province.  What happens is the local people are educated on microsavings and then they work with the organization to set a goal and implementation plans to reach a certain amount to invest in livestock (to raise and sell), homes, etc.  When they reach $50, they are able to pay for the materials for their homes (if they choose this route).  Then, volunteers build the houses for them.

FYIW: I was carried up a wooden ladder to each of the houses and then got to do the real work. It was a lot of nails and hammering in the hot sun, but it was so much fun.  I was hot and sweaty the whole time, but it was worth every minute of it to see the smiles and grateful expressions on their faces.  Our team built 10 homes in a day.  It was very efficient and awesome.  

This was such refreshing work.  It gave me an opportunity to reflect on how life experience differs from person to person.  I'm amazed by the fight people have in them to get through hard trials.  I've never experienced extreme poverty, but have had some glimpses of them when I was younger. However, my experiences can never compare to that of these people.  They go through hardship everyday.  I admire them so much for the smiles they have on their faces when they come home at the end. They know there are many good things life has to offer and they live and appreciate those moments.  I'm so glad to be a part of this work and couldn't have been more proud of these people I don't even know for their hard work.  Now, it's paying off...

Check out the Tabitha website if you're interested in volunteering in Cambodia for a week or two. 

And then, I got sick and had to go to the hospital.  FYI: Cambodia will not treat you unless they can confirm you have means of paying for their services.  I had to wait several hours before they cleared it with my insurance and finally helped me.  It was an infection, thank goodness it wasn't anything more serious like Dengue.  Just be as clean as you possibly can be and drink lots of fluids!!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

English Teaching with in Cambodia

I heard about another organization, Pro Labor Dei (a Christian NGO out of Nigeria) that teaches English to children living in the slums.  I was swept away with the idea that I could use a skill that I know like the back of my hand--basic English grammar and rules--to help other people, so I enlisted.  I figured it was possible to put in a few hours a day to share my knowledge. No prob.

When I got to the school, I was expecting a lesson book with tons of activities all planned out and all I would have to do was teach it. Well, it turns out that things work a little different in this English schools and I would have to develop lesson plans as I go. That presented a bit of a road block, but it was manageable when my sister and I put our heads together and planned out how we would attack this. I really want to stay away from the regurgitation technique used in schools here, which would hopefully generate more questions and help them put what they are learning into practice.  That is why I planned for the older class to converse with me and their peers during class each day (yes...just like high school clase de EspaƱol) as well as formulate sentences with new vocab words each day.  I think it's been effective so far as we're beginning to see progression in their conversation.  Also, helping them with their pronunciation has increased their confidence in their speaking abilities, so they're conversing more in English now.  We laugh a lot and all have a great time. They all want to learn and are so respectful. I'm so grateful for that because it just keeps me going to know that I am providing meaningful service to them. 
The children classes are coming along. We are working on simple things like ABC's, numbers, days of the week, vocabulary, basic sentences, etc. We have to keep on experimenting and seeing what works with them. It's a bit hectic in the little classes because there are so many of them and they demand a lot of attention. Some of them are pretty wild and we had to be the mean ones and put them on time out. They were so stunned because they had never had this kind of discipline before. My sister and I had to try really hard not to laugh. Here are my cute little ones.

This was also a great opportunity for me to hopefully eliminate the stigma Cambodians have towards those with disabilities.  I hope they see that my brain functions even though my legs don't.  I can see the respect they have for me as their teacher, and I hope this carries over to others with disabilities as well.  I hope they remember me. I also really hope they are getting a lot from what they are learning and will continue it throughout their lives. I know with a surety that these skills will keep them well if they keep it up. I hope I can convey my conviction of this fact through my teaching and I know hope that they know how much I care about them and what they're learning. I believe they are intelligent and will succeed if they continue to work hard.

If you would like to volunteer with this organization, please please let me know and I will get you in contact with the director, Yvonne.  She is a very kind lady and really believed in my abilities to pass on my knowledge to her students.  She was also so very accommodating to my disability.  This slum school is actually run in a two story house.  I stayed on the first floor to teach my classes.  There are many ways to make what you really want work for you. Always keeps trying.

Monday, June 7, 2010

My visit to the Angkor Wat

Growing up, I saw tons of photos and paintings of the Angkor Wat and heard stories of it from my parents, but I never realized how significant it was until I was studying about its role in Cambodian history. I read that it is the biggest religious complex on the face of the earth, right here in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It is a symbol of the once powerful Ancient Khmer civilization that ruled much of Southeast Asia long ago. This temple was built secretly by men of the Suryavarman II era in the 12th century (people were killed to keep it quiet. talk about risqueee).  This temple was built for the Hindu god, Vishnu, but was turned into a Buddhist temple as majority of the country converted to Buddhism over the years, and was used by the Khmer Rouge as storage space (can you believe that?) at one point during their reign. I was so excited to go see this crazy place in person.

I was so fascinating to explore the structure of this palace full of symbolic inscriptions and carvings. There were lots of the alphabet characters mixed in with ancient stuff that I wished I could understand more of. It felt so surreal to be there in person. I felt serenity as I lit up incense and prayed. I thought of the ancient of this place, all the people who have passed through over time, the routine, the chaos and its abandonment. It's been through a lot. I was so glad that I read up on the history about the temples before hand because I appreciated it that much more. 

There were so many steps and cracks.  Most of it has been and continues to be refurbished because of natural damage from being abandoned for many years after the great Angkor era as well as during the Khmer Rouge.

I loved seeing how the monks keep the place alive with their bright orange and red robes. I also kind of started to get used to the sound of cicadas. It reminds me of the chants I heard from monks in my childhood (odd, I know). With each new findings of different stories, sculptures, inscriptions, and intricate craftsmanship, I felt a sense of pride that something like this was built for the posterity of the people, which and I'm one of those posterity. It doesn't get better than knowing your ancestors thought of you and created something this magnificent for you.
AJ... my knight in shining armor.  He is the one because of many reasons.  But one of the many reasons he is so is because he is so willing to carry me everywhere just so that I wouldn't miss out on anything.  He always thinks about me, and how he could help me. I'm so thankful to have him!

This complex was definitely not made for wheelchairs. The broken rocks made it difficult to get around in the wheelchair. Eventually, AJ and my friends took turns carrying me on their backs through the hot, hot sun, and carrying my chair.  We risked falling by going up and down the steep, unstable rock steps.  The whole place is made of blocked rocks, which means lots of cracks for your wheelchair to get stuck in.  For the most part, wheelchairs are safe from those cracks but I suggest off-road tires, which I wish I had. Part way through, I had my friends from the group push my chair and finally just park it somewhere we could locate later. It was really tricky navigating the place in my wheelchair, but it was so worth it to see one of the ancient wonders of the world!

We got to see the sun set and my, it was a beautiful sunset.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ancient Ruins in Cambodia

One of the most tiring trips we have gone on so far is Phnom Tha Kmouv, where an ancient temple even older than the famous Angkor Wat lies. To get there, approximately 400 uneven, rustic steps (made for tiny feet) lie in our path to ascend to the ancient temple ruins. Through thousands of beads of sweat and tears, AJ and Ash took turns giving me piggy backs and we made it up (I seriously have the most dedicated friends ever). To make matters worse, it rained along the way, meaning slippery steps up tiny uneven steps. Talk about a dangerous mission. With carefulness and tons of faith, we made it to the top. It was amazing how these friends of mine were willing to sacrifice for me, just so I wouldn't miss out on anything other people got to see. I literally couldn't have done it without them. My arms were sore by the end, but that's nothing compared what they had just been through for me. That alone was a worthwhile adventure. 

At the top, lo and behold was the ancient temple with tons of ruins, remnants of life in the past. We found that there were still monks living in that area. I'm not sure exactly which building they lived in but I suppose it's a quaint place. We caught a glimpse of them marking on in a line along the side of the hill in their bright orange robes, meaning they're younger in rank. We found a pond filled with lily pads and water lilies. I've only seen them in picture and thought them to be extremely soft and beautiful. We found a mini shrine in that spot and then went on to the bigger shrine, like major big. We saw a huge, elongated, resting Buddha statue (You couldn't miss it). There were locals burning incense and going about their daily prayer rituals. It was amazing to see how people are still dedicated to Buddhism today, at all levels of devotion.  There were people who "read" our fortunes by the cards you chose, for a small fee of course. It was all open to interpretations like many things.
Mine was a story of a man who reaches his destination (But this was only the second try).  The first fortune was one of failure, so they interpreted it as me taking a few wrong turns before reaching my goal. 

After, we headed to a zoo located nearby the temple. Along the way, there were beggars of all ages waiting for vans like ours to drive by. People held their hands together in front of them to ask for money. I felt so much pity for them and gave out a few dollars, but I wasn't sure if that was the "right" thing to do. It's a debate I still have within in me of whether or not panhandling will help out those doing it. What do you think?

We saw some pretty cool animals.  We saw bears who love, love, love green coconuts.  So we purchased some to feed them, although there were signs prohibiting it.  The funny thing about this caution was that there were children following us to sell them.  Supply and demand? We also fed monkeys who were so comfortable with tourist that they would come grab rice out of our hands.

We heard these really loud monkeys screeching.  It really hurt our ears to listen to them! They were swinging from branch to branch all throughout their cages. I think someone in our group upset one of them because he was mooning and sticking his tongue out at us. Mischievous little bugger.
There were other cool animals too like lions, tigers, bears and elephants.  My favorite was the elephant, Lucky (seems like all of them are named Lucky, even the one in Phnom Penh).  He did the macarena and played kickball for us. It's obvious he's a very a talented young elephant. 

What a great day because everyone had a positive attitude. Awesome!