“How great is the part in each of us that came here to discover whether or not we could do this? How great then is the part which came because we already knew that we could?”
Dust. Vermillion. Exhaust. Resplendent. Luscious.
Cambodia week one was a kaleidoscope of sensations. The low green landscape seems scarcely real and the clouds seem impossibly gargantuan. The ceiling of the world is a quite a bit higher here. We’ve all been slowly taking in everything that we can about our village during our bike rides too and from school. For the first time in my life, I nearly resent my eyes for all they cannot see at once. The smiling families greeting us from their roadside businesses, the gaggles of tiny kids grinning from their motorbikes, the scattered cattle and burgeoning flora. Between the new community and the intensity of classes, the information overload from sun-up to sun-down has caused me to frequently wake in the night and have to forcibly re-orient myself: first on the globe, then in the home, and finally my bed.
This family is raising us right! Sharing their best practices in hand-hygeine and how to scrub the bike grease out of your skirt. Not to mention their food. I haven’t eaten a single thing here that hasn’t given me the feels… It may just be the ubiquitous MSG, but I’m fully alright with that. Most meals consist of rice (gasp) and an assortment of adorning dishes such as cooked veggies, small cuts of meat, and a tureen of homemade fish sauce. Oh, and duck eggs. I both relish in and shudder at the thought of the number of duck eggs I have eaten in the past week. Unbelievably tender and rich. After spending the week pouring adoration over our family meals, my second older sister (bahng srei Tan) finally invited me into the kitchen to cook with her on Sunday. I tucked my ServeSafe food safety certification in a distant corner of my mind and got to work. We scaled fish in the broad daylight and hacked up mystery veggies and herbs to be cooked over giant, free-standing gas burners in the company of two million flies. The resulting meal was the most triumphant of my life. Bahng srei was so proud. I don’t have many pictures to share of my family yet; we are still getting to know each other and I want to respect their space as human beings rather than photo-fodder, beautiful though they may be. Below is a glimpse of the lo kawsoo (“jump rubberband”) session I had with my niece and nephews on our one free weekend day.
Besides, what time would I have to snap photos anyway! Our classes stretch from Monday through Saturday, about 8-5:30ish with a break in the middle of the day to bike home for lunch with our families. The classes are about 50% technical training (specific to working in the Cambodian health care system) and 50% language. If I’m not in class, I am biking/walking too and from school, sweating, playing with the kids, sweating, navigating the market near school, sweating, scrubbing laundry, or honestly just using the toilet, while sweating. The toilet situation is a true project, every single time. That’s right folks, no toilet paper here. It’s all about soap and huge cisterns of water to splash yourself “clean” after the deed is done. There is no shame in walking around a little damp. Everyone is damp. Constantly.
The language is coming along. Khmer (“K-m’eye”) is both straightforward and convoluted all at once. Given that I adore my language group and our Language and Culture Facilitator (LCF) is a legend among LCFs, even the longest of days are peppered with belly-aching laughter and encouraging triumphs of language comprehension. There are dozens of ways just to say “you,” that is, to address another person, all of which depend upon their age, status, relation to you, occupation, etc. I assume the weather and astrological activity will soon come into play as well. It’s a challenge, but to speak Khmer at home and thrive on the successful exchanges with family is without a doubt the most rewarding academic endeavor of my life. I’ll never forget when I understood that my bahng srei (old sister) reasoned that my headache was due to learning way too much at school for one day. That was a good laugh over dinner.
Peace Corps staff wasn’t kidding. PST is an ass-kicking. It has me looking around at my fellow trainees – all so incredibly strong and curious – and wondering what drives us all to endure the intensity. How great is the part in each of us that came here to discover whether or not we could do this? How great then is the part which came because we already knew that we could? For me it has been the small victories through which Cambodia has begun to weave its way into my heart. My mother proudly introducing me to neighbors. My friend Paul’s mother remembering how I enjoy my coffee in the morning (at s’kaw, at tuk ko!… hot without sugar or milk). My older sister sitting so patiently with me to teach me the names of common fruits and veggies. My nieces and nephews awaiting me with their jumping rubberband and volleyball after school. Successfully navigating the market and purchasing a chamber pot. Huge leaps, you guys.
More to come. Hopefully with more photos as I become even more familiar within the community and welcomed to snap pictures here and there. I hope the following shot of my host brother-in-law admiring his cattle at dawn will suffice for now.