I know we only have four more weeks here but I can hardly imagine leaving. I have my little kiddos, my language teachers, my favorite coffee mama and donut auntie.
One of the most striking things about biking/walking down the main drag of our village is the sheer variety of industries that our neighbors operate from their homes. Nearly every residence has some type of commercial component at its forefront: a tailor’s shop here, a barbershop there, snack, breakfast, donut, lunch, smoothie, or fried banana stops, and of course the run of the mill variety store where you can buy anything from packets of shampoo to Cellcard minutes to fresh-pressed sugarcane juice. Everyone does SOMEthing and no one is ever doing nothing. The line between storefront and personal home space is thin – you might have half the village in and out of your front porch or driveway on any given day. Take my host mom, for instance. She and her youngest daughter – the younger of my two older sisters – run a breakfast joint. They make just two dishes: 1) rice porridge and Khmer noodles with lotus blossom stems and choice of curry sauce and 2) fried Chinese noodles with peanuts and steamed green veggies. The latter is the bomb, my favorite meal in Cambodia thus far. Mai and bahng srey are pros at these two dishes and they sell until they run out for the morning. Having breakfast at home and chatting with the various villagers who come for mom’s noodles has been a wonderful way to get to know the community. As soon as I spread the word about my mom’s fabulous wares, the other PC Trainees swarmed like flies to honey. Now some mornings feel like a real breakfast party.
The front of our home is gated at night and it is where we sometimes gather as a family to decompress and chat with visiting neighbors or lounge with the kids. But during the day it is open for the village to breeze in and out, customers, friends, family. It is also where I get to witness my sweet littlest brother (technically nephew) get ready for school each morning. His sharp little uniform and his loving daddy fixing up his bike. It gets me every time.
The practicums for us Community Health Education trainees are coming hard and fast. This week we had two in total, the first of which was a lesson in lesson *planning* wherein we each chose a topic – anything at all, completely unrelated to Peace Corps if we so chose – and taught a fifteen minute lesson to a group of 4 to 5 other trainees. I learned how to identify a strangulation victim from Priya, whizzed through some Cuban history with Lian, had a refresher on “stage presence” from Amanda, and drooled over Kathleen’s on the Perfect Grilled Cheese. At least Kathleen gave us donuts. A good woman, for sure. I attempted to teach a bit of hand sewing for all of the various clothing damages we are experiencing. We were pressed for time but we a least went over the back stitch, the most universal of stitches, I would say.
Our second and most excellent practicum was with primary school students! The little guys and girls! We would be divided into groups again to teach about WSH – Water, Sanitation, Hygiene. We had a group dedicated to welcoming, rallying, and directing the kiddos. One group demonstrated proper hand-washing with soap while another did activities with baby powder and glitter to demonstrate the transmission of germs. A fourth group did a scary germ-drawing workshop and the last group (my group) sang the germ song and played germ games. If it sounds like my group got the greatest deal of all, then it sounds entirely accurate.
We played the Germ Game in which one line of kids act as the germs and stand with their backs to a second line of kids who are acting as the “healthy students.” The students ask, “Merok, maong pon mahn hahee?” (Germs, what time is it?) and the germs shout back a time, i.e. maong 5, maong 8, etc. The students take that many steps toward the germs. This repeats until the students are near the germs who surprise everyone by whipping around and shouting”Dal maong hayee!” (It is time!) and chasing the healthy students. If healthy students are touched by a germ, they become a germ as well. We were stunned with every new group that we were able to communicate the rules of the game without help from an instructor. We had an incredible morning playing the germ game for hours. At one point a break between classes resulted in an OCEAN of new kids joining in the fun which was chaotic but still a blast. These practicums are always stressful at the outset but reassuring by the end. They always have us thinking, Wow… I might just be able to pull this off.
What are the top 2 outcomes of this practicum, you ask? A) The Germ Game has become an institution at our home. A flock of kids await Christy and I at home most days after school and we play for as long as we can keep up and B) We manage to make hand-washing SO fun that a few of the youngin’s have even joined in when we wash up before dinner. I don’t care if it devolves into a kicking match 9 out of 10 times. Their hands are clean, damnit.
Despite the many things that could so easily drag us down, we have all found our various life-preservers, things to keep us each afloat. This past week, I survived on anticipation of volleyball after class on Friday and copious amounts of donuts. A few of us have started playing volleyball with the language instructors each Friday and it is hilarious and fun. These guys play so scrappy and its nice to see them relax a bit outside of the classroom setting. I lack any formal understanding of the true rules and still manage to feel like a warrior every time. It’s a really safe and fun space amid the constant unknown.
As for the DONUTS, these were my life’s blood for a few days. We all discovered them early in PST and have devoted our lives to seeking them out at every opportunity. Christy and I received a tip about a sweet older auntie who sold them on the roadside, so we resolved to stop there after lunch on our way back to class. We would each get just two, we said. They’re tiny, we said. And cheap, we said. As luck would have it, it began to downpour right as we propped up our bikes beside ohm srey’s (auntie’s) donut stand. She implored us to wait out the rain with her in the cozy dry little hut and we chatted with the sweet woman while the heat broke from the rain. We bought more donuts because obviously. She even tossed in a few for free. Our waistlines all heaved sighs of relief when auntie recently left for a few days to attend a wedding. These donuts, you guys… They are chewy, lightly sweet, full of a sesame bean paste. They are everything.
I know we only have four more weeks here but I can hardly imagine leaving. I have my little kiddos, my language teachers, my favorite coffee mama and donut auntie. I’m lapping up every moment and savoring my time here with the other trainees and my family before we scatter. It is important that we all be gentle with ourselves during this abrasive time. And you know what’s gentle? Donuts. Donuts are gentle.