Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cambodia Part 1

I scrunched my nose and closed my eyes.

“And that’s your first experience with burning trash,” Sam said as we were riding back to the hotel. Sam, the United Planet country coordinator, had just met me at the airport and we were in the tuk-tuk on our way back to the hotel. For the millionth time over the past several hours I asked myself, what am I doing here?

I had been anticipating my trip to Cambodia for months. I was going to be doing some volunteer work, organized by the non-profit United Planet. I thought that I was just going to be volunteering at an orphanage and teaching at an English school, but I was in for so much more!!!

I should start by saying that it takes a really long time to get to Asia. It turns out that the Pacific Ocean is really big. The biggest consolation is that no matter how far you are going, you get fed on international flights. Even during a 45 minute quick flight, you get a sandwich! And the food is good. I have found that if you get a vegetarian meal (or another special meal, such as low calorie) you get your food first. My only complaint is that when you get the vegetarian meal they assume that you are super healthy and you get extra fruit instead of a cookie or piece of cake for dessert.

Back to the tuk-tuk ride. It took about 20 minutes to get to the guesthouse that I would call home for the next 10 days. It was beautiful and the staff was so friendly! I did notice that there was no air conditioning in the lobby, but the rooms had it, so I was very thankful for that. After my orientation, I tried to take a quick nap, but overslept and almost missed meeting Erin (another volunteer) and Sam for dinner that night! We had dinner at a restaurant on Pub Street in town, which would turn out to be our favorite restaurant in Siem Reap. I was amazed that I was full off of curry and rice for just $3!

our group - Meng, me, Erin, Kristen, and Merrill

July 6

Everyone is here (Erin, Kristen, and Merrill) and we met for breakfast at the guesthouse. Today we were going to visit the two volunteer locations and get adjusted to our new surroundings. First, though, we went to a monk blessing at a nearby pagoda. The temple was so beautiful – the inside was painted in amazing, bright colors describing the story of Buddha. We presented the monks with baskets and received our blessings.

We visited the Imagine Angkor Foundation and met the children at the orphanage. There are 13 children there, and they share 2 rooms filled with bunk beds. They were so happy to see and play with us! We stayed for a bit and then we were off to Khmer Teaching Khmer English School. We met the Director, Phaly (Pauli), who is the most selfless man I have ever met. He has turned his home into a free school for children to learn English. Private English classes/school cost $5-8/month, which most families cannot afford. The teachers are past students who have volunteered to teach there, and some have moved away from their families, or travel a long way each day to meet that commitment. Many of the students are interested in practicing their conversational skills, and hearing native pronunciation of English words. Their goal is to learn English to be able to work in one of the hotels in Siem Reap or become a temple guide.

That day we also did a little bargaining at the Old Market and felt a little guilty going back to our air conditioned rooms.

our guesthouse, Shining Angkor

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