Monday, January 30, 2012

Sew..... What's New?

If there's one thing I've learned about volunteering in Cambodia, it's to expect things to be different than what I'd planned or imagined.   

By now, I'd really hoped to be a lot further along in my sewing lessons.  My original plan was to start out with plastic canvas, then move on to hand sewing, then embroidery, and end up with counted cross-stitch.  Hah!  Here I am at the half-way mark of our stay, and I've only just finished up plastic canvas, and there's no telling how quickly slowly hand sewing will go.  At this point, it's not looking so good for counted cross-stitch.  

Just because I may not finish what I set out to do, doesn't mean I haven't achieved anything.  I've just accomplished different things, that's all.  After all, fourteen little girls now have new skirts, and countless village children know how to finger crochet and make bracelets.  And I've still got a lot of time (and supplies) to teach even more.

While I was putting the skirts together, one of the older girls was eager to help and showed an aptitude for sewing.  Before arriving at Honour Village last year, this fourteen year-old had never attended school, and is currently in grade one.  I certainly hadn't planned on giving sewing machine lessons.  Heaven knows, I'm an amateur compared to Cambodian seamstresses that produce exquisite work.  Still, two hours a week, I teach this young lady the basics  on the sewing machine, in hopes that this may become her vocation, a way she can earn a living once she leaves Honour Village. 

She's a quiet girl, very reserved and a bit nervous.  The first time she tried to thread the needle, her hand shook so badly I had to help her, yet she's quickly progressed to where she's even doing some basic mending.  It's evident that her confidence is growing.  And even though it's one of those projects I'd never dreamed about, it rates as one of the best things about being here so far.

Total concentration...

I'm going to frame this one to put in my sewing room.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Christmas in January!

Shortly after we arrived at Honour Village, we learned that a primary school in Perth Australia was sending Christmas gift boxes for the children.  Each of these young students had decorated a shoebox with Christmas wrap, then filled it with gifts to send overseas.  For one reason and another, the boxes didn't arrive for Christmas.  In fact, they arrived the second week of January. 

Stacks and stacks of gift boxes!
122 in all!

Each box was labelled with a generic description - 'Girl, age 10', 'Boy, age 4' (you get the picture), and so we volunteers set about to sort through the booty, to ensure there were no perishables or dangerous items, and to repack the gift boxes so that they were personalized for our Honour Village kids, taking into account their age, likes and interests.  We also wanted to ensure that each child would receive a similar gift with the same amount of things inside.  (No fun if one got all clothing and the next got two Barbie dolls).  It was a monumental task that took two volunteers three full days working full time.

Finally the big day came when the presents were handed out. 

The kids with their boxes

We all felt like Santa Claus as we called out a child's name, then watched them open their boxes with glee and delight! 
Here's a glimpse into the joy of opening gifts.   

Wow, look at all this loot!

What did you get?

Oh boy!  Candy!!

A pencil topped with a jingle-bell Christmas tree

I Wasn't Joking!

Last week, I wrote that I'd been 'christened' yet again by one of the kids (my fault for giving him a big cup of water).  After I wrote that post, my friend, Megan, from Australia sent me  a few pics.  So just to prove I wasn't joking, here they are!

Sweet baby fast asleep after being rocked on the swing.

That warm feeling....
(It gets cold & clammy really fast)

Emergency change of clothes!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Shopping Cambodian Style

I sometimes wonder if people who take a short vacation actually get a true picture of what a place is really like.  I mean, REALLY like.  I doubt it.  I'm speaking from my own experiences: of travelling for a limited number of days, and wanting to see and do as much as possible in that short time, of going on tours, and being whisked from one site (and sight) to another with barely enough time to absorb the magnitude and wonder of it all. 

I'm not saying that type of travel is wrong.  I've absolutely enjoyed every second of whirlwind trips where I've been able to take in so much.  I wouldn't change those times for all the tea in China.  However, living in a foreign place rather than visiting, and experiencing local day-to-day life, including daily shopping, brings a totally different understanding.  Glimpsing into the lives of the inhabitants from this perspective is an opportunity few tourists ever have

Last year's post about  the Battambang market, and another that refers to the Old Market, may have shed some light on how the residents of Cambodia live, and go about their daily business.  Even so, I think there's still a lot more to show and tell.  In this post, I'm hoping to give you, my eight  nine readers, some insight into what we see and do when we go shopping.

This is how Gordon buys all his nails, hinges, screws, etc for his furniture projects.
It's a hole-in-the-wall 'hardware store' that sells everything and anything
that's connected to building, including squat toilets, tools, plywood (but not lumber.)
There are no price tags, and no nicely labelled shelves.
If you don't see it, you have to ask for it, which can get tricky if you don't speak Khmer.
Bargaining is always expected, and as 'barangs' (foreigners) we are fairly certain
that we will be paying higher prices than locals. 
Although selection is extremely limited, prices are still much better than back home.

Most tourists who come to Siem Reap end up at Old Market, or Phsar Chas, as the locals refer to it.  I still like to wander through the core of Old Market, which is a dimly lit, bustling hub of activity, where some locals still buy their meat, fish & produce.  Sadly, the outside of this market that most tourists see is tainted by commercialism, and ringed by souvenir sellers that shout "Hello, Lady!! Buy some-sing?'  At every stall, hucksters flog wares labelled 'Made in Cambodia' that come straight off the truck from China.  Shop owners ask ridiculous prices for inferior products and tourists haggle them down and think they're getting a great deal.

Lately, we prefer to shop where the Khmers shop, either at Phsar Samaki or Phsar Leu, neither of which have English names ('phsar' is Khmer for 'market').  There are no souvenir sellers, and we can wander at leisure through the hundreds of stalls, without worry of being harassed.  A world unto themselves, these markets are the place to buy literally everything - jewellery, clothing, housewares, hardware, electronics, fresh produce, a quick lunch or snack, whatever your heart desires...And if it isn't there, there's probably someone that can get it for you. 

You can tell when you are approaching Phsar Leu, bercause the traffic begins to bog down.
Motos, cars and people cross in front of oncoming traffic.
Amazingly, nobody seems to be in a hurry, and road rage is unheard of here.

Traffic is four and five across on our side of this two lane highway.

Close to the market,a bridge crosses an open sewer.
The walkway narrows,so we leave off walking on the road,
and cut in front of some shops.
We cross the sewer 'canal' on this rickety bridge.
The smell can be overwhelming,
and holding your breath here is highly recommended! 

A flower vendor bringing her stock to market
in a large woven basket that she carries on her back.
I wonder how far she has walked with this heavy load.

At the market entrance we encounter a crush of people, cars, and motos.
I wonder if the lady on this moto knows
what the English words on her T-shirt say.

Lines and lines of motos are parked outside the market

We stop for a snack at a cart selling piping hot barbequed bananas.
You can get three on a stick for 1000 riel (25 cents) - Delicious!!!

Inside there are hundreds of stalls selling just about anything imaginable.
This T-shirt is typical of the poorly-worded English on clothing.

More crazy English on a carry bag.
How about a pair of flip-flops decorated with fake banana bunches?

Lots and lots of fabrics to choose from if you care to sew your own clothing,
or have something tailored.

I could stay here all day and stare at all the lovely colours and patterns

Some stalls sell sewing notions.
Sequins, beads, needles, thread, you name it.
All at riidiculously low prices.
 (Don't ask how much.  It will make you sick.)

How many sewing machines did you have in mind?

In the narrow streets that encircle the market bulding,
vendors sell every kind of fresh produce you can imagine.

Vendors bring along their children.
Aren't they just beautiful?

These two sweet old ladies are selling some kind of roots.
Shaved heads on women is often an indication that they are Bhuddist nuns,
or women that help in the pagoda, cooking for the monks..

Some sort of jelly dessert,  just sitting in the open air.
Looks like sesame seeds on top, and maybe a bean mixture in the middle layer.
I've found that these 'sweets' are much less sweeter than we are accustomed to.

Pigs' heads and an assortment of slabs of meat.
Oh my!!!

Fresh pork being delivered on the back of a moto.
You can be sure these chickens are fresh.  They're still alive.
They don't seem to be upset or agitated, despite their fate.....
Perhaps they drug them, because they are just lolling around.

These chickens are not quite as fresh.

Do you think he has room for a few more bags?
Loading down bikes like this is quite typical.

Every time we wander out, there's always something new and different to see. 
It's such a fascinating world.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

That Warm Feeling, All Over Again....

Some of you may remember this picture from reading a post from last year .....
Three year old Riem fast asleep in my arms....

I thought you might be interested to see what Riem looks like this year....
Oh my!! We've both changed, haven't we?

Riem isn't my little baby any more, and he's not 'into' being rocked to sleep these days. He's a sweet little four year old boy now, full of the wonder and unbridled energy that abounds in those budding years where innocent young minds are still untainted by the fears, limitations and constraints that come with growing up.  Fortunately for me, he fell asleep during meditation a few days ago, so I got to hold him for a short while, reminiscent of our quiet hours together last year.

Happily, Honour Village has another darling little boy who's not quite three.  

Ly Her

Most of the time, he's a little fireball, and typical of this age, he gets cranky when he's running out of steam.  Yesterday he started to cry and fuss, so I thought I'd try my magic on him.  I scooped him into my arms, and carried him over to the swing set, where we rocked back and forth until his eyelids finally drooped and he drifted off into lullabye land. 

And just to confirm that I hadn't lost my touch, he did exactly what Riem did last year.......He heaved a deep sigh, and peed all over me.  Yep, it was that same warm feeling, all over again... 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cambodian Commute

From Monday to Friday, we volunteer at Honour Village, which is located in a rural area several kilometers outside the city of Siem Reap, so we hire a tuk-tuk to take us there, (a 'sort-of rickshaw', pulled behind a moto-bike) and sit back and enjoy a leisurely open-air ride to work. 

Some volunteers are brave (and fit) enough to ride a bicycle to & from the orphanage each day, but this old gal's knees (and butt) probably couldn't hack it.  Our guesthouse gives us free use of bicycles as part of our room package, and once or twice, in a moment of temporary insanity, I've casually entertained the idea of cycling, but it only takes a couple of close shaves by passing moto-bikes while I'm walking to jolt me back to reality.  Trust me, the way that traffic flows moves here, I could never manage to maneuver a bicycle even one block, because half the time, I'd probably have my eyes closed! (See my earlier blog on Transportation

Riding in a tuk-tuk is really a lovely way to go.  Each time we go out, there always seems to be something new and interesting that catches my eye.  Most of the time we travel at speeds between 20 and 25 miles per hour (30 to 40 Km per hour), and often at lower speeds through the bustling traffic of the city, so it's easy to take in all the sights and snap a few pics along the way.  There's a coolness to the air that breezes by, and the noise levels are low enough that you can carry on a conversation with ease.  In fact, most times in the city limits, you are close enough to the next vehicle to catch snippets of conversations, or even pass a greeting or two when the traffic slows.  When we stop momentarily alongside another moto or tuk-tuk, it's not uncommon that I'll make eye contact with someone, and for a brief moment, we exchange a nod, and more often a broad smile.  The locals are so open and friendly here.

I wish there was a way to describe the amazing sights and sounds we encounter on our commute. I'm hoping I can give you some insight through the following photos. The one thing I can't begin to show in photos (let alone put into words), is the overwhelming serenity and quiet awe I experience when we get out into the countryside.  For as far as the eye can see, everything seems calm, peaceful, easy.  Unhurried.  Untouched by time and progress.  Unfettered.  Blissful.  And on that stretch of road, I am in a world where the only thing that matters or exists is the moment, and the cares and worries of the world are gone......

Although our guesthouse is in the middle of the city, it's situated off a dirt road.
There's a sort-of rural feel to it, with chickens and dogs that run in front of you at random.
The road is full of pot-holes, and this part of the commute is very bumpy -
Not good if your stomach is unsettled or if you happen to be hung over....

When we get out onto the main roads, there are street vendors galore.
Many people buy their breakfast or lunch from these roadside carts.

We pass many road-side shops.
These fruit sellers also sell cold drinks,
and often have a mini-restaurant set up in behind.
Many of the motos we meet are carrying loads.
This driver has purchased produce at the market
which may be destined for one of those small restaurants.
There are four crates of fresh eggs stacked on top of that large sack!

Another driver pulling a trailer with coolers and chairs
and at least one passenger

We pass many small laundry businesses like this one.
The dirt laneway to the left probably leads to more homes and shops

Crates of noodles stacked high.
We passed four motos in a row like this one.
Must have been a big feast somewhere!

'Cambodian car pool'
Twenty or more people in the back of a pick-up

This driver is taking his colourful balloons out to his 'store location'
He probably sits on that chair all day, somewhere by the roadside.
Tanks of compressed air are strapped onto either side of his moto.

A man selling brushes and baskets on a bicycle
followed by a trailer load of coconuts

Nearer to the airport, we pass many large modern hotels

There are many new impressive-looking buildings in the city

But once we pass the big hotels, we begin to get into the countryside
Here are a couple of roadside restaurants

A wagonful of branches being pulled by a diesel tractor.
Two or three monks are getting a ride into town on top of the load

Almost every day we pass these men
bringing coconuts to town on their bicycles
I can't imagine trying to balance that load!

We are still on paved road, but well off the main highway,
and now we begin to see the vast open fields,
This is where my bliss begins........

Tall palms reach high up to the sky

We've turned off the paved road now.
The fields are dotted with scrubby growth and tall palms
Occasionally we see a grove of palm trees like this one,
but mostly the palms stand alone or in groups of two or three

The road to Honour Village is not paved

The red dust from the road coats everything......
It chokes the plants, and forms a thick red film on every available surface
Huge clouds of red dust billow up when someone passes us
and we cover our mouth & nose to keep from choking.
The Cambodians call the dust 'red snow'. 

Occasionally a herd of cattle graze near the road, or cross in front of our tuk-tuk
Even the cattle have a red haze to their coats

Lately we've been seeing a lot of water buffalo in the area

......Herds of them, more than a hundred, which is a rare sight

A few days ago, they began to cross the stream next to the road

....And then they crossed the road,
right in front of our tuk-tuk

This poor little calf was straggling behind

Just when we thought the road was clear, another herd came barrelling through!
We almost hit them!  We came this close!!!

In the past year,  a few new buildings have been starting to go up
 along the road to Honour Village
They're very large structures, much larger than single family dwellings.
We suspect there's 'big money' moving into the area.

This is another big 'villa'.
 A similar one is under construction directly behind it.

Another huge structure going up.
Further down the road there is another big wall,
which we've heard is the perimeter for a (future) new hospital.

Each week when we ride out to Honour Village there seems to be more and more construction under way in the fields.  I suppose it's only a matter of time before progress pushes into this part of the countryside, and in years to come, it may become just an extension of the city of Siem Reap. 

I rue the day when we will ride out and the fields and palm trees and water buffalo are gone forever.  For now, at least, I can still gaze far out across the reddish fields to that unbroken horizon, and for those few moments, as far as my eyes can see, it's still a little piece of heaven.