Finally at Site!

7 10 2011

It’s true! Tim and I are finally in Kampong Kdey. We moved here after a few luxurious days in Phnom Penh, and I thought the transition would be a hard one. We left hot showers, flushing toilets, comfortable beds, swimming pools, and Western food for… well, permanent site. And although some volunteers have one or two of these amenities at permanent site, we do not have any of them. Despite this, the transition has been nothing short of spectacular.

The entryway to our new home

Our new home is a stilted wooden house. Our host family/landlord lives on the bottom floor, as does a young woman who is staying with the family. This leaves the large first floor to us. We have a nice, welcoming porch that overlooks the wat and all of the passersby on their way to the market. Inside, we have an enormous living room, complete with two hammocks and some large wooden furniture. Then there is a smaller room for hanging clothes and storing some of our host family’s things before the large dining room. Our kitchen is painted a bright blue and has just enough counter space to fit our single burner. There is a tiny bathroom attached to the kitchen, as well as a small balcony for washing clothes and dishes. Our small bedroom has little room for anything other than our bed, but we are just happy to not be sleeping in a twin anymore like we were in Pittsburgh. The house has a lot of windows that provide enough natural light to make things feel warm and bright during the day. Looking out the windows, you see mostly coconut, banana and starfruit trees, as well as some similarly styled houses nearby. It’s very cozy, and we have been extremely happy with our physical living space since we’ve moved in. I have hopes of posting a video soon, but we will see how the internet situation pans out.

The market is our town is another thing we are excited about. We have gotten lost in our market several times already it’s so big. (Okay, maybe it’s only humungous if you compare it to the dinky market we had in our training village, but still…) There is a huge selection of fruits and vegetables, meat, clothing, cleaning supplies, kitchen utensils, plastic goods, packaged chips and drinks, hardware and electronics. We were worried about not having access to much food since we will be cooking all of our meals, but so far we have had no troubles at all with it.

Kampong Kdey also has several NGOs, which was something we had asked for. Although for our primary assignments Tim and I will be working at the high school and health center, respectively, we are looking forward to connecting with NGOs in town in order to gather more information about the town and potentially collaborate with them on secondary projects. Next week we will start to visit the organizations to introduce ourselves.

Balcony for washing dishes and clothes

Since we’ve gotten here, I’ve already started working at the health center—if you want to call observing “work.” I have spent a couple of mornings now watching how things work at the health center, and plan to spend at least two or three more weeks doing nothing more than observing. There is so much to learn before getting started with projects or figuring out how I fit into their system. It has been a lot of fun so far, chatting with the patients, getting to know the staff members and playing with the children. Training was very useful in that I’ve found that my language skills really have been enough to have basic conversation with most people at the center. Training was also useful because it taught us ways to structure conversation that are more natural and respected by Khmer people. Knowing how to approach people has made me much more comfortable as I am continuously forced to start conversations with strangers.

Having these conversations—at the health center, in the market, on the street as we walk by—has been a highlight for me. Khmer people are so unbelievably friendly and are so patient and appreciative of our limited language skills. The moments when I’ve felt truly joyful since we got here are moments when I’ve been walking away from a spontaneous conversation with someone. Even our host family, an older woman who sells shoes and her cow-raising husband, have been patient with us as we stumble through all sorts of silly questions. I cannot express how grateful I am to have been placed in a culture that is so open and welcoming.

Our dining room

So our first few days at site have been wonderful. We’ve been able to laugh at all of the miscommunications, bring a high level of enthusiasm to all of the everyday tasks we face, and have maintained perspective. Hopefully, in the days and weeks ahead, as the novelty of it all wears off, we will continue to enjoy our new home in the same ways that we are now. I feel very optimistic that we will.

Katie

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