Happy Thanksgiving (again)!

22 11 2012

Time for our third annual Thanksgiving Day post from abroad! Just like the last two years, this year each of us has prepared a list of things we are grateful for.

Katie:

At the risk of sounding cheesy, I must confess that when I fully allow myself to think about my life and all the reasons I have to be thankful, it’s overwhelming. The truth of the matter is that my life is so good I don’t even know where to start.

Being in Cambodia is such a privilege in and of itself. It’s been an unbelievable experience that I am so grateful for. Learning a new language, meeting new people, working on new projects, and basically shifting my entire reality has helped me grow in countless ways I couldn’t have otherwise.

Throughout our time here, we’ve even been able to share our experiences with several friends and family members who’ve come to visit. Although I’m thankful for all those visits, today I am especially thankful for my parents and their willingness to travel across the globe to see us. Their trip is certainly a highlight of my time here that I will not soon forget. But those who haven’t come to visit have still shown their support in the forms of emails, letters, packages, text messages and phone calls. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’m grateful not only for the people who have expressed their support, but also for the ways that technology and infrastructure help keep me connected to those I love, even when I’m 8,000 miles away.

I’m grateful for folks back home, but I am equally grateful for those inspiring individuals who I interact with regularly here – both Cambodians and foreigners. There are countless people who have challenged my beliefs, taught me life lessons and set an example for me to follow. Lucky for me, my husband is included on that list. Tim continues to impress and inspire me with his daily choices, always putting others first and genuinely striving to help those around him. I am so thankful that I can feel at home with him in any place around the world.

Living here serves as a constant reminder of all I have to be thankful for: the ability to be globally mobile, clean water, shelter, access to education and information, a steady source of income, my health, and so much more. It’s a humbling and motivating existence that I’m so thankful to have. I feel so fortunate, and I hope this Thanksgiving you all do too!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tim:

I’ll admit it. This year, Thanksgiving completely sneaked up on me. It wasn’t until I was lesson planning for my private class on Wednesday night that I realized that we were hours away from the best holiday of the year. I guess the lack of fall smells of cinnamon, cloves, and pumpkin combined with some ridiculously hot weather to continue what seems like my 16th July in a row. Without a little advanced notice, the usual Thanksgiving questions all hit me at the same time: what am I thankful for? How much turkey should I buy? Is gravy sold by the gallon?

I guess you could say we’re doing a sort of minimalistic Thanksgiving this year, so the final two questions will have to wait. There’s not much turkey to be had and no time off, so we’re planning on a making something special on Saturday and celebrating then. But, all tradition is not lost, as we mark our third thanksgiving abroad in a row, the blog of thankfulness continues!

Since this entire thankfulness blog cycle has been spent in Cambodia, some of the usual cast members this year have largely been reduced to tiny voices on my cell phone. Nevertheless, I have a lot to appreciate about these faceless people on the other end of the line (can we still say line?). Mom and Dad continue to try to understand our lives here as difficult as it is to do. Mom saying the name of our town over and over until she gets it right or Dad miraculously following Cambodia in the news without touching a computer both mean a lot. The tiny voices I hear are nothing but loving, supportive, and eager to learn. They spend exorbitant amounts of money to send packages halfway around the world, powerlessly hoping the beef jerky doesn’t get mistakenly sent to Colombia, Cameroon, or, inexplicably, Indonesia. Mom still writes letters that never arrive because one or two have made it eventually. All of these things and more add up to a bounty of support and love felt from a very long way away.

I’m thankful for Katie’s parents who, despite a mountain of reasons not to, came to visit us in Cambodia last week. Not many people would fly 10,000 miles to a completely foreign place just to see their daughter and her husband for ten days. The trip was a blast and so very much appreciated.

 

I’m thankful for everyone at home that has helped financially with projects or just spread the word about Cambodia. Your generosity was both impressive and lightning-fast.

I’m grateful to have never had a dull day here. This experience has lent me a thousand stories and tens of thousands of reflective moments. Being able to come here has been incredibly enriching in all aspects. I’m so thankful for the privilege to do what I am doing where I’m doing it.

I’m thankful to have some wonderful students who continue to amaze me. Waking up at 4 am and studying from 6 am to 7 pm every day is an inspiration. Despite the fact that their class with me is their 12th straight hour of class, they are full of smiles, meaningful questions, and enthusiasm.

I’m thankful to have some excellent coteachers, counterparts, deputy school directors, host family members, random market ladies, and hilarious neighbor kids in Kampong Kdei. We have had nothing but wonderful interactions here. I have been completely lucky to be able to work with teachers that enjoy teaching with me and who are generally just fun to be around. They have helped us in countless ways over the past year or so.

I’m thankful for fellow PCVs who are absolutely hilarious to be around, who make me think differently about the world, and who make me proud to be a volunteer. We have a truly remarkable group of volunteers and staff in Cambodia.

Lastly, but certainly not leastly, I am thankful for Katie. An eater of my food, a fixer of my grammar, a kicker of my pants, she has obviously had a profound impact on who I am today. We’ve had another wonderful year together and I’m certain next year will be even better (a flushing toilet may help that fact). I’m thankful for the past and looking forward to what the future brings.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

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And They’re Off!

18 11 2012

I can’t believe it but my parents are already on a plane heading back to the US right now. Their trip went by so much faster than I could have ever imagined. Ten full days in Siem Reap, gone in the blink of an eye. I’m so incredibly happy and grateful that they came to visit though. I feel like they learned a lot about our lives here in Cambodia and, of course, about the country more generally. It was nice to catch up, to explore the area, and to just see one another after more than a year apart.

Two years ago, my parents would have never dreamed of coming to Cambodia so I’m very proud (and, again, grateful) that they endured the excruciatingly long plane ride over here. They then dealt graciously with lost luggage, wrong food orders, daily death marches and endless Khmer small talk. And despite it all, I think they genuinely enjoyed themselves. My dad continually impressed me with his child-like excitement and curiosity, while my mom never failed to formulate thoughtful questions and insightful observations. Tim and I had a great time, and I think they had just as much fun as we did!

We spent the entire trip in the Siem Reap area, passing some days just relaxing near the pool or river and spending others checking out all of the major tourist attractions. Here’s a quick recap of some of the activities that kept us busy.

Angkor Wat: The number one tourist attraction of the Siem Reap area (and all of Cambodia), is the Angkor Archaeological Park. The grounds are apparently home to more than 1,000 temples dating from the 9th – 15th centuries. We certainly didn’t get to see all of the temples, but we were able to explore many of the big ones including Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Bayon and others. Tim and I had a blast climbing all over the ruins and plan to return to see even more.

Ta Prohm

 

Bayon

 

Monkey at Angkor Wat

Floating Villages: One evening, we took a boat ride through the floating villages, which are essentially whole towns built on stilts over the water. It was a relaxing way to spend the evening, watching the sun set over the lake.

View from the boat

 

My parents, just before the sun started to set

Artisans d’Angkor: Early in the trip, we took a shuttle out to the Artisans d’Angkor silk farm to see the process of how silk is made and used to create beautiful textiles. We were able to watch the whole process, from the silk worms to the final products. Then, back in town, we wandered through the workshops of other artisans creating masterpieces out of wood, metal and stone. Both sites have extraordinary gift shops with gorgeous clothing, housewares and accessories.

Silk weaving on a loom

Visiting Pagodas: We visited two pagodas in Siem Reap: Wat Bo and Wat Preah Prohm Rath. The first is one of the town’s oldest temples, with well-preserved paintings and adornments. Of the temples I’ve seen, this one was one of the most unique and was, therefore, my favorite. However, Wat Preah Prohm Rath has a stunning riverfront location and an impressively large reclining Buddha statue.

Wat Bo

 

More from Wat Bo

 

Reclining Buddha at Wat Preah Prohm Rath

Shopping: Siem Reap is home to an obscene number of shops and markets. Since we arrived last year, three separate night markets have been built, each containing dozens and dozens of individual stalls. There are also two large tourist markets open in the daytime. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time wandering through the markets, haggling for low prices on gifts for others as well as treats for ourselves. Although the sellers can be aggressive, there are gems hidden among the identical, mass-produced t-shirts and bracelets if you take the time to look.

One of the many neon signs advertising a night market

 

Market stalls at night

Angkor National Museum: To our surprise, the Angkor National Museum was a beautifully-presented, well-curated look at Cambodia’s history. The 1,000 Buddha images exhibit, in particular, was breathtaking.

The museum’s exterior

I was sad to see my parents go, but it’s incredible that they even came in the first place. Now, back to site and back to work for me! The rest of the pictures from the trip are scattered throughout various albums on Facebook.

Katie





Reunited and it Feels So Good

11 11 2012

After months and months of anticipation, my parents arrived in Cambodia! Getting here was no easy task either. On top of the unavoidable challenges that come with traveling for nearly 24 hours, each of the three legs of their flight was also delayed and their luggage was lost! But they eventually arrived safe and sound, ready to spend 10 days with us in the Siem Reap area.

My parents have only been here for a couple of days, but we’ve already gotten to do a lot of things together– many of which Tim and I had never done before. We visited the crocodile farm, toured the silk factory, wandered through the Angkor National Museum, got fish massages, visited the ceramics center, and shopped in many of the tourist markets here in town. On the agenda for tonight is a sunset boat tour, and then tomorrow Tim and I will take them to visit our site.

It’s been wonderful to see my parents after more than a year apart, and I’ve enjoyed the added bonus of getting to do and see so many new things here in Cambodia. More pictures and updates of their trip to come!

Katie





The End of the Monsters

10 11 2012

Last week, I had my last class with the so-called monsters. To celebrate, we played games, I gave away prizes, and we gorged ourselves on snacks. It was the perfect way to end such a fun group.

Katie





‘Maan kilo?

9 11 2012

Not too long ago, I posted an update on my PD Hearth project, but since then there have been quite a few new developments. First of all, we’ve completed the follow-up weighing events in the two villages with very positive results!

In both villages, all of the targeted children who attended both weighing sessions gained weight except for one who stayed the same. That’s 26 underweight kids who are, theoretically at least, healthier now. Many of them even jumped from one nutritional status to another (eg: from severely underweight to moderately underweight; or from moderately underweight to healthy). For the next few months, we’ll be monitoring their growth to make sure they continue to gain weight and that the mothers are implementing some of the new behaviors they learned.

‘Maan Kilo? (How much does he weigh?)

The other big news is that I’ve been approved to do the project in two more villages. I’m incredibly optimistic because I feel like I’ve learned a lot throughout the project and will be able to better manage the project this time around. We’ve made a lot of updates to the training curriculum, I know how to better identify communities and volunteers, and my language level continues to improve as time goes on. Hopefully next time we’ll see an even bigger weight increase! We won’t be starting the second phase of the project for a few months but I’m already looking forward to it!

Katie





We’ve got a new project idea — and you can help!

2 11 2012

Do you want to support the work that we are doing as Peace Corps Volunteers? Now you can!

We are trying to get funding for a project that we’d work on together, and you can help — without ever paying a penny. Just click on this link and register to vote for our project. The project idea with the most votes get the money. It’s as easy as that.

We know that these crowd-sourced prizes can be annoying, but this one is different. With just a click of a mouse, you can send a group of Cambodian high school students on the trip of a lifetime. So get clicking! And, please, share this link with anybody and everybody who might want to help.

Here are the details of the project:

Traveling Geography and Culture Club

In rural Cambodia, the majority of students never leave their province, resulting in a limited understanding of their own country and its people. Most secondary students, even those at the top of their class, can’t find Cambodia on a world map, and many have little concept of how Cambodians live in the next district or province over. We want to change this, by combining the power of travel with education. We plan to lead a 10-day educational trip around the country for a group of motivated secondary students. From the magnificent Angkor Wat to the tragic killing fields, we’ll take students on a tour of Cambodia’s history. We’ll also facilitate a cultural exchange so students can interact with different groups within the country’s borders, including religious and ethnic minorities the students may never otherwise meet.

As we travel, we’ll teach lessons on geography, history and social studies, encouraging the students to think more deeply about their surroundings. In a country whose education system is still being rebuilt after a horrific genocide, this kind of experiential learning through travel has the potential to change the youth’s perspectives – and, ultimately, their lives.

Again, here’s the link:

http://travel2change.maker.good.is/projects/travelinggeoclubcamb

-Tim and Katie