Asking for your help one final time: Please donate

24 01 2013

First of all, thank you. You all have been incredibly supportive during our Peace Corps experience so far. You helped Tim’s hospitality project get (more than) fully funded in a matter of days, you tried your best to help us win the money for the geography club (we didn’t win, but still appreciate all the “likes” and shares) — and now, one last time, we need your help.


I’m currently fundraising for what will be my final endeavor during my PC Cambodia stint: a community-based domestic violence education project. In nearly every discussion I’ve had about community development with village chiefs, teachers, NGO staff members and secondary students at my site, they’ve all identified domestic violence as being a very top priority in our area. According to a recent report, half of Cambodians surveyed believe that a husband is justified in shooting, stabbing, or throwing acid at his wife if she is disrespectful or argumentative. I’m hoping to create safer communities for women by training volunteers on conducting community-based education sessions, mitigating conflict, providing referrals for victims of abuse, and assisting others in drafting personal safety plans.

To make a donation, please head to this site:

Any contribution would be greatly appreciated and would be used toward fostering well-informed, safe and just communities. (Not to mention, it’s tax deductible!)


Under Construction

18 01 2013

It’s been fascinating to watch our town “develop” over the past year and a half. Roads have been paved, power lines put up, water pipes laid. New restaurants have opened, new houses have been built, new ways to travel to Siem Reap are now available.

Currently, there are two building projects in particular that have been affecting our daily lives. The first project is a new house that they are building directly next to ours. Instead of being serenaded by the usual wedding music, we have been woken up by the sounds of generators and power tools for the past couple of months. And on top of the normal level of dust, we have a few extra layers that, after being stirred up next door, entered through our screen-less windows and settled on our wooden floors.

The new house next door

The new house next door

Unfortunately, I don’t get any reprieve from the dusty air or noise when I head to work since they are currently putting up a new building at the health center too. I wrote about the new building in October and how its construction confused me. Since then, I have been told that there are rumors that the  health center could be converted into a hospital again in two or three more years. No one seems to know for sure, and they insist that isn’t the reason the new building is going up though, so who knows.

They're making progress on the new building at the health center

They’re making progress on the new building at the health center

Anyway, our lives are filled with noise and dust, but also change. As I said, it’s been incredibly interesting to watch things change so quickly. It makes me wonder what this little town will look like in five or ten years.


The Index: Small Town Spirit

17 01 2013

Here’s my latest article for my hometown paper, The Index

When I look back on my childhood growing up in Homer, one of the most pleasant feelings I have is remembering the small town environment. There’s a wonderful, friendly, uncomplicated spirit in places like Homer, where parents let their children play free without fear, where neighbors say “hello” when they pass each other on the street. No one’s in much of a hurry, and friends spend the evening chatting on the porch about how so-and-so is back in town, “Did you see him?”

This same spirit is one of the things I love about rural Cambodia. Don’t get me wrong, I am crazy about the energy of big cities, but there’s a grounding force that exists both in Homer and in the small Cambodian town where I currently live. Upon first consideration, you probably wouldn’t think these two places had much in common, but the pace of life, the friendliness, and the tranquil character is surprisingly similar.

The pace of life here is, well, relaxed. Some might dare call it slow. The unrelenting heat has a lot to do with it, stealing the energy from everyone and leaving them to retreat to shaded hammocks for the hottest hours of the day. All day long, really, life is lived outside the house, where the shade of a stilted home and a gentle breeze can take the edge off. Families and friends spend much of their free time talking about the weather, the harvest, and what they’ve eaten, as they sprawl atop wooden platforms used both as tables and beds.


Like in most small towns, there isn’t much in the way of formal entertainment. The closest thing to a Cascarelli’s we have is an outdoor restaurant where middle-aged men can be found watching the latest boxing match or playing a game of Cambodian chess. Whenever I walk in, I see the same familiar faces, drinking iced coffee made too sweet from the heaps of condensed milk.

Not too far away, there’s a small volleyball court, where the younger guys play a few games against friends for a pot of money. The women gather across the street at the market, the center of all social activity. Just down the road is the river, where you can find men casting their fishing nets, and children splashing around.

During this time of year, bright tents and loud music fill the streets, a sign that wedding season has arrived. The multi-day marriage celebrations are the most extravagant of all the rituals observed here, although housewarmings and memorial services are also big events.

No matter where I am though, the people in my town will respond with a smile, a “hello,” or a polite inquiry about where I’m heading. They’ll slow their motos down to ride beside my bike and ask about my latest English class or how my family is doing.


The young people are especially friendly. High school students are often eager to practice their English any chance they get. The younger kids holler as they play outside together in flocks. With no real parks or playgrounds, the kids can be seen inventing toys using anything from a tree branch to a pop can to a sewer pipe. Besides the risk of illness, which is great of course, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Like Homer, it’s a quiet, safe town where the children can play as they like, largely undisturbed.

There are moments where I can feel each and every one of the 8,000 miles that separates this place from where I grew up. However, there are so many more – when I stumble upon friendly strangers on the street or see neighbors chatting outside– that I’m taken back by the similarities and try to breathe in that small town spirit.


Learning about Gender Roles

12 01 2013

I just can’t say enough how much I enjoy working with the Women’s Resource Center in Siem Reap. Yesterday, the manager Pisey came out to our high school to lead a session on gender roles as a part of a larger project to pilot some new health lessons written by a well-known international organization. I’ve been working with the WRC on a number of small projects recently, including planning for Camp GLOW 2013 (more on that later!) and the strategic planning project I’ve mentioned briefly before. It’s always refreshing and inspiring to work with such a positive and motivated young woman.


During yesterday’s lesson, Pisey introduced the difference between gender and sex to the 37 high school students who attended, guiding them through activities to think more deeply about how their own gender affects their experiences, health and possibilities. As always, the students were very engaged and participated actively in all of the sessions.


For more pictures from the session, check out the Facebook album here


Happy 2013!

1 01 2013

Happy new year! I’m glad to report that Tim and I rung in 2013 in style. Even though we’ve had a few vacations in the past several months, we decided to splurge on a relaxing couple of days all to ourselves. We treated ourselves to a poolside hotel room, a 5-course dinner, and a hot air balloon ride over Angkor Wat.

We spent three days poolside, sipping mojitos and cooling off in the water. Inside the room, we  set the A/C so high we were shivering, just to make the high pressure, hot shower even more enjoyable. (The simple pleasures!) I got a professional massage at the hotel. We each splurged on some new clothes. We ordered in food – mostly different things filled with cheese. We streamed countless hours of Top Chef and opened a care package from home. In short, it was Peace Corps heaven, a much needed break from bucket showers, non-flushing toilets, and endlessly dusty air.

Poolside lounging

Poolside lounging

View of Angkor Wat from the balloon

View of Angkor Wat from the balloon

Sitting down for dinner on New Year's Eve

Sitting down for dinner on New Year’s Eve

It was absolutely the perfect start to what will undoubtedly be an exciting year. I have no idea what to expect from 2013, but I sure am looking forward to it! You can find more pictures of our luxurious weekend here.