Stateside

23 09 2013

I’m not writing this post from underneath my mosquito net in Siem Reap. I’m not writing from a bed in a simple room in a guesthouse in Takeo. I’m not writing from an Internet cafe or an expat restaurant in Phnom Penh. At long last, I am writing this post from my apartment in Philadelphia!

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Two weeks ago today, I landed in the States after a 24-hour journey that started in Phnom Penh. When I got off the plane in Detroit, I bypassed the luggage claim area (the joys of bringing home a single, carry-on bag!) and headed to customs, where I was the only person going through. As I passed each station, I had a moment to chat with the staff, all of whom had opinions on the fact that I was coming from Cambodia. “Where’s that again,” one asked. “Weren’t you scared,” asked a couple of others. “You mean you haven’t been back in two years,” one lady exclaimed as she checked my passport. I was only on US soil for a few minutes before the commentary began.

Luckily, I didn’t have to answer too many questions before I saw my parents waiting for me. Smiling, familiar faces that I hadn’t seen in far too long. After a hug, I put my stuff in the car and we headed back to my childhood home, taking the highway through recognizable corn fields and small Michigan towns.

I’ve spent most of the time since I’ve been back relaxing with my family. It took several days for me to get over the jet lag, so the first few days had me heading to bed around 7 or 8 o’clock. While I was home, I got to spend some time with my sister, who served as my shopping assistant as I tried to remember what clothes were considered cool, and I made my first trip down to the house my brother bought. It was great to get together with old friends who still live in the Mitten. Then, from Michigan, it was off to Pittsburgh for more heart-warming reunions. Finally, on Friday, I arrived in Philly, where Tim was waiting for me with big plans for the weekend, including dinner with my much-missed aunt and uncle at a highly-rated restaurant called Stateside, which I thought was fitting considering the circumstances.

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It’s been amazing to be back in the States and to get a taste of what the next few years will look like. I’ve had a wonderful time exploring my new neighborhood. Despite having heard Tim’s stories, I was in disbelief when I saw that three short blocks from our house is Little Cambodia! Much to my surprise, they were selling sao mao, prahok, ansom jayk, and most every other Cambodian dish I could think of. There were shops selling Khmer wedding gear and women walking around in traditional skirts. My mind was, and still is, completely blown by the way my new life and old life have collided.

I am happy to spend the upcoming days and weeks getting settled in a new city, remembering the excitement and energy that comes from new beginnings. I’m also looking forward to cooking some of my favorite dishes, cuddling up with Tim, and – to a lesser degree- job hunting. It will be interesting to see where the next chapter leads.

I don’t anticipate keeping up the blog now that I’m back, but that, too, is unclear. Maybe the time or mood will strike again, but in case it doesn’t, lee-a sen howie, or goodbye!

Katie





Celebrating the Highlights of 2012

31 12 2012

This year was the first full calendar year that I’ve spent outside of the US, so it comes as no surprise that there is much to celebrate about 2012.

January: In a Phnom Penh deli with AM

January: In a Phnom Penh deli with AM

A Special Visitor

The year started off with a visit from one of my dearest friends from home: Anne Marie. We spent a week or so hitting the major Cambodian cities, but the best part of all was definitely just spending time with her. It was a great start to what ended up being an equally great year.

April: Hanging out on Halong Bay

April: Hanging out on Halong Bay

Trip to Vietnam

During Khmer New Year in April, Tim and I headed off to Vietnam for three weeks of vacation. We made our way from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, stopping along the way to see the hills of Dalat, the beaches of Nha Trang, the colonial architecture of Hoi An, and the caves of Dong Hoi.

September: Tim's hospitality students at a hotel in Siem Reap

July: Tim begins working on his hospitality project with this great group of young people

Hospitality Training Begins

With the support of a local NGO and all of you, Tim began managing an intensive hospitality training program for disadvantaged youth in the community. It was the perfect opportunity to combine Tim’s interest in cooking, available NGO resources and a expressed need in the community.

July: The current group of volunteers welcomes the newbies at the airport

July: The current group of volunteers welcomes the newbies at the airport

Welcoming the K6s

A milestone for those of us who had reached the one year mark, welcoming the new group of volunteers to Cambodia reminded us all of how much we had learned and how far we had come since arriving the year before.

August: Teaching project volunteers about childhood nutrition

August: Teaching project volunteers about childhood nutrition

Understanding and Embracing my Role

In August, my project work took off, helping me to see the results of all the hard work I had put in during the first year of service. In the course of a month, I took the girls from my health club to Camp GLOW in Siem Reap, I helped organize and lead a training that would kick off a childhood nutrition program, I started teaching “the monsters” and I got to share some of what I learned with the new volunteers at their training.

October: Visiting the beach town of Sihanoukville

October: Visiting the beach town of Sihanoukville

Hitting the Beach

For our second Pchum Ben, Tim and I decided to take a quick trip down south to visit the relaxed towns of Kampot and Sihanoukville.

October: back to school

October: Back to school

A Second School Year

Immediately following our trip down south, Tim’s second academic year at site began, giving him the opportunity to once again work in the public schools with his choice of counterparts. He was especially excited this year because he knew what to expect and had already developed deep friendships with several teachers at the school.

November: Seeing my parents for the first time in 16 months

November: Seeing my parents for the first time in 16 months

My Parents’ Trip

In November, my parents came to visit and we spent ten days hitting all of the tourist activities in Siem Reap, including the alligator farm, the silk farm, Apsara dancing, the floating villages, the Angkor National Museum, the ceramics center and, of course, the temples.

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December: Ringing in the new year in style

The End of 2012

Here we are at the end of the year! Tim and I are celebrating all of the triumphs (and challenges) of 2012 in style in Siem Reap.

Thanks for all of the support and love this year. Wishing everyone a great 2013!

Katie





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





Back at Work

21 10 2012

Vacation is over, and Tim and I are back at work. For Tim, that means wrapping up the first phase of his hospitality course and settling in to his new schedule at the public school. For me, it means back to my nutrition project. On Monday, we’ll be having another workshop with the project volunteers to practice their skills, share their experiences from the project thus far, and solidify the timeline moving forward. Then, on Tuesday, we’ll start the feeding sessions in the second community. That will keep me busy every morning through the end of this month and into November.

Tim’s hospitality students at a hotel in Siem Reap

The other project I’ve started working on is leading strategic planning workshops for an NGO based in Siem Reap. If you remember this post, you’ll remember how much I geek out over strategic planning. I met with some of the staff members earlier in the month to talk about how we might structure this process, and then I led my first meeting on Thursday, focused on creating meaningful mission and vision statements. In a few weeks, I’ll do an an introduction to needs assessments with them.

These things, along with trying to finalize my plan for working with students now that school is back in session, will keep me occupied until my parents arrive early next month. Just over two weeks before they touch down in Siem Reap!

Katie