Happy Thanksgiving!

24 11 2011

Happy Thanksgiving! While you are gorging yourselves on turkey and stuffing, Tim and I will mark this special day with a box of mac and cheese and mashed potatoes! (Don’t pity us too much though, we were treated to a huge Thanksgiving feast last week in Battambong…)

Anyway, in keeping with last year’s Thanksgiving post, Tim and I have decided to each highlight a few things we are thankful for this year.

Katie:

Ah, I love this time of year. It’s the perfect blend of introspection and gratitude.

First of all, I am incredibly grateful for the wonderful places I’ve gotten to experience in the past 12 months.  At this time last year, Tim and I were in Argentina, completely unaware of the adventures that awaited us—first in Pittsburgh, then in Cambodia. The ease at which we’ve been able to hop around the globe this year is truly remarkable. And more importantly, the learning that has taken place in all three of these places is irreplaceable.

Speaking of gray days...

This year, I am also grateful for the wonderful staff I got to work with at the ENEC. What a bright, energetic and passionate group of young people. Their dedication to the work and collective sense of humor were much appreciated on cold, gray days in the ‘burgh. I only wish deeper friendships could have been formed. For me, they were one of the highlights of our most recent stint in Pittsburgh.

Also in Pittsburgh are Paul and Becca, two of the warmest and most caring people you could ever find. While they have done so many kind things for us (and made so many delicious dishes!) over the course of our friendship, there was one particularly important way they helped support us this year. Having spent time in Cambodia, they were able to introduce us to the magic and the tragedy that we would find here. They were not only experts, but enthusiasts, describing the daily sights and sounds of Cambodia, as well as the larger, more pressing social and economic issues. Their thoughtful insight helped prepare me mentally to come here—and, more importantly, to appreciate being here. They let me ask terribly-worded questions without judgment, set up an entire slideshow of photos, humored us and our uninformed excitement and even—get ready for it!—agreed to come visit! This year, I am so thankful for these two wonderful people and the undeniable ways they’ve helped influence my time here already.

As I’m gearing up to start a girls’ empowerment club, I can’t help but be especially thankful for the female friends (and family) in my life. From Mexico to Montana, Argentina to Ann Arbor, Comstock Park to Kathmandu (or wherever the hell you are now!), you women are amazing. You’re all leading lives full of bravery and sincerity, and I am so fortunate to get to learn from—and laugh with—each and every one of you.

And as always, I’m thankful for my family back home. They have been great this year, despite us moving halfway around the world to take jobs with no salary (and no option of grandkids for them). Today I am particularly thankful for the York Peppermint Patties and Peanut Butter M&Ms that they sent us. As proper a Thanksgiving dessert as you can get in Kampong Kdey.

Finally, I’m thankful for my support network here. Any returned volunteer will tell you, Peace Corps is an experience like no other, and volunteers inevitably form strong bonds with one another. From the inspiring staff members to the “idealistically pragmatic” volunteers, I’ve found myself among a good bunch (my husband included!). I am certain that many great times lie ahead of us!

Tim:

Thanksgiving has once again snuck up on me with its rich smells of cow manure and fresh boiled rice gently waking me up from deep, uninterrupted sleep while wrapped up tightly in blankets. Wait…that’s just Cambodia. And none of that is true. Except the sneaking up part. Although we’ve definitely done our fair share of holidays abroad, this one has definitely came faster than expected. With temperatures several dozen degrees above normal and a distinct lack of hearty meats and soothing fall spices, this year’s Turkey Day has come and gone without much of a blip on the radar. Keeping in tradition, however, it is time for our 2nd annual Thanksgiving from abroad gratitude blog (say that three times fast).

First, I am increasingly grateful to be a citizen of a country that has a program like Peace Corps. I’m not the patriotic type, but it’s truly amazing to have an opportunity like this made available to anyone, never mind me. When discussing Peace Corps to Cambodians, they often stand baffled at the idea of a country sending its people to help, squinting as if to say, “yeah, but what’s the catch?” So, thanks to the good ‘ole US of A for having Peace Corps.

Thanks to the lovely people down at 2621 Murray Avenue. The Howard Levin Clubhouse was a heck of a place to work, and I was bummed to leave it so soon. Thanks for letting me pick my pet projects and paying me to snack to my heart’s content for 40 hours a week. Thank you for a truly touching send off and for understanding why I needed to go.

I’m thankful for the support of my family through another seismic change in my life. At this point, I feel like it would take a lot to shock or surprise them. “Cambodia? Of course, honey. Whatever makes you happy.” Thank you all for not batting an eye when I decide to move 12 time zones away. Thanks for the emails, packages, and outlandishly expensive phone calls. To Mom: thanks for a letter writing frequency matched only by Amnesty International. As other volunteers whooped for joy over jars of peanut butter and goldfish crackers, I couldn’t help but smile when that long awaited Boston terrier card arrived.

I am grateful for my Dad and the almost undetectable spark in his voice on the phone when he realizes it’s me. I am grateful for my now Army hero of a sister, somehow making Peace Corps look even more pedestrian while she powers through Basic. I’m grateful for the unwavering determination of another, as she tackles the challenge of dissertation writing amidst health problems. I’m thankful for everyone in my family, who have never been as separated as we are this Thanksgiving.

I am lucky to be able to experience a culture as friendly and welcoming as I’ve found in Cambodia. The people here have undoubtedly lessened the blow of culture shock as perfect strangers have unceremoniously embraced us in a multitude of ways. Host families, coteachers, school directors, students, market ladies, and Khmer teachers have all shown a warmth (stoic and otherwise) that has been incredible in our first four months in Cambodia. I am especially thankful for the anonymous naked children that sprint twenty yards out of their house flailing their arms, yelling “Hello,” “Hewwo,” or a particularly adorable but incomprehensible yell too convoluted to try to spell. You all brightened my day. You say “hello” with more intensity (and let’s face it, frequency) than any English teacher could ever ask for.

Naturally, this experience has formed some meaningful relationships with other Peace Corps volunteers. Without these bonds, training would have been radically different. Peace Corps Thanksgiving was a blast! I’m not going to throw around the Peace Corps “F” word (family), but it sure is something special. Tonight, I am especially thankful for our good friend Kaija for supplying us with a box of macaroni and cheese that really complemented our Cambodian Thanksgiving dinner of mashed potatoes.

I’m thankful for a solid bunch of friends outside of Cambodia as well. Thanks to Paul and Becca who, despite Peace Corps temporarily ruining their dreams of being next door neighbors, were beyond supportive as we packed our things and left Pittsburgh again. Having experience in Cambodia, they gave us our first introduction to this amazing country. Thanks for the Skype dates, the picnics, and the less than gentle cajoling for us to return to the ‘burgh. Thanks to AM who, no matter how far we run, manages to find her way to our doorstep. We are so excited to see you soon!

Last but not least, I am incredible thankful for my wife of two years. She continues to be the listening ear, the source of laughter, the faithful dishwasher, and that perfect mix of support and inspiration. To add to it, she is going to run a half marathon through Angkor Wat (Lara Croft style) in two weeks. I wrote in my vows to her that in two years we could be anywhere. I mentioned the foothills of Uganda, but Cambodia is about as unexpected. That beautiful combination of adventure and uncertainty has shown no sign of waning.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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Yinz Second Khmer Lesson: Khmai-burghese

13 11 2011

This is what happens when you teach a yinzer Khmer. I know they always say to remember your audience, and after some calculations, it seems that exactly one person reading this will understand. But we think it’s funny anyha. Enjoy, Paulie!

(Can you tell we’ve been on vacation and have WAY too much free time?)

-Tim