Monthly Archives: August 2010


A lot of people have been asking me about this, so I’m dedicating an entire post to “bahkawahlw” (work that one out), aka LAUNDRY, in Kmai literally “throwing down shirts”.

I do laundry two or three times a week, usually in small loads that I try to spread out so I’m not doing it for two hours straight on my day off (Sunday) like a lot of the boys are. My host mom seems to try to do some of the family laundry with me, so I’m not entirely by myself. Or her sister will come sleep in the hammock next to me while I’m scrubbing furiously. The very first time I did laundry, which my family does in back of the house on a cement pad, several neighbors and family friends came over to watch. w00t. They got a real kick out of it apparently, because they laughed and laughed (and told me I have a beautiful nose), which was fine. I laughed too. Laundry time is especially good for practicing colour words and clothing words, and all the neighbors are totally into helping me with pronunciation! It was all good ’til some boys around my age came over; I looked at them, I looked at the underwear I was currently washing, I looked at my host mom, and she made this tsk tsking sound she makes at our dog and they left. Haha.

The mechanics of laundry are probably pretty straightforward to most people, unless you’re like me and have never done laundry by hand. In Cambodia, there are four main tools you need to do laundry: a washtub, a bag of soap (about 50 cents, and boy do I haggle over that), a scrubby brush (preferably soft-bristled) and what I consider to be a more or less useless stool. The stool is three small pieces of wood that are only good for squatting on if you are as low to the ground as Kmai women, which even I am not. I usually pretend to use one out of politeness and give up halfway through my load.

First thing to do: get water from the nearby cistern, fill up the tub. Add soap and swirl it around, and wash one or two articles at a time. Sometimes I soak really dirty stuff on the side. The water gets brown quick. Scrubby scrubby scrubby with the brush (there is a real art to this, which I’ve not figure out yet). Peace Corps’ rule is “wash once, rinse twice”. So you wring out your clothes like mad and transfer them to an empty tub, rinse and wring again and transfer one more time, rinse, wring, and hang on a bamboo drying rack. One of the first things I learned to say here is “I do NOT like ants,” which I mutter to myself as I hang up my clothes to dry, because these crazy red ants are always marching back and forth across the pole, and therefore my laundry. When they are dry (I usually take them in a night and leave them out ’til lunchtime the next day for good measure), I shake my clothes out like crazy so I am not wearing red ants later. And ta da, you’re done! Clean clothes for the next three days. ^_^

There is a lot to be said for washing machines, which some people have here but are few and far between (and way, way more compact than American ones); I can tell the clothes I brought here will probably not be going home with me. Scrubbing them by hand and wringing them out really takes its toll. Fortunately clothes here are pretty inexpensive even by Cambodian standards, and every other person is a tailor (I exaggerate), so people dress pretty nicely in my village. In bigger towns there is a ridiculous trend of wearing obnoxiously coloured Japanese cartoon character pajamas, covered in broken English phrases (“Don’t you just love this weather?! The sunny is nice!”); I can’t fathom wearing something so hot, but this fad is rampant in towns bigger than Prey Chur where I live. Thank goodness it hasn’t spread to my town. I will probably have more to say on this later.

It’s weird that there is an obsessive taboo over females exposing too much skin in this country, yet no one is shy about hanging all manner of clothing and undergarments out to dry where everyone driving, biking, and walking by can see. This skin taboo becomes more apparent and more stringently followed the more rural a place is. People dress “scandalously” in the capital Phnom Penh, but in villages it is exceedingly rare to see a girl wearing shorts or skirts or anything above the knee. I’ve not noticed people staring particularly hard at those who do venture outside the norms in my town, but my fellow trainees and I (most especially the girls) are constantly scrutinized. More to say on this later as well.



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Oranges aren’t Orange?

I have a quick minute before my friend Taylor and I have to go catch a taxi, so a word of explanation for my blog title before I embark on my cross-provincial adventure:
The oranges here in Cambodia are, in fact, green! Nevertheless, they’re still called “oranges” in English. They taste like oranges, and smell like oranges, and they are oranges…just green. (Can you tell this is a novelty to me?)

As I mentioned, today we’re journeying across the Mekong River, to O Reang Ov, about a half-hour south of us. It will be nice to have a break from the usual routine of studystudystudy have lunch studystudystudy have dinner study go to bed. ^_^

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“Welcome to Kampuchea!”

A lot of Peace Corps blogs are “aid blogs”, purposed to be helpful to prospective applicants… I’ve decided this will mostly not be that kind of blog, as in I’m not going to enumerate the things I had to do in the process of getting here.

So, here I am. I’ve been in Cambodia (aka Kampuchea) for about two weeks now, and we are thoroughly engrossed in Peace Corps Pre-Service Training (PST). At the moment I am in Kampong Cham Town, the provincial town (like a state capital) of Kampong Cham Province. Hence, I have internet access. In my village in Prey Chur, a district town of Kampung Cham, there is hardly internet to be had, even at cafes where you pay for it (of which I think there’s only one, anyhow). I’m taking advantage of it while I can!

Reflecting on these past two weeks, which have felt more like two months, I realize I’ve already experienced much more than I’ve had time to digest. Maybe in sharing it with you I can take time to do that.

I flew into Phnom Penh, with 50-some other volunteers (I think right now there are 53 left including me). The capital city of Cambodia is the most overwhelming place I’ve ever been to: it engulfs every sense, with hundreds of new sights and smells and tastes and sounds and it is busy busy busy. There is movement everywhere you look. The streets are constantly flooded with motos (motorbikes and mopeds, the main transportation in Cambodia), bicycles (also extremely popular), tuk tuks (motos pulling little carriages), taxis, buses, and trucks loaded with more things than you’d believe possible to fit on them. All of this traffic is frightening at first; when they told us, “We’re going to cross the street,” for the first time, we were sure we were going to die. “It’s like Tai Chi,” our PC Medical Officer (PCMO) told us, “You have to move very slowly, turning your head both ways, and no sudden moves.” Indeed, it works! You just step off the curb and start strolling to the other side…and miraculously the traffic all just flows around you, like you’re a stone in a river. A very dangerous, noisy river.

Anyhow, there’s lots of cool stuff in Phnom Penh, but I wanna get to my village before I have to go to bed.

Our group of 53 was split up into 3 smaller groups in Kampong Cham Town, where we stayed a couple of days (and seems now pretty swanky to me). One went to Chamkar Leu (I made that spelling up, that sorta what it sounds like), another to Tbong Kmong (also my spelling), and my group to Prey Chur (as actually written on maps). Prey Chur, which is a district town, is actually (supposedly) a collection of villages. Apparently I live in one of said villages. I haven’t figured out the village thing yet. To the untrained eye (mine), they look like neighborhoods. I can’t tell where one ends and another begins. Upon arriving in Prey Chur, our group went immediately to the Wat (temple), where “the monks” and our host families awaited us. The Wat is like a temple complex of many buildings; it’s beautiful. They led us into the ceremonial place where they do blessing and we sat very uncomfortably in our nice clothes before the monks. They chanted and through water and lotus petals on us (very hard not to laugh when a flower bud beamed me in the head); then we were blessed and had taken our first step to being a part of the village! Next a PC staffer read off our names one by one, and we were “given” to our host families. It reminded me of the humane shelter, sort of.

So, my family: my host family is great. I have a very young mother and father (they are in their early thirties, I think), a 1 and a half year old brother, and a younger sister (maybe 13). In our house, my host mom’s sister stays with us quite a bit and sometimes her brother and her cousin and occasionally other relatives(?) whose relationships I can’t identify. They are really into family here! Hopefully when I know more Khmer (said “k’mai”, or “kuh-mah-ee”) I’ll know what’s going on.

In the meantime…
Every day I have language class for four hours. Four hours at first sounded very exciting. But with a heat index of I don’t want to think about it and numerous bugs to contend with and a very diminished attention span (I can’t explain this, it’s like we all started getting ADHD the minute we arrived in our villages), four hours is…not that exciting. But by far it is better than being in a class. Sometimes we learn on the go; we’ll go to a cafe or practice at a market, things like that. Our Language and Cultural Facilitators (LCFs; the Peace Corps, like any good governmental institution, adores acronyms) are immensely patient and flexible with us, trying to accommodate our individual learning styles and needs at the same time that we are acting like kindergarteners on a sugar high during recess. My LCF’s name is Borin (boh-reen, with a flipped ‘r’); he has a strange accent and my family always “corrects” my pronunciation when I share what I learned “at school” each day. Accents are a big deal here. Anyhow, all in all, language is usually good; my group of four other trainees is fun and easy to get along with, and it’s usually the highlight of my day.

I think this is really all I have time for right now– there is of course so much more, but I just needed to start this and get something out. Right now it is WAY past my bed time (it’s half past eleven, HOLY COW), and I’m going to sleep.



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