“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.

Goodnight!
~Liz

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3 Comments

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3 responses to ““Welcome to Kampuchea!”

  1. Erin Pullen

    I’m so glad you’ve decided to blog candidly about your experiences! You are on such a grand adventure and it is incredibly generous of you to share your perceptions and experiences. Miss you already and am sending mail. ❤ e

  2. This is the Heather that you know through Darren McV… you should drop me an email… if you want goodies and they will reach you, just request them! I am the shipper of American contraband.

    • Angie

      It’s true. Heather could totally stuff all kinds of contraband in those stuffed bears that she’s constantly making.

      We miss you!! But it’s good to know that you are still alive and kicking, and like the people you’re with. I’ll be stalking you!

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