The adventures of Jo!

Questions and more thoughts
May 16, 2007, 12:52 pm
Filed under: my life in cambodia

After a weekend sea and beaches and snorkeling at sihanoukville, I am ready for my last three weeks and a half as a volunteer!!

Sometimes I wonder, did I really do my best? Is it everything I can do? Every day I learn more things about Cambodia, about the people, about how things are.

My students tell me more about how the people are afraid of things, of talking against the government, changing things… if we listened to Sunday bloody Sunday, they were so surprised people in europe can sing these things, because here they would get killed, they say.

I am reading this book,
Cambodia now (Coates), and it also answers some of my questions. For example… I always go to copy in the same copy shop. There is a man who I think has an intellectual disability. His body is also covered with red circles. I thought of it before, what can it be… it looks like it was burned one time. I thought of torturing (during khmer rouge maybe). I read a chapter about health. Probably it was not “torturing” but “a medical treatment”. Hot glasses should suck out the bad spirits who make someone sick (or in this case, intellectual disabled). I only see this man, not only with his disability, but also covered with red circles.

I read about projects, working with all kind of possible groups and helping on all kind of areas.

I visit projects. Last week I visited the sisters from Sister Teresa (you know, the famous one 😉 ) They work with children and adults with aids, TB,… I walked around in their little hospital. I admire their work, but I also see a lack of so many things, like every where.I see people alone in their bed. I see a boy with a  disability walking around in wet pants. I see another girl with a disability tight in her bed (for good reasons, that is not the problem… the problem is there are no people who can do things with her). I think about the people with disabilities I know in my country. My degree should be able to make me work with them. But do they really need me? I am wondering then, if I see these people. They get love, they get attention, they go to school, they have people who speak for them, they can speak theirselves, … Here, the only thing they see is their ceiling or the “doctor”who burns them with glasses. I don’t know…  So although I still learn every day, there are also more questions every day.How do the people really think about me, about “us”? My own students, who know me pretty well, surprise me even sometimes with their images of Europeans. ‘Teacher, I thought you never cleaned before in your country!” I want to live in the kind of
Europe they have in mind: nobody has to clean or to work, money just falls out of the sky… I KNOW certain things are much much much easier, but still…
I know they think I have sooo much money because I can be here. And you know what; I also know some people in
Europe think this. Because they think “she can afford working nine months for free”. I am not going to put my energy in making these kinds of discussions. The people who know me know I don’t come from the richest family in Belgium. I only know that the most people around me have more.

What do you have to do with the little children who come to sell things and say “it is not fair you don’t buy from me! You are not nice!” while you are reading that it is better not to give streetchildren, but in stead bring them to shelters, or support the shelters and organisations who work with them because then you really change their style of living, on long term. If you just give them, then they will do this always. But how do you explain to a toddler who just wants to eat NOW? 

 So I am wondering… Who learned from my work here? Maybe I am the person who learned the most! So that is kind of selfish almost! No, I was thinking… ofcourse I didn’t change a lot or my work here meant so much. But that is normal. Because who are we to change another country? The people think so different, they are different,they have to do things different… so I think the only thing we can do, is show how we are, what our knowledge is, give some support… and the rest they have to do theirselves in their own way.

My students are the seeds. I just gave some water. Other people also give water: education, love, hope,... But they also need a good earth to grow in, a good environment to be in. Only
Cambodia can give them this and this is sometimes lacking here. They need schools, support, hospitals, laws, security, rights… They also need some sun, and this is their own power. How they believe they can do things, how they want to work, how they want to change and think they can change… I see the sun in a lot of students here, it is very nice to see, but sometimes it is also shining not so hard. They are afraid. They think it is not possible anyway, so why trying? Or they don’t take initiative. This is not only in the “big”way, also in small things, for example just in class that they sometimes are so passive or don’t try to think. Also some other people I meet on the streets or somewhere else. Maybe I see it wrong. I KNOW they think and act different and they do things in so many different ways and that mine is not the right one. But that doesn’t stop me of sometimes feeling frustrated and having the feeling I want to take them by the shoulders and shake them a little bit (what I do NOT do by the way… I just think sometimes).
  Anyway, a lot of questions and thinking and much more than I write here and much complicated that I write here. It is so funny to read this again, the way I am writing now, it sounds so.. I don’t know how it sounds or should sound. Anyway. So everything is very fine here. I am only red. Stupid sun!But it is also raining every day now. Interesting to see the nature change like this, suddenly more noise (animals), green,...

 It will be weird, these last weeks, but I will enjoy them! JO x


The princess and the bride
May 1, 2007, 2:00 pm
Filed under: my life in cambodia, travelling in cambodia

How can you meet a princess and a bride in 3 days time?  *Meeting the princess…Last Thursday was a very special day in this school… you could notice it the days before. Everyone was cleaning, everything was clean, and people were running around like crazy, things were moved, tables were getting decorated … A red carpet arrived… Guests from Europe, Thailand and
Japan arrived too…
It was the blessing of a new building of the elementary school! Thursday more guests arrived, from the embassy or from NGOs. The most special guest was of course a princess, send by the King who was too busy himself to come. The princess is a cousin of the king. The children danced and sung, and she smiled, like a princess should smile! She went around the school and went on the picture with me. She said she felt like a sandwich, as I am two times taller as she is. A very funny and friendly lady who did not act like she was the most important person that day.  

*meeting the bride…Saturday morning at 5.30 the taxi arrived. I still cannot find an answer on the question ”how many Cambodians do you get in a taxi?”. Maybe it is infinitive, or anyway, that is the way it looks like. Every time you think the car is full, people keep entering the car. Or they will just take a place on the roof if it is really full (it was a little bus so this was “possible”. We also had a chicken on our roof). We drove to the
Mekong, in Kampong Cham province. Then we left the “normal” roads and the adventure begun. More then one hour on sand roads, between forests, fields, cows, and little villages… nowhere you could see shops, electricity, and so on… I think this place was really the most far I ever got from things like this. It was really cool. But I cannot describe… me and bernadeth were wondering how we have to describe and my only answer I can give you is “go yourself”.
We arrived in their village… all wooden huts, a lot of sand and dusk, cows, more animals… we met the bride and the groom, Dany and Hai, two of my evening class students and two lovely people. Then we rested… we got a place in a house of a relative. Also the house is difficult to describe… everything is in the same room… it is very simple, if you compared with the houses I know at home. Maybe you see it as an attic, as the roof looks like a roof on an attic. Above my head (where I was sleeping) there were birds making their nest. Of course I did not think about where the birds went to the toilet… As soon as we arrived, we were not alone… people followed us, came to look how we were resting… and then we were going to wash ourselves.. Although the Cambodians will not wear clothes which are too short or bikinis or whatever things that are too naked, they can wash themselves outside in a sarong (they throw water over themselves). For us this is weird, I mean, I feel quiet comfortable in a swimming suit if I go swimming, but I would not feel comfortable by washing myself outside... And also, we think, can you get really clean if you still wear a sarong? (but probably yes) Anyway, there was also a bathroom, next to two very cute pigs!, (though the same principle: you have to throw water over yourself) (because there is no other water) but I think also here they still wear their sarong. They were very surprised that we didn’t take a sarong and they were more surprised that bernadeth went in and closed the door and I waited outside for my turn. They were so surprised that everybody started to laugh. Maybe there was still another difference, I don’t know why they were laughing, but it was very funny according to them...Then we ate. Rice of course. But the food and the way they eat, I really like. Then the first ceremony started. A few Buddhist monks came and talked or sung in their own Buddhist monk way, you should hear it to know it. Dany and hai had something at their ears, I don’t really know the exact meaning, also the monk with who we talked later could not really explain, but it is for good luck probably. And then we went to bed. Also here, the people thought “let’s follow the barang!”(barang=foreigner). So there we were, three or four people sitting next to our bed, looking how we were getting ready to go to bed!!! I am normally not shy to change clothes in front of people I know, but this was so weird for me too… people I don’t know, just sitting and really staring at us. Maybe they found us impolite because we were a bit annoyed and wanted to go to sleep. And of course, we are used to something that is called “privacy”, but I think this is quiet a western something, I don’t know… for us it was also a weird situation, we found them impolite. These things are really difficult sometimes. Trying to find out what things they are used to, how they see things, what they expect… especially if you cannot really ask them (language..). But we slept well on the floor until 4.30 am because they started to sing! The next ceremonies started… everybody blessed the couple, and then there was the cutting of the hair… in between we ate our rice soup as breakfast… The ceremonies were really interesting to see.. so different. And so many things! We don’t have so many ceremonies at home.. and, for every new ceremony, the couple had different clothes! They rent the clothes of course, which was funny because the costumes of Hai were always a little too big. And you cannot really recognize dany, as they use really a lot of make up. Ohyeah, they make the face whiter! WHITE! And in
Europe every girl tries to make herself brown. I decided I will not give money to products who say you will be more brown or whatever. It is just crazy if you think about it. The people here love my skin and I love their skin. So maybe we should all start to love our own skin more and stop spending money to make it different. I tried already to tell this to my students but every night I still see them putting cream on their face who promise them a white skin. And a girl still told me about her niece (one of the cutest children in school), she is not beautiful because she is so brown.
Anyway, back to the wedding!We decided we were tired so we went to bed again and I think we missed one ceremony but we thought it was already break time… At three pm it started again, dinner was served already! (we didn’t eat lunch because we knew it was going to be like this). The food was good. There came a lot of guests but they also went quickly… they eat and go! Well, not everybody because also the dancing is a very important part like everywhere! Drinking too although I think the people drink less alcohol then on any Belgian feast. But maybe that says more about the Belgian people then about Cambodian people. I tried to teach some men how they have to put beer in their glass but I did not succeed. I think a lot of Belgian men would think they rape the beer. (They just “throw” –instead of doing it properly- it in a glass full of ice!) But now I like it already, beer with ice. Or sometimes ice with beer. It is quiet nice because it is so hot. The dancing was nice too. We could impress the people because the students here taught us already how to dance a bit on Khmer songs. And the ‘disco” songs we are more used then the Cambodian (especially the girls, the boys seemed to like these songs, the girls seemed to like the Khmer songs more). Especially the hands are so important in these dancing. Did I tell you already about my Khmer dress? Well, you just look at the pictures! The skirt is made of silk!We had an evening snack which was –guess! - rice with chicken. It was a very cool way to eat a chicken, but as I said before “just come and do it, you will see”.At 11 pm we went to bed, the music stopped one hour later…  at 4 am the day later everybody seemed to be awake and at 5 our taxi was there again… It was really nice… to see Hai and Dany so happy, they are so lovely. To see the wedding, all the ceremonies… it seemed to be so important, all these things…to dance, to eat… to be in a village like this… wonderful people who –although it was sometimes not easy to understand them- are so nice. I am really happy I could go to a wedding like this and I am even happier that it was in a village like this.  

Pictures online soon!  Not much other news… Oh yeah, of course, David has a job 😉 (Starting in September) (Well done you, stoeferke 😉 ) Byebyeeeee Joxxx