The adventures of Jo!

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


March 6, 2007, 2:28 pm
Filed under: my life in cambodia, projects, sponsoring!, travelling in cambodia

Oops I am sorry for my absence… but… I am back! And apparently you still want to read because there are still people visiting my site, even if I didn’t write for such a long time. Probably I didn’t write because I have” my personal diary” and I type everything in emails and not on this site. Anyway, I am fine! Still teaching (which is sometimes very nice, a lot of fun and also rewarding. And sometimes frustrating) and visiting the country and enjoying and getting brown (well, “Jo brown” which means white with a little brown color in it)  

But…February… If I think about last month I think about….: 

*The Garbage dump. In February I “visited” two times the dump. If you think about all the garbage the capital in your country and you put it all just on the ground, and you imagine high temperature, no rain (for the moment) ,: you can imagine how it looks. And how it smells. A big mountain, smoke, bad bad smell. And people working on it. And (naked) children. Little children. If you see toddlers running around barefoot, as if it is normal (well, I guess for them it is normal. But that makes it even worse), like in a garden, you ask yourself questions. They shouldn’t be there. But they have to work, pick the garbage. For almost no money. They live in a house next to the garbage. The “a room with a view” gets a new meaning here! Anyway, I visited the first time with a lot of children of the CCH (see links on this page! On your left side I think). They are children who used to work on this dump. Now they are in the centre. Sometimes they come back: they give the children who are on the dump bread, they play with them, they read stories, they dance, they learn them to wash their hands… very very beautiful to see, an experience I will never forget. I visited the CCH and the dump the second time with my mother (see later). It was nice to see them all again, very nice children and staff, they gave you anytime a warm welcome. Of course it is good, they take care of the children who should not be on this dump. It is even very good. And it is also good if you support them (about supporting: a part of your sponsormoney went also to the CCH!) but still I think other things there should be done. Why do the people have to do this kind of job? Why is there this awful smelly mountain in the first place? But apparently nobody here, who is important enough to change things, is asking these questions.  

*the visit of The Mother. Mothers are weird creatures, no? They say they are scared of flying and that they are not interested in countries which are so far away. And still, one day they are standing in front of your nose. And with a lot of chocolate, “Den Humo” and Jenever (but keep this quiet for the sisters). Very nice to show someone at home how my life is here. And to have some decent conversations, in Dutch! We visited some things in the country, some projects too,… and we stayed here in the centre, my mother was in my class sometimes (good student!), she learned to dance,…. Yes, very nice. You can admire our faces on the pictures page 

*One year!February was also the month of realising that time goes fast (when you are in love). 

“That’s all, teacher!” (The way my students end something when they speak or write)  



November 12, 2006, 3:05 am
Filed under: projects, travelling in cambodia


After one day of waterfestival in Phnom Penh (very nice, lot of people), we decided to pack our bags and go in the direction of Siem Reap! Sunday morning at the busstation we discovered that we were stupid because we didnt reserve a ticket. no place in the 8.15 bus, only at 11.30 bus. we decided to go first to another buscompany to try there.. when a cambodian guy from the no-places-on-8.15 bus heared that, he called someone. Suddenly there was also a bus at 8.45! we had the first seats… I love cambodia. belgian busguys would never find a new bus for you!

Arriving in Siem Reap it was clear that this was quiet different than other cambodian cities we have seen. Touristic, very western looking and more expensive and even more people who are trying to sell you things … a bit annoying sometimes, but still it was also nice to have some western food and stuff.

Monday we visited the Angkor Wat and other temples in the temple complex. Very nice and very interested… I took a lot of pictures but only placed a few online, because if you can find a lot of pictures of the temples on the internet, try google!

Tuesday we decided we were already sick of the many tourists and we took a taxi and drove 60 km outside siem reap to a temple called Beng Melea (i think, my memory is not so  good today). Wonderful. quiet. jungle. snakes! (really, we almost stepped on one! and our guide said it was a dangerous one! but it was also a small one and nothing happened. we are carefull) really really beautiful.

back in siem reap, we visited the market. ohohoh for someone like me it is very difficult to visit markets in cambodia. so many nice things… (too many choices)

 Wednesday we first went to the Landmine museum. Although it is very very small and I am not interested in technically stuff about mines, I liked it. it made me realise how many mines there were and still are in cambodia and how many people are victims of that. the guy who runs the museum also takes care of some children who are victims of the landmines.

 in the afternoon me and bernadette visited the Cambodian Cultural Village. for the belgians: a bit like bokrijk. information about culture and history of cambodia and a lot of shows, dances…. I liked the atmosphere there. a lot of cambodian people and such a relaxed atmosphere. all the time laughing… nice.

 now we are back here, ready to work again! the long weekends are finished for a while, so the next weeks we will visit more of Phnom Penh. but probably my next blog posts will not be about my travels, but more about other things. I still have to think about what 🙂

My students are all ok and trying to work hard.



sporty weekend
November 1, 2006, 4:12 pm
Filed under: travelling in cambodia

Hello again!

Everything is still very good here. I am suprised how much people are reading this sometimes. oh, and I was even more suprised to discover that on sites about cambodia my site is a link there… and there are also italian and maybe austrian people on here now… welcome to everyone 🙂

Last weekend, Ilaria and I went to Battambang. Yes, I know I have been there before, but that time I went with the sisters and spend more time in the project and not in the country. so this time we went to discover the countryside! we arrived on saturday and walked around in battambang, a little city (with nice bakeries!)> On sunday we rent a bike and cycled between wonderful trees, ricefields, little villages,… on one moment a woman called us. we followed her between her orangetrees… her family was sitting there on a nice spot. they start peeling their very tasty oranges. i think i had five or something… that wasnt it, when we left, she gave us two bags of fruit. really really  nice people and wonderful experience. oh, we gave the fruit away to beggars and streetchildren… there were many of them and it was sometimes hard to eat outside as they were staring at you or starting to touch you… so we gave some fruit…

on monday we took two motodups into the country and visited two temples. both of them are on a hill so we did a lot -really a lot- of stairs… but it was a very nice day too!

 anyway, it was again a nice weekend in this beautiful country…

here at school everything is fine. my students are fine too. friday they have a little test again, let’s see how they are doing. maybe i will ask TO Be again. next weekend there is again a long weekend (well, a very long one, almost a week, only friday class… but saturday we will have to work too next week I think). yes, i know.. but after this it normally stops for a while, the bankholidays and stuff.

I wanted to explain a bit about what I said about freedom. Dasha (thanks for long comment 😉 ) asked about it and I think maybe more people are wondering what I meant. People who know me, know that I also like to be alone, or to be “independent”. as I lived already five years “op kot” (during the week in student room in other city) (and two years from the five years more or less always away from home I think…), I am used to it. Here I live all the time with seven sisters, two volunteers, seventy girls, a lot of staff and than during the day a lot of children too. there are moments you can be alone and have time for yourself, but still, you cannot choose if you want to go, of with who you spend your night or whatever. even stupid little things like the food (although it is very good food and it is nice that there is a cook for you!) is choosen for you. It is not really a problem or something that is very difficult for me for the moment. i can live with it and it is a nice experience and i do get a lot of appreciation… and probably i will have to get used to in belgium to live alone again (or with a few people) and I will miss my girls, the cook, the sisters, …… but I also know I will be happy to have my own little place again and to be able to do what I like… i hope you understand better now!

but as I said, for the moment I dont really see it as a problem, I just miss it sometimes a bit.

 but anyway, I am going to sleep now!



He Bees
October 25, 2006, 4:00 pm
Filed under: sponsoring!, travelling in cambodia

Ok Ok, I know it is not really nice to laugh with my students but be honest, I be You be He Bees is funny right? Well, maybe I didn’t find it funny to read as an answer on a test because my first thought was : AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA I will kill her!!
So anyway, I discovered that patience is something you really need if you teach them. Luckily I think I have enough patience. My students are lovely young women, but sometimes they can be very stupid too . Although I think there probably is also a cultural difference, in the way of teaching/studying/tests/… so they have to get used to it and I have to get used to them too. But I hope they will make a progress because now when reading the tests I thought sometimes ‘no no no!’. but most of them worked well and nobody failed. But what the weird thing is; the first years were much better than the second years, and I teached the same and the same test and it should have been revision for the second years. So that is not so funny, because I am really wondering what they remember from last years. Or how education is here in cambodia… especially for girls and women.
Anyway, I will repeat and repeat and talk to them… they are soo great, and most of them have been through a lot, although I don’t know their stories yet. But when I was talking about familymembers for example, you hear a lot: he died … and when you ask what their dreams are: to help my family… you also feel that they appreciate you are here. They are surprised that people come from so far just to teach them, and they don’t even get paid for it. They are very interested in why we are here, who we are,.. they come to give us little gifts, or say that they missed us after a weekend,… So although the teaching can be very very tiring, I think it is good that we are here. As I said before, I only reach a few people by being here, but so what.. it all starts with a few no?
And remember ‘if you educate a man, you educate one person. If you educate a women, you educate a family’ (I am sorry but I forgot from who this was, I am bad in quoting)
One sister was telling that a lot of girls don’t have a real childhood because they have to work and take care for their little brothers or sisters. But she also told that some female teachers in their school told her: we will take care that it doesn’t happen to our daughters.
I think this is great, that is the goal no?
I am also reading a book about sexslaves and trafficking of women in asia (Louise brown)(haha, now I knew from who! I am getting better). It is not a relaxing book, but it gives a lot of insight.

But anyway, so I like the teaching.. I also start teaching to the staff. We divided them in three groups and I have the lowest group. But it is sooooooooo funny. They don’t know a lot.. one man cant even write in Kmer… so it is starting from the beginning… but we are laughing all the time because it is so difficult, for them and for me. So it is quiet funny. We will see how it goes..

So, the second volunteer, bernadette, arrived too. She is from Austria. She is the youngest of us and is a calm girl who is also enthousiastic about the teaching. So now we are three. We also eat together (and not with the sisters anymore)
And last weekend we went with the three of us to the south of cambodia (we had a long weekend, four days)> Thursday we arrived in kampot and had a look around the city there. Oh, in the evening we went to the traditional music and dance school, a school were orphins… learn more about traditional music. It was really nice and I gave a small donation from my sponsormoney.
Friday we took a pick up car (well, in a group and with a guide) to bokor national park. Beautiful nature… jungle! It was really nice but I have difficulties describing it… it was just beautiful nature. Very green. Lot of trees. Oh and a very bad road! On the way back some parts of our body were very painful… 
Saturday we went to Kep and took the boat to Rabbit island. A small island with a few people living there (fisher) and some beaches where nobody comes… warm blue water, palmtrees…. Very relaxing… we swom in the sea for like two hours… had very nice fish and fresh pineaple.. and went to bed really early because it was very very very dark at five (not really electricity ) oh, we slept in a little hut which was quiet funny. Very small, no light, and you could hear anything from outside (apparently weird animal noices, but I slept as a baby, as always…)
And Sunday back to Phnom Penh! Really nice weekend…..(few pictures online)

Next weekend again a long weekend, so we will be somewhere again.
But I really do work a lot here.
During the week it is quiet busy.. and we need the days off… because you are all the time at the same place with the students… so the days off are really nice. And it is soooo nice to see the country,. It is so beautiful here. But I cannot describe it. Maybe later I will be better in this. I think I am writing terribly for the moment, I am sorry, but I am tired!

But everything is fine here. Time goes by so quickly. I like it and I learn a lot. I have been thinking a lot about other things like religion, poverty… but maybe I will write more another time. Sometimes it seems to be a long time. I miss sometimes my independence, my freedom (but it is so relative if you compare with the girls’situation) and ofcourse david and some other people/things.

Anyway, I hope you are all fine too…..

I am going to my bed now!


Jo x

first time outside Phnom Penh!
October 6, 2006, 3:28 pm
Filed under: my life in cambodia, projects, travelling in cambodia


Monday and tuesday: first days school for the elementary school and kindergarden. children come to me, look at me (how tall I am, or at my freckles…), touch me, laugh at me, talk khmer to me… the little ones pretend they are in prison, crying all the time, being sick, calling for their mummy… the parents, worried and concerned, but proud…

wednesday: sister Maria had to go to another sister community in Battambang for two days. And I went with her! we were leaving early to be there around 1pm. sitting in the car was very cool… so much to see… rice, lots of rice.. very flat country (what i have seen till now), little wooden houses, a lot of water (it has been raining a lot lately), poverty,… soo different….

arriving in battambang, one of the sisters there took me and agness, the chinese woman, around. small city, not so busy as phnom penh. nice. we went to visit a few projects with people with handicap. dont know if you know it, but there were and still are in some areas a lot of landmines in cambodia.

but what interested me the most was the work of the sisters here. they have a little centre for literacy and skills training for girls between 16-25 years i think. these girls come from very poor, traditional villages. most of the time they didnt go to school because they couldnt pay it, or because the school was far away and it was too dangerous to go there. some of them have a history of abuse. or another girl was sold by her family. trafficking of girls and children… so the sisters try to teach them a few things (reading, writing, making things….) but also try to give them a home and the chance to develop themselves as a person.

i met a few girls and they were really nice! thursday there was a market in town and the girls also were selling thigns so I helped them a bit (and i bought things ofcourse). you can feel they attach quickly to persons (by the way, this is also here in PP, the children really come to hug you all the time and ask you if you like them, say that they love you…   ) I went round the market with them and they said thank you for that…

anyway it really touched me. and i will support that centre but i have to think about how many money i will give to each centre… am now looking around a bit and will decide that later

coming back in PP was nice. there are some girls here who do a teacher training who asked if I could teach them a bit in the evening, some english. they are about my age so that is also great and they will teach me more Khmer.

I am getting used to this life. I like it. the sisters are great too, I see them working hard, take care for the students here,… they are good women, although i dont agree with everything they say but that doesnt matter. I admire them for their work. and they can be soooooooooo funny and cool too!

it is strange how we can have certain ideas about groups of people. judgements we make. sisters are like that. asian people are like that. generalisations. for example: asian people are closed and you will never know what they think. by saying that, you say the same thing about sooooooooo many people. I mean, people who were on erasmus, noticed already that people from another culture in europe can be different. we wouldnt like to be called the same as people in france, germany, england, the netherlands… but we do it for people in africa, asia…. it is normal that we do it I think, but we should realise it. the same about sisters. i also had a certain idea and i think a lot of you have. anyway, i am not going to write more about it or i will still be writing tomorrow morning.

but everything is very good here. I enjoy being here, meeting people, being confrontated by so many things, learning…

I hope you are good there too… thanks for all the emails or reactions or what so ever, it is nice to hear from you too!!!