Thursday, February 11, 2010

Clean shower please

There are so many tasks to be completed around here that I haven't had time to update. I finished writing a grant proposal for The Rotary Club of Calgary to fund university scholarships for our 25 graduating seniors on Tuesday, so fingers crossed, it will be accepted, and we will be sending off another bunch of students to become college graduates.

I had my first Khmer lesson Tuesday night. My teacher, Mr. Paulee, is a motodope (moto driver), and he spent the entire first lesson teaching me how to say 5 sentences. I think I now know what it feels like to be a slow learner, he would say a word, and I would repeat it, he would say it again, and I would repeat, over and over again until I said the word correctly, and then we would move on to the next word, and then back to the start because I would forget how to pronounce the old word. I just keep telling myself that languages are not my gift but to carry on, that I will get better. I learned how to say:

Suosday. Soksabay te? Kyom chmoo Geneva. Kyom mok pee amerit. Kyom cheer nyaa smuck jut. Kyom twakaa cheermoy angkaa SC no Pursat.

Translates to: Hi. How are you? My name is Geneva. I am from America. I am a volunteer. I work for SC in Pursat.

On Wednesday I was off to Kravanh (pronounced Kravine) with the 3H (Health, Hunger, and Humanity) Team to install biosand filters. Kravanh is a district about 1 hour SW of Pursat town by moto. The government has neglected the area because of its former political affiliation with the Khmer Rouge (if you don't know about the genocide it Cambodia, you can read about it here: Sustainable Cambodia partnered with Kravanh in hopes that if we made a strong presence there with wells (see pic below), biosand filters, community ponds, rainwater harvesting, a preschool, and other programs, the government might be encouraged to begin to help there too, and they have, shortly after Sustainable Cambodia built a preschool there, the government built a state school on the very same grounds!

We took a moto to Kravanh. Moto riding is one of the must-have experiences in Cambodia, and it involves a) carrying many more things than you should be carrying b) high speeds and dirt roads (frequently there is so much dust that you can't see the road ahead) c) swerving around cars, other motos, bicycles, buffalo, cows, and dogs!

When we arrived to the village, we started our work on the biosand filters (see pic below). Biosand filters are based on the concept of a traditional slow sand water filter. They are simply concrete containers, enclosing layers of sand and gravel which trap and eliminate sediments, pathogens, and other impurities from the water.

We spent our time in Kravanh painting the biosand filters, labeling them, filtering the gravel and sand, putting the gravel and sand in the biosand filters, getting them to the community members, and teaching them how to use them. I got to practice some of the Khmer I had learned from Mr. Paulee with the villagers. At night, we had a village meeting in which we used the generator (there's no electricity in the villages) to do a powerpoint presentation teaching the villagers how to use the biosand filters and then asked them questions about what we'd taught them. They got prizes such as buckets, soap, and toothbrushes for correctly answering the questions. After, the villagers prepared a meal for us in thanks, and is the Khmer way (eating is very important in Cambodia), we ate.

There were many misadventures on this trip, including getting peed on by a baby girl I was playing with (right after I'd gotten out of the shower), the villagers just laughed and told me that if a baby pees on you, it means you will be very fertile (look out Phil). The villagers also thought it quite funny that barang (foreigner) did not know how to eat a banana. Here, you do not peel a banana from the top (the top being where you pull it off the bunch), but instead from the bottom. I couldn't help but think how stupid they mustvé thought I was, I mean really, who doesn't know how to peel a banana?

And me showering in the Khmer way surely gave the villagers something to talk about. Showering is a community event, and of course, I joined in on it. The shower is a big bucket that sits either in front of or behind the house (see pic below). You use a scoop to pour water on yourself and wash off. The process begins with putting a sarong on over your clothing. Careful not to expose any skin (this is a big no-no in Khmer culture), you then take off your clothes underneath the sarong. To shower, you pour buckets of water over yourself with the sarong on. When you are finished with your shower, you put a towel on top of your sarong and slip the sarong off underneath your towel. Finally, you put your clothes on over your towel, and then you can take off your towel underneath your clothes. There was lots of looking, laughing, and pointing!

Be well, I am!

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