I arrived in Phnom Penh after 24 hours on a plane at around midnight on Thursday. Priya, one of the Sustainable Cambodia staff, met me at the airport and arranged a taxi and guest house for me. The guest house was expensive by Cambodian terms, costing $15 per night. It was a big splurge, last time I was in Phnom Penh I paid just a few dollars a night. Living in luxury, I was gently reminded that you can never get too comfortable in Cambodia, there were loads of mosquitoes that feasted on me, and this sign on my nightstand...
I would highly recommend the book, "Off the Rails in Phnom Penh" if you are interested in the dark side of Cambodia.
I woke up early the next morning and hired a tuk-tuk for the day. My body aching from being contorted into pretzel positions while I was on the plane, we went straight to Seeing Hands Massage, an NGO that trains and employs blind people to give massages. I opted for the "strong" massage, and it was 1 hour of heaven for $6. When the young girl whose hands were kneading out the knots in my neck and back asked me if I would like another hour (surely she knew that I needed it), I had to pass because I was to meet one of my former students at Phnom Penh University.
We arrived at the Foreign Language Institute of Phnom Penh University, and I took a seat under the shady banyon tree and waited for Lyhuong to get out of class. Lyhuong graduated from high school last year and did so well on her government exams, that she received a full scholarship to attend University! Scholarships are something to be celebrated in the US, but they are an even bigger accomplishment in Cambodia, where if you don't have a scholarship and can't pay to go to college, you do not have the option of taking out a loan. I went to English class with her and took a practice test with the class and joined in on the small group activities. Then we parted ways, and I headed to the bus station to catch the bus to Pursat. The only "barang" (foreigner) on the bus,I was on my way to the countryside.
...So much has changed at Sustainable Cambodia since I was here last. The school moved to new grounds with fruit trees, a pond, gardens, a library, and guesthouses for the volunteers. I was so happy to see all of the familiar, smiling faces...and so many new faces, too! Sustainable Cambodia has grown so much! There are now 12 teachers and 400 students at the Sylvia Lasky school and many more teachers at the preschools and at the primary schools in the villages!
When I arrived, a man from UNICEF was here training the staff on how to test the water from the villages. I listened in, and I started ruminating about the importance of clean water. Cambodia is a very wet place during the rainy season, and a very parched place during the dry season. If rain water is collected and stored during the rainy season there should be enough to sustain the people, their animals, and their crops through the dry season. I asked questions about this, and so I learned that Sustainable Cambodia has started a rainwater harvesting program. The Community Development side of Sustainable Cambodia is making large cement containers that collect rainwater. Each one can hold 4000 liters of rainwater. Soon they will be ready to distribute them to the villagers...and that water can be filtered through the biosand filters...so clean water for everyone!
Later that night, all of the foreigners went to dinner at Mlop Svay ("Shady Mango") and shared lok lok (beef with ginger and fried potatoes), squid, veggies, and Angkor (so named after Angkor Wat, the temples that Tomb Raiders was filmed in) beer.
Yesterday, I finally got to see Lyhoung, the National Coordinator of Sustainable Cambodia's wife, one of my dearest friends in Cambodia. On my first trip, we spent every day together laughing, eating Khmer food, playing with her children, and practicing English. She is the most beautiful wife mother, and friend, inside and out. We caught up for a long time in her house...but this time was different because she is fluent in English now! It was such a joy to be able to have real, meaningful conversations with her. She now has 5 children, one she calls her "stepson," a child with a difficult home life that she took in. After we talked for a few hours, I went back to my guesthouse to read. Later, she came by my room and asked me if I wanted to go shopping with her. Sitting on the back of her moto with her 8 month old son in my arms, we rode through Pursat. My arms wrapped tightly around him, he looked inquisitively at the motos and people and giggled, while I am sure I increased the number of my forehead wrinkles worrying that he didnt have a helmet on, aggh, it is the Khmer way though, and so I can not waste my time worrying! Lyhuong took me to one of the local spots that families go to relax in the evening, and we walked around and talked. We were quite the hit, as lots of Khmer people asked her about her "barang" (foreigner) friend. Then, sweet, sweet Lyhoung, trying to make feel at home, took me to get a hamburger. Even though I would have preferred Khmer food, I had to get one and made it my dinner. Pictures to follow...
There are 3 other girls here volunteering, one from UF, one from Belgium, and the other from England and 1 man who is from Canada and doesn't live on site with us. They have been filling me in on all of the new things that are happening at Sustainable Cambodia! It is Sunday, our day off. We woke up early today (as I do everyday, it is impossible to sleep in with the stifling heat) and went to one of the street stalls for a breakfast of rice and pork. Mmmm... Then we headed to another open air shop to talk and get our caffeine fix with some iced coffee. Before the heat became unbearable, we rode our bikes to the market to buy rip-off watches (I am lusting for this 80s Caseo digital watch with a calculator on its face and of course a straw hat!) and mangoes (which I, of course, am not eating, but they are the beessttt!), sweet bananas, and ly chee fruit. Tonight we are having some of the students over to watch a movie.
Life is good...