Almost Finished With In-Country Training--ya hoo!!

Last Friday evening we went to the local Wat (temple) for a children's dance peformance.  Here, the monks and a dance teacher provide language and dance instruction to nearly 2,000 street children, orphans and other children from very poor families.  The Wat is pursuing outreach to other NGOs and funders so we were given front row seats.  Wearing colourful costumes the children of various ages poored their enthusiasm into the traditional dances.  Many of the dances were performed as stories with some narration.  The numbers included some from minority hill tribes.  The concentration and effort on the part of the kids was tremendous.  By the end of the evening the shared recognition between the children, monks and teachers, and the audience that these children had achieved so much resulted in a lot of emotion.  Julie and I are keen to return for another show and if you visit it is a must see!

On Sunday, we got on the boat which Julie had reserved for us again.  This time we took a shorter trip up the Mekong to Wat Hanchey.  An overheated engine required us to pull over to the river side but after apx 45 min we were back in action and chugging up river.  The Wat proved to be unique because it sits atop a hill and gave us sweeping views to the east over the Mekong and its islands.  Other than some temple dogs which decided to ambush Julie from around a corner with loud barking it was a serene place.  We got coconuts with straws to go which hit the spot on this hot day. 

Today is our first day off where we have nothing scheduled except coming to the internet cafe and sleeping in. We do have an informal wrap up meeting with the Assistant Director for the VSO (Sarah Knibbs) this afternoon, but it should be a short meeting. Yesterday, Andrew and I finished our 5 1/2 weeks of basic Khmer language training. We are happy that we will not be in language class 6 days a week and that the 10-hour VSO classroom workshops in sweltering buildings are over.  Also, it will be a nice change to leave the 'Big Brother' house in Kampong Cham.  The novelty of living side-by-side with 25 other ppl 24/7 for nearly 2 months in a reality TV-like setting eventually begins to fade.  However, there is sadness as the group is ready to split up and pursue their our own lives.  We will miss this interesting and fun bunch.  Anyway, we will be back here in Kampong Cham in late January for two more weeks of advanced language training as a follow up to the basic training we just received. 

Tomorrow, we leave for a three-day village homestay with Khmer farming families with language immersion.  The families go to bed at 7:30pm and rise at 4am and because the homes are small we will all be going to bed at the same time.  Julie is going to sneak in her headlamp so that she can read.  We expect they may give us some farm work to do and we will probably have a soccer game with the village kids which should be fun.

Off we go!  We'll write you next week from Phnom Penh.





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Classic Rainforest Boatrip

Classic rain forest boat trip!

Sunday morning fifteen of us (volunteers) piled into the wooden boat which Julie reserved.  It turned out to be perhaps the best day for all of us in Cambodia so far.  With a cooling breeze we chugged down the Mekong River (south) for about a half hour with some of us sitting on top of the roof and enjoying the view.  We then turned southeast onto a tributary and soon were passing enormous trees with thick undergrowth and some fishing homesteads as the river meandered gently.  The combination of large trees leaning slightly over the water, shadows and bright sunlight, and swirling currents with the slow cadence of the old diesel engine was mesmerizing.  This was what we had imagined a rainforest river trip should be.  And we wondered what had happened to this man Kurtz.......and why had he disappeared to the jungles of Cambodia..... (Please excuse this self-indulgent writing slip!).  

But I think a trip like that makes one think of other beautiful places they have been to or seen in pictures.  The great scenery shots from the `Mosquito Coast` (Belize) also registered in some of our minds.  This trip was a reminder for those of us working in the environmental field in Cambodia of how important it is to try to preserve these areas.  The entire trip we passed folk wading and paddling small boats working small fish nets and traps.  We saw countless children playing in the water giving never-ending "Hello!"s and happy yells.  We passed a very old wat with its surrounding grounds submerged by the wet season levels.  The main structure, small pagodas, sculptures and walls remained above water.  With a small boat one could have paddled around the grounds which would undoubtably been a unique experience.  It reminded me of pictures of religious buildings in India which are surrounded by water.  After apx. 20km on this tributary we reached a village were the residents hand make silk sarongs and other garments.  Unfortunately, the prices were too high for volunteers.  We then proceeded another km up river to a small town. Some of the women bought silk sarongs.  One of our boatmen later told us the sarongs were machine made in Thailand but they were very nice nonetheless.      

Before our return to town we stopped at another Wat on the Mekong.  We pulled ashore at a spot sufficiently deep which turned out to be a village family's backyard.  Dozens of ppl gathered around and stared as we tromped through their backyards.  I expect the boatmen gave them some $ for the disturbance.  At the Wat dozens of children gathered around us as usual.  Allan let them take of each other with his digital camera to their delight.  I have never seen children who have so little (material things) smile so easily.  A wonderful day!  

We promise to post some photos when we get back to Phnom Penh in 2 wks.

So long!

 Andrew  & Julie           

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October 11

Greetings All!

Last Friday Julie and I found a nice old Khmer wooden house to rent in downtown Phnom Penh close to our work.  Its nestled between some larger new residential buildings which gives an interesting contrast.  The house has 3 BRs, large living rooms and a nice balcony.  The owning family seem very nice and live below.  The yard is protected by a locked gate and a few dogs.  Most of the interior is wood and large floors planks have a nice flex to them.  We have lots of room for visitors - yeh!  We are very happy with our new house (Pok jeung sap'bai na cheamouy phtya t'may roboh pok jeung)!!

After visiting our work placements we are now back in Kampong Cham with our volunteer colleagues for 3 wks of Khmer language training.  Its a lot of studying and a serious work out for the throat, face, mouth, and nasal muscles for us to try to speak this Siamese  language.  I find myself at times slipping into a generic east asian accent which I remember from growing up watching TV and Hollywood movies.  My guess is that on ''MASH" actors from various east asian countries played Koreans which resulted in a general accent - so, that's about all the background many of us Barangs (Westerners) have to go on.  Some times when I pinch my nose slightly and speak in class our teacher says "very gooooood!!"  But that's okay as the Khmers are a jokey bunch and love to goof around with English.

A number of the other volunteers were required to travel to and return from remote locations where they visited their workplaces. Being the wet season some became stuck several times on remote jungle roads and had to get out of their vehicles to rig cables and pull.  John, Nicki and their drivers found themselves unable to return from coastal Koh Kong province where the rivers rose and picked up speed making the simple ferries unusable.  Instead, they were forced to take a fast boat down the coast to Sihanoukville, and drive from there.  However, Julie and I are bit green because of  the stories we hear about these beautiful natural places.  In Mondulkiri province teachers Andy and Trisha rode to their first day at school on the back of an elephant while Wanda says that Mondulkiri villagers still report tiger sightings.  In remote Rattanakiri province in the far north east, Norman and Marie visited their "wild west" frontier town and swam in a beautiful crater in the jungle with crystal clear waters.

On Saturday evening we went down to the Mekong River for the Festival of the Moon.  Under the full moon the children waded into the river and launched their homemade decorated boats lit with candle lanterns and burning incense.  The children make a wish as they release the boats.  The monks rode up and down the river in a boat with 3 illuminated towers representing the main pagodas of Ankhor Wat.  They chanted and sung as they went.  A very peaceful evening. 

Of course we are a novelty in this small town.  Interestingly, if you are a big person (especially compared to Cambodians), the Khmer people want to touch you and sometimes even smack you on the bum - yes, that's right.  So, children and adults typically like to grab my arm and just as often they will walk up behind me and smack me on the bum and say "You big!" or "Thom na! (very big!)"  But, maybe they just think I have a big bum.  Oh well.  Cambodians are not very shy and usually just say what immediately enters their mind.  Our cooking staff told Julie early on that she has a "long nose!!" with hand movements to illustrate.  But they are very nice and have also told her she is very pretty (sa: aat!)           

Julie is being her usual organizer self has coordinated a local driver and boat to take 15 of us around the area on the Mekong River on  Sunday (our only day off!). We expect to visit a traditional weaving village and some islands and just maybe see a 600Ib catfish and fresh water dolphins or stingrays!!..........

Talk to you in a while Mekong crocodiles!

Andrew & Julie



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First Month in Cambodia

We'll we've been in Cambodia for almost a month already.  Unfortunately, we havent been able to attach photos for you to this blog, since the internet at the internet cafes we've been using are dreadfully slow and painful!!!  We have some great photos, I hope we can upload them soon.

This week has been another whirlwind in Cambodia.  Since getting here last week, we've been looking at apartments non-stop trying to find a place to live in the city.  Seems as though apartments are quite expensive, inflation is rising approximtely 20% a year, so finding a place to live where we'd like to live in Phnom Penh (PP) is quite difficult.  However, we have 4 real estate agents looking for places for us in the areas of the city where we'd like to live.  Keep your fingers crossed.  There are new monster homes and businesses cropping up all over the city.  The Chinese are investing in real estate here in a big way.  A lot of the businesses and expensive houses and apartments in PP are owned by Chinese or Chinese Khmer folks. 

We see US WWF wrestling on people's TV's (tourasabs) all over the place.  People here are obsessed with WWF, all the little boys even in the rural villages have WWF t-shirts on, its quite funny.  I think the Cambodian people really like foreigners.  Andrew and I spoke to an older Khmer lady today in French, since she knew french better than english, and our Khmer isnt as good as Andrew's french!!

Now for some good news--Andrew has been offered a position as an Environmental Advisor with the Ministry of the Environment, based in Phnom Penh.  He will also be working on the Tonle Sap Environmental Project (same project as Julie), but he will also coordinate with other government agencies, and it looks as though he will be travelling quite a bit to Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces to the north of here for the position.  Julie will be travelling approximately 25% of the time, mostly to Tonle Sap Lake.  We are very excited that Andrew was offered the position here in Phnom Penh.  Andrew will be working with local community groups on environmental issues and environmental education.  We both start our positions (Julie at the Ministry of Fisheries, Andrew with the Department of the Environment) on November 1st.  Both our positions will end in early 2008, we don't have the exact dates yet--but most likely between January and March 2008. We will be headed back at the end of the week to Kampong Cham for three more weeks of language training and a homestay with a Cambodian family in a rural village near Kampong Cham.  Wish us luck.  We've been able to use some of the Khmer language we've already learnt in class, so that has been encouraging!!

Earlier this week, we attended an employer workshop where we met some of the people we will be working with, and we have also visited the offices where we will be working.  In addition to the Cambodian people Julie will be working with at the Department of Fisheries, Julie will also be working with an international consultant from Denmark at the Department, and will also work closely in the office with a young Australian fellow working with community fisheries issues.

Julie still misses Raya terribly and will always be thinking of her.  Thank you for your comments and emails.  That's all for now, we will write more later.  We miss you all so much, hugs and kisses.

Luv Andy and Jules XXX OOO

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