Burma (Myanmar)'s Delicacies

Hi friends, we decided its time for a subject different then ourselves, something about culture.  How about food in foreign places?  Almost always a popular topic, and one of the best things about overseas travel!  We enjoyed this article from the New York Times on food in Myanmar (formerly Burma)....mmmmm..... and thought you might too.  The idea of a trip to Myanmar before we go home is growing in our minds - how ‘bout you, eh?


Culinary Odyssey on a Path Blazed by Orwell

By Jane Perlez, New York Times

George Orwell, who memorably sketched the stark existence of living on bread and thin soup in Paris in the 1930s hardly seems like an obvious guide to exotic food in the tropics.

Yet, in his classic novel "Burmese Days" Orwell creates a vibrant scene of his hero and heroine wandering through market stalls filled with ripe pomelos the size of green moons, red bananas, dried fish, crimson chilies, ducks cured like hams, larvae of the rhinoceros beetle, heart-shaped betel leaves, and "baskets of heliotrope-coloured prawns the size of lobsters."

The list, in full, is so extravagant and inviting that, for me, it served as a kind of mental eating map during a recent trip through Burma.  Much has changed in Burma since Orwell served there as a policeman in the 1920s, but enforced isolation from the rest of the world (the country has little processed food and imported food is rare in the countryside), Burmese still live off the land and its abundance of vegetables, fruits, fish and spices.

Even before I crossed the border from China into Burma, I had a taste of the delicacies to come.  At Ruili, the bustling trade center in Yunnan Province that serves as the entry point for cheap Chinese goods into Burma, a Burmese trader invited my guide and me to a lunch of multiple dishes - steamed whole black chicken that fell from the bone, tiny grilled fish that you eat from head to tail, bean leaves with garlic, and most unusual, opium poppy seeds with tofu.  Chopped coriander sprinkled on top added a little spunk - and colour- to the mild tasting seeds that had been churned with the tofu into the consistency of a soupy porridge.  Immigration officials don't allow foreign travelers to dawdle at Mu Se, the first Burmese town over the border.

So we drove down the old Burmese Road - the artery that the US used in World War II to hold back the Japanese - to the village of Kutkai, then to Lashio and on to Hsipaw, a town with a good market and friendly guesthouse, a favourite stopping point for tourists.

Our destination, though, was a sleepy dot off the map, the village of Ohnoma, about two hours south of Hsipaw.  Ohnoma was a major destination of our 10-day trip.  It is the home of a truckers' restaurant known fondly as Fatty Lady's Place - the formal name of the five-table establishment is Napi - which I remembered with great fondness from a trip several years before.  I had eaten lusciously - the freshly caught fish, in particular, cooked several different ways, was memorable.  So was the invitation into the kitchen to observe short-order cooking of the Burmese kind.

I remembered too, the lusty appetites of the drivers who had parked their huge trailers outside.  I was not disappointed this time, either.  Tucked on the ground floor of a two-story house bearing large advertisements for London brand cigarettes, ma Aye Shwe-owner, chief cook and a woman of large proportions-was still there, whipping up tangy fish, vegetables and sauces in less than 20 minutes over a wood stove.

Burmese cuisine veers between the influences of India with its tradition of curries and Thailand and its flavours of basil, lemon grass and coriander with a few oddities left over from the British.  At Fatty Lady's you get straight forward Burmese cooking with a slight tilt to the Thai side of things.  As soon as we arrived, tired and dusty, for a late 4:30 lunch, Ma Aye Shwe asked one of her nieces - three of them work as her helpers - to catch a 30cm catfish from the pond just outside the kitchen window.

This was done rapidly by catching one of the fish by hand, giving it a wallop to kill it and then gutting it and chopping it up into about 2.5cm pieces.  The niece sprinkled some salt on top of the pieces, some pieces of ginger as well, and threw the pieces into a pan of super hot fat.  This was to be our fried fish.  In a second wok, the chef stir-fried some garlic, ginger and sliced tomatoes, added some water, added pieces of the fish, a huge bunch of basil leaves, and then covered it all for some 15 minutes, fanning the flames with rapid flicks of a reed fan.  A second niece prepared a quick chicken stir fry with bamboo shoots.  For a vegetable dish, our hostess tossed tomatoes and garlic with cauliflower pieces and their leaves (a leftover from the British days) in a wok for five minutes.  Accompanying everything were side portions of a spicy yellowy sauce: dry mustard, garlic, ginger, chilies, and onions boiled with the green stalks of the mustard plant.  For the fried catfish, there was a sauce of tomato, garlic, green chili, vinegar and sugar cane.

The food was served on large white china plates placed in the center of our large wooden table, along with a large bowl of white rice.  I hadn't expected to find any of the wonders of Orwell's market stalls here.  I got what I came for: an invitation into the small kitchen (two benches, a couple of chopping boards and sharp cleavers, two small overhead fluorescent lights) and a mouthwatering straight out of the pan meal - for about $1 a person.

During the rest of the trip, we ate at several roadside joints that offered unfamiliar combinations of tastes.  Yellow papaya flowers sautéed in garlic seemed a variation on the classic papaya salad.  Frogs cooked with an assortment of bitter leaves, and braised cashew leaves served with raw cucumber slices gave a sense of the pungent streak in Burmese cooking.  I rarely spent more than $1.50 for my own meal.  Most of the time, my guide helped with the ordering, though with smiles and gestures I could have managed on my own.

At the beachside resort of Ngapali on the west coast, I found my way to Best Friends, a simple indoor-outdoor restaurant nestled among a row of small places catering mostly to tourists.  I settled into a table on the deck where a few tables were taken by Germans and French.  I savored the most delicious avocado salad on earth, and asked for the recipe.  It turned out to be basic - chopped avocados, sliced onions and shallots and tomato cubes, mixed with a little sugar, vinegar, oil and a dash of fish sauce.  Coriander on top.  What made the difference was the lush avocado straight from the farm.

At Ngapali, where the Indian Ocean laps at the shore, I expected to revel in prawns the size of lobsters, as recalled from the pages of "Burmese Days."  After all, I had seen pomelos, red bananas, mounds of dried fish, green coconuts and strange looking bugs in almost every market.  Heart-shaped glossy betel nut leaves, just as Orwell described them, were abundant at ubiquitous stands that serve up the betel leaf and a piece of hard chewy nut laced with lime.

But the prawns were not to be had in the markets of Ngapali Beach.  I glimpsed them only briefly - glistening in their translucent shells on the steel tables of a fish export factory - as they were weighed and packed for air freight to Japan.

For better or worse, this was sign of modernity since the days of Orwell.

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Photos (May and June 2007)


We know you haven't seen any new photos in a while, so we thought we would post some photos for you!!!.  Attached are some photos of our Khmer family (they own the house we live in), some work photos, and a trip we took to southwest Cambodia (Bokor mountain--an old abandoned French colonial hill station) in mid May.  Enjoy!! Bokor mountain was an area where the Khmer Rouge hid out and fought many battles in the 70's and 80's.  Bokor Mountain is a national park these days.

Community fisheries natural resource mangement workshop in Battmabang (Julie helped to coordinate).

Julie working with community fisheries members and her Fisheries Administration co-workers at the workshop. 

VSO in action!!! Teaching at the community fisheries workshop!!

Check out the natural resource maps the local community fisheries members put together at the workshop!!

Workshop participants.

Dinner with our friend Carolina and our Khmer family (downstairs at their house).

Our Khmer family!!

Enjoying Dinner!!

Our Khmer family and their extended family!!

Kampot (our favorite place in Cambodia), near Bokor Mountain.

VSO friends Carolina (Portugal), Jan Simon (Holland) and Burt (India) at Bokor Mountain.

VSO pals and us at Bokor Mountain.

Biru and Ross's dirtbike.

Jan Simon and Julie at Bokor Mountain.

Old casino and hotel at Bokor Mountain.  In the 1920's this hotel was very upscale.

Biru outside old hotel and casino.  Bokor Mountain.

Biru and Andrew dancing in the ballroom of the old abandoned hotel.

Julie and Andrew dancing at Bokor Mountain.

Inside the Bokor Mountain Hotel.

View from the old hotel.

Another view from the old hotel.  Approx. 1000 meters above sea level.

Another abandoned building at Bokor Mountain.

Views to the Gulf of Thailand from Bokor Mountain.

Julie and Jan Simon at Bokor Mountain.

Andrew driving Ross's dirtbike.

Andrew on Ross's dirtbike.  Ross to left of the bike.

Old french church at Bokor Mountain.

Another view of the church.  Looks like Ireland eh?

Wild orchids at Bokor Mountain.

Kampot River below Bokor Mountain.

Fishing boat on Kampot River.

Kampot countryside.

VSO livelihoods workshop we helped organize for all VSO livelihoods volunteers in Cambodia.

Accomodations we stayed at, for VSO livelihoods workshop in Battambang.

Learning about natural resources management from local fisheries organizations at VSO livelihoods workshop.

Local kids performing traditional Khmer dancing at NGO where we held livelihoods workshop.  Kids were former street children.

More dancing kids!!

More dancing!!





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Our (Actual) Work Place Experiences

Hi Family and Friends!

Ready for summer holidays?  We sure hope you will take some!  We certainly are.  We're heading to north Vietnam June 30 for at least two weeks.  "How long?"  That's right, we will be heading to "Hoalong Bay" like some our visiting friends have done no doubt!  Hopefully we will also get the mountains northwest of Hanoi on the Chinese border, the "Vietnamese Alps". 

In light of the subject of the last two blog entries, this entry and the next (our work experiences, successes and challenges) we want to include a note on discussions in Cambodia that are considered officially acceptable and unacceptable for foreign workers/volunteers:

I think you have probably all heard by now either from us or other people that the internet and phones in Cambodia are periodically monitored by the state.  What this means for us is that we comfortably talk regularly with other people here and abroad about the many good things in Cambodia as well as the challenges this developing country faces.  The situation here in terms of freedom of speech and defamation laws is similar to probably the majority of nations outside of the industrialized world.  It is not considered a good idea to criticize the actions or ideas of individual powerful or well-connected persons, or offices and ministries.  So, we are quite comfortable with you calling or emailing us to talk about issues such as poverty, general administrative policies, development work sectors, and the causes and effects of corruption in a general way (not referring to individual persons or organizations) as that is tolerated.  We do not worry about our physical safety.

Re. official disciplinary actions for persons who engage in advocacy of a social or political nature in Cambodia:

We have heard stories about a few NGO workers who advocated in sensitive social and political areas and were asked by the Cambodian authorities to leave the country.  As volunteers we try to help Cambodian people in the sustainable livelihoods sector. We provide advice and examples which we hope will encourage practices such as: honest and transparent workplace; team work; cooperation and networking between organizations and communities; skill building and training; new problem solving methods and ideas; etc.  Our job descriptions from two log entries ago indicate that we are involved in activities such as: staff training, assisting with Dept work plans and reports, environmental education for residents, promoting sustainable livelihoods, and empowerment of  villagers to manage and protect their natural resources through establishment of Community Fisheries (Julie) and Community Protected Areas (Andrew).  It is not our role to say whether we like or dislike Cambodian politicians or officials or to be involved in social or political advocacy and it is not the policy of Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) to do so.  A final note: of course we encourage blog comments from anyone who visits or monitors this site.  Considering our commentary recently has been a bit dry we could use a few interesting or entertaining comments!

Andrew's placement at Ministry of Environment (MoE), Project Implementation Office (PIO) Phnom Penh and Project Implementation Units (PIUs) Kompong Thom Province and Siem Reap Province, Tonle Sap Environmental Management Project (TSEMP):

Well, as expected I spent the first few months (yes things in Cambodia move at there own speed) traveling around the lake to meet and get to know my co-workers in the three offices and partnering NGOs, visiting the core protection area and their residents and learning about TSEMP.  My three Directors and I wrote workplans to list identified and potential projects and activities to pursue together in 2007.  Identified activities are:

Siem Reap PIU: 

    o Create Biodiversity Conservation Area to comprise apx 8,500 Ha of floodedforest bordering the Tonle Sap Lake in Kaev Pour commune.  Help organize staff biodiversity and family socio-economic surveys and workshop for community representatives to collect biodiversity, demographic and livelihoods information  and assess community needs and priorities.
    o Coordinate renovations, design and install environmental education display panelsfor Gecko Floating Information Center 
    o Environmental education dissemination to lake-side village schoolsand adults
    o Practice English with staff to improve speaking and writing ability

    Kompong Thom PIU:

       o Management plans for core area management centers in Stung Sen and Boeng


       o Stakeholder consultation workshops for the two core area management plans

       o Monitoring of sustainable livelihoods activities in the two core areas

       o Develop schedules for ranger patrols in the two core areas

       o Environmental education dissemination to lake-side village schools

         and adults

       o Practice English with staff to improve speaking and writing ability


    PIO (Phnom Penh)

       o Put together Min of Env't display for Tonle Sap Forum in Mar/07

       o Help with writing and translating reports, workplans and documents

       o Practice English with staff to improve speaking and writing ability

       o Work with PIO to help PIUs implement projects and tasks listed for the two

          PIUs (above)


    By March 2007 my rate of progress was close to shifting out of 1st gear as I had some success on a few projects with my co-workers in Siem Reap and in Phnom Penh.  As of now (June) my rate of progress shifts back and forth between 1st and sometimes 2nd gear.  My time distribution each month b/w offices is apx 2 wks in P Penh, 1 wk in S Reap and I wk in K Thom.

    Siem Reap province:

    Several visits were made to the Gecko floating center with TSEMP staff presenting various opinions.  A plan for design, repairs and renovations was finally decided upon (Apr) and as of now (June) the work is underway.  Copies of the eight display panels with English and Khmer text were circulated amongst many staff collecting a range of comments.  They have finally been printed and are now being mounted onto boards (June).  A long process but with many persons involved hopefully a high quality product!  The panels describe the Tonle Sap ecosystem near the north end of the lake, the flooded forest and the lake at high, medium and low ebb. We think they look fab!  A nice glossy brochure is ready for printing in English, Khmer and French which we will use in promotion.  The floating building will also serve as meeting place for other local community groups, committees and activities.  I am in touch with the Lonely Planet travel book company to try to get them to expand their write-up on it.  They tell me they will be sending a commissioning author to visit the renovated center this Sept.

    Establishing a new Biodiversity Conservation Area:  In mid-March, PIO and SR PIU staff, Julie and myself performed a biodiversity survey to the lake-side area of Kaev Pour commune.  Beautiful forest and vegetation! (see photos attached).  We found enough existing flooded forest habitat and wildlife we thought to make this area worth protecting.  We proposed a boundary for the new conservation area to encompass the Community Fishery (6,200 Ha) and an additional 2,000 Ha or so (8,500 Ha total).  It is intended that management of the new conservation area will be shared by the Community Fishery, Commune Council and residents assigned to this task.  I think this project may be the most important thing I can do in my Cambodia placement.

    In May we returned to the commune to perform a 2-day socio-economic survey of families from the 5 villages that will lie within the conservation boundary (see photos attached).  A 1-day workshop was also held for 3 dozen community representatives to assess existing problems, community needs and priorities, and to discuss the proposal for the Biodiversity Conservation Area (see photos).  Our next step will be a meeting with the Minister of the Environment and Provincial Governor to gain approval for the proposal.  After that we will return to the commune to discuss a management plan for the new conservation area including purpose; objectives; legal authority; land use classifications; individual responsibilities for administration, biodiversity monitoring, regeneration of remnant flooded forest stands, patrolling and enforcement; etc.  The Government of Cambodia has decided that each province surrounding Tonle Sap Lake should have a conservation area of provincial jurisdiction on the lake.  This will be the first for Siem Reap and we are hoping that we will get permission to establish another conservation area.  

    Staff motivation level of the Siem Reap PIU is moderate and they have shown interest in pursuing a few projects with me.  They have been open enough to share a lot of their local knowledge and they are a fun group.  One challenge is that staff are frequently out doing other part-time jobs which they use to attain a total modest income (enough to live).  The Director is an older out-going fellow with an old-fashioned style.  He is proud of his good relationship with the provincial Governor and emphasizes that this is his highest priority.  He does not speak English but we have basic communication.  Travel time is a challenge as bus from P Penh to S Reap is 6 hours.  Mototaxis or tuk tuks to and from bus station add on a bit of time at each end.  There is no internet service in the office which means that I must travel back and forth from internet café with my memory stick and virus scanning it each time.         

    Kompong Thom province:

    I have been able to visit the two core protection areas with a few PIU and United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) TSEMP staff to participate in a few activities.   Although, I have mostly been an observer on these trips and I have yet to do much constructive work for the KT PIU office.  It appears that a few UNDP and PIO staff are having some success in the two core protection areas: holding workshops to gain input from local residents toward developing a management plan, monitoring of sustainable livelihoods activities, boundary demarcation, environmental education dissemination and ranger patrol and enforcement training.       

    Unfortunately, my progress in Kampong Thom province has been slow.  Getting staff to show up to meetings has been hit and miss.  Travel to the two provincial core areas from Kompong Thom requires traveling by car down to Phnom Penh, north up the opposite (west) side of the lake, and across by boat.  This means the KT PIU can not usually send a lot of staff and that it is expensive for them and me to go there.  Other challenges presented are that overall capacity and motivation is low in this PIU.  English language ability amongst the staff is very limited which restricts my ability to work with them.  Travel time is a challenge as bus from P Penh to K Thom town is 4 hours.  Mototaxis or tuk tuks to and from bus station add on a bit of time at each end.  There is infrequent internet service in the office which means that I must travel back and forth from internet café with my memory stick and virus scanning it each time.  The Director is an old-fashioned guy who is somewhat introverted but it seems he does want to get some things accomplished.  He does not speak English but we have basic communication.  I am getting along with him and hopefully I will be able to devote more time to working with KT province for the 2nd half of 2007. 

    Phnom Penh Office:

    Most of my work with the Phnom Penh office has been to help the PIO in their supporting role to the SR and KT PIUs.  I am also helping them time to time with report, workplan and document preparation.  They are beginning to share more of their work with me although there are a number of on-going official and unofficial activities which I am not fully aware of.  We spend a fair amount of time practicing English and Khmer and several of them have a good command of English language.  They are on average a quiet group but get along well with each other in the small office, enjoy conversation and jokes, and are easy to be around.  Staff motivation is highest in the P Penh office.  

    I have not asked to look at the accounting books in any of the three MoE offices in which I work and this is big reason why my presence is tolerated.  Fortunately, I am not regarded by my co-workers as a watchdog for project funding agencies ADB or the UN.  Common sense tells one he/she should be monitoring certain work activities and procedures in development projects.  However, despite regular warnings by large international funders in Cambodia, close examination of things is seldomly done.  Besides, I have no authority here and I have chosen to stick with my official role of Adviser and to not become a monitor.  As a consequence, I am usually able to get a ride in the project boat or vehicle and to get into the office during all working hours.  If I were to make certain choices which then resulted in me being ‘shut out' in terms of work, there would be no functioning VSO/MoE placement partnership. 


    This entry has been somewhat serious as it focuses on tasks, facts and various challenges of working in TSEMP.  Next entry will be Julie's work experiences and after that we will include some stories about fun stuff at work, a few successes for the villagers, funny stuff that has happened, good times in the field, and descriptions and pics of some wonderful scenery. So just hold on it gets better (we promise).....!

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    Building work place relationships, we think......

    Sousdey (Hello) Neak Kroub Knea (Everybody):

    Thanks for coming back to our blog.  You're just in time to hear more about our adventurers' thrilling work experiences as they continue to save the world!!! (Yes that's right).  Follow them as they slog bare foot through the hot (100°+) and humid, flooded, tangled jungle up to their waists dodging poisonous snakes and eluding tigers, taking on illegal fishing vessels, capture poachers (just like on TV!), save endangered species, discover ancient hidden temples and treasures, struggle with poor internet connections and search for real ice cream in rural villages! 

    Actually, our experiences may not quite measure up to Indiana Jones or Dr. Livingston ("I presume!") but we wanted to try to keep your attention after last entry's technocratic description of our placement duties.  However, the bit about barefoot in hot and humid flooded jungle and looking for ice cream is true.  Last week at a wildlife sanctuary outside of P Penh we even found small ice creams on a stick from a mobile cart for made from milk and bean paste for just 2.5 cents!  Can you imagine!?  Sorry, I am straying to toward the trivial and boring again and will try not to do so again. 

    This entry talks about our volunteer placement experiences in Cambodia in general and next entry will talk about our specific experiences at the Dept of Fisheries Administration (Julie) and Ministry of the Environment (Andrew).  Many say that in terms of volunteer placements in developing countries it takes about 6 months before one is making some difference and a year before they are effective.  This has been true for us and most of our Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) co-vols, and is one reason we did not blog much about our work until now.  As you can guess, speed of volunteer progress and overall success in a placement depends on many factors to name as few here: national and regional culture; locality ie. urban vs rural; travel time and seasonal access to rural target communities; level of education in workplace; extent and nature of corruption; type of organization ie. NGO, government or business; local community history; past experiences with Barangs (white foreigners) and other foreigners; level of local prosperity; personalities, motivations and competency of local leaders and managers; goals, methods and effectiveness of the organization and of its international funders ....and so on...  

    I'm sure you can relate to your own experiences at home and abroad as well as other stories you have heard or read to imagine different overseas or international development work situations.   Obviously, it takes a long time to get good at a new language and maybe even longer to understand a foreign culture well.  Within North America, I'm sure many of you have had similar experiences relocating to a new town or region, e.g. east to/from west coast, north to/from south, Canada to/from US, and Anglos, Hispanics, French Canadians, Native Canadian/Native Americans and other backgrounds working or living in each others' communities.  Coming from a different culture or lifestyle to a new workplace or community means it will likely take several months for local people to get to know and accept you and for you to share a productive work relationship. 


    The process could follow a chronological order something like this for the first 6 months or so of your placement for your local co-workers and other local people who you are expected to build relationships with as they...... 

    Attempt to develop an understanding of why you have come and your motivations; understand your work and social culture; understand what the heck you are trying to say in your bad and funny accent; and understand that you are not crazy for leaving your family and friends behind for a large chunk of time.

    Decide if they like you; decide if they want to work with you; decide if they can trust you enough to share important workplace, political or personal information with you; decide that they can devote enough time to work with you despite taking time out of the work day to provide care for children and elderly parents and to do other paid work (most Cambodian government salaries do not provide a living wage for a family or even one person); decide perhaps that they can make money or trade or receive favours by participating in certain activities with you (think how the prerogative to satisfy daily essential needs dominates over a decision process for long term economic, educational, or environmental needs).

    Begin (hopefully) to believe that they can accomplish things with you; begin to believe that you have sufficient cultural sensitivity and awareness about hierarchy, gender roles, customs, local politics etc. that your interactions will not create significant negative reaction in the workplace or community; believe that the official purpose of the chosen workplace activities and projects are important and achievable (even though most of the ppl in the project's target group are poor and thinking mostly about daily needs and not about long term project or life goals); believe that the project will not be disrupted by political turmoil (some elderly people have been through 8 regime changes); believe that you are not a competitive threat and will not out-shine them because you come from the west and have more money, more formal education and more knowledge re. the outside world.

    Trust that you will not betray them or take advantage of opportunities to make them look bad while making yourself look good; trust that you will not point out their mistakes or argue with them in public causing them to "lose face" (very important in Asia!  although, our experiences have been a bit different from what we were told in training to expect); trust that you do not have ulterior financial, political, social or career motives for volunteering there ("Hey Barang, are you just trying to build your resume so that you can get a big UN, ADB or World Bank consultant job at $15,000/mth tax free with a personal driver?  Yeah, you could be a big shot like the old time colonialists and considering prices here you could have quite the party lifestyle and bank a lot at the same time!"); trust that you will not directly or indirectly criticize powerful people because your co-workers could be affected with possible consequences of losing their jobs, losing their reputation in their community, receiving threats or worse.         


    Great!  You have stuck with us by reading though the relationship-building experience of our local co-workers in the first 6 months or so as they get to know us.  Because the process for the co-worker (above) describes much about the process the volunteer goes through, we won't have to go into as much detail below re. the first 6 months from the volunteer's perspective.  Also, we have already talked some about our work in previous blog entries and emails and phone calls to many of you.

    After attending 2 week-long VSO training sessions in Ottawa, Canada (summer 2006) and 2 months of language and development work training in Cambodia (Sept-Oct 2006), we started our placements (Nov 2006).  We were ready to meet our co-workers and get out on the Great Tonle Sap Lake. 

    From the description above about how our co-workers get to know us you can tell that for work activities social and cultural context is very important.  One might say the biggest factor western volunteer's rate of progress there learning curve in terms of understanding the difference between high-context cultures (Cambodia and most non-western cultures) and low-context cultures (Canada and US, and Europe to a lesser extent).  In high-context cultures, work and non-work activities, objectives and decisions are heavily influenced by the demands of immediate and extended family and community.  The meanings of time, place and actions are defined more by history, culture and traditional values and beliefs.  E.g.: time off from work may be based on the need to attend family and community events such as the many weddings and funerals of extended family - working Saturday or Sunday in lieu is not uncommon. 

    In low-context cultures, work and non-work activities focus more on satisfying the personal needs and wants of one person, pair or family unit.  Tasks and objectives are defined and controlled more by numerical amount and time.  E.g. punching in and out at work at precise times and, in some government jobs, keeping precise records of time off work for each category of leave.  Perhaps the pupolation of New Mexico is a good example to illustrate degree of context for different cultures.  On a scale of low to high-context one could place native Americans at the high-context end of the scale, Hispanic at medium, and Anglos at low-context end.                       

    To compare how a person's identity is defined in western and other non-western societies one could draw 3 different sized overlapping circles to show relative importance of a) work, b) community and c) family.  For most westerners, the size of circles for the above categories would be a) large, b) medium/small and c) medium/small.  For most non-westerners the circles would be a) small, b) medium/large and c) large.  So, priorities for western and non-western individuals are basically ranked in reverse order.  Sometimes Julie and I feel we have to try to "turn our brain around 180 degrees" to understand why things are done a certain way.           

    Ultimately, the vol must show that she/he is sincere about understanding and respecting local culture.  Even though we are advisers by title we emphasize with our Director's and co-workers that the placement is a partnership.  Julie and I find that we achieve more success by suggesting to co-workers that the partnership is about building capacity in the volunteer (absorbing local knowledge and experience) as well as in co-workers (improving English language, report writing, learning new ideas).  Decision-making, leading, managing and taking on responsibilities should be shared as much as possible. If a development worker approaches the work relationship as a one-way-street i.e. "I'm here to tell you what you should do!" co-workers probably won't be excited about working with the new and seemingly arrogant foreigner (remember colonialism, right!?).  Even if they appear to accept "commands", it is unlikely that capacity building is occurring in them or in the volunteer (the vol is not listening/absorbing).  As you know, this framework can be applied universally to all cultures human situations anywhere.  

    And that's all for today.  Please drop-in with us next week to hear about our specific projects and activities, and success and challenges at Dept of Fisheries and Ministry of the Environment.  Thank you for your blog comments.  We wish you all a great summer and fantastic holidays.  We know many of you are planning a break either at home or away so let us know how it goes.  We are sorry for not keeping up with all your emails but we hope to have fewer obligations over the next few months so we will be better at keeping up with you!

     Julie and Andrew/Julie-Andrews

     (thanks to our Brit co-vols for starting that nickname but we have many for them too!) 








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