Monday, November 19, 2012

A Day in the (Busy) Life

This is an example of a typical monday for me. Mondays are one of my busiest days. Not every day looks like this. I'll do another post of a non-busy day following this.

I'm well aware that most of this is uninteresting. deal with it.

I woke up to the baby crying and my dad’s radio, but I tried to get that last 15 minutes before my alarm went off.
Alarm went off. I got up, crawled out of my mosquito net, and first things first, checked if the electricity finally was back. IT’S BACK! HUZZAH! I opened the windows to let the daylight in, and turned on my computer, checking for emails or facebook notifications.
I quite suddenly felt sick to my stomach and ran to the bathroom for my almost daily diarrhea. As usual, I tried to remember what I had for dinner last night… oh yeah stir fried pork and cauliflower and rice. Hm. Who knows.
I changed into a white collared dress shirt, and did my hair- without a mirror. I probably looked okay.
I went downstairs in my pajama pants and my dress shirt. I always wait until the last possible minute to put on my teaching sampot. I took a piece of hard, kinda moldy bread from the fridge. The bread I bought in Phnom Penh last week. I smeared Peanut Butter on a slice of bread, then noticed that I forgot my chocolate syrup on the kitchen table from the previous night’s chocolate milk. So, I poured that on my bread too and ate it. The result was good, although nutella does that job better in my opinion.
Back upstairs to brush my teeth in the upstairs bathroom.
I folded the clean laundry I had draped over my desk chair.
I packed my bag with the textbooks and lesson plans I would need for the day.
I glanced over at my bible verse for the week: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you. He who formed you. Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1. Today I was going to focus on and remember the part that says ‘he formed you,’ so I wrote that in small black letters on my inner wrist.
I put on that stupid sampot. Todays choice is a dark green sampot with gold and pink detail that goes down to the middle of my calf. Then I went downstairs and pulled my bike out of the “garage” (a small room under the house that holds the bikes, motos, and giant bags of rice.
I left for school. I joined the line of students riding their bikes to school. I always pass them by though. I don’t know why I’m incapable of riding my bike at a slower pace.
I arrived at the school directors office, at the very moment the students were lined up respecting the flag by singing the national anthem. I quickly hopped off my bike and pulled off my helmet, and assumed the respectful position of standing tall with my hands at my sides. There is not hand over the heart her in Cambodia. Then after a few quick announcements, students were dismissed to their classrooms.
I myself head off to class. This morning I started with grade 11, class C, with Mr. Vanny. Vanny came in and began the lesson, with the 12 students who were actually in class. Where was the rest of the class? Well, it was “cold” this morning (hardly) so the students use that as an excuse to be late.
Another group of 8 students roll into class. There are no consequences for lateness in Cambodia. I spent almost the entire class sitting at the teacher’s desk watching Vanny teach. Vanny is a pretty good teacher, but he is a new co-teacher for me. So far, he has been difficult to work with, in that he wants to do everything himself. I’m having a hard time jumping in. The only thing he lets me do is read the vocabulary words for the students after they are taught so the students can hear my pronunciation. So I do that, and then I sit super bored for the rest of the hour.
The school secretary rings the bell at the office, signaling a break. I approached a smart student in the class and asked if she had free time to join the Honor Society Mondays and Wednesdays at 4. She said no, she was busy. I said I was sorry to hear that and sat back down. A minute later, she came back to say maybe she could switch her schedule. So I gave her an application. Then I heard “DIANA” and at the door were Chelsea and Linda, two of my students from last year. The called me to come outside. Linda had a letter she wanted me to edit for her. The letter is for my grandma, who recently wrote a letter to Linda because I named Linda after my grandma, in a way. I corrected a few things, and explained the difference between a ticket and a letter.
The bell rang again, signaling the end of the break. I noticed that suddenly the class was full with more than 40 students. I guess the cold late-comers all finally showed up. Vanny came up to me and asked me to teach alone this hour because he had to fix the electricity at his house. I think I’m SUPPOSED to be upset by this, but I was actually really excited to finally do some teaching in this classroom. So I told him it was not problem. Then I taught the class MY way. It went well. The students were excited to finally have me do more than just sit at the desk. I can tell because they were taking pictures of me with their phones while I was teaching lol.
The bell rang again for another break in between classes. As I was walking to the office, one of my chorus students from last year called over to me “hello sir!” I called him over to explain to him that he can’t call me sir. He asked me for the 100th time when chorus class would start back up again. I told him after Water Festival, because I’ve just started making plans. I challenged him to come up with a traditional Khmer song we can sing as a group and went on my way. Then, I stopped at the office to say hello to the group of teachers sitting there. My friend Sokha brought up his favorite topic- how much Khmer I know. He told the others about my Khmer skills in rapid Khmer, and then quizzed me on how much I understood. I passed that test. Then he went on to say I could read too! So he wrote some khmer on his hand. I read it wrong. Woops. Failed that test. Then I awkwardly left, and walked over to the library to help the librarian shut things down. I organized some books on the shelves, and then stacked chairs, closed windows, and locked the door.
The bell rang for the next class to start. This time it’s Grade 8, class A, With Teacher Buntheourn. He is also a new counterpart, but things are going smoother than with Vanny. When he came in, he asked “Do you teach or do I teach?” I repeated the same answer I always give him; “we BOTH teach,” and this time I was determined to show him exactly how this works. The first hour was a success. We each taught a section, and equally shared the teaching time.
The bell rang for a break. Buntheourn came to me and said “Can I ask you a question? What is wherefore?” I said “wherefore?? Well, this is really old English, and I think it just means the same as where.” Then he pulled out an English textbook, to show me where he saw it. In the book was a reference to Romeo and Juliet, that had the quote “Romeo oh Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?” I also taught Buntheourn what art and thou meant. He was excited to finally have this mystery solved. I felt intelligent for a moment. Then I saw a grade 12 student at the classroom door waving me to come out. I went out and she asked me why the library wasn’t open. I told her because it closes at 9 on Mondays. She said she had to return a book that was already a day late. So I grabbed my key and we went to the library to return the book so she wouldn’t have to be another day late. She paid the 100 riel late fee (less than 3 cents), signed the book, and we both went back to class.
The bell rang to study again. It was another mostly successful period of co-teaching. But, this is when the heat of the day really started to kick in. I sat but the window and used my textbook to fan myself. Halfway through the class, a local farmer started using a tractor to harvest rice right next to our window, distracting our students and also making it harder to hear. I was also distracted by what looked a lot like a scorpion crawling across the wall. But it was at the other end of the room. It could have just been a big cockroach.
The bell rang for the end of the morning classes. I walked over to my bike at the office, and rode home. On my way home, I saw the nom pow seller hanging out. I picked up the pace so I could come back for some nom pow!
I arrived home. Right away I started choking on the smoky incense coming from inside the house. Ah, my host mom and dad are still here visiting, and they are sacrificing stuff to their ancestors. I went into my room, tore off my sampot (ah sweet freedom!) and changed into pajama shorts that come down to my knee, and my new gangnam style t-shirt that I bought at the market 2 weeks ago for $2.50. Then I went back to where I saw the dude and bought a nom pow for 25 cents. Nom pow is like a sweet and salty Cambodian dumpling. The outer crust is soft and sweet, and inside is salty eggs and pork and.. I dunno what that other stuff is, but it’s good. I also bought a bag of ice and Sting (Cambodian Code Red Mountain Dew) for another 25 cents, and went home to enjoy my treats. There was an ant floating in my Sting. I sucked it right up through the straw and ate it.
Horror- my fan won’t turn on in my bedroom. The sweat is just dripping everywhere.
HUZZAH! I fixed the fan. I sat under it while I messed around on the computer.
I took my peanut butter and nutella down for lunch. Right away my visiting host mom says “Diana, eat! There’s som law koco. Give that girl some som law!” Then my sister says I don’t know how to eat it because it has prahok, fish cheese. But my mom says nonsense, let her try it. While this argument is happening, I take out the final 4 pieces of hard bread, put the last of my butter on it, and fry them up. Then I spread peanut butter and nutella on them. I take once slice for myself and offer the rest for my family. They loved it. Then I ate some rice and som law koko, which is fish and vegetable soup. Of the fish soups in Cambodia, this one isn’t too bad. I picked out the 2 ants that came with my rice, and enjoyed the rest of it. I ate a whole plate full, and then firmly refused another saying I was full. My mom asked me questions about my older brother coming to visit from America. She invited us to come to her house in Phnom Penh for lunch on the day he comes in. She wants to cook her amazing curry for him. She knows that her curry is my favorite Cambodian food. I tell her I think we can work it out. Then I leave my mom and my sister to their conversation about what else to cook for my brother.
Ahhhh hammock time. I took the book I’m reading to the hammock in the backyard next to the fish pond. I’m reading a book called Music and Silence by Rose Tremain. It’s not good, don’t read it lol. I was intrigued because I’m a nerd and it’s about a court musician, a lutenist, in Denmark in the 1600s. Now it’s a book that’s not going anywhere and is way too long, and makes me wish I was the kind of person that can quit on a book which I’ve read more than a few pages. But I still loved sitting in the hammock, feeling slight breezes and letting the sweat evaporate off my body.
I gave up on the book because of the horrible loud noise coming from the front yard. I went around to see what it was. It was like a rice mill on wheels. This giant machine was parked in our front yard. A khmer man with an impressive 6 pack was pouring our rice into the machine, and the machine was separating the edible white rice from the yellow/brown part that covers it. Sorry I can’t give you technical terms. Funny enough, I only know these terms in Khmer. As I was watching, I saw Keke our dog run over to the machine and the bags of new rice, and lift his leg to pee right on our fresh rice. I couldn’t help but laugh. Oh, Cambodia.
I went up to my room to lesson plan for the rest of my classes today, while listening to Chris Tomlin’s Christmas Album.
The song Winter Snow came on, which I LOVE and it inspired me. I decided to try to learn to play it. I took out my uke and looked up the chords. Of course, many of the chords were wrong, so I figured out the right chords. The finished product wasn’t very good. The chords are complicated and it sounds much better on a piano.
I re-packed my bag and changed back into that stupid sampot.
I left for school again.
I arrived at my classroom. Grade 11 class D with Mr. Vanny again. I arrived before the bell rang, so I decided to teach my class to greet me with “what’s up” and to respond to the question with “nothing” or “not much.” Then when Vanny arrived I had them ask him “What’s up teacher?” He wasn’t amused. I was.
The bell finally rang. Vanny started the class by talking about Obama. Obama is in Cambodia right now, participating in the ASEAN conference. He asked the class why they thought Cambodians were more excited about Obama than they were about visiting politicians from other countries. The students thought about it, but didn’t know how to answer. Then Linda said “because he’s handsome.” The class laughed. Vanny asked “how do you know he’s handsome?” She replied, “because he’s from America. He’s probably tall.” Hahaha. After this riveting conversation, we got into the lesson. I finally took charge for the first time and told Vanny to sit down, I want to teach lesson A. It was a start to us working together more, I hope.
Bell rang for break. I had nowhere to go and nothing to do, so I sat there awkwardly pretending I was reading my notebook and checking my phone, but really I was focusing on trying to position my legs so that they don’t stick together, thus creating even MORE sweat.
Bell rang to re-start class. Vanny came back and this time started class with a conversation about how the world is going to end next month. He was explaining something about the North and South pole causing it. He asked the class “Which pole is cold? The north or the south?” The students replied “The north pole.” “Right,” he said, and wrote -5 to -20 degrees next to his drawing of the world. I sat there horrified at all the false information happening before my eyes. I couldn’t even correct them to simply say the south pole is NOT hot, not without making my co-teacher severely lose face. Then the students started freaking out that the world is going to end. They asked me if I believe it, and I said no. I then briefly told Vanny about the Mayan calendar. The students begged him to translate what I said. He refused to tell them. Then he told them to open their books and skip over a page to the beginning of the next chapter. He taught just a bit of that new chapter before the bell rang. I asked him privately why he chose to skip so much material. He told me he didn’t think that grammar point (using must and have to) will appear on the semester exam. And my respect for his teaching decreased a bit in that moment. I can’t stand it when teachers teach to the test. So the students will never know must or have to?? But I had no choice but to nod and go with it.
The bell rang for the end of the day. I got on my bike and rode over to the library.
Our first Honor Society meeting of the year started, and I was EXCITED! I love this group of students beyond words. 6 students came. We made a new set of club rules, talked about logistics, and made a list of our favorite English-learning activities. Then I pulled out the attendance list from last year and went through it name by name. I found out that these 6 students are the only ones from last years’ class of 22 that can continue studying in Honor Society. Most of the other students are taking a biology class now at the same time. I sunk deep into a deep Peace Corps depression. Over the past 15 months, this group of students have been the ones who have inspired me to keep going. When I wanted to quit and go home, I didn’t because I have this class. I think about each individual student and how sad I am that I can’t work with them anymore. I was already deprived of teaching their public school classes because their public school teachers wouldn’t allow it. Now I don’t even have this. I think of the plans I had, many of them individual to the student. One student I was going to work with all year, and then help her apply for this great scholarship I know of. I’m not taking it personal. I know it’s not because they like biology better. It’s because they (or their parents) are trying to get them to pass the grade 12 exam and become doctors. But I know many of those kids wanted to be tour guides and translators and bank tellers, and other jobs where English is much more important. And honestly, they need this last year with me to get there. But really I’m just depressed because it means I’m not going to work with them and hardly even see them for the rest of my time here. I’ll do my best to recruit new members for the Honor Society, but it’s going to be a very different environment. It won’t really be the top kids in the school anymore.
I rode my bike home, silent and depressed. Then I looked at the time and realized that I won’t even have time to go running this evening. This half marathon in less than 2 weeks is probably going to kill me.
Arrived home, took off my sampot and slumped down in my chair.
My niece knocked on my door and told me dinner is ready. I went down to eat. For dinner was the food that they sacrificed for their relatives earlier in the day, including Chinese noodles, and a boiled chicken. They gave me a chicken leg. It was tough and stringy, and had barely any meat but I was grateful for some meat anyway. Then I ate some noodles and rice and left the table without a word. I heard my niece note how quiet I was. Sorry, I thought, I’m just not in the mood to entertain.
I went back upstairs and my sister called me from the living room to come watch Obama on TV. I went in there and sat down, and for 10 minutes I watched an unmoving camera on a still landed airplane. Finally, Obama came off the plane with Hilary Clinton, got in a car and the car drove away. …This is what I waited for? I went back to my room.
I got ready for my bath. A mouse scuttles across my room. I thought about my new mouse traps. I decided to let it live another day. I’m too lazy. I changed into my sarong and went to take a bath. The water was freezing. Yup, cool season has finally arrived.
I got dressed and sat down at the computer, only to see that my computer isn’t working. I tried everything and I felt like crying. Finally I just forced shut down and it seems to be working again.
I decided an episode of Big Bang Theory was in order, to try to pull me out of my funk. It worked a bit.
I started work on this blog, while listening to the Peanuts Christmas Album.
I went to brush my teeth and use the bathroom before my host family locks everything up for the night.
Another volunteer called me, so I took a break from the blog and we talked for a while.
Back to work on the blog.
Now. The blog is finished. It is already late (I usually am in bed by 9), so I’m not going to post tonight. Maybe tomorrow. now I’ll crawl into my mosquito net with the same terrible book, read for a while by the light of my phone flashlight, and go to sleep before waking up to do it all again tomorrow. Good night.

More pictures from Cheng Meng

Still decorating our Chinese Ancestors grave

Almost done!


One of my 5 adopted nieces.

Another one. They always match. Yup one of my brothers here adopted 5 children at the same time, all between ages 7 and 9.

burning incense

Another of the adopted

And the 2 others. now you've seen all 5.

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