. Even though it was about 11am the family was busy cooking lunch and I arrived just in time for my first proper Khmer home cooked meal. They cook on a little wood fire in a clay pot outside the house. The parents had very little English but Julie had picked up quite a lot of Khmer so she was able to translate me through the introductions. Almost immediately after lunch it was time for class. We met with Mr. Somey, the sole teacher for the 107 students (of four classes), who himself has pretty poor English, and went to the classrooms only about 50m from the house. There were two classrooms, which I could only describe as bamboo shacks built at the edge of a cornfield. Mr. Somey asked me to introduce myself to his class which meant he basically handed me the marker and stood aside for the whole hour just to let me roll with it. He had a book but I hardly even looked at it, nor had I a lesson plan or any clue as to the level of the students. The students weren’t as weak as I thought, so I just rolled with it a followed my gut. It was a lot of fun and Mr. Somey kept smiling at me in approval. I brought in a few of the games I have picked up along the way and the kids enjoyed them. For the second class he asked me to introduce myself again, and another hour I taught. These kids were younger and much weaker than the first so I ended up just spending most of the class teaching the ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’. The kids loved it and there was great energy in the class.
Even though it was roasting hot and I was sweating like mad I was feeding off that energy and feeling like I was back where I belong, in front of a class. I sent the kids home and I told them (with the help of Mr. Somey as translator) all to go home and do the song for their parents. After school we had a shower (I’ll describe later) and hung out in the hammocks under the house. The family was already busy putting together dinner. I was a little jealous and in awe of Julie and she seemed to be well able to hold a conversation in Khmer while I had only the most basic few words. We sat around after dinner until the sun set when we had to move inside. These houses are not connected to electricity but have light (and a TV actually), powered by big car batteries. The TV was out of action so all the kids were excited and amusing themselves by jumping around singing and dancing and playing a whole range of games with me that I didn’t understand. Of course the women made a circle of their own leaving me to join the circle of smallies. To break up the circles a little bit I brought out my camera where I had stored photos of my family, Ireland, snow, sports I like to do etc… it was a nice ice breaker. By about 8 o clock the family started going to bed and I was left with no other choice but to go too. For sleeping they had erected a bed for me in their large single room house, with some privacy provided by curtains made of sheets. This is more luxury than most of the family get; they just sleep on the bamboo floor with a blanket
. I managed to get to sleep by about 9:30 but was woken numerous times by barking dogs and crying babies during the night.
The family started rising by 5 and soon after that the whole village was up and making plenty of noise. I lazed in bed until a slightly less insane, but lazy by Khmer standards, 7am. At about 6:30 the kids headed to school, and the parents to work, so the family didn’t make breakfast. Instead I went across the road to the neighbors’ house to have noodle soup. It was a really plain noodle soup but the cheapest breakfast ever (1000 riel, or about 18 Euro cent). I walked up through the village to find some Khmer coffee to shake off the cobwebs of the night. I found it, it was super strong and also fantastically cheap (1200 riel, 22 cent). It was pretty quiet around the house for the morning so I relaxed in the hammocks with Julie and had her help my Khmer. Julie had no previous experience with teaching, so I in return helped her with that, showing her my TEFL notes and give her some tips. It was a long morning until everyone started coming back for lunch at about 11. We were treated to snail soup with fish and rice, a lunch which the father must have spent 90 minutes preparing. I didn’t find it all the appealing but had to eat quite a lot as the mother seems to get happier and happier the more we eat. Again it was off to class almost immediately after lunch and this time I agree to take Julies classes
. She wanted to watch me teach, and though it would help her own teaching. Her first class was shockingly bad. I struggled with them through the basic introductions and when I tried to introduce ‘he / she’ their poor little brains almost exploded. After what felt like a failed first half I pulled out the trusty ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ to be sure to send them off smiling. The second class was better and I managed to play some more advanced games such as Pictionary and Hangman. That was it, the extent of my teaching in Cambodia. After the second day’s classes Mr. Somey wanted to take us to a local house for a traditional music performance. It was just a few doors up and there was a blind old man and his kid (from one of the classes) playing some kind of string instruments which were alien to me. Some of it was quite pleasant but some other parts made me shiver as the notes cut through my eardrums. Mr. Somey stayed around to have a very early dinner, of some kind of special cake thingies, with me and Julie. After an hour or so of hammocking I went down to the banks of the Mekong for sunset with Julie, Ma and a couple of the kids. Liza, one of the 10 year old kids was becoming something of the little brother I never had as I was gently beating him up with Karate. We also had a long jump competition in which I triumphed over a 10 year old boy and a couple of girls. There was no swimming in the Mekong there as there was a recent story of one of the farmer’s cows being gobbled up by a rare Siamese crocodile
. Ma was afraid of the dark near the Mekong so we swiftly headed back to the house before nightfall. There was a whole huge batch of those cake thingies made and Ma was pushing them into us all evening, again getting happier with every one we ate. It was Friday night, so I had a thirst for a beer. As in the tradition, when being hosted by a Khmer family, you don’t buy yourself a beer but you but a handful and share them with the family. Not only that, but you have to pour all the beers and tend to them, keeping them full. I showed the family my sketchpad with pictures from all around the world and it was a good conversation starter, communicated with the help of Julie. I felt for them when I could see how blown away they were with the travel I had done, something they could never hope to achieve with their means. I actually kind of regretted showing them the sketches and telling them all about my travels. Ma wanted me to sketch their house but unfortunately I would not have time before leaving. I was starting to get a headache so I was actually one of the first to hit the sack at 8:30 where this time I slept like a baby until about 7 the following morning.
I really didn’t feel like bland noodle soup again for breakfast so I went back to the place I had coffee the previous day and this time had a bread roll as well. I was sitting across from an old man who I suspect was father of the house and owner of the shop
. He kept talking to me in Khmer and I could only pick out the odd word and reply with ‘Knumb aat jhul te’ (I don’t understand). He kept pointing at his daughter (who I guess was 16) and me and then making a gesture of putting his two thumbs together. I’m pretty sure he wanted me to marry her (fairly normal to take a 16yr old bride here) but I had enough Khmer to laugh and say ‘te, awh khun’ (no thank you). Some of the kids had been given the day off school so it was a bit more lively around (or I should say under) the house. A little after breakfast Julie and I went with one of the kids to do a bit of work in the fields. We were picking a small plant which grows in and around the corn crop. It was only 9 or so in the morning but the sun’s heat was intense and I was sweating like a pig in no time. We weren’t even working an hour and I was a wrecked sweaty mess by the end of it. We headed back to the house for a shower before having lunch. I just have to describe the shower… As there is no running water, rain water is collected from the roof and stored is big clay pots. You shower under the house which is more or less a public place. You take two kamma (like a scarf, or a sarong for girls), and wear one of them while pouring pots of water over yourself and washing and then change into the other one for drying. It quite refreshing, especially after working in the fields for a while. We had another delicious lunch and spent an hour or two dosing in the hammocks before heading back to Kampong Cham. I took a few photos with Ma, Pa, and Julie before three of us (Pa, Julie and I) took to the dirt/mud track for the delicate journey. It was quite uncomfortable with 3 of us on the bike and the bike hitting the bottom of its suspension on some of the bigger bumps.
So the homestay was an awesome experience
. The village was relatively poor, and the lodgings basic but comfortable enough for a few days. It was a little boring since nobody around there had enough English to have a meaningful conversation, nor I enough Khmer. I did learn quite a lot of Khmer there which I hope will stick for the rest of my trip in Cambodia. I really enjoyed doing a little bit of teaching again and it made me really excited for the teaching job I will be doing in China. I was a little sad to leave there, since I felt like part of the family after only three days. I could really have seen myself sticking around there longer making some proper progress with the classes and becoming more of a part of the homestay family. Before leaving I got the contact details of Mr. Somey and promised to pass them onto GVI, I’m sure the project could benefit enormously from a more steady supply of volunteers.
I spent much of my free time in Chiro thinking about my plan. Now that I have the dates for the job, and the date of the family reunion at home I have all the information I need to book the remaining parts of my trip. When I returned from the village I stuck around Kampong Cham for a day to start planning all this out. Since I am enjoying Cambodia so much I decided that I would be cutting Vietnam from the plan. I would rather do Cambodia well and have some time before teaching to explore south China rather than rush Cambodia, Vietnam and south China. I managed to book a fairly cheap flight from Bangkok to Guangzhou and put in a ticket request for a train from Hong Kong to Shanghai. This fits very well with my ambition to make Angkor Wat my last stop in Cambodia. Also for the first time I started to seriously look at flights home… looks like I’ll be going Beijing back to Europe via Moscow. Sadly my budget and my time will not allow me to carry out my intention of doing the Trans Siberian rail home… I will have to save this for another trip J
After seeing a poster in my guest house about an 'Organization for Basic Training' I had called the guy and arranged to head out of the city to a small village nearby. The moto driver who was hanging around the guesthouse took me there for $3. The rain had come down pretty heavy in the morning. So the same tricky dirt track I had ridden on the previous day was now a treacherous mud trail. The driver had good skill though and we made it almost three quarters of the way there before we came off in a particularly muddy patch. I jumped off and got stuck in the mud by the flip flops while the driver struggled to get the bike upright again. We got out of the bog and crawled the rest of the slippery road to the house where I would be staying. I was greeted there by Julie, a French girl who had already spent two weeks there. She introduced me to ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ and the rest of the family, though their numbers were so great (8 kids in total) that I never remembered their names