Another month....another blog!!! The last few weeks have been busy and boring, exciting and dull, new and same o-same o. It's amazing how a Wednesday can drag....just sitting in the hammock with nothing to do and a Thursday can pass in a blink. Everyday is different...one never knows what to expect!!!
Something unexpected that happened to me the other day....I was standing at a buffet lunch in a nice hotel at a Peace Corps meetings (I was the only volunteer in my province available so i had to go impress some PC staff from visiting countries) trying to decide what I wanted to eat. Choosing the food was fine....the usual fair...rice, some stir fried veggies and a smattering of other things. When it came time to pick a dessert, however, I rather surprised myself. I skipped over the more American offerings and went for the pumpking with jellies in coconut milk with rice. It's funny that I now actively seak out Cambodian desserts....i've fallen in love with them. They aren't as sweet as American desserts and are always an experiment. The first picture above is one of my newly discovered favorites....a mixture of rice, peas, crused seeds of some kind, coconut, and sugar. You just dump it all in and grab a big mushy ball with your hands and enjoy! Perfectly delightful..... Other desserts can be peas and coconut milk, pumpkin, potatos with sugar from the palm trees, roasted purple potatoes, fruit with shaved ice and condensed milk... oh and of course the ultimate 'ansalm jaet' - banana inside a log of rice. AMAZING! It think I ate a hundred of them yesterday...but more about that later!
In other news, school has sort of started back. The first of October we officially opened the new school year which involved all 2000 students marching through town carrying signs, speeches from community leaders, and lots of 'let me introduce you to our American teacher' and me smiling sweetly. To my surprise, school didn't start then. For the week, all the students came to school but only to clean the classrooms and plant grass. On Monday of this past week we had our Teacher Apprciation ceremony where the students organized an big event - sang karaoke (a Cambodian favorite), performed skits and gave all the teachers gifts - fabric for shirts/skirts for teaching. But school didn't start then either....now we are on holiday for 5 days and will MAYBE start on Monday....but no students have books yet and the teachers might stroll in around Tuesday or Wednesday from their holiday travels.
This holiday has been quite an interesting one. The holiday is called Phum Bun and is a time to honor ancestors. Basically this is how I've understood what I've been told - if families did not provide food and things when their family member died, that person remains a spirit and cannot reincarnate to their next life. During this holiday, people bring rice and other things to the pagoda and also at their homes to give to the spirits so they can move on to their next life. One night, everyone in my house (which is now 14 people after 6 new boarders moved in) prepared balls of rice, peas, and seeds and put them on trays with candy, coconut, mango leaves, sugar cane and candles/incense.(see pictures above) At 3:30 the next morning, we all got up and walked from our house to the pagoda with our trays of rice. We sat while the monks chanted (see picture above) then walked around the pagoda placing the rice and inscense in different places for the spirits to find. Then yesterday, I went to a different pagoda with a large group of famly members - we took bowls of rice and spooned them into differen bowls in the pagoda to give to the spirits and also set up a table with food and drinks at the house. The pagoda was quite the happening place - absolutely full of people and snack stands and games....very crazy place.
Later that day we had a picnic at a big dam and enjoyed my favorite banana snacks together. The dam, now a popular swimming and fishing place (see picture above), was also full of Cambodians out for fun on the holiday. I had a great time there...it's one of my favorite places. I now have a new respect for the dam, however. In the car ride out there, my aunt and uncle were telling me how they lived there and carried dirt to build the original dam during the Khmer Rouge. It's amazing that they even wanted to go back there....especially to go for fun. These are strong people.
As you can tell, I've definitely been learning and experiencing a lot!! One more things I'm learning about is survival during the rainy season. It rains everyday.....and i'm not exaggerating...at least a couple hours every afternoon. I've learned to always keep my ears open for rain when I do laundry, that your clothes will smell if you try to dry them on a day with no sun, never leave home without my rain jacket, and for long bike rides....keep your eye to sky and race the clouds!!!!
This month we celebrated our 6 month point of serivce. That's right folks....6 full months of service finished!!! We are 1/4th of the way finished and it has flown by. The weeks are just melting away for all of us. I'm getting anxious for school to start and I know that once it does, things will go even faster. I got my teaching schedule this week and it's going to be a full year!!! I will be teaching 10 classes in grades 9-12 with some long 6 hour teaching days (nothing compared to American working schedule I know, but it's a lot for here!!!) . I'm sure I'll have lots to tell you about that next month!!!