We began teaching at Kravanh Bright Future Center (KBFC) this morning. In the classes we introduced ourselves and talked about our lives back in the United States. Then the Cambodian students told us about themselves, and talked about the differences between our lives and theirs. Even though we had just met most of the students, it was already clear that they have an incredible amount of motivation to better their lives, and also display the graciousness that is so typical of Cambodians.
After a lunch break, we were given a quick tour of Kravanh by some of the students. They took us to the market, a chance for them to practice their English. One thing I will not get used to is the smell of the food section in Cambodian markets. It’s not appetizing, but it does have some pretty yummy food, especially all of the exotic fruits we have tried here. We then trekked back to KBFC in a downpour, something that has become commonplace in our lives here in Cambodia. At the end of the day we had dinner at the school, and went back to the guest house. I was glad to have the days work done with and be able to relax a bit, because between the long van rides and busy schedule of the past several days, I was exhausted.
Bright and early Tuesday morning, we headed to KBFC. Even though it’s a two-minute walk, and even though it’s 8:30 in the morning (technically “sleeping in”), my legs always drag behind me. We rubbed sleep out of our eyes and got ready for another day of teaching. I feel conflicted when thinking about my experience of teaching. I look at all of these bright faces slowly turn blank and confused as I talk, and my natural reaction is to speed up, but I actually need to slow down. I shared stories about farming in the US and listened to the students carefully explain rice farming, and the 14-or-so uses for palm trees.
I am so impressed with their ability to speak English, even though some of their diction is hard to understand sometimes. To the students, speaking English is crucial for their future so that they can get a well-paying job. I love that I can help them practice. I’ve been given thanks so many times for helping them just by allowing them to listen to a person with English as their first language. It’s so easy for me, and I don’t need to worry about learning a new language to get a good job. This realization is eye-opening, and teaching and speaking English really is the simplest way to give back. I still get super nervous before getting in front of a group, but I push myself to do it over and over. This has been a therapeutic accomplishment (shout out to our post-trip assignment that we’ll all be working on upon returning to the states) and I’m congratulated every time I do it, by myself or others.
This has truly been a blood, sweat, and tears trip. I have laughed so much these past couple of days, and cried from laughing, and I’ve almost gotten used to sweat tickling the backs of my legs as it drips down. I can truly say I’ve never been so happy as I am in Cambodia. My bleeding feet are balanced out with the amazing Cambodian espresso. “Sticky bugs” in my hair are balanced with my love for this country. I am definitely coming back.
So I say a little prayer, and hope my dreams will take me there…
On this beautiful Wednesday, we got up ready to build bridges, both literally and figuratively. After a breakfast of rice and soup and meat, which we have become quite accustomed to, we loaded up with select students into a…tractor? Plow? Metal monstrosity? Whatever it was, it moved at about 15 mph, tops, and had the ideal design to give complete respect to every bump and ditch in the road. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, the two hour long haul was filled with fun as we headed to the Agricultural Training Center. Khmer and English songs were belted out as we “raced” the other tractors. By this point in the week, we are all great friends with the Cambodian students, who approach everything that they do with gusto.
The ATC has a variety of different projects, ranging from construction to agriculture to land scraping. We divided ourselves up to get our productive on – most of our guys went to work on a bridge, while other people went to plant corn and cucumbers and clearing a bamboo grove. In this task, we were able to say hello to some of our old friends from the Elephant Valley Project, like “beehive hanging over head” and “deadly red centipede”. It was hard sweaty work, but we were well equipped due to our prior experience from earlier in our trip. These moments of collaboration are always valuable, and this time we even had our Cambodian counterparts to keep it entertaining.
Two hours were allotted for lunch, relaxation, and drying out. For lunch we ate rice, soup, and meat, as well as delicious pineapple and lychee fruit. I spent a lot of time whacking a lychee tree with a long bamboo stick, as I was tall enough to reach the previously unaccessible branches. As the children of the surrounding dwellings ran around my feet to be the first ones to grab the fruits, I was reminded of a piñata. A large, sticky, Cambodian piñata. Then it was back to work in the bamboo grove, where I was able to meet new friends such as “giant smokey fireball of burning bamboo” and “grey-yellow snake that will spit poison on you, so better kill it with a shovel.” I went to check the status of the bridge, which in trueCambodian fashion, seemed to have been build entirely using only one small axe.
With a hard day’s work complete, we loaded back into our transport of choice and headed back to Kravanh town, feet dangling. More culture-sharing was had, especially when a Dragonfly volunteer had to explain to a group of students why he couldn’t stay behind and marry them. When we got back, there was time for a quick shower before a dinner of rice, soup, and meat. Some of us decided to quickly visit the dormitory which houses about 30 students who would normally not be able to go to school due to their distance from town. The Kravanh Bright Future Center, does so much to promote health and education, and it is great to be a part of it.
…where the skies are blue, to see you once again, my love…
Aoh pka lahong, aoh pka lahong, doh knong preksa…
Thursday is hot. Like, really hot. There’s not even any clouds to provide shade. According to Cambodians, this means that there will be a big storm later. Cambodians also believe that flip flops are suitable foot ware for jungle trekking, but that’s besides the point. Luckily, we get plenty of wind in the activity that follows breakfast, which is “emergency food supply”.
We all climb onto motorbikes, looking like some sort of ridiculous American cult because we are all clad in silly plastic bike helmets. With our Cambodian drivers and students, we head into the countryside laden with rice, ramen, and rambutans to deliver to the poor families of students. The graciousness of the families is unbelievable, as they even offer us corn and fruit despite their hard conditions. With our mission done, we visit a local stone carving factory that makes stone Buddhas of all sizes. Here we see how the tourist industry is integral to local survival. We head back to the school for lunch and relaxation. A couple of us hang out at the school and perform Zumba dances for the enjoyment of the students. 2:00 is when the real excitement begins.
First is a presentation from the school’s youth club. Me, another student, and one of our teachers give a short speech in which we express our appreciation for the Cambodian school, students, and teachers who have enriched our lives for the past week. The same is reciprocated by two brave Cambodian students. We then head outside for a presentation and appreciation from Sustainable Cambodia; we perform for the crowd of 70 people. The performance includes singing, dancing, and a laughing-induced breakdowns. Then it’s time for “friendship dinner”.
Of, course this was all build-up to the main event of the celebration, the dancing. First we learn some popular Cambodian dances and listen to local songs. A favorite among the students that we have introduced is the cha-cha slide. It’s a long evening of dancing, sweating, and laughing, but I believe that we taught the Cambodians to, as we say in America, “get down”. It’s the absolute perfect way to end our last day with our new friends, and as we say goodnight we trade contact information, get misty eyed, and say our final “I love you’s”.
Though I have only known these students and teachers for as week, I feel I have made incredible connections that I will never forget.
Cai cheat na na, chong bei pka, lahong knong prey. Chong beh pka, lahong knong prey.
The group is now making their way back to Phnom Penh and then embarking on the long journey home. They will arrive in Medford Saturday evening and be back at Dragonfly shortly after. The next few days and beyond will be a time of reflection, story telling, and recuperation from jet lag.
A heart felt thank you to the families that enabled this opportunity for the students, meaning the Dragonfly students and the many others they met along the way.
Also a giant thank you to Sean, Alyssa and Phillip who were with them all the way.
You can see a gallery of the images from the trip here. More to come when the group returns.