Settling in

Trip Start Jul 20, 2009
Trip End Jul 24, 2011

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Where I stayed
My new home, near the RTTC

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Friday, October 9, 2009


It has been 11 days since I arrived in Prey Veng and I'm surprised how much can happen in such a short time, especially given the fact that classes still haven't started at the RTTC. So here's the deal. As a Peace Corps volunteer my job here is to be a co-teacher as well as find secondary projects to start or involve myself. I am supposed to have a full month to observe the English classes as well as several months to explore the town and get to know my new community. My co-teacher, Sothin, also happens to be the newly promoted deputy director and told me within the first few days of being here that he does not have enough time to be my co-teacher and seeing as he does not even really teach classes anymore, I can understand why. He really is a nice guy and seems to be doing a lot at the school as far as administration goes, not to mention his English is fantastic after spending several months in England and Singapore on a few education conferences. Shame really but Sothin told me that there are two other English teachers I can work with except that one is in the hospital in Vietnam and one has yet to decide if he wants to work with me.

So needless to say I haven't received the warmest of welcomes from the staff. Then there's my host family, a 55-year-old widow named Maan and her two adorable grandchildren, Nita who is 9 and Sopea who is 5, a handful with his energy but is always smiling. Maan doesn't speak any English so it has been a challenge to say the least to understand her. Every time I have asked her to repeat herself she will smile at me as if she understands but then walk away. I learned she will repeat what she says if I ask her to speak slowly- though it always came out at the same speed as before and with little understanding on my part. That is partly why I have taken to giving English lessons to Nita, that and her eagerness to talk with me and addressing me as 'teacher'.

But they are not the only ones in the house. Another young girl around 20 lives upstairs. The first day I met her, I was opening the front door and she simply slipped by me with a suitcase and headed for the stairs. I asked her in Khmer if she lived here though maybe not too well as she simply replied a few words I didn't understand and gave me a cold scowl. I later found out that she is a student at the RTTC that will be living here for a year but her coldness towards me has not waned and even my cheerful hellos won't break her scowl.

The same day she arrived six teenage boys showed up in the wooden shack that almost leans against the small cement room that I sleep in. I asked Maan about the boys and she said that they are studying at the high school across from the house and will be living here for a year as well. I must be honest, it made me a bit nervous, especially as I keep a computer and other expensive electronic gadgets in my room and I can definitely not open the shades anymore as my window looks directly into their room.

So it was really unfortunate that that evening when I went to take my bike out from under my window for an evening ride it wasn't there. It had only been twenty minutes before when I went outside to collect some of my laundry from the line that I saw it and there wasn't a person in sight. I walked all around the house trying to remain calm and try not to rush to conclusions so I walked to the RTTC only a few minutes from the house and found Sothin in his office. I explained what happened and that I thought it might have been taken but asked if he could call Maan and come to the house with me. He couldn't reach Maan after several tries and asked the large group of teenagers next door if they had seen anything. After several phone calls with the Peace Corps security officer a small group had gathered at the gate including the director of the Provincial Office of Education. My mysterious scowling roommate appeared from seemingly out of nowhere and announced that it was locked in the shed. Sothin and the POE director started laughing. Still laughing, they got on their motos, said goodbye and drove off, laughing all the way. Needless to say I was feeling pretty embarrassed especially when I had to call the PC and explain what had happened.

Maan came home shortly after and didn't seem to pick up on my frustration over the whole ordeal. But soon we were laughing about it in the way that two people who hardly understand each other do, all smiles and many understanding nods of the head. She kindly rubbed my back saying com pye, don't be nervous, referring to the teenage boys around the house, a kind thing to say yet perhaps she didn't understand that it wasn't nervousness but frustration and confusion that had pushed me close to tears. So if anything it cleared the air about the new kids and my apprehension as well as giving Maan and I a chance to sit and talk about something other than the weather. I feel a whole lot better about my new extended host family, it's definitely an unusual setup and I can only hope that the mysterious girl will smile at me once, just once; or at least tell me her name.
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