Daily life in Prey Veng

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

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Where I stayed
Same house, 13 people

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Friday, October 23, 2009


It seems like classes are starting to adhere to the schedule now at the RTTC, I've already observed several classes with my new co-teacher Han Sokum and I've been conducting surveys for the class to collect baseline data and assess their English skills. Sokum only teaches “upgrading” which is basically teaching grammar out of the English For Cambodia books, or EFC. They are the text books that the teacher trainees will use when they eventually start teaching in their own secondary schools after they finish their studies at the RTTC. I could say a lot about these books but the long and short of it is that they are outdated, introduce but don't explain grammar points, and involve subjects that are relevant to life in Cambodia but present them in a way that is sometimes condescending, like suggesting that Cambodian people are not smart enough and lack the necessary skills to start a successful business. So I want to use additional texts, such as Headway or Grammar in Use when I start teaching. The timing is a bit complicated as my new co-teacher is very eager for me start teaching but I'm supposed to have at least a month to observe and the year one students won't start until November. I am eager to have a schedule and get into a routine but it's so difficult when all of the classes haven't started yet and Sokum is so persistent.

I think that having a routine here is important, not just for having a schedule but more for my sanity. For example, I found a scorpion on my bedroom floor just the other day and was more afraid of my reaction than I was of it, put my phone next to it and took a picture before calling one of the boys into the house to kill it for me then raced over to Scott's house to have a victory shot of strong rice wine. It's not to say that things here are overly stressful but amidst the random confrontations, unscheduled teacher meetings, an ever growing household, and now scorpions in my bedroom, it helps to know that I have a few planned moments of peace that are in my control. So far my daily routine starts with crawling out of my mosquito fort at around 5:30 am followed by a quick shower before my host mother brings me a kettle full of hot water for a bowl of oatmeal and aam-baal (crushed uncooked rice that looks like oatmeal, really cheap in the market and makes my oatmeal last longer) and coffee from my Vietnamese coffee filter mixed with canned milk. I usually listen to the BBC on my radio for a while as I eat and organize my books for the day's classes.

I'm out the door by 7 am but it's only less than a minute by bike to my school and class doesn't start until 7:10 or whenever my co-teacher shows up. After observing Sokum for two to four hours I ride over to the market and buy fruit or exchange money at one of the many jewelry counters (many Khmer people have their savings in gold). Then I head over to an unmarked stall beside the market with an elderly woman sitting out front, smirking with her red-stained lips from chewing beetle-nuts who I get my day-old Cambodian Dailys from. I don't know how I would have found her without Scott since she is the only one who sells them in town and I had to set it up days in advance, comes directly via bus every morning along with the mail (there's a post office but no one uses it). Then I'm all set and take my purchases and newspaper to my usual cafe along the waterfront.

There is something about the cafes in Cambodia that I absolutely love, a bit gritty, a tad sleazy, something secretive, like a shot out of an old Kung Fu movie where the hero stumbles into a smokey cafe and the men sit in dark corners looking like they're about to pounce; you can't get this sort of atmosphere in Starbucks. My cafe is almost always packed with middle-aged men, usually middle-class or military men, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and drinking iced-coffee that is more condensed milk than coffee or sipping shot glasses of hot tea. They huddle around small wooden tables in short plastic chairs, talking or playing chess which involves slamming the pieces down loudly against the board and cursing loudly at their opponent, fantastic. The best part about this cafe is that despite my being the only women there the men are more interested in the chess games than they are in me, no one stares or interrupts my reading the paper. The owners, a quiet reserved man and his wife who always smiles broadly at me and invites me to sit and chat with her, seem to understand me pretty well: hot coffee, a pot of tea that comes standard with every order, and a plastic bag full of nome, doughnut-like breads sprinkled with sesame seeds are the perfect accompaniment to a newspaper and the wonderful breeze that comes off of the lake.

Lately I've had the occasional visitor, turns out Sokum goes to the same cafe sometimes after classes so we've had several pots of tea together and talked about teaching and development in Prey Veng. Scott even comes around sometimes before lunch and when it's not raining we buy some food from the market and picnic on the waterfront. Everything seems to shut down between noon and two, mainly because it's too hot (around 97 degrees these days) and most people in town go home to eat lunch and sleep. At 2 o'clock I have my Khmer lesson with Sam Aang, a kind elderly man with strange blue eyes that teaches English at the EU Vocational School. Scott told me about him and it seems that he has given Khmer lessons to every foreigner that has lived in Prey Veng in the past ten years. His English is wonderful and his stories are even better though terribly moving, mostly about his life during the war and how he tried to study English in secrecy during a time when learning was forbidden and often punishable by death.

I try to make sure that I'm back home before it gets dark around 6 which is about the same time that my host-mother pulls up on her moto with the kids from their English lessons. I usually work with Nita on her English while her grandmother makes dinner and her brother watches TV. Dinner is always an awkward exchange as my host-mother hands me a tray with several small dishes on it accompanied by the same “hope bye”, eat rice, then shoos me into my room to eat alone. Honestly, I didn't quite understand it at first and would have preferred to eat with the family but it's a nice change from my training family where eating dinner was a form of entertainment for the neighbors and my current family does not actually eat together anyways but takes shifts in front of the TV and the table in the kitchen. I'm sure that my routine will change within the next few weeks as I start to teach alone at the RTTC and cement my timetable but that's also part of my routine here, never getting too settled and keeping a good sense of humor when life takes an unexpected turn...like finding scorpions on my bedroom floor.

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