with glittering eyes

A journey through Peace Corps: Cambodia

Round Two

Oh hey guys. That is a picture of the current state of my legs.

…and my arms…

…and my stomach.

In the interest of making sure you don’t have nightmares, I’ll refrain from posting pictures of my face and chest.

Conclusion: I’m allergic. REALLY allergic. To what, I don’t know. Yet. It may be the antibiotics I was on, it may be the towels I used, it may be some food I ate. But as of right now, all I know is that I belong in a fuckin’ LEPER COLONY.

But on the bright side, Peace Corps is putting me up in a hospital (yeah, I’m in a hospital right now) in case the allergic reaction gets so bad my airways start to close. I have an IV pumping antihistamines and some sort of steroid into my body. I itch terribly all over. My stay in this hospital will cost Peace Corps $1100. I just ordered room service. I look forward to watching the Packers-Bears game.

If you take the disgusting red hives out of this picture, it’s actually a pretty nice setup.

Twice in one week that I’m in Phnom Penh on medical. This curse of karma is so, so vicious.


January 23, 2011 Posted by | Real PCV Life | 1 Comment

“English Club” Shenanigans

A few funny and noteworthy things have happened in “English Club” this week. I’m still hesitant to call it that, because of my harboring secret ambitions that it’s still going to turn into the Reproductive Health class that I so want to teach. However, as evidenced from our past 5 meetings, it is clearly an English Club right now with our games and writing and speaking exercises so I guess I will let the name stay…for now. In quotations.

But now, I’d like to present to you the first in a series of posts titled “English Club” Shenanigans:

I passed around a sheet the other day with Name, Grade, and Phone Number written at the top to get a grasp on how many students were coming to these sessions. I get the list back with 24 names, some with phone numbers, some without (not everyone can afford phones). One kid had gone above that, however, and written, under the Phone Number column, “I am not Telephon.” Noted.


Today I divided the club into groups of four or five to do a writing exercise where each person starts writing a story for a few minutes and passes the paper on to the next person who also writes for a few minutes, so on and so forth, to create a coherent amalgamation of a story. A group of snickering 12th grade boys (Tiger amongst them) came up with this gem:

“Have a men love a girl. but she don’t loved him. he feld hot happy when a girl refused that not love him. and then he went to drank a lot of wind wine and smoke and then he said, drink for drank drink not drank drink for wat. and then that girl came to met him. She want to say she love him but she saw him like this she say good bye.”

By the way, “drunk for drank drink not drank drink for wat” is a misspelt version of a popular Khmer saying, “Drink for drunk, drink not drunk, drink for what?” Otherwise known as, the only reason to drink is to get pissed drunk. Luckily, at the bottom of this story, there was a carefully hand-written disclaimer: “This story is not good for us to imited him.”


For homework after Monday’s session, I had my students write their own stories after I told them my childhood favorite of “Rumpelstiltskin.” I got back a variety cleverly crafted stories including one about two poor farmers’ children who get adopted into a rich family so they got to go to University and one about a brave hunter’s son who was betrayed by the king’s officer when going to the palace to ask for help because his father had died. But there was one that particularly caught my eye–a solid 5 8×11 pages, back and front, of blue ink that started with:

“Once upon a time, many centuries ago, a poor family lived in a  hilly area of the north of Persia. They had only one son who looked after their few sheep. His name was Ios….”

Something tells me that this 10th grader might not have written the entire grammatically correct story himself.


Add all of this to the fact that people still whisper “I love you” whenever Tiger speaks (in reference to the first disastrous play of “Telephone”), causing everyone to burst into laughter, I’d have to say that this is easily the highlight of my experience here so far. Easily.

January 19, 2011 Posted by | Real PCV Life, Teaching Khmer | 1 Comment

Guess What

Guess what the above picture is? Kind of looks like the supple breast of a petite woman, no?

Guess again. It’s my growing-its-own-brain bug bite. This guy was responsible for the 101, 102 degree fever in the middle of the night that led to the aforementioned ice baths. Also the culprit behind my body aches, or so Navy thinks. I don’t even know what bit me. All I know is that it itched for a day, so I scratched it, and the four days following have been filled with infection-ridden pain (on all fronts).

There’s my index finger, shown for size reference. It’s so swollen it almost feels like a just-nursed breast: size, tenderness, and all. Now guess just how far into the pelvic region it extends?

That far. Since being in Cambodia, I haven’t really been much for personal grooming, especially in the hardly-ever-dusted nether regions, but I did it for the purpose of making this picture somewhat acceptable. How did something get so far down there to bite me and leave such heavy repercussions? Who knows.

Finally, the antibiotic Cephalexine is also giving me the runs–run to the bathroom shitting myself runs. I REALLY probably shouldn’t have thought jauntily to myself about how my intestines are probably made of steel due to the lack of GI problems I’ve had since being here. I hate karma.

January 15, 2011 Posted by | Real PCV Life | Leave a comment

Almost 6 Months

I remember the times I would secretly giggle to myself whenever other volunteers would be complaining of yet another gastrointestinal ailment. I would thank my mom for her hardly-ever-gastrointestinally-sick genes but at the same time knock on wood because Cambodia is hard as it is without having to use the bathroom every half an hour.

Well, what goes around comes around: I should have knocked harder on that wood–or, you know, maybe not have had those secret giggles at other PCVs’ misfortune–because it’s my turn to be sick, and it’s my turn HARD. I haven’t even made it 6 months into service.

I woke up one unassuming Monday morning with a small bite of some sort in my right pelvic region. I arrogantly that it might be an ingrown hair or something similarly harmless, brushed it off and went along with business as usual.

It’s now Friday, and the “bite” has swollen to five times its normal size, complete with redness, tenderness, and a firmness to the touch. Oh yeah, and my 101 degree fever in the middle of the night along with some of the worst body aches and headaches I’ve ever felt, prompting my host mother to give me an ice bath–probably the worst Cambodian experience I’ve ever had, but I see where she was coming from. If you’re hot with a fever, why shouldn’t you be plunged into a bucket of ice to cool down?

So right now I’m in Phnom Penh, having just seen Medical Officer Navy to figure out if I have dengue or not. No, I thankfully do not have dengue, but I do have a pretty serious all-body bacterial infection that’s most concentrated at the bite area. I was sent off with antibiotics and the feeling like the world was ending.

I’ll be better soon, no doubt.

Also, I knew this was coming. There is never NO repercussion for laughing at others’ expense. Damn you, hubris…damn you to hell.

January 14, 2011 Posted by | Real PCV Life | 1 Comment

Mildly Amusing

My supposed “Reproductive Health” class took a turn for the amusing today. (I still don’t know how I’m going to try to work Reproductive Health into this. It is much too mixed of an audience for me to even fathom bringing up taboo subjects right now). Since starting it, I’ve been looking for “warm up” activities to do with the students so they’d get a chance to practice their English while feeling more comfortable with me–who knows, if they feel comfortable enough, I might just be able to carry on my planned Reproductive Health ideas without gender segregation.

Travie suggested that I play 5-minute language games with them to encourage them to be more comfortable around me and with each other, so I chose three to play this afternoon as a trial run.

The first game we played was Rank In Order. I had them all line up according to their birth dates in chronological order, and then say to me their name and birth date in English. They got it, for the most part, but  no one more than the class ham: “My name is Samnang, but my nickname is TIGER.” Nice, Tiger.

The second game we played was Telephone. I had them all line up, and naturally the boys lined up on one side and the girls on another, with an awkward gap in the middle. I whispered, “English is my favorite subject” into the the first girl’s ear, but by the time the sentence reached the last boy, Tiger, he looked at me, decided to flourish his sentence, and so got down on his knees and said, “I love you.”

It wasn’t any better when I started on the boy’s side. I whispered to Tiger, “I like to wear pants that are blue.” By the time it reached the last terrified girl on the other side, she said, barely above a whisper, “I want to kiss you.” No doubt some of the boys had something to do with that one.

The third game we played was Chain Story. I wrote a sentence on the board and had them all come up with their own sentences to add to make a coherent story. I started with, “Once upon a time, there was a princess.” Tiger smirked and added, “She was very pretty.” It went along like this with “She met a boy,” “They fell in love,” “They went for a walk,” and “They got married” until two Christian boys I met previously showed up. When it was time to add their sentences, the first boy said, “And one day a boy came to their house and delivered the gospel to them.”

The second boy said, “And then they believed in Jesus.”

When I put the sentences on the board, all the Muslim girls in the front protested that they didn’t understand (kind of funny and ironic). When the Christian boys explained it to them, they all unanimously said that they didn’t like the sentence and that they should change Jesus to Royal Palace. And so the princess believed in the Royal Palace.

I said to the class later that while I respect everyone’s beliefs, the class is filled with people of many different backgrounds and religions so we need to be respectful of everyone and not proselytize.

And then class was over, and I excused everyone with the intent to meet on Friday. “Thursday! What about tomorrow? Do you have free time tomorrow?” was the resounding chorus. I looked at their earnest, shining (some smug–Tiger) faces.

Of course I have free time tomorrow. For you, all the free time in the world.

January 12, 2011 Posted by | Living Khmer, Real PCV Life | 1 Comment

Mildly Surprising

This past weekend was my first weekend at site in a long time. At first I was kind of intimidated at the vast expanse of time and nothingness that lay ahead of me (especially because it was a three-day weekend due to 1/7 being Victory over Genocide Day), but eventually I filled my schedule with things like washing my shoes and destroying my legs with an especially long run/hike.

But Cambodia, while sometimes event-less, is never boring. The following are things from this weekend that I deemed semi-noteworthy and slightly surprising.

My siblings’ desire to learn: While everyone else had the day off school and learning, my siblings and cousins requested that I continue teaching into Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. With nothing else to do, I could hardly say no to their beaming, gap-toothed faces. On Sunday we ended up playing word games for almost an hour past the end of the lesson, mostly due to the fact that playing games attracted the more reluctant cousins to come out and everyone kept wanting extra turns.

My language tutor’s shenanigans: I shouldn’t even be surprised anymore whenever I walk into class and the first thing he says to me is, “Christine. I have something to ask/tell you.” Today he asked if I’ve “ever eaten the meanest fish in the sea, the shark”. When I replied that I’d only ever eaten the fin, he said that he was cooking shark meat soup in the back right now and led me to his kitchen to show me the bubbling pot of shark stew, complete with fanged head intact.

My Muslim girls: These girls learn English from my language tutor at a time that’s too late for me to join them, and I’ve been hearing from him for awhile that they want to meet me. This weekend, I finally did, and they invited me to their explore their village and meet their parents. While there, I noticed, not for the first time, that they were all wearing the prettiest long skirts made out of sarong material. I expressed my desire to get one, and they took me to their tailor to get it made. When I walked out wearing it, several Muslim women in their community asked if I’d be getting a head scarf to match. When I left, they chorused, “I love you very much sister!”

My “Reproductive Health” club: I had asked my girls ahead of time when they had free time to speak some English with me and they said 4-5pm, every day. So today I showed up at the school ready for some intimate conversation with these girls to get to know them before asking if they want to learn about reproductive health. Unfortunately, they told all of their friends, male and female, that I was going to be teaching English at 4pm, so I had a classroom full of a mixed audience. No point trying to talk reproduction then. I asked the class what they wanted to talk about and one boy said, “Love! I want to talk about love!”

My school’s odd rule: When I met my Muslim girls at the school, I noticed that none of them were wearing their head scarf. Surprised that they allow themselves to be seen as such in front of men, I asked why they weren’t wearing it. They said that the school forbids them to wear any headgear, and that not wearing the scarf worries them, but it is the school’s rule and there is nothing they can do about it.

My lack of self-control: There has been, for some time now, a man that will ride past me on his bike while I run, heckling me with, “Muy! Bi! Muy! Bi!”, which is the equivalent of “One! Two! One! Two!” Yesterday, while running, he heckled again, and I lost it. I stopped in front of him on his bike, and menacingly said, “What?” a few times in his face while he cowered over repeating, “Att hien, att hien,” which means “I don’t dare [mess with you].” I should have stopped there but I was full enough with adrenaline to advance one step closer and shove him with both hands, resulting in him toppling over onto the ground, while letting out the Khmer equivalent of “Fuck!” I ran home and didn’t look back.

My Ma’s reaction: When I got home, I felt extremely pumped showing that S.O.B. who’s boss but also a little bit of fear: what if he ambushed me next time? So I told my ma, and she laughed. By the end of the day the entire village knew what I had done.

My Pa’s reaction: “You hit him? Did he hit you back? No? Good. If he does that again hit him harder. Then tell me, and I’ll go hit him. And then I’ll call the police to take him away. He is a bad man. When I get drunk I sleep. When he gets drunk he does bad things. I like beer.” (He was drunk when he said this, but I appreciated the sentiment nonetheless.)

It’s weekends like this that completely fulfills me, my role as a PCV, and makes me want to stay at site more. Cambodia, you temptress of adventure, you.

January 10, 2011 Posted by | Living Khmer, Real PCV Life | 2 Comments

It’s Not Just Chinese People

Every Chinese-American kid is familiar with the old adage from our parents: “When I was your age, I didn’t have ______ (various items can be inserted here: food, shoes, electricity, paper) so be grateful you do now. Work harder. No excuses for failure.” Other kids might be familiar with that too, but I wouldn’t know.

Yesterday, at language, Mr. Sophea proved to me that it’s not just Chinese parents who do this. The following is the conversation we had.

Me: (reading from my textbook) “Don’t jump off bridges into the water.”
Sophea: Christine. I need to tell you something. [Note: whenever he needs to tell me something, even if it’s something like “I sold my motorbike today”, he prefaces it with this serious disclaimer.] When I was young I did this.
Me: You did what? Jumped off bridges into the water?
Sophea: Yes, I did that. When I was young I did everything. Not like this generation now.
Me: What do you mean you did everything?
Sophea: I catch fish for dinner, I climb trees to get coconuts and other things. I carry buckets of water 2km. I was slow so during one morning I only carry 2 buckets. I was maybe more than 10 years old.
Me: Your [9 year old] son can’t climb trees?
Sophea: No. He look weak. His life is easy. My wife does everything for him. That why when he here I make him do work like boil the water for drinking.

See? Same same. My language tutor reminds me of my father a lot in his parenting skills. I see him every day, so he’s kind of like a father figure to me, and there is not a day that goes by that he doesn’t mention how hard things were during the Khmer Rouge. Kind of like my real dad and the Cultural Revolution.

So yeah, Cambodia: more like home than you think.

January 9, 2011 Posted by | Learning Khmer | Leave a comment