Revised entry. (Teaching Continues
20.04.2012 - 27.04.2012 31 °C
WOW. That last entry was hideous. Think of it as a bad hair day in blogging terms.
I have been fighting a losing battle with computers over the last month. They have died in the heat, disconnected during my uploads and deleted my work: this is fine, as the tech's a little ropey out here.
What isn't fine however.....
is when a so-called "expert" in Phnom Penh sells the NGO a new computer with a few, hidden surprises. A live current from the mains electricity passing through the computer case is an early morning wake-up I do not care to repeat. The video card is (literally) toasted and the hard drive with my lesson plans and blog drafts may not come back.
In short, I have about 2,500 words to re-write - but to clear up the last (hurried) entry: a revised version, below.
Arriving at Kep harbour with Letizia the Irascible Italian, we headed into the town. It was on that day that I had my first run in with a Durian. The name sounds (quite rightly) like a Doctor Who monster. Accurately enough, the hateful fruit is the size of a large melon, but forest green and covered in giant, pyramidal spikes, giving the impression of some low-budget alien birthing pod. In the wild mix of South-East Asia, that would be normal enough. And yet, the spiky food has another trick up its sleeve. It gives off a foul musky smell from the faded yellow fruit inside the spiky shell; halfway between custard and rotten onions that sticks in the untrained throat. I was choking a little on the smell at the town square and even the Roman's hawkish features wrinkled in visible disgust. The town itself was quiet and after passing beyond the statue of Srey Sor, the fisherman's wife). We decided to take a ride further West, to the famed Crab Market.
Upon entering the crowded market, Letizia and I were overwhelmed by the huge sacks of alternately sopping wet and reeking fish leaking briny slime into the drainage channels and the fly-covered dried squid, insects and chicken displayed on spiked V-skewers. In between these scenes, local women in face-covering sun bonnets hauled traps full of crabs in from the muddy shore and toothy men hawked unknown fruit from overflowing and stained tables. There was the unescapable pong of durial fruit. Quitting this heaving scene, we searched for a quick bite to eat. A persistent blonde gorilla with an err-ing Norman accent beckoned us into his beach side café. Backing out onto the shore, I realised that the whole restaurant area had been finished in straw panels; old straw hats acted as makeshift lampshades. A few tattooed, French exiles sat discussing realities that would never happen and the smell of the market haunted its way in, briny but (mercifully) faint. The novelty soon wore off half an hour later, when the food was nowhere to be seen and our Tuk-tuk driver was outside waving at us. I lit a cigarette and looked around at the straw and palm-leaf surroundings, realising just how easy it would be to help them cook my fish a little quicker. Perhaps the sun had made me less patient? I was almost disappointed when the fish finally arrived, denying my temporary pyromania the space to dream.
After a long bus ride watching the same music videos over-and-over again, we were in Phnom Penh. It was good to spend a few days exploring some of the sights: the towering French-designed Central Market loomed over the rest of the district like some Art Deco mothership fringed on one side with a small tunnel of florists hawking their loud bouquets and on the other by the cloying stench of the fishmongers. In the evening, we went to a small restaurant known for it's "Happy Pizzas": a pizza with a large layer of weed baked into it. I opted out, but Letizia was heavily tranquilised by the special ingredient, occasionally muttering incoherently in half-Italian phrases. This made the bus-ride back very quiet, so I managed to catch a few hours of sleep in between the blaring Khmer and Thai "Heartbreak Pop" over the speaker system.
The pace of teaching is gradually picking up - Khmer New year is now over and the children are gradually trickling back into the classes. I have however, become slightly annoyed with Sathu, who hasn't bothered to teach a single lesson yet. Voluntourist.
Negativity aside, teaching is really going well. I will most likely be teaching the older, more advanced class from now on. I'm looking forward to it, as they can handle more conversational and topical English; it should be a good challenge. Savraj (Sav) still teaches despite a very bad series of infected bites over his legs. They look terribly painful and he has to treat them every few hours with some truly acrid-smelling liquid he was given by a provincial doctor. The heat and humidity out here in the countryside is not conducive to fast recovery; bites and cuts will stay open and infected from dirt or the constant attention of the flies and midges. It is very brave of him to continue so undeterred and with his trademark dry-humour: would that I might be as brave in a similar situation, as he seems to be in pain quite often!
I'm a bit concerned about the lack of a defined syllabus for the classes here. As a volunteer, I am only a temporary helper: after I go, there will be no standard point for the new volunteers to pick up from. Failure to do so would result in the project stalling, (or worse still : turning into a "voluntourism" destination). Jason is doing a great job at the moment, but has to juggle so many different responsibilities that he really needs a proper local "Deputy". Cambodians with good English skills can earn 300% more than if they only spoke Khmer, so luring a capable speaker with the heart and will to work in somewhere as remote as Bakod Village won't be easy.
I have also experienced the first of many tropical storms to come at Hope. The wall of rain arrives suddenly and with dramatic drumming on the corrugated roofs: often a small spattering for a few seconds or a distant thunderclap is the only warning we get before torrents of water pour down and soak whatever clothes or unfortunate hounds have been left outside. The field at the entrance to the school floods, and the Mango holes (frustratingly) cave and fill up.