October Mail: A Package from Myanmar

My Aunt Cathy sent me this family pic from my sister’s wedding.  It left Texas seven weeks ago.  From there it was mistakenly sent to Myanmar where it sat a few weeks.  Glad it’s finally here and in my apartment 🙂

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The Best Part of My New Job

I’m feeling more exhausted than I have at any other point since I moved to Cambodia.  We just finished delivering school supply bundles and bicycles to our students in locations across the northeast part of the country over the past eight days.  I’m tired, but feeling so happy and excited to be part of an organization that is changing things here.  And, the best part of the job is the time we get to spend at the schools.

One bump in the week, we’ve had to postpone deliveries at two schools because of Tropical Storm Gaemi which is headed straight for us in the next day or so.

Here are a few of the pics taken at our schools over the past week.  In some of the areas surrounding our most remote school in Preah Vihear Province, landmines are still a very real threat.  In March, a student was severely injured when he brought a UXO he picked up from a field into a classroom and made it explode.

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In the Weeds

The past two weeks have been non-stop as I continue to get settled in and acquainted with my new work.  I’m now riding motorcycles when I go to our schools outside town.  I couldn’t post a picture like the one above when I was a Peace Corps volunteer because the org forbids volunteers from getting on motorcycles.  Now, I’m free of those rules.

This week I went with Rany (above) to the school where I used to teach, Puok High School.  Ponheary Ly Foundation supports a number of students there so we had to check on test scores.  I loved seeing the school director and my teacher friends.

The school already looks different again.  This giant new classroom building will be completed in March 2013.

The biggest thing that’s happened in the two weeks since we last talked is that the Ponheary Ly Foundation got more than 100,000 school supplies delivered that we now have to prepare for our students prior to handing them out at each school opening ceremony in a couple weeks.  See more pics and videos about the massive delivery here.

Some other things that have kept me busy the past two weeks:

–Researching a solar power expansion at one of our schools.

–Meeting with an organization that has girls soccer leagues so that one of our schools can possibly form a team in addition to the boys team it already has.


–Responding to potential PLF volunteers, weeding some out.  Then, I was making room reservations, arranging pick up times and locations, and making school assignments for the ones we do accept.  (It’s a bit like being a travel agent).


–Meeting with a British org in Siem Reap to set up a new way for people from the U.K. to donate to PLF…it allows us to receive 25% U.K. government gift funds.


–Separating donors into groups by country, and PLF projects they’ve donated to, so that we can communicate with them in more intimate ways.

–Learning the ins-and-outs of what it’s going to take on my part to help PLF grow in big ways the next year.  I’m going to have to grow a backbone and be a manager.

And, this week I cast my vote for President of the U.S.  I only wish my vote was registered in Ohio or Florida, instead of Kentucky.

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I’m a Working Man

That’s my desk in Siem Reap on my first day at the Ponheary Ly Foundation September 3.  I dove in headfirst, riding my bike around town my first morning to find the best internet provider for one of our rural schools.

If all goes well, this will be the first of our schools to get internet.  We still have to secure funding for it, so on my first day I also wrote a proposal for the project to a couple potential donors in Germany.

I spent the rest of my first week doing a variety of things including:

— Meeting with my new boss Lori to learn about our budgets and money systems

— Learning about what my role might be with our board (all the board members live in the U.S.  So we do our meetings by Skype conference)

— Meeting with Lori about all the ins and outs of PLF’s volunteer program so that I can take the reins of it in the coming weeks

— Going with our team to paint classrooms in one of our rural schools

— Getting a grasp on our social media outlets

— Buying supplies and organizing textbooks for volunteers who arrive in a few weeks

— Witnessing a boy who came to our office running from his abusive family.  He had nowhere to go (no friends, no extended family) and was asking us to find a place for him to live.  This is the first time I’ve been confronted with this sort of situation and I was expected to join in the solution process.  Luckily, Lori and Ponheary found a place for him to live at a school, but for a lot of detailed reasons, it took us making phone calls, visiting friends, and digging.

I ended up at work ten to 11 hours everyday and this will probably continue.  I’ll be working Sunday through Friday.  I’ll be off on Saturdays.  I’m sure it’ll feel like an intense schedule at times, but I’m really enjoying being busy right now.  It’s a nice change of pace from the past few months.

It’s easy for me to be inspired by what’s going on at PLF.  Everyone in the office works hard because this work is an important part of who they are.  It’s their passion to give Cambodia’s poorest kids, who’d normally be working on farms everyday, access to public schools so that someday they can help change this country’s culture of corruption.

A lot of the people I interact with daily at the office survived the Khmer Rouge genocide and had family members who were killed.  Their jobs are a way of trying to reconcile with what happened to them.

I have a lot (I mean A LOT) to learn from my new bosses and coworkers, all of which are often getting their hands dirty at our sites.

My new bosses at one of our sites in Preah Vihear:

Here are some pics from my first week.

Rany, Field Director:

Farida, Field Director:


Gill, Program Manager:


Mango picking in front of the PLF office:

 The morning welcome crew in front of the office:

Lori brought cable and a TV into the office specially so we could take a morning break and watch President Obama, live at the Democratic National Convention on CNN.

(Side note: Because the 2012 Republican Platform is so Tea Party-extreme and not supportive of things I care deeply about—charitable giving, foreign aid, teachers, students, the middle class, U.S. immigrants, reasonable military spending, and important civil rights issues—I’m with Obama.)

Running errands around Siem Reap in a PLF tuk-tuk:

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New Kid on the Block

Note: See my mailing address here. It’s changed again (the number at the end of it is new). 

Welcome to my new place in Siem Reap.  Come inside!



I’m the kind of person who needs to be unpacked, organized and feel like I have a cozy home. So, I spent some time getting all that in line.

The new place is similar in living standards to what I’ve had the past two years: no hot water, no air-conditioning, no fridge or other kitchen appliances, one space for the bed and desk, one bathroom, small kitchen. It’s a nice place in the middle of the city 🙂  It came furnished, including brand new floors.

From my front porch:

The building and entrance:

Developing-World Security Barrier (broken glass bottles plastered into the top of concrete walls):

Around my Block (all within a few steps of my apartment)—

My Laundry Place:

My Favorite Neighborhood Restaurant:

My Favorite Neighborhood BBQ:

Other Shots Just Outside my Door:

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Reality Check: It’s Over

Lately I’d become so caught up in a whirlwind of activity that I didn’t let myself experience the emotional weight of what was happening, until yesterday.

I rode my bike back to my host home in Puok for a final visit to say goodbye to my host family.  The moment I walked in the door, reality hit me.  I don’t live there anymore.

My stuff is gone.  My room is empty.  My host mother even had to get out the guest sheets and pillow for me to sleep on.  I felt like a visitor.

As I quietly looked over my empty room, the past two years flooded my mind.

The weddings, the deaths, the births, 1,500 bowls of rice together, 700 sunrises and 700 sunsets over coconut trees seen from my back porch, crocodiles, floods, playing cards, family holiday celebrations, cultural misunderstandings, lessons in bridging those misunderstandings, learning the Khmer language through daily conversations with my very patient host mother, barking dogs, neighbor friends, beers with co-teachers, duck’s blood salad, pig tongue, pig brain, impressive students who’ve overcome more than I can imagine,  sweating out my frustrations daily, diarrhea, cold bucket showers, hearing first-hand accounts of genocide that I’ll never fully understand, mosquitoes, biking through Buddhist pagodas, monks chanting, bright orange robes, pink lotus flowers, praying to the spirits in our living room, missing important moments in America, anger, joy, relief, stress, success, failure, laughing, crying, putting one foot in front of the other.

I really lived in this house.  And, I don’t take lightly the fact that I experienced privilege in the highest degree—the privilege of being accepted into someone’s family.

They took me to every family event.  They took me to every holiday celebration.  They took me to funerals.  They asked me to be a groomsman in a wedding. They fed me twice daily.  They shared their fears, their troubles, their joys, their hobbies, their work. They introduced me to their friends with pride.  They made me feel like I was one of them everyday for two years.  We grew and changed together in that house.

Living in a developing country, it’s pretty normal to think about the state of the world and how to make it better.  It’s a difficult dilemma.  And, most days, it seems nearly impossible to make a difference because there are so many mind-boggling challenges to healthy development.

Then again, my host family made creating a better world seem so easy with the way they treated me.  They embraced me unconditionally, even without fully understanding me, and they did so by crossing the divides between us: culture, religion, language, geographic borders, economics, living standards, and stereotypes. If we could all follow their lead and embrace people on the other side of so many divides, the universe would be headed for better days.

I’m a lucky man.

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No Longer a Peace Corps Volunteer

The document above that I was required to write details everything I did as a Peace Corps Volunteer the past two years.

It’s basically the only important document from my entire experience, because it’s the one that’s sent to potential employers (especially government jobs) and to potential grad schools (if I go that route in the future). It’ll be on Peace Corps’ records in Washington D.C. for the next 60 years.

I’m not a Peace Corps Volunteer anymore.  I officially completed my service after I spent the past couple days in Phnom Penh doing a gigantic check-out list that ended with signing a bunch of documents and closing all my accounts.

Today also marks the end of the longest time period I’ve gone without posting on this blog since I started it more than two years ago.  The fact that I received a few e-mails wondering if I was okay because I haven’t posted in 17 days might be a sign that I had become obsessed with blogging.

I’m doing great!  In fact, in all those days of not posting on here, a lot happened.  I spent about a week on the Cambodian coast without a connection to cell phone service or the internet.  I traveled down there with my visiting friend Brad from Kentucky.

That time away from technology made me feel like a new man.  Don’t get me wrong, I love being connected to you.  And, I missed talking to you.  But, I’m going to make an effort now to spend more of my free time away from the internet.  I think it’ll be a healthy move for someone like me who sometimes gets too obsessive about knowing everything and letting politics and current events take over my thoughts.

I’ll still be updating this blog.  But, I’d like to spend time doing other things too like learning Spanish online and studying for the GRE so that I’ll be ready in the likely case that grad school flies onto my radar in the future.

Having Brad here for two weeks also made me homesick.  I’ve had bouts of strong homesickness in the past two years (mainly during Christmas and family deaths), but this time it caught me by surprise.  Brad shared lots of stories about some of my best friends from Kentucky.  And, he reminded me of all the things I miss (that I usually let escape my mind).

During the past three weeks, I also proved once again that I’m very clumsy.  I fell from the second story of a bungalow.  The sleeping area was on the second floor of an A-Frame cabin.  Near the bed there was a large, square, open hole in the floor to access the ladder going to the first floor.

In the dark as I was preparing for bed, I tripped into the hole and fell to the first floor hitting the wall on the way down.  The side of my head was left with a bump.  The right side of my back, my right arm and left foot were all scraped, and bruised.  Luckily, no broken bones or anything like that.

I’m back in Siem Reap now.  I’m getting unpacked and settled in. I’ll say my final goodbye in Puok in a couple days.

I’ll share pictures of my new place and neighborhood soon.  I start my job September 3.  I’m looking forward to jumping into many challenges and working hard.

I love you and miss you.

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It Fit on One Tuk-Tuk

The sum of nearly everything I own fit on this tuk-tuk today.  My favorite Puok tuk-tuk driver, Bon, helped me carry all of it from my third floor room, then load it.

I’m still living in Puok until August 25, but this was a good day to go ahead and move the big stuff.

I had to pack my Puok room carefully since the big trunk is being sent back to Peace Corps in Phnom Penh.  I had to load that trunk with everything I’m returning for future volunteers to use.

To say the least, I was happy it turned out to be an easy task.  And, there was still room for me to sit in the tuk-tuk 🙂

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World Mema Day

One of the most special ladies in the world is celebrating her birthday today.  I wish I was there to give you a big hug, Mema.  Happy birthday to you!  I love you.

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The Kid and Company

That’s Sam, a 13-year-old from New York.  He’s one of the coolest and smartest kids I’ve met.  The past few days I’ve gotten to hang out with him in Siem Reap because his mom, Karen, is Professor of Speech-Language Pathology and Neuroscience at Columbia University in New York.

She and her team of speech-language pathologists and grad students are providing rehab services for Cambodian kids with speech, language, cognitive, and feeding disabilities.  It’s clear where Sam’s smarts come from.

They’re all in Siem Reap for a chunk of time every year.  This trip they’re here for five weeks.  Sam’s been coming to Cambodia every summer for more than half his life.

Today, Sam and I rode our bikes to my Media English class so he could meet the students.  His mom made us lunches for the road and even put them in Spiderman ziplock bags.

Sam will be teaching a social media class for Ponheary Ly Foundation with the same students I teach starting next week because he’s a computer whiz.  I knew I loved this kid when he saw me this morning drinking coffee and preparing for class on my computer and said, “This is the first time I’ve seen you look responsible.” I died laughing.  Most of the time I’ve spent with this group of people has been poolside with a beer in hand.

I’ll be sad when Sam, his mom, and two of her team members, Melissa and Natalia, all go back to the U.S. next month.  We’ve become friends since I first met them when they were here in March.

Natalia at the pool in Siem Reap

Melissa and Sam at her wedding

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