Transitioning to My New Life

I expected my last few weeks as a Peace Corps Volunteer to be full of free time since school’s out and my projects are wrapped up.  Turns out, transitioning to a new city and job is time consuming.

Here’s a black-and-white rundown of what I’ve been doing.

Six days a week I teach a two-hour English media class at one of the Ponheary Ly Foundation schools.  The school is a 40-minute bike ride from my house.  I’ve been giving a lot of quizzes and creative writing assignments, so grading and crafting assignments takes up a couple hours outside class everyday.  This is my first real task with Ponheary Ly Foundation, so I’m obsessing about making it as perfect as possible.

I’ve also been spending time with as many Foundation staff members as possible by going with them on day-trips to our school sites.  Plus, the org has partners in town from New York who are only here five weeks.  So, I’ve been spending time with them too as we try to get new programs going. Next month, our partners from Canada will be here for ten days, so I’ll be doing lots of meeting and greeting then as well.  But, my first official day of work isn’t until September 3.

Part of this transition period is also full of chores like moving all my stuff from my host family’s home in Puok to my new apartment in Siem Reap on the back of my bike.  I can’t pack much on my bike and it’s an hour ride, so I only take a small load each time.  I’ll be in my new place permanently starting August 26.  My new mailing address is located in the About section of this blog.

Also, ending my contract with Peace Corps means I’ll be losing my U.S. government health insurance, my work visa, and my local Cambodian bank account.  And, I’ll need to cast my vote for Obama from here.  So, I’ve been trying to nail down all those important things.

Finally, I’ve been saying goodbye to Peace Corps friends who all leave Cambodia for good next week.

On an exciting note, I’m preparing for a visit from my friend Brad from Lexington, Kentucky who arrives August 6th—a last hurrah before I officially begin my new job.  Brad is in the process of trying to live in Siem Reap for a year (starting next June) to research pollution in the Tonle Sap Lake for his PhD Chemistry program.  So, he’ll have some networking to do during his two-week visit.  I’m trying to get some of that lined up for him.

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Government Throws Curveball for My New Class

These five high school kids are students at one of the public schools serviced by The Ponheary Ly Foundation, the organization I’ll be moving to full-time starting in late August.

In the meantime, before my new job starts, I’m teaching a three-week English cram course with these five kids, focused specifically on English for media and blogging.  I’m excited because this helps me get to know one of our schools and some of the students I’ll be working for.

These kids already used their communication skills to create a blog and change their world. A student production team led by Sen (on the left in the picture above) made this video in April and posted it to YouTube, inspiring someone in another country to fix the water well problem in Sen’s village.

This same student media team recently won first place and $10,000 after they entered a worldwide competition with a different video.  Click here to see their winning video.

As things go in Cambodia, there’s a challenge to my new English blog class.  During our first class this morning the government announced that as of tomorrow, the school is being shutdown until October because of fears about the spread of a disease that’s attracted international media attention on Cambodia.

Hopefully, we’ll have a new spot located for our class by tomorrow.

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Street Treats for Mary Francis

My cousin Mary Francis is turning 11 years old Tuesday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Mary Francis, for your birthday I picked up some treats for you from one of my favorite roadside stands.  First (above), is a fried grasshopper.

Then, fried crickets.

Next, I grabbed a few fried beetles.

And, finally, some fried snakes.

Mary Francis happy birthday!  I hope you have a tall glass of water to wash this all down.  I love you.

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Why I’m Staying in Cambodia After Peace Corps

Next month, I end my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the countryside of Cambodia.  Although I’ll no longer be with Peace Corps, I’m staying in this corner of the world.

I’ve accepted a position as Executive Director of the Ponheary Ly Foundation in Siem Reap.  I could tell you about how the organization started seven years ago and what it does for public school kids in some of the roughest areas of Cambodia, but first it’s important to know Ponheary is an incredible Cambodian woman with a courageous life story.

This one-minute CNN video about Ponheary shows you a small slice of why I’m so excited to join this team.

In late August I’ll leave my host family in Puok to move to my own apartment in the city—Siem Reap.  That’s where I’ll be based.

My new job duties include: guiding the Cambodian staff, managing our social media, handling international fundraising, running the organization’s volunteer program, and monitoring and carrying out projects on-site.

The only other non-Cambodian on staff is President Lori Carlson from Austin, Texas.  She lives in Siem Reap and has become a good friend over the past few months.  Two years ago I didn’t think I’d be staying in Cambodia after I finished Peace Corps, but Lori’s passion inspired me to jump at this opportunity. Click here to see a one-minute CNN video about why Lori moved to Cambodia.

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Khmer Wedding #15: The Rainy Season Gamble

Khmer weddings are rare in the heart of rainy season, but today I found one, or rather, it found me.  At 10:00am my host sister told me to go alone as a stand-in for our busy family.  I didn’t know the bride or groom, so I found a few teachers and village officials I know.

Another rarity to this wedding, the groom is 20 years older than the bride.  They’re standing together to the left of me in the picture. The rain held off until afternoon.

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Development = A Changed Puok

After being away about two weeks, my neighborhood in Puok looks different.  The skyline next to my house is changing fast.  To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, see the picture below.

My house is circled in red.  The yellow circles are all micro-finance companies that have opened shop (or will soon) during my time here.  The one on the far right opened while I was at my sister’s wedding in America.

Other buildings half a mile away from my house also sprouted up considerably during my time away.  None of the buildings in the shot below existed when I moved here in September 2010.

Development = A New Cambodia

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Volunteers Banned from the Capital As Big Wigs Land in Cambodia

Ms. Secretary of State will be landing in Cambodia this week along with dozens of other international dignitaries to attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Forum which is being hosted in Phnom Penh.

This event is a big deal.  Security is tight.  Peace Corps is even banning travel to Phnom Penh for all volunteers for the week.

After the forum in Cambodia’s capital, Clinton will make her way to Siem Reap to deliver the keynote address at a women’s empowerment event.  I’ll be in town. I’ll see if I can run into her.

Cambodia is one of the last stops in a two-week trip for Clinton that includes appearances in Israel, Egypt, France, Japan, Vietnam, Mongolia, and Laos.  Her stop in Laos (Cambodia’s neighbor to the North) will mark the first time a U.S. Secretary of State has been to that country in 57 years.

This will be the second time Clinton has come to Siem Reap since I’ve lived here.  The first time was in October 2010.

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Back on My Bike, Back at Puok High

Since I was in America for my sister’s wedding, then Phnom Penh for Peace Corps stuff, I missed the end-of-the-year teacher party at Puok High.  So, a few teacher friends asked me to stop by school when I got back to town.  I was glad for the invitation because I’m not so busy these days.

School’s out until October, so it was empty except for private classes where teachers and students are allowed to dress casually. The school director (above) gave me a certificate of appreciation.

As it typically goes with development in Cambodia, things changed at Puok High in the two weeks I was gone.  A group from South Korea started and completed a large ten-faucet clean water station.

I ran into my friend Sothea who was teaching his private class. Like I said, it’s casual now that school’s out.  Sothea was wearing a beer brand polo.

You see that red thing in my hand?  Sothea gave me a real crocodile skin belt. Be jealous.

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Happy Fourth of July from Cambodia

I found this crafty firecracker in my Peace Corps mailbox yesterday.  Under the red tissue paper is an empty toilet paper tube with suckers inside.  I think I would’ve enjoyed it more if it were an actual roll of toilet paper.

I hope you have a good Fourth.  Obviously, it’s just another day in Cambodia.

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Some Very Sh*tty News

I’m in Phnom Penh to do my final Peace Corps physical and dental exams.  But, I made a huge mistake.

I spent the last three days meticulously using a popsicle stick and test tubes to collect samples of my stools (as required by Peace Corps). Today, I handed my box of poop to a Peace Corps doctor only to be told, “We won’t even send that to be tested.  You have to collect the stool samples in your final week with Peace Corps in August.”

FML.

On a better note, this morning I visited the nicest dental office I’ve ever seen in my entire life.  It’s a different place from where I did my Peace Corps dental check-up last year.  Today’s teeth cleaning and exam even came with a complimentary Nike biking shirt and coffee.

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