Saturday, October 15, 2016

Cambodian Fishing Trip

Where we live is mostly concrete and mud. Grass and nature are limited to a few trees at the end of the street and the kids play in the cul-de-sac with neighborhood kids instead of in a backyard, all of which are things we've adjusted to. However, when presented with the chance to see more nature and get out of the city a little, we were all for it. Ben came home one day talking about a fishing trip he had signed up for along with a guy from his office. The kids were really excited. 
The boat was bigger than he had anticipated, with two levels and room for a table in the middle and a small bathroom behind the steering part. Several other boats floated by on our way out. One was a floating hotel, another was a floating banquet hall for what looked like a wedding. The kids were excited to see a police boat go by. Most of the boats, though, were narrow little boats with a curved piece of plastic or metal over the middle to provide shelter. Families lived on them with a rack of drying clothes hanging on one side, steering on the other. I suppose they fished for a living.

 I never did understand what exactly the name was of the river we were on, only that it was a place where four rivers joined.  The guide anchored the boat by throwing the rope to a boy who tied it to a tree. Behind the boy was an orchard full of  longan and banana trees. Longans are really common to see here, often offered on the small shrines outside of almost every house beside incense.
The muddy river was a little stinky and once we saw a dead dog floating by, but the kids liked being on a boat and holding the rod and reel. The line kept getting stuck in foliage on the bottom of the river, but we managed to catch about 8 really small fish about this size:

That's all that they cared about, that they had caught something! We went home exhausted, sunburned, but happy for a change of pace.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Pests in Cambodia

There are a lot of things that thrive in a rainy-season country: interesting fruits, vegetables, trees, rats, mice, frogs and all sorts of insects.

Houses here are built of cement block covered in cemented-on tile for the most part. Windows are always barred, but front doors are often open except at night as there's no central air. With most kitchens outside, that usually keeps the rats outside too. Usually. Any little crack and they can squeeze their way inside. Because they are smaller, mice can squeeze in under normal metal doorways. Since upstairs Windows can be more of a downward, open vent, terra cotta tile hole, things can climb in that way as well. 

One corner of one of the screens came loose in our kitchen...
And a rat got in. I hate rats. We got it screwed in tightly as soon as possible! Mice, however, are almost impossible to keep out. Ben has suggested getting a cat to help with the mice, and who knows, that might be the best choice after the baby is born.

Spiders, flies and mosquitos are everywhere and also hard to keep out. Thankfully, most of the diseases passed by mosquitos are caught outside of the city in the countryside when people go home on breaks, so we're avoiding that kind of travel until after the baby is born. 

In a water pipe hole in our kitchen lives a medium-sized frog. Every night he comes out, but dashes back in if you get too close. Ezra always says "bye bye frog" when we close up the kitchen at night. (To make sure nothing goes from there into the rest of the house.) 

We always make sure all food is stored in air-tight plastic-lock containers, in the fridge or freezer. It's also important to sweep and do dishes religiously to keep pest invasion to a minimum. With toddlers and big people that aren't me who like to snack in lots of places, that gets challenging.

In addition to rodents, there are many lizards running around on the walls and ceilings here. They're fairly easy to ignore, at least.

Thankfully, we haven't had issues with snakes, though I've heard of a few issues in the city.

All of these things we call "pests" have been turned into delicacies by Cambodians. You can get snake on a stick, fried rat, dried frogs, and insects in different ways in the market. While I find that disgusting, I admire their ability to persevere and make money out of something most people would just try to kill.

The Awkwardness of "Affluence"

I've never thought of myself as rich. At all. I recognize several factors working for my good, however: My parents are wonderful at making a plan and saving up for it. They stuck together not letting divorce sap our family of financial and emotional resources. My dad learned how to fix anything that broke to save money on hiring someone. My mom learned how to cook anything that was on sale and to shop around and get good deals for the freezer. They passed those things on to us. We worked to pay off our college as we went and didn't get into debt. We saved up to buy a good used car cash instead of getting a loan. Instead of putting everything on credit, we learned to stick to a budget. We learned that delayed gratification was worth it in the long run to crazy debts ruling your life and marginalizing your ability to give to those in need, because they were really good at that, too. The ongoing theme of my upbringing was, "when you use wisely what is in your hands to bless others, God will fill them again." So while my parents tell stories of barely having enough sometimes: of my dad selling watermelons on the side of the road to pay off my birth; of him bringing home (with permission, they couldn't be sold) the dented cans from the produce department where he worked, of the lawn care business we worked at on weekends and evenings as a family, of the beautiful and delicious cakes my mom made and sold on the side- we were never without.
A myriad of electrical wires hang between poles.

When I come from that background to a third-world country I have many conflicting feelings. We first encountered extreme poverty in Guatemala; it was definitely there in a smaller way in Mexico and now I see it every day in Cambodia. These are places where governments are so corrupt and self-centered that they can not pass laws or find ways to help the people of their own country as much as they need to. Both Guatemala and Cambodia are still marked by very bitter wars that make them wary of governmental involvement as well. Both are also countries with a booming middle class, small high class and majority lower class.
The muddy joining of four rivers in Phnom Penh and city skyline.

It bothers me when people look at my white skin and assume I am rich. (Ben and I have joked about how just walking on the street in Guatemala as a white person is advertising that people can either charge you more or just walk up and ask for money, if you're lucky. Sometimes it meant getting robbed.) The fact that we can afford protein in each meal, even a little, proves that I am rich. The fact that each of my children go to school and that I can actually afford to have four children without starving proves that I am. The fact that I did get a college education proves that I am. A million other things- up to the fact that I can afford transportation, medicine if my children get sick, toilet paper, and baby clothes- things that I find hard to live without, people deal with every day here.
A downpour makes the heavy motorcycle traffic more crazy as streets hold up to 6-12 inches of water.

Of course the pressing need encourages ingenuity. People work hard here. Still, there are many things in the way. One of the biggest issues is a very high child-to-teacher ratio and very low teacher pay by the government in the public schools. Many children can not afford uniforms or school supplies, continuing their cycle. This became very apparent the other day as I heard a woman discussing how she couldn't send her child to the $30 a month school, but had to opt for the $10 one that was farther away. This isn't a problem that you can just say "work harder" at and see go away. It will take years and compassion and education.
Everybody seems to live behind a gate, but unlike Guatemala, those fences aren't always topped with spikes.

I know that I don't have enough experience to know all of the factors contributing to poverty in post-war countries, but as a fellow human I can still have compassion. I want everyone to have enough to at least survive. Something I've come back to each time I'm in a country where poverty has smacked me in the senses, is that I can't let contact with it numb me. I have to keep caring. This doesn't mean letting an overwhelming sense of despair immobilize me from doing anything about it, but it does mean I have to retain the capacity to feel for other's hurt.

Despite being so poor, Cambodia has a lot going for it. It has very little crime and a very friendly population. It is filled with NGOs (one of which, I work in.) Rising tourism and commerce have helped the economy. Things will change slowly, but surely. In the meantime we have to keep ourselves open to the chances to affect change within our own spheres of influence.
Police making sure we had permission to live here.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Pchum Ben Break

Something that makes being a teacher in Cambodia a wonderful thing are the many little breaks you get along the way for various New Year celebrations and festivals. We've had this week off for the Pchum Ben holiday. This holiday reminds me a lot of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Latin America. Most of the city has cleared out to go back to their homes in the provinces and to pay homage to dead relatives. Speaking of which, Talia must have thought the same thing because she built a wood scrap "altar" like they had in Mexico.

We've enjoyed the little traffic. It's been a great time to practice using my moped. Now, we can travel as a family with Talia and Ezra behind Ben and Elias behind me. We've checked out a market and found oatmeal, granola and corn flour; all things I had been looking for without much luck prior.

Ben took the opportunity to do some therapeutic wood working and build the boys a loft bed, to go over the single bed in their room. Currently, Ezra sleeps in a crib in the room with me, but when the baby comes, I want him to be used to sleeping in the big boy's room. The boys are excited to "help" him....

With little traffic on the roads, we had the treat of going to a restaurant. We found a Belgian restaurant/pub named Duplex still open, since most were closed for the holiday, and tried some great roasted red pepper humus, mini burgers and fries, and a salmon salad. It was all delicious. The name caused a little confusion when Ben ordered the "Duplex Beef Burger" expecting it to be a double patty burger (even asking the server) and it came out with just one.... Because it's named after the house burger, not specifically a double burger. Apparently in Belgium, fries are served with ketchup and a white sauce. It looked like mayo, but it tasted better than mayo.
So, happy Pchum Ben Day. Perhaps this holiday is a good reminder to enjoy our relatives while they're living.