Interviews at the Rusunawa

Things in Jakarta haven’t much changed since I last wrote but I feel like I have to share an experience I had last week.

A friend of mine, Eddy, has been working for a local Indonesian NGO doing community development projects for youth. They work in Rusunawas, which are government housing ‘neighborhoods’ that is filled with residents were forcibly moved from their homes (often along rivers). There are Rusunawas all over the country, with several in Jakarta proper. Eddy, being the nice guy that he is, offered to let me come with them to see the Rusunawas.

Given the set up of the Rusunawas, there are a lot of health concerns- especially as it relates to water and sanitation. More importantly, these families often don’t have clean water. In order to get clean water they have to pay for it (among other things), that they didn’t previously have to pay for. This fall, I am hoping to have an internship that will focus on Urban Water and Sanitation so having the chance to even go and observe an urban WASH conundrum is too good of a chance to pass up.

With some sleuthing on ‘big questions’ in Urban WASH and some brainstorming with Eddy, I came up with some research questions. I’m going to put together a short case study and the more I look into it, the more interested I am. The family stories are often quite upsetting and it is awful to see how the government let a lot of these families down.

On Friday of last week, Eddy, a Indonesian woman who works with the NGO, and I conducted some interviews with two mothers who live in the Rusunawa. Guys…it was awesome. Eddy and the other Indonesian woman translated for me and I feel like we all learned so much. I’m going back to two other Rusunawas with them tomorrow (Monday).

For what feels like the only time I’ve really been excited about something this summer.

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Resurfacing

Hi! Sorry that I seemingly disappeared. I don’t particularly have a great excuse for not updating but I think it has a lot to do with the things I’ve been doing here. Or I guess…not doing. I was hoping that if I waited to blog a bit things would get better. But alas, here I am.

I don’t know what it is but I have bad luck with MCC. I think that it is probably partially my fault because this internship was so ad hoc (since I asked them to do it). I haven’t had a ton of work. The work I’ve had has been really interesting and awesomely technical, but there is nothing so special about the projects that I need to be in Jakarta. In fact, it would be miles easier if I was in DC. Thankfully everyone I am working with, Indonesians and the few Americans, are very friendly and very nice. I just don’t think the work is there.

In other, more fun news I’ve had some great travel! There is a group of grad students who go to Johns Hopkins (their DC campus) in Jakarta and I’ve been able to link up with them for some travel. We spent the last week of June bouncing between Bali and Lombok. We spent most of our time in Lombok, an island next to Bali and I am so grateful we did. Since we’re all on graduate school budgets, we can’t do Bali properly. Lombok is a bit cheaper and way less touristy. We went to this one white sand beach with the most beautiful blue water and were probably one of 10 tourists. It was great.

 

After the trip to Bali, I made a quick trip to Singapore because my visa was expiring. It was a really nice break. I actually think it was the first time I had ever traveled alone alone and it was so great to be totally on my own time table. I stayed at the coolest hostel with a great shower and a great bed. It’s a small enough city that I could walk most places and check off the big ‘wants’ all in 48 hours. After being in Jakarta for a month or so, I really loved being able to be in a place where English was so widely spoken. It felt way less foreign and even though it was only for a short amount of time, I really needed it. I came back to Jakarta feeling like I could take on the world (after a really long nap though).

I’ve started my summer class which, except for some minor internet issues, has been great. It is about public health in complex emergencies and is taught by one of the coolest people I have ever met. He used to be a consultant at Save the Children, worked for the UN, helped with Ebola AND helped eradicate smallpox. SO. COOL.

Anyway…I have exactly three weeks left until I’ll fly back into San Diego for a wedding and then back to DC a couple days later. I get tired thinking about my travel back, but at this point…I’m ready to get home.

Malls, motorbikes and more!

Back again! It’s officially been a week. Which blows my mind to say because this week was so long that it honestly feels like I have been here for months. It should at least be July at this point.

As you might have guessed, work has been a bit slow this week. I am chalking it up to first week kinks that will iron themselves out. Thankfully I have some institutional knowledge of MCC already and have a fairly good handle on the health and nutrition project. Not so thankfully, I am having a hard time connecting with the local staff. Not surprising by any means. When you don’t speak the language, you instantly find yourself at a steep disadvantage. I don’t even fully understand my projects enough to explain them to you here, other than that they are about nutrition. That’s a start at least. I’ll keep you informed as I figure it out.

Martha, the MCC Deputy Resident Country Director, as been the biggest breath of fresh air and lifesaver since the day I arrived. She picked me up in the wee hours of the night when I arrived in Jakarta and as been easily one of my coolest supervisors. At least I think she’s my supervisor…still super unclear about that. On Tuesday night, she invited me and the other intern, Stephanie (who I am also living with), to the Resident Country Director’s (Troy) place for dinner and drinks. We were pumped with wine, allowed to do our laundry and were fed some pretty delicious Indonesian food. Martha has mentioned more than once that she is trying to “atone for the sins of the past” and make this summer so amazing for me that I forgive MCC for how awful that year was when I worked with them. I think we’re off to a pretty good start.

Every night this week I found myself at Grand Indonesia, one of the largest malls I have ever seen in my entire life. Kid you not, I think it’s 7 floors…possibly more. I don’t know how many stores it has, but it feels sort of like there is everything you could really want (except Target, alas…). It even has two grocery stores and a movie theatre. It definitely puts the Pentagon City mall to shame and I thought that was big. Now if only the prices here were CHEAPER. It doesn’t make sense to me that a shirt that is made here costs twice as much as it does in the States. Shouldn’t they be saving on transport costs?!

I also found myself on the back of a motorbike, not once, not twice, but four times this week. UberMotor is the way to get around here because the bikes can weave in and out of the worst traffic I have ever seen. I was super nervous but thanks to my roommate I was able to hop on the bike and be instructed where to put my hands (not around the drivers waist, cultural no no), where to put my feet, and how to put the helmet on. It is the most freeing feeling in the world. When a bike gets going down the street, it feels like you’re flying. I never thought I’d be the type of person to enjoy that, but man…maybe I’ll have to rethink that whole “Kurt can’t get a bike as a mid-life crisis” thing.

The weekend has been amazingly relaxing. I spent a couple hours at a nearby coffee shop, sometime in the gym, sometime by the pool and wrapped up the evening with a Skype session with Kurt and some Netflix. It’s Sunday now, aka Mom’s Birthday (Happy Birthday!) and Father’s Day, and here I am at the same coffee shop because I felt like I needed to force myself out of the apartment. I am a creature of habit though so…why break out of my mold. I’ve got this next week of work left and then I’ll be leaving for a week. Ramadan is ending and the office is closed all next week. Where are you going Shannon? Oh..glad you asked. I’m staying in this amazing villa in Bali. Honestly this is a dream come true because Bali has been on the bucket list for quite sometime.

Stay tuned for some great pictures 🙂

Day one and a lot of sleeping

Before I recap day one, I have a few things to say about my flight from Chicago to Tokyo. It was my longest flight (12 hours) and I have a number of observations.

  • Everyone rips on American Airlines and their long haul flights being awful. The plan was beautiful, my seat was comfortable and the blanket was soft. The flight attendants were great and the food was pretty good. I’m not sure why people hate on them so much…my only complaint is the man sitting next to me and his severe lack of awareness that he was in my space.
  • I was doomed to be horribly jet lagged the second I looked at the in flight entertainment. There was so many movies I hadn’t had the chance to see AND Big Little Lies on HBO. My plan was to go to sleep immediately upon getting onto the flight but that didn’t work out.
  • Hidden Figures is one of the most amazing movies I have ever seen.
  • People in business class got Bose headphones complimentary for the flight. I didn’t get any. If anyone needs them, it’s us back in coach.

I am so glad I’m not on a plane anymore. After that 12 hour flight, I had another 7 hour flight. It was so long, so painful and so boring. I was picked up by my supervisor and an embassy car. How cool, right?  By the time I got to my apartment it was almost 2AM. I ended up convincing myself to get into the shower and then passed out until the alarm I set went off at 9:30. I promptly ignored it and fell asleep again until 1:30.

I didn’t do a whole lot today because jet lag is so real. I walked over to Grand Indonesia, which is one of the many malls in the city. They have a grocery store in the basement. I miraculously made it successfully, constantly remind myself to walk with confidence and as if I’m not even the least concerned that I was going to get hit by a car or a motorbike…or both. Everyone was super nice but I will say it is super disorienting to be the only blonde. I was the product of many stares but there is something quite nice about everyone knowing your a tourist and being able to totally embrace it.

I’m off to bed and hopefully can keep some normal hours tomorrow!

Annndd we’re back.

Just like that, I find myself back at the airport, gloriously unprepared for the journey ahead of me. This time I’m heading to Jakarta, Indonesia where I’ll be for the summer. I will be working with MCC (again!) and the nutrition team on the ground. While I’m excited to get this opportunity, I am in still in that weird state of nervousness.

I do this all the time. Every time I go on a big trip, especially alone, I feel like this. Traveling isn’t fun when you’re alone. I have to carry all my bags with me to the bathroom AND I have to put them into the overhead bin all by myself! It’s just not worth the freedom to eat Jamba Juice three times in a day.

I have a short flight to Chicago in two hours, a twelve hour flight to Tokyo from there and an eight hour flight to Jakarta after that. All in, I think I’m traveling for exactly 24 hours. I arrive to Indonesia, barring any delays, at 12:05AM (aka 1:05pm DC time). I’ve been told I’ll be greeted by our Deputy Resident Country Director, Martha, and a US embassy car. All I know is that I am already tired.

When all is said and done, I’ll have been in country for about 57 days. I leave for San Diego (and a friend’s wedding!) on August 4…arriving on August 4…after about 26 hours of travel. Time zones are weird. I’ve got a week off at the end of June and am tentatively going to spend the week in Bali with a fellow DC resident who was supposed to be interning with MCC and four of his classmates. I’ll need to make a weekend trip to Malaysia to renew my visa around early July but other than that, I am hoping to soak up all that Jakarta has to offer and try not to drown in summer classwork. Starting July 3, I’ll be in two online courses and given the time difference- I am setting myself up for some early mornings (ouch).

I’ll check back in in a few days time but until then- say some good words! I will really miss DC but I am trying to focus on the positives! It will be over before I know it and I’m sure I’ll tell you all how sad I am to be leaving (maybe).

The Other Side of the World

Hi Everyone!

I kept promising that I would post Cambodia pictures. I’ve been back for a full week now and have yet to do so…So here they are! Please enjoy! Be on the lookout for another post this coming week about my weekend trip to DC!

Apologies if they’re out of order…it was quite challenging to get them to upload.

Siem Reap Night Markets

Siem Reap Night Markets

Fresh Coconut Water!

Fresh Coconut Water!

On the worksite with three week old puppies!

On the worksite with three week old puppies!

Outside Angkor Wat

Outside Angkor Wat

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Exploring Angkor Wat

Exploring Angkor Wat

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One of the cutest kids on the worksite.

One of the cutest kids on the worksite.

Bumper Cars with my roommate Jessica

Bumper Cars with my roommate Jessica

Our ladyboy experience

Our ladyboy experience

Angkor Wat at Sunrise!

Angkor Wat at Sunrise!

On top of Angkor Wat

On top of Angkor Wat

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Cambodian Carnival

Cambodian Carnival

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My name in Khmer!

My name in Khmer!

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Mid Floating Villages

Mid Floating Villages

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Floating Villages-which aren't floating cause it is the dry season...

Floating Villages-which aren’t floating cause it is the dry season…

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Welcome to the jungle!

Welcome to the jungle!IMG_5950

Hello Arun Rai!

Hello Arun Rai!

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These kids will steal your heart and your phone.

These kids will steal your heart and your phone.

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Tying blessed cloths around trees to discourage logging in the jungle.

Tying blessed cloths around trees to discourage logging in the jungle.

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Our favorite mutt, Chester.

Our favorite mutt, Chester.

Whole group!

Whole group!

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Oh Il Forno…

It’s amazing how quickly something can go by. As I write, I am mid-flight en route to Bangkok. I have a short layover there, leave to Hong Kong at 1 in the morning and will head to Chicago around 11 or 12 the next morning. The long journey has started and I’m feeling oddly nostalgic. But I’ll get there eventually..

So Thursday has finally rolled around. Our final full day at the Elephant Sanctuary. At this point, no matter how much fun we were all having, we were tired and ready to head back to the city. Who knew we would all miss Siem Reap so bad? The morning was a balmy 100 degrees and humid. This naturally means that we are going to go weed the sugar cane fields. If you don’t know anything about sugar cane, you should know this one vital piece of information. The leaves are sharp. Like…sharper than any other plant I’ve come across. You walk through the fields and the plants go above my head (not a whole lot, but enough so the leaves run across my face) and if you have any exposed skin that hits the leaves you’ll end up with tiny cuts on. The first group that did it, didn’t know that it would be an issue so they look like they were attacked by angry cats. We knew so most of us wore long sleeves or pants but that created a secondary problem. The sun was beating down and with no respite from the shade, we all faded rapidly. I ended up sitting in the field, trying not to pass out for the majority of the hour and a half we worked. The guy in charge even called it quits because it was so awful. With a nice long break before lunch, we headed back to our huts to read and nap.

The afternoon brought an interesting experience,too. Not as grueling that is for sure. We were going to walk through the jungle with the elephant, Arun Rai, and help save some trees. We bathed her and then set off into the jungle. Buddhist Monks in the area bless these orange cloths that are then tied around trees in order to discourage illegal logging. The idea is that because the monks blessed them, the people in the area (who are primarily Buddhist) will be discouraged from cutting them down because it is sacrilege. There were already a lot of cloths hung, but as we got farther into the jungle, we found a lot that still needed our help. The night ended as all the others did, with dinner (lots of rice) and a documentary. We all spent the rest of the night hanging out, packing, discovering bats in our huts or reading. It was pretty hot that night, so there was a lot of bucket showers going on as well. 

Friday was really only a travel day so we woke up at 8 to say goodbye to the elephants, take the last few pictures and feed them one last time. However, once that was over…we had nothing to do. We weren’t leaving until after lunch. So back to our huts we went to read and nap more. The time seemed to crawl. We all were aching for the AC and Wifi that waited for us in Siem Reap. 

After what seemed like an eternity, the bus finally came and we were off. We picked up the driver’s mom on the way (which was so weird and poorly communicated to us) and arrived about an hour and a half later at our new hotel. The first order of business? Make sure the AC works. Jess and I didn’t have AC in the first hotel or at the elephant sanctuary so we were so excited to find that it worked perfectly. Rachel also joined us and the three musketeers were at it for one final night together. Because everyone was soaking up the wifi, a group of us decided to leave and seek out a better connection elsewhere. We were all able to reconnect with the other side of the world, check instagram and let our parents know that we had survived. 

Eight of us went back to Il Forno, our favorite Italian restaurant for dinner. It is amazing how fast you get sick of rice. I need like a month respite from anything rice based because it is so unappetizing to think about after having it for 3 meals a day. We all met up with the group for a final dinner and most of the group decided to head out to this huge pub crawl. Thankfully for me, who is so not into sweating in bars and getting trashed in foreign countries, Rachel didn’t want to go either. We had made a list of the things we wanted to get at the night markets since it was our last night in town: artwork, replacement pants (cause mine ripped), a tank top, maybe fabric for my mom, snacks, etc.. We crossed the river and went to town. Rachel was looking for a specific pattern of happy pants and we scoured the market until we finally found them. I was also looking for a specific pattern because mine (that I loved) had ripped. At the last stand, right before we were about to give up, I found them. Exactly the same, if not better. As the Cambodians say, “Same same, but different.” It was like a Christmas miracle, just in June. Maybe it was because Rachel and I are both Christmas babies… who knows. All I know is that I am so glad I could find them. It was clearly the most productive trip we had and when we got back to the hotel we milked the wifi and air conditioning. 

What is funny is that the wifi in our hotel, even though the entire rest of the group was at the pub crawl, wouldn’t really work. We had noticed that in our room we could get wifi from the neighboring hotel, only it was locked. So we came up with a story to tell the front desk so we could get wifi. We were lost and needed to contact our team leader to find out the name of the hotel. The guy gave it up almost immediately and for the rest of the evening, we had perfect wifi. Rachel downloaded books, I repacked my backpack and duffel bag, and we waited for Jess to come home. We stayed up until about 12 until she finally showed. That is quite the feat too since we had been going to bed at like 9 the past two weeks. 

Today is Saturday and everyone was traveling. I didn’t fly out until 8:30 pm, so I had the entire day to figure out what to do. It was hot and we got kicked out of our hotel at 12 soo we sought out wifi and AC after lunch. We sat at this cute cupcake place for about four hours. We had no where else to go. It was kind of pathetic if you ask me. Especially since nobody at home was awake, so none of us could talk to anybody anyway… I left the hotel at 5 with two other people and said goodbye to the remainder of the volunteers who were left. I will (and already do) miss a lot of them. We all bonded very quickly. I honestly think being so far from home, working our asses off and seeing each other at our very worst helped push our relationships forward. Jess and Rachel were heaven sent and I wouldn’t have survived the trip without them. It’s too bad they live all the way over on the west coast (Vancouver and Boise) but they already have tentative plans to come to DC to visit me and I would love to figure out a way to go that way. 

Reach Out Volunteers was an incredible group, especially since they were only started 5 years ago. Everything went very smoothly and I very much enjoyed myself. I was able to integrate into the Cambodian culture more than I ever imagined. And I made a real difference. I can’t believe it’s over. Each individual day went by so slow, especially at the elephant sanctuary but looking back on it, I feel like it went by in the blink of an eye. I know I’ll come back to Cambodia someday (hopefully in the winter) and I can’t wait to share my experiences with those I meet when I get home. But for now, it is time for me to transition into post-grad life. I am moving to DC 10 days after I get back and need to find a full time job. 

If anyone has any suggestions, please send them my way 🙂 Thanks for keeping up with me! Be on the look out for pictures!

Elephants and English Lessons

Yesterday (Tuesday June 2) I bathed an elephant in the Cambodian jungle. When the hell did my life get so cool? Kamlin, one of the elephants is about 40-50 years old and was rescued from the illegal logging industry. She is partially blind due to neglect, but is less skiddish around humans than Arun Rai, the other elephant who is completely blind due to similar causes.

Unfortunately, many elephants undergo a type of training that is meant to break their spirit and show that they are subordinate to their mahout (their owner). This includes a lot of abuse. We watched a documentary about it and it broke my heart to see all of the local people hurting these innocent animals. When elephants stop responding to being poked in the leg or side, they often turn to their sensitive parts behind their ears or even their eyes. Which is how the two elephants here were blinded. 
But anyway, because of her abuse, Arun Rai doesn’t do well around volunteers. But we were allowed to interact with Kamlin on very regular basis. Tuesday, my group was able to bathe her. In the morning we helped build a damn in order to keep the water level high in their main bathing area but in the afternoon, she tramped through the jungle to meet us and allow us to pour water all over her. It was probably the most fun I have ever had. We spent about 30 minutes in the water with her and did a mighty fine job if I do say so myself. After that, off she went in search of more food to eat. Our day was pretty much done at that point and we all headed off to our bucket showers, in hopes of getting the smell of elephant off us (one day later and my clothes reek). Aside from being able to bathe her, the best part of the day was when we all went to bed. Why you may ask? Because it wasn’t super hot. I slept so comfortably last night and had a really hard time getting up in the morning.  

Wednesday was a bit of a change of pace. There is a local school about 15 minutes away so we all piled into a couple cars and headed over there for the morning. This school is different than the ones we worked at outside of Siem Reap. It’s larger in the sense that there are more kids and the kids stay all day instead of just a few hours. Four of us went into a classroom and the room I was in was full of rowdy 4 and 5 year olds who knew little English. The best part was that the teacher left us completely so we had the hardest time getting them to calm down and be quiet when they got all riled up. We tried to teach them shapes, the alphabet, numbers, and basic weather. None of us really knew what we were doing so the two hours we were in there were pretty much borderline torture. Once we all finished teaching, we were able to just play with the kids. SO that is exactly what we did. I sweat so much chasing kids around or carrying this girl on my back. It was fun but probably as tiring as working outside in the hot sun all day is. We left at 11 and I felt like I needed a strong drink and a long nap. Later that afternoon however, we planted trees along one of the main roads instead. All in an attempt to replant the jungle. 

Following dinner, we were spilt up into the same groups from the school that morning to teach the rangers on the sanctuary English. The rangers are part of the Cambodian Military and are stationed to protect the forest and the animals from loggers and poachers. Its amazing that the government has decided to care enough to break off parts of their military to do this important work. Our ranger was 20 years old and I think developed quite the crush on me. I was the main teacher, writing out sentences and teaching him words. He was pretty good but I think that is mostly because he had already covered what we were trying to teach him. Oops…

I’m slowly catching up with the week and will be home before I know it. I’ll fill in with pictures on all previous posts and probably post something with just photos but until then, my instagram is below somewhere on my blog so you could look there for a small preview! 

Floating around 

Today (Saturday) was the day I almost died. It was our day off so we could pretty much do whatever we wanted. A few other volunteers and myself decided to trek out to the floating villages, which Cambodia is pretty well known for. We took a tuk tuk for about an hour or so to pretty much the middle of nowhere, with two drivers who spoke very little English and no guide. We would randomly stop on the side of the road and nobody would explain to us what was happening. Fast forward to when we actually arrived at the beginning of the river and the two drivers of the boat didn’t speak English either. We were up shit’s creek without an English paddle, that is for sure. 

All in all the floating village was kind of cool but also kind of a disappointment. It hasn’t hit the rainy season yet (it technically just started) so there isn’t enough water to make the houses look like they are floating. It actually is just a bunch of houses on really really high stilts. Which was cool to see of course, but not at all what we were expecting. The boat took us out onto this huge lake and we had lunch on a floating house/restaurant. From there you could just see lake as far as the eye could see. That and where they farmed their food, which was also on water. The whole experience took about two and a half hours and before we knew it we were back on our tuk tuk, racing towards Siem Reap. 

It ended up being a great day once we got back. I was able to hang out by myself, which was much needed as alone time here has been quite scarce. I did some laundry, repacked my entire bag, bought some snacks for our time at the elephant sanctuary (which I am so happy I got) and just chilled before the rest of the group got back from this waterfall they went to. 

A small group of us had found an Italian restaurant the night before, Il Forno, and decided we were going to ditch the group dinner and head out on our own again because let me tell you…rice is honestly the last food I want to eat right now. The first night at Il Forno we had pizza and the second night we had pasta. I honestly can’t decide which was better because both were so good. We had to enjoy it while it lasted because once we ended up at the elephant sanctuary, we only had one option for all three meals-which included SO MUCH RICE. 
Normally I am the type of girl who loves rice-white or fried. But having it served for every meal, including breakfast has gotten so old SO fast. I can’t wait to get back to Siem Reap and have some variety at our disposal. But I’ll get to that in a little bit. Saturday was our last day in civilization because Sunday morning we all hoped on a bus, got our last bit of air conditioning and headed out into the jungle. Granted…it isn’t exactly what I pictured when I thought jungle. We’re pretty close to a main road and even as I write this, I can hear the cars driving by. But we’re definitely cut off. I have limited access to texts, but there is no wifi and no data. Let me tell you…as a girl who doesn’t like to be disconnected, this is quite the challenge. 

We arrived around mid-morning on Sunday and boy was it hot. Our huts have two beds, draped with mosquito nets and one outlet (surprisingly). The electricity is only on from 6pm-10pm and sometime cuts out early (like last night). There are roofs on the huts, but they are essentially open air…worst part is that there is NO fan. So the air inside the room is just dead. That first night and most of the subsequent nights, I would wake up numerous times because I was sleeping in a pool of my own sweat. It was torturous. I slept in as minimal clothing as possible and still struggled. My guess is the main issue is the pillow, but the overall sleeping situation isn’t something I look forward to. The worst part about it is that there is no escape from the heat. None of the buildings have AC so you’re just stuck in it. Even sitting on our porch, in a hammock, the sweat runs down your body as if you were working. The bathrooms continue the interesting living situation. The toilets can’t have TP in them, so you have to put it in the trash, then “flush” the bowl with water from a basin that is right next to it. The showers are bucket showers. Meaning that you have a bucket of water and a smaller bucket that you fill up with water and pour it on yourself. It surprisingly isn’t as bad as I thought it would be because the water is pretty unlimited and so refreshing at the end of the day, but I do miss having water pressure and being able to shower and actually feel clean (although I haven’t ever felt 100% clean since I left the States). Needless to say we were all pretty miserable that first day and really regretting our decision. 

As the week as gone on, things have gotten better but we are still counting down the days until we leave on Friday morning. The work here is much easier than the work at the schools. We work from about 8-10, break until 11:30, work from 1-2ish, feed the elephants at 3, then break till dinner at 6, documentary at 7 and then free the rest of the day. We have a lot of free time. So much so that I have finished a 615 page book and another 300 something page book. The relaxation is a nice change from last week, but the days seem to crawl by since we’re not as busy.

We were spilt into two groups on Monday and began to work in those groups. I was in group two, which meant I helped plant corn, clean the goose pond (which was so repulsive. I don’t even like thinking about it), and helped plant some seeds for their nursery. I suppose it might be worthwhile to mention exactly where I am. The Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary is part of the Save the Elephants Foundation. They have two elephants, both of whom were rescued from lives of abuse and neglect as well as some monkeys. The sanctuary is almost completely self sustaining and works to not only give the elephants a better, freer life, but to help restore Cambodia’s rapidly declining jungles and forests. Hence why we helped plant trees today (Wednesday). 

Tuesday came with some fun elephant interaction while Wednesday involved a lot of adorable kids and buckets of sweat. You’re intrigued aren’t you? 😉 

Feeling Ancient

If you know anything about Cambodia you probably know of either The Killing Fields or Angkor Wat. Most people would recognize the temples even if they didn’t know they were in Cambodia.

Angkor Wat is just outside of Siem Reap so on Thursday our group decided to wake up before the crack of dawn to see the sunrise outside the temples. Rumor has it that it is cooler (which is relative…it was still hot) and that it is less crowded, so we decided it would be best (and offer great photos) if we went at sunrise. 

It was worth it. I have no words to accurately describe how beautiful it was. The sun had the perfect place to peek over the temples without being obstructed at all. There were still a ton of people but it was empty enough that we were able to get photos without too many tourists in the background. We had a Cambodian guide the entire time who took us through the temple, giving us history and fun tidbits of information. We spent a lot of time wandering around the temple, taking fun pictures and enjoying the 1000+ year old ruins. 

There are two other temples included in the ticket, so we headed there next. We had more time to wander around at the second temple but it was hard to do anything because it had gotten so hot and there were so many tourists around. The third temple was my favorite. It is a temple that has huge trees growing on TOP of it. You may ask yourself… ‘how is that possible?’ and the answer is that I have no idea. It is really beautiful though. It’s kind of maze like, so we walked from one side to the other, stopping only to buy these beautiful handmade bracelets from a young girl. If you want a better image in your head…think Lara Croft Tomb Raider. 

We got back to the hotel with the rest of the day ahead of us, but at this moment in time…what I did is completely escaping me. I’m guessing, due to the amount of gifts I have acquired that I spent some time and some money at the markets. I probably hung out at the pool and Jess & I probably spent too much time watching Nat Geo Wild. We were mildly obsessed and now that we don’t have it, we miss it dearly. We started to make our own documentary today because we needed to fill the void. Did you know that elephants can hear through their feet? Did you know that a polar bears fur is actually clear? Did you know that a dog can learn to drive a car?

Before we knew it, it was Friday, our last day at the schools. Thankfully, Abby let us switch back to BFOK so we could spend one final day with those kids and would be able to finish our toilet. Other than the usual work, I had a lot of fun playing with the kids today. I was pulled up by one girl to play some stand up/sit down game that I didn’t know the rules of. All I knew was that I didn’t want to be in the middle of the circle. We ended up playing a lot of rounds of duck duck goose, which was so much fun because I was targeted like no other. They all wanted me to chase them. Earlier that day I had sliced my hand open while I was laying brick underneath the tin of the toilet building and this adorable little girl had followed Abby and I into the library to clean my wound. She helped clean it, bandaid it and wrap it in athletic tape. Easily my favorite little girl. She wanted me to sit next to her in duck duck goose and she wanted me to be near her during any other game we played. 

After having some issues with getting the door to fit, we could proudly say that we had finished the bathroom in four days. Following our success, the principle of the school invited us back to his house to have dinner. We were able to write in a book for the school, leaving our name and our thanks. However, the tearjerker of the day was when we finished with dinner and walked back to the school. Older kids and all of the teachers went around thanking us. One of the female teachers and I had really bonded on that last day and when they were distributing gifts, she ran up to me to make sure she could be the one who gave me mine. It was a beautiful silk scarf. Each one of the volunteers got one but I am glad that Sin (the girl) was able to give it to me. She also took a bracelet off her wrist and put it on mine. It amazes me how quickly you can bond with someone who you knew nothing about a few days prior. It was and still is really sad to know that I won’t be back there anytime soon. I would love to go back some day…show Kurt around, help them build something new, and play with the kids. I’m really glad I had the chance to get to experience all of this. 

This trip has had its highs and definitely its lows, but overall I am really glad that I came. This week especially (which I’ll eventually get to) has been hard since we have no AC, no real showers and no wifi.