Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Highlights and Happenings in Kampong Cham

Cambodian version of the QE2
Well folks a lot has happened  in the two and half weeks since my last blog so I have tried to select the best bits and the bits I can actually remember which may not be the same thing for this entry. The last time I posted I has discovered another side to sleepy little Kampong Cham. Well within a couple of days of the end of Pchum Ben and end of LEO beer promotion the town quickly returned to its’ former sleepy nature. 

Enjoying the Sun Deck

So in order to maintain some level of activity I joined the majority of the group on a ‘river cruise’ up the Mekong from Kampong Cham, which included a visit to one of island villages and another very old Pagoda.
We boarded our trust boat which was organised by out guide Gideon and needless to say those of us who were on the “boat” mentioned in cycle blog felt it was like the QE2 if for no other reason than we could stand up straight without the fear of capsizing. 

So we meandered slowly up stream for couple of hours and then moored at one of the Mekong Island. The village made up of 250 people including 25 children is a seasonal home with the houses been floated back to the shore in the wet season. We were greeted by all 25 children (it felt like it) and had a tour of the village and met the chief and some elders.
The Children of Island Village greet our Boat
Ingrain aka Peter Pan chats to the kids

The most striking thing for me was the sheer simplicity of live and the children in particular seemed happy with the simple treats we had brought them which was mainly balloons. The chief told us about some of the issues affecting this commuting village and what the different groups were doing to help. He also showed us the school which provided grade 1 class after which the children most go ashore for school.                                 
Island school
The houses on the island
We get seen off by the kids
Dave get's first class treatment from Kath
I am the king of the world hwo needs Kate Winslet
So after a relaxing time on this small island which had more cows than I have seen so far in the whole of the rest of Cambodia we boarded our trusty vessel and continued up stream once more. At one point having a race with a empty cargo boat which was heading up to Kartie to collect stones for road building. We soon overtook this boat and shortly thereafter docked near the old pagoda. 
The infamous steps
Someone decided to run up the 250 odd steps but quickly ran out of steam and ending up crawling the last 70 steps but still made it to the top first. We met the tourist police and paid the required $2 fee to have a look around the Pagoda which dates from C1st BC. We had lovely picnic has the heavens opened and this included such delegacies such as Branson Pickle and Cheese sandwiches. 

After lunch we had our very own Indiana Jones experience, when we literally went off the beaten path and heading down the hill to the bottom of the Pagoda complex. We then boarded our little vessel and heading back down the river at very relaxed pace enjoying the scenery and sunshine.   

So what else did I get up to before finishing language training and saying goodbye to Kampong Cham. Well I decide to go for another cycle this time a mere 25km trip out the main Kampong Cham-Phnom Penh road to visit what is called Man and Woman Hills. This idea was one of my better ones but unfortunately it rained for most of my cycle back and I was very, very wet. It was still worth it for the great pictures I got and of course to see the monkeys.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The participatory approach

commitment to learning take 2

commitment to learning take 2

commitment to learning take 1

'The Cham' the other side of Kampong Cham

One of the live bands at the Leo Beer promotion
After the rollercoaster of week between Phnom Penh-Kampot-Phnom Penh. It was strange and exhausting to find myself sitting on bus for the second time in 24hrs. Well I thought I had Kampong Cham sussed out as relatively quite town with not a whole lot going on, I was wrong between the Pchum Ben Buddhist festival and Leo Beer promotion by the river side sleepy little Kampong Cham was transformed into 'The Cham' a town bustling with life and many people who had imbibed a bit to much beer which led to some very funny moments. 

As I say there were two factors in Kampong Cham changing into 'the Cham' the first was Pchum Ben. This is a religious ceremony which occurs during September/October when everyone remembers the spirit of dead relatives. For fifteen days, people bring food to the temples or pagodas. On the fifteenth and final day, everyone dresses in their finest clothing to travel together to the pagodas. Everyone says prayers to help their ancestors pass on to a better life. According to Khmer belief, those who do not follow the practices of Pchum Ben are cursed by their angry ancestors!!! As Pchum Ben involved returning to the family home-place this in effect means that Phnom Penh is deserted as people return home thus sending the population of 'the Cham' through the roof. 

The second factor which has changed forever my attitude to 'The Cham' was the LEO beer promotion which kicked off on the Wednesday and continued every evening till Sunday. It took a while to figure out the run of the thing but as you can see from the video we got there in the end. The format was essentially cheap beer and food, with live music, and karaoke and dancing competitions. There was also some version of bingo which gave us a chance to practice our Khmer numbers. 
Enjoying a beer with the lads
Let me just explain the accompanying viedo 1 , viedo 2 and viedo 3. On Wednesday curiosity got the better of me with regards this mysterious LEO promotion which had set up just down from out hotel, so naturally I went to explore with a few others. Once we had a beer in hand we started to chillax and enjoy the entertainment, then a group of very friendly Cambodians invited us to join their table. This worked out really well as we got to practice our Khmer, they got to practice their English and we all had some beers and various bits of food. Towards the later part of the evening a competition started to see who could sing the LEO theme song and hold a not for the longest. After watching some efforts I was prevailed upon to enter by both my new Khmer friends and my fellow volunteers. The result you can see for yourself.
Discussing what to do differently in order to win!!
All in all after this week all I can say is that Kampong Cham certainly as dark-side you just have to stay out late enough to find it. Oh one last thing all of this occurred while I still managed to make my Khmer lesson each day although we did end up with Thursday and Saturday off. 

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kampot-The Land of Salt and Pepper

Language Training Week 20-26th Sept.
Ok well it has been over two weeks since my last blog and to be honest I have been so busy and disconnected from the interweb that the blog or even keeping notes for it didn't even enter my head. Just to give a quick summary of what has been happening since the infamous bike ride which was the topic of the last blog. Well the language classes continued apace for until Sunday 26th by which stage I think we were all starting to get a but tried but our Khmer is coming along in leaps in bounds. Needless to say I didn't get up to much else activity wise in this time except lots of reading. I read about half a dozen different reports on Education in Cambodia the more interesting of which are listed below.

2. Cambodian PRSP 2006

Placement Visit Week 27th Sept.-3rd Oct.
So the idea behind placement week is that we take a break from language training to go to our various placements meet with our line-managers (boss) and colleagues. So people heading off to various places including: Battambang, Kampong Thom and Stung Treng as well as my placement in Phnom Penh. 
Basic Map of Cambodia with main cities
So anyway I hoped on the bus from Kampong Cham back to Phnom Penh which was pleasant 3hour trip. My placement week kicked off at 8.30am Monday morning when I had meeting with Zablon Kahura, Advocacy and Management Advisor of NGO Education Partnership NEP Cambodia. This was followed by a  meeting with Rebecca Pino, from the  Disability Action Council DAC. The day finished up with the big meeting with Mr. Rong Chhun, President of CITA and my future colleagues. All in all Monday was a very busy day but it was great to met the various people and to get so much information. 

Tuesday was deacated to house hunting and all in all I saw 9 places and ended up taking the first place I saw, how typical is that. The apartment is good, has ensuite bedroom, huge living room, kitchen, washing machine and most importantly a balcony and good neighbours. I will post pictures once I move in which will be on the 20th of October and to be honest I can't wait. 

Kampot Salt
Kampot Pepper
On Wednesday morning I had one-to-one meetings with the key CITA staff who are really great people who I am really looking forward to working with. Indeed after that morning I really wanted to just stay there with them but I guess I can wait till the 25th Oct. Wednesday afternoon I headed to Kampot in the south of Cambodia. The 5 hour bus journey was made more entertaining as I traveled with another VSO'er  Claire who is based in Kampot and having been in Cambodia two years she had loads of stories. Kampot by the way is the land of salt and pepper, actual salt and pepper not the pop group. The region is famous for its pepper corns and for the salt fields.     

Wednesday evening I had a really relaxed meal with the VSO Kampot team which is made up of, Claire, Charlene and Chris, and Bob. A great bunch of people, Charlene and Chris were my hosts and they couldn't have been better. Indeed it was funny meeting Chris as he had spent time in Ireland and we ended up chatting about what was going on at home. 
Kampot River
On Thursday morning I got to attend a meeting at Provincial Education Office which was a very useful experience and then Charlene took me on tour of Kampot and we chatted about her job which is based at the teachers training college. It was great to be able to have someone to ask all those annoying little questions and to see the reality on the ground for teachers and trainee teachers. Thursday evening was another meal out this time with a variety of ex-pats working in Kampot all of whom were really interesting to talk to. 
Downtown Kampot
Friday I was due to head back to Phnom Penh so that I could house hunt again on Saturday but since I had already found an apartment and because Kampot is .....well it is Kampot it didn't take much to presude me to stay another day. Which turned out to be the best day of the visit. It started with an 6am start which would not have been as bad had I enjoyed the town so much the night before. Anyway Charelene took me to an school opening ceremony which lasted about 4 hours but was a real experience. I also got to see how the school functioned and see some of the things that were working really well. 
Epic Arts Dance Group
That evening I got to attend a dance performance at  Epic Arts which provide various arts, dance and drama programmes for people with disabilities. First off let me say that Epic Arts is fantastic and is on par within anything in Ireland if not ahead. There were three dance performances and they were excellent it was certainly the highlight of the week just in terms of the pure positive energy that was there. I concluded the evening with a few drinks and chillax'n in spot called Bodhi's which was truly a very relaxing spot to spend Friday night after a slightly crazy week. 

Phnom Penh and this time the bus journey was a little bit longer due to a train derailment (no injuries) and only my broken Khmer conversation with my fellow passagers. Once back in Phnom Penh I went to dinner at my new neighbours. Finally on Sunday I finished off the week by picking up my tailor made pants (3 pairs) and taking the bus back to Kampong Cham where language training will recommence for another couple of weeks. At this stage I really am starting to think of Cambodia as home and just want to embrace everything it has to offer.