Monday, November 29, 2010

Mekong Pirates - Sur les pas d'Ibn El Hakim - Concert 21/11/08

Mekong Pirates, Kampong Cham Workshops and Nice EU people

Jayus you take your eye off the ball for what seems like a brief moment and the next thing you realise that a month has gone by. I have been getting more and more into work and I am really enjoying working with  CITA and Mr. Rung Chunn. No week is every the same and there is always some problems to be solved and things to learn. Last time I mentioned boat-training, the highlights for the following week were the CITAworkshop in Kampong Cham, a meeting with EU Delegation Education team and the Mekong Pirates at the FCC

On Tuesday 9th it was Independence Day and CITA  held a workshop in Kampong Cham where I did my language training.  The meeting was held in home of one of the members and over 25 teachers turned up. Unfortunately may Khmer was only good enough to catch maybe 10% of everything , but I answered questions about the Irish education system and role of teachers unions at home and introduced myself in Khmer. It was really good to get to meet CITA members and to hear first hand about the issues they face and this has both motivated me and helped in writing up campaign policies. 

On Thursday 11th I was provided with the opportunity to meet the EU Delegation Education team. This was very useful for me as it gave me an chance to hear from a third source what they felt were the main issues in Cambodian Education. We also discussed different budget lines that would be suitable of  CITAto apply to in the future. The value of this meeting was immense in just discussing how to improve CITAs future project proposals and having a frank discussion about the issues that I am likely to face. I was very grateful for these very busy people to give me some of their time, knowledge and experience. 

Check out Mekong Pirates at

On the social side the highlight was the Mekong Pirates who played the FCC. and it was my first time in the FCC.  which is fantastic building with great views if just a tad pricey (in future I’ll be there once a month). Anyway the gig was free and few of us went along and half of France seemed to be there to as the band have big French following. After a couple of drinks we got into the swing of things and started dancing away. The band are 14 piece, with great singers and brass, the music style in mix of French, Cajun, khmer kinda jazz I don’t really know but it was amazing. I think the fact that the band were having fun ensuring we  had fun to.So in week two ended with good balance between work and fun and my sprits are still on a high. 

I am starting to enjoy this blog business nice you to reflect on what as actually happened, hope your enjoying it too. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

That sinking feeling

All aboard the truck to training

Very comfortable transport

For the past few years VSO has been entering a boat in the race which is the highlight of the Bon Om Touk (Water Festival) which takes place this coming weekend. I’ll give more details about the festival after it has happened but right now I want to blog about the VSO’s race history and the training day. So for the past number years VSO’s boat the only baragan (foreigner) boat has not been terribly successful.  Indeed when I attempted to get the stat’s on the last three years I was told that we had come, 4th, 6th and 5th, which sounded ok until you realise the boats race in pairs and this essential meant that the boat was beaten by boats in other races.  
This doesn't seem so bad and we get lifejackets

It's easy on dry land
So some of you will be aware of my competitive nature (not to be confused with been a task oriented bastard) and enjoyment of new activities so naturally I signed up to be on this years boat and in the run up to training was determined to put in a good show.
So I got up on Saturday morning heading to the VSO office were the VSO rowers where gathering, I only know a few people among them was Ingran who it seems is spending some time in PP these days. Anyway the usual joking, boasting of performance or lack of it was good fun as we heading in truck to the practice area which was about 30minutes out of the city. 

We disembarked from the truck and straight away I felt I was in a collage of scenes from full mental jacket, apocalypse now and deliverance. The entire village including monks had gather to watch this odd collection of foreigners go through rowers boat camp with a Khmer man I like to call Sergeant Dancer. Sergeant Dancer wore an improvised military costume and had whistle which has we all know is the ultimate form of authority.
So under his careful and strict instruction we formed two lines (harder than you might think) what with the shouting and whistle blowing and began to practice on land which was a damn sight easier than water as it turned out. We had about 15 minutes of dry practice and then boarded out boat for the real thing.
see how well we were doing
At this point Sergeant Dancer really lived up to his name as through a combination or whistle blowing, shouting and dancing he attempted to get some form or rhythm out of us while also motivating us.  It truly was surreal to be in a  30 foot boat which at best was 2foot wide with a Khmer man dancing on the bow while we dipped our ores into the water attempting to gain some sort of momentum in the might river.  So we went up the river, turned and back down the river several times at before we stopped for lunch it seemed at least to me we were making some kind of progress although the laughing of the onlookers should have warned me.

sometimes you get the sinking feeling and then realise you are in fact sinking
After lunch we prepared for another gruelling session in the boat with some people clearing having tried but not yours truly I was has high as kite from the physical exercise and sense of achievement. So again we strained at the ores to shouts of moie, moie, moie pii, moie and the odd little dance as we went up stream and turned and then raced back again.
Sergeant Dancer puts so through our paces

Sergeant Dancer made us complete this one more time increasing the rhythm of his shouts of moie, moie, moie pii, moie so that we rowed even faster. So just as I felt we had arrived and that we would match Hun Sens boat we were joined on the water by another boat with a full Khmer crew and naturally we challenged them to a race down river. We knew this was last practice and we had competition so this time I and several others give it everything has we heading down rivers, both rowing and shouting as much as I could.

Needless to say I was delighted to see we were holding pace with the other boat for about 500m although I did notice half their crew kneeling then, there dancer gave a shout and off they went and in fleeting moment they were gone and we were knackered from our effort which only keep pace with them when they were taking it easy. 

Coming to a stop thank god
So what have I learnt well I think I am going to more realistic about our performance on race day and if we can come 4th that will be go enough for me. It was a great day and great experience and I am still very excited about the main event this Saturday. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

All play and no work makes John a dull boy

Following what I can only describe as disparaging remarks (from close friends and family mind you along the lines of sounds like great fun, still a student dosser, what is it you actually doing a two year holiday?? etc) and general queries from other people as to what exactly it is I am suppose to be doing for the next two years and why I haven't mentioned it yet I have decided to try and rectify the situation.

First off let me say that while I have been here since the start of September (over two months now) for most of that time I have been under the dutiful care of the VSO Cambodia office and attending the in country training, so it is only in the last two weeks that I have started what most of you would call ‘WORK’. In fairness I would agree and say that only since moving into my apartment on the 19th of Oct. and starting work on 25th with CITA has the reality hit me but so far so good.

The best way for me to provide an insight is to walk you through my last two weeks:

Monday 25th
I arrived at work after a pretty sleepless night this was due to the fact that it had been hammered into us during ICT to take our time, build relationships and not worry about been active for at least a couple of months (those of you who know me, will know that I am at times a TOB or Task Oriented Bas*&*d). So I had been fretting about how to build relationships in work and what small talk to make. As it turned out it was fine.

I got to the office at 7.55am and was greeting by Mr. Rong Chunn, CITA President and Sortas the Office Manager and shown to my desk and then pretty much left to get myself settled. At 8.30 Mr. Rong Chunn and another board member took me for coffee and we discussed current affairs and the World Teachers Day on 5th of Oct. Then back to office and some time on the internet.

At about 10am Mr. Rong Chunn cam to me with about nine CV and informed me that he would like to be part of the interview process for both a translator/project assistant and accounting officer (little did I realise been part of the process meant interviewing them by myself and recommending who to hire). So I like been interviewed but hate interviewing and decide a better have some kind of scoring sheet and some exercises for the candidates to do preparing this took me to lunch time. Just before lunch Mr. Rong Chunn again emerged from his office and asked if I would proof read a petition for a press conference that CITA was organising for the visit of Ban Ki-Moon (UNSG) the next day. So my afternoon was spent editing the petition with Sotras and reading the CV’s.

Not exactly the slowly, slowly approach that we had been advised to be ready for but I have to say I was elated by the experience of my first day at work and the range of tasks that were given to me.

Tuesday 26th (another day another dollar)
I had already settled into a work routine arrive at 7.55am set up computer and by ready to go by 8.05am. Day two was just as eventful as day one. I started by revising some more documents to do with the Press Conference and re-reading CV’s. Then the Press Conference kicked off and I was stood there in the background  like one of those minions we are use to seeing on TV. The conference went really well with loads of reporters and journalists and was attended by a UN representative. After the excitement of that I returned to dealing with email and getting ready for interview in the afternoon.

Then after lunch (I should say at this point lunch is 12pm-2pm)  I interviewed a candidate for accounting officer and I think I was more nervous than she was. I wasn’t sure what questions to ask how tough to be and working through a translator was a new experience. And so ended day two.

Wednesday 27th
Same start as Tuesday morning (I like routine) only this time I was interviewing pretty much all day for both the translator/project assistant position and accounting officer position. But of course you never do the same thing all day and after lunch Mr. Rong Chunn asked me to draft a letter to American Embassy and prepare petition for Hilary Clinton who was visiting Cambodia at the weekend and I of course dutiful obliged and thus ended day 3.

Thursday 28th
Was pretty much the same as Wednesday interviews and revision to letter and I was also informed that I would be attending a EU Workshop the following Wednesday. Then shortly before we were due to finish Sotras told me that we would have Friday 29th and Monday 31st off because of public holidays (kings father birthday and the like) even though we had arranged a interview for Monday and meeting to discuss education policy all of which I was told would now be done on Tuesday the 2nd instead. Not one to argue with should sound logic nodded a simple thought  about how to fill the days off when Mr. Rong Chunn asked if I would like to have dinner on Saturday which turned out to be the relationship building part of my week and was hugely enjoyable.

Tuesday 2nd
Of course after a long weekend just like back home it took sometime to get back into the swing of things and it was a particular light day what with no petitions to edit and only one interview so I spent a good bit of time chatting with Sotras and looking over the notes for the workshop the next day.

Wednesday 3rd:
The workshop
The EU in Cambodia
Well I could be lazy and just say I was at EU workshop all day but that would not to justice to the workshop or the young people who were there. The workshop was on youth engagement in economic and civic dialogue and included presentations from a range of youth NGO’s that were nothing short of inspiring in terms of their ideas, their energy and their thirst of change. 

Links s to some of the Youth NGO's at the workshop:
The workshop also provided a great networking opportunity for a newly arrived NGO workers and I spent the coffee breaks swapping business cards with as many people as possible and found that this networking lark isn’t half as bad as I felt it would be.

Thursday 4th:
I spent the day following up on my new interest in networking by emailing each of the people who I had exchanged business cards with and trying to get meetings with as many of them as possible which was more successful than I expected. Since the candidate we offered the translator position to could not accept we decided to re-advertise which mean doing interviews again and the rest of my day was spent editing a project proposal to the ILO.

So that my work and long may it continue and I have to say I am taking relish in the variety of tasks that I am getting to do and way that my opinion if valued for example a suggestion I make is briefly discussed and then implemented rather than going 10 rounds like at home which is the benefit of working in small NGO I guess. So, so far so good.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

New apartment, floor clearner, beer, hangars what else do I need

Finally after seven weeks of In Country Training, I hopped the bus from Kampong Cham back to the bright lights of Phnom Penh. It was Monday 18th and I had just returned from homestay and had managed to make arrangements with my landlady to move into my new apartment in Phnom Penh later that evening.

The thoughts of having my own place, my own space and my own fridge after 7 weeks were too much for me to resist and upon return from the homestay I took the first available bus which was the 10am to Phnom Penh. I arrived at 1.30pm a mere 30 minutes late due to the bus breaking down just outside Phnom Penh. My first destination the Programme Office to pick up the rest of my gear. With my newly acquired Khmer I haggled the tuk-tuk driver down to $1 and heading to the office. Further stretching my Khmer skills I explained I needed him to wait for me while I got my bags and then give him directions to my new house. 

Well folks, there are no words that do justice to the feeling I had when I turned the key in the front door. Now maybe I was 'tried and emotional' but I really felt like I had finally arrived in Cambodia after 7 weeks of hotels, hostels and PO rooms. The first thing I did was empty every single bag I had  and started to unpack, then I promptly fell asleep for while. That evening my new neighbour Emily (also a VSO Vol) who lives downstairs and I went to dinner. The funny thing is that we had done some of our preparation courses together, although she had already been here for 6 months so just goes to show you it is a small world.

So quick tour of my place: it is St 322 which is nice area, there is mini-market right on the corner, plenty of motto’s and tuk-tuks though I have bike. After you come in the double gates you head around back and up to flights of stairs which quit steep and not to be taken in hurry. Then you are at my place. First up is the kitchen area which includes a utility space (formerly a bathroom) in which you find the washing machine, two ring gas cooker and fridge with separate freezers I kid you not.

Then you head down the hall the master bedroom (the only bedroom that is) is on the right and has an ensuite bathroom with hot shower.
Then there is the jewel in the crown the living room. This room is huge, and comfortable fits a set of furniture, dinning table and chairs, book cases and TV.
 Then the final piece of the apartment the balcony which is about 3 foot wide and 8 foot long were I have set up two hammock and now spend about 30 minutes every evening reading and watching the sun set.

On Tuesday morning I woke up more refreshed than ever, I had my first shower in the new place and then went with my Landlady to sign the lease. I spent the rest of Tuesday moving things around and making lists of things I needed to buy. Items such as floor cleaner, clothes hangars and plates and cutlery were placed on the list beside milk, beer and hammocks though not in that order.

The strange thing was that no matter how many times I went to the market or planned the list I either never managed to get what was on it or added other things to it. Again most of Wednesday was spent getting things just so and I can't tell you how happy I am with the apartment. Sure it has it quirks but what place doesn't and seen as I spend most of my time in the hammock on the balcony I don't really care about the small things. 

The rest of the week flow by on Wednesday afternoon ICT started again with some more session in the Programme Office and eventually finished up on Friday with sector meetings. On Thursday night I went out with Chris from Kampot but that’s another story for another blog and on Friday I went to Danny’s to say goodbye to the group has we all prepared to go to our placements. I cooked dinner for Leandra and Andra on Saturday which I think went well no-one got food poisoning and just spent the weekend taking in my new surroundings. 

I am very happy with my new home and invite you all to come an visit, my list of beverages ranges from fresh juice to chilled water and beer and even tea and coffee after the last trip to the market.