It Takes a Village

We were excited to sleep in – until 8am, something new! We had another delicious hotel breakfast and packed up and left. We were very short on cash, so we had the tuktuk driver take us to an atm, which ended up being much more of an experience than we had planned for. The first atm declined my card three times with error messages, so we went to a different one down the street. Emily decided to go first, but that machine went through the whole process and even made noise as if it were spitting out the cash, but no money came out. When she checked her account, the amount of money she was supposed to have received was missing from her balance. We had to call the number on the atm, which told us to go to the bank a few blocks away, wait in line for a long time just to be told to call the number on the atm card. We grabbed lunch at somewhere called Peace Cafe, but the lunch wasn’t particularly peaceful as Emily called the number on the card, very stressed about the missing money. It’s less than ideal to be in a country like Cambodia and have money disappear from your bank account. But after a phone call to her American bank, Emily was told that it’ll probably fix itself in a few days – luckily it did!

A man from the village where Emily works picked us up from the cafe in a huge van full of supplies and two young mothers with their babies. One of the babies was extremely interested in us and couldn’t stop looking and checking us out. Emily warned me that many people in the village don’t speak any English and that she was anticipating needing to do a ton of translating for me. Not many white people go into the village, we were the only two there – many people assumed I was a new Peace Corps volunteer. Emily told me how the only time white people come in is to either volunteer like her for very long periods of time, or to just show up and drop off some donation like computers and then leave very quickly. So the village’s experience with westerners and white people is pretty limited.

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The temperature felt even hotter in the village than it had in Siem Reap. Because the village remains more traditional and conservative, women have to keep their knees and shoulders covered at all times. Emily lives with a host family – their house was way bigger and more modern than I had expected.

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There were animals everywhere – kitties, their dog Ninja, ducks, roosters, lizards, cows. We dropped off our things upstairs then walked to the school where Emily teaches.

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The school reminded me so much of the school I have volunteered at in Ghana (Heritage Academy) – with open windows (no glass) and doorways, concrete walls, small stretch of buildings. I met one of Emily’s co-teachers who is about our age and super sweet. She even gave me a ride on her motor bike!

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We went into her class and they performed traditional Khmer songs for us and danced – so lovely!

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I was in awe by them. The kids were adorable and sweet, but a little shy with me there.

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I was able to meet a few of the teachers and students, all very excited about the “foreigner’s” presence. We ate sweet popcorn sold by local women and talked to the math teacher who spoke English much better than other people in the village. He was curious about where I came from and my life outside that moment.

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We walked to the Wat or Buddhist temple of the village.

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Young monks gathered outside laughing and having fun together. The paintings inside the temple were spectacular, detailing stories of the religion. It felt peaceful to take it all in, standing in front of such beauty with our bare feet on the cold stone floors.

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As we relaxed on the temple steps, some of Emily’s older high school students, total teacher pets, came over to talk to us for the third time since I arrived. Considering how little English is known by adults in the community, their English impressed me. They tried to show off for us with their volleyball skills, which were definitely stronger than mine! Emily says there’s so little to do in the village that many of the high school boys just play every day for hours. I could have been watching a professional game. While we watched, an old woman walking by grabbed my arm and started speaking to me in Khmer. I looked at Emily, unsure what the woman was saying, and she translated that the woman thought I was so beautiful. I was so embarrassed, but said thank you and Emily said thank you in Khmer for both of us.

I got to briefly meet Emily’s younger host siblings, a girl and boy. They weren’t able to talk to me in English, but we could communicate and play in other ways. Emily and I did a lot of walking that day along the dirt roads. We went to a local family’s house where Emily teaches some students English, on top of what they learn in school. She explained that one family had asked for some additional help for their child and then the neighbors and siblings joined too so now she has a mini class. Emily doesn’t get paid for doing extra work like this, she’s a good person and obviously loves to teach and help. I really respect that. During the lesson, Emily had the kids ask me questions in English and then I would ask them questions in English. I think this was excellent practice for them because they often tried speaking in Khmer and tried to get help from Emily, but Emily would just make them figure it out and talk to me. I mentioned to Emily how it seems like a lot of people in Cambodia often talk about me like I’m not there – even in English. Emily tells them that they can ask me themselves when they have question about me, but they still wouldn’t. She told me she’s noticed this too and how people often do that with her and her host family – asking the family questions about her instead of talking directly to her. The kids were embarrassed about their English and being forced to ask me questions, but they were so cute. They asked about my family, my job, my age, and my home. I could tell this wasn’t an easy task for them, but they did a great job!

We went back to Emily’s house for dinner. Her host mom made us noodles while the siblings and her ate snails! We ate dinner on the floor of the living room – there wasn’t much furniture to sit on in the house besides a nice hammock. The sun had set so after dinner we made our way to bed. After another exciting day, I felt very ready to get some sleep.

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