A Travellerspoint blog

Knyom nuk niat, kampuchea!

Off to Vietnam

It's been a while since my last post but I've been VERY busy! I had a good week w/ mom who randomly decided to visit for a week! It was nice to show her the sites around PP and then we were off to Siem Reap for a long weekend to see the Angkorian temples, which were absolutely amazing. I'll be posting pictures of them when I get a chance. The the following week I was busy getting ready to say goodbye to Cambodia! I can't believe time passed so quickly! I spent most of this week buying goodbye presents for people, setting up a party for the kids at the center, and cramming all my belongings into my 50 litre backpack! It was quite surreal on thursday morning to be sitting on a bus leaving Cambodia! Thursday was overall a pretty stressful day- first, as I was packing, a scorpion crawls out of a box I had on my shelf. I just picked the box up and it fell out and crawled under my backpack. So then I'm like "great, WHAT am I supposed to do now?" Did I mention that it was about 15 min before I had to leave for the bus? Luckily donnai came home a few min later and I went up to her and was like "donnai, in my room, BUG- SCARY BUG"- I finally drew her a picture and shes like "ohhhhh baaaad". So there we are standing on the bed in my room with a tiny can of buy spray and a 6 foot metal duster handle prodding at the backpack! Shes about to poke the backpack when she turns to me and asks "how big"? I demonstrate about 2 inches with my fingers and she heads back upstairs and comes back 2 minutes later w/ a 10 foot metal duster handle (much more suitable!)
donnai and jo: 1, scorpion: 0
So after that whole event was over, I realize that the text message in which jacqui sent the name of the hotel where i'm to meet her in Ho Chi Minh City, has been automatically deleted from our apt phone. Excellent! So an hour later I find myself alone on a bus to Ho Chi Minh City with a dead cell phone, a week-expired cambodian visa and not a clue where I'm supposed to be going when I arrive! I even used my best Khmer to borrow someones phone before we crossed the border but realized jacqui's phone doesn't work now that shes left cambodia (and she also hasn't had working email). Needless to say the day was quite and experience! I came up w/ a plan to go to the main backpacker area in the city where I figured I was likely to find an internet cafe, where I hoped I could check facebook and find a message from her w/ the hotel name. Thank god for luck, facebook, and globalization! I was able to throw on my backpack, find an internet cafe, get the name of the hotel from facebook, and ask directions to it in english! So here I am in Vietnam! More vietnam adventures to come...

Posted by jmalsch 01:52 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

"Knoym jung om tuk?"

So I've had a pretty action-packed week. Last weekend was Bon Om Tuk, which is the giant water festival in Phnom Penh to celebrate the flow of the Tonle Sap changing directions. Over three days (sat-mon) teams from the provinces come with their boats to race. Thousands of people flock to the riverside in PP (Cambodians and foreigners) and watch the races. Despite what I'd heard about problems w/ crowd control, pickpockets, etc... I had a really awesome time! We followed the locals and sat over the wall that lines the riverside and had an excellent view. The boats are crazy! They are all decorated really beautifully and usually have about 50 rowers (although on some big ones I counted 80!) When I joked about wanting to go in one of the boats, I found myself being hoisted into one of the boats by donnai and some boatmen! It was crazy!! All of a sudden i'm standing in this boat with an oar in my hand and all these Cambodians cheering/laughing! It was hilarious! Well at least I now know how to say I want to row in the boat (knoym jung om tuk)!
Last Saturday, Nary (one of the CCASVA street workers) took me to her home outside of PP. It was really sweet. It's amazing how you can travel just 30 min outside PP and be in the middle of nowhere in rural Cambodia. I did, as I had feared, have to choke down a "lovely" home cooked meal at her house. Lucky for me I got to see the chicken we ate when it was bought from the local market with flies swarming all over it! yum! We've developed a saying around here: TGFR (thank god for rice!) Aside from the meal, the day was really cool. I went to a beautiful pagoda with nary's niece and got to see some really beautiful scenery!
On Thursday I was back out for another adventure w/ nary- this time with her husband and Mr. songheng (another street worker.) Now when I was invited to this one the language barrier proved a bit difficult and all I understood was "on Thursday we take you far outside PP to walk by river."- well, it sounded fun and besides, not knowing where you're going is quite the adventure! We ended up in Takiev province, about 30 km outside PP. Despite the constant uncertainty of where we were going, the day was actually really, really fun. We went to Nary's sister's house and had lunch (TGFR again!) and then went to this beautiful river where we went for a boat ride and had a swim. Then we went to see this ancient temple that predates the Angkor wat temples- I got a little taste of what I’ll see next weekend when I go to Siem Reap. I'm really grateful to Nary and Mr. Songheng for taking me out on these excursions and it makes me really glad that I did not just come to Cambodia as a tourist- I wouldn't have gotten to do any of these crazy trips!

Posted by jmalsch 20:50 Comments (0)

Hell on Earth

Steung Meanchey Municipal Waste Dump

They call it "Smokey Mountain": over 100 acres of mountainous trash where roughly 2,000 people -600 of whom are children -spend the greater part of their lives. On Tuesday, I took a brief ride on a moto to the edge of the city, crossed rivers of shit and dump runoff and saw a glimpse of the most horrible place I have ever been to in my life.
CCASVA (the NGO I'm working for for those who haven't been following) doesn't work at the Steung Meanchey Dump, but after asking them about it at our last staff meeting, they decided they would take us there to show us. I had read about it, but I was completely unprepared for what I would see. Where the Killing Fields and S-21 prison are a chilling glimpse of tradgedies past, the Steung Meanchey dump is a harsh sense of reality.
The first thing you notice is the smell. I could barely make out the towering hills of trash in the distance when I noticed the rank smell that saturated the air or the surrounding blocks. The road leading up to the dumps main entrance was litterally a river of dump runoff -it seemed to actually have a current. The rain from monsoon season and the natural decay of years old trash created a deep thick, gray-brown mess and the dump trucks that passed through it sunk up to the top of their wheel wells. As we carefully navigated our way into the dump, we saw children walk past us, wading in sludge up to their knees. At times we had to back up, run and jump between dry pieces of land to get into the actual dump itself, knowing that if we missed, we would end up lying in liquid trash.
The full impact of the scene didn't hit me until I was standing on a giant heap of trash, looking out around me at an endless stretch of garbage, where men, women, and children were diligently collecting plastic and other recyclible materials. The dump itself is actually constantly burning since the waste creates methane as it rots (hence the name "Smokey Mountain." I've been told that on average, an adult makes no more than a few thousand riels a day (about 75 cents.) -And yet, its the stories of the children that strik me the most. Most of them walk through the heaps of trash (which includes glass, used condoms and needles) with only flimsy sandals or no shoes at all -but the risk of HIV is hardly the end of their worries. Every year, several children are killed when they are run over by garbage trucks and bulldozers. Most of the time no on notices -they simply don't show up to meet their parents at the end of the day and die alone in an endless heap of trash.
I appologize for the dark sincerity of this post but it is something that I couldn't leave out. I'll be posting pictures of the dump on an album on my dotphoto site (site at the top of the page.)

Posted by jmalsch 01:26 Comments (1)

Trip to Svey Reng province

the Katan festival

Last weekend we were invited for a day trip to the Svey Reng province, to the homeland of some of our staff, for the Katan festival. Svey Reng is a little over three hours SE of PP, near the Veitnamese border. We all got up at 6am Sunday morning and piled into a minibus, which was at least 15 yrs old, with Sophan (assistant director), Peseth, Sitar, Donnai (who cooks for us), and some more random Khmers. -a bit cramped, but I wasn't complaining (beats a cramped, broken pickup with spitting babies, a pee pot, etc...!)
The whole experience was really sweet. When our van pulled up to the pagoda, we were swamped by at least 50 kids, many of whom had never seen white people before. After warm welcomes from some of the villagers and relatives of Donnai and Sitar, we sat down and were served an interesting meal of fish (whole, with the works: eyes, bones, skin, etc...), fish paste (didn't even try this one- but it was apparantly so good a friend of mine almost spit it out on the table- shes so polite!). There were Khmer noodles (thank god for starch!) It was pretty amusing...also there was a crowd of people standing around our table watching us crazy caucasians eat!
After lunch, we watched the festivities inside the actual pagoda. There were about 5 monks chanting a prayer and every so often the people praying would join them in the chanting. It was pretty cool to watch. When they were finished, we joined then for a cerimonious walk around the new temple being built. Some nice lady gave me incense sticks to carry around like everyone else so I felt like I fit right in! More chanting and then it was off to Donnai's house for lunch. Wait, didn't we just eat lunch a couple hours ago? Nope, apparantly that was snack! Overall, the trip was really an awesome experience and definitely not something I could have done as a tourist!

Posted by jmalsch 03:31 Comments (0)

a month past

It's hard to believe i've already been here for over a month!! On the other hand, I've gotten so used to the way of life here that home seems soooo far in the past... Last weekend was a really sweet time. We (about 8 of us) went to Sihanoukville for the long weekend. Sihanoukville is west of PP, on the coast (yep, the BEACH!) The bus ride was quite luxurious compared to our mondulkiri adventure- yes! we all had our very own seat! We left early Saturday morning and I slept most of the 5 hour ride there (well, as much as you can sleep with the driver constantly blaring the horn.) Drivers here insist on using the horn to warn slower cars, motos, naked children, cows, etc... that they're flying down the road behind them. Anyway, we stayed at a pretty nice guesthouse. There were no bed sheets and only cold water but it was right on the beach which was really nice. It had such a different feel than the dusty dirty streets that are PP. So we spent Sat, Sun, and Monday morning lounging on the beach soaking up the sun and avoiding "madame, madame you buy bracelet!"..."Oh you buy fruit from me...oo ok maybe massage yes you buy -ohhh why your friend buy and not you- you buy from me?"
But really though the beach was nice. It was nice to go back to work on Tuesday though. I missed the kids in the center. It's been a tough week working in the slums though. Yesterday I went to a slum that's predominantly Vietnamese and saw a couple shooting up while their newborn baby was being looked after by a neighbor kid. It rained a ton last night and so parts of the slum were completely flooded. Several houses (shacks really) had a foot of water in them. We got one boy into vocational training today though. He's 16 and is going to learn how to cut hair. He'll earn a decent wage and hopefully be able to open his own shop someday.
Still trying to decide what to do during my 3 weeks of travel time. So far the plan is to go to Vietnam for a bit under two weeks, then head to Laos, and then end in Bangkok for a couple days before flying home. Plan is still in the works though.
I'll be uploading some more pictures to dotphoto (address at top of page) in the next few days. Also, if any of you use skype, my username is jmalsch - call me, its free!- if i'm on its early in the morning your time or maybe at night on weekends.

Posted by jmalsch 03:53 Comments (1)

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