Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Peace Corps Cambodia is Hardcore

Kelsey's House
Kelsey's host-grandma/Shot by Kelsey

We met Kelsey in Siem Reap. She was enjoying a four-day weekend from school with the $1 tacos at !Viva!. Who can resist $1 tacos? Not me or Cale, we had them three days in a row.

Kelsey is a Peace Corps volunteer in Cambodia. She is fast approaching the end of her service (she already had her COS conference), but was still kind enough to invite a couple of strangers out to visit her site.*

*Can I just reiterate how awesome the Peace Corps network is when you are traveling. PCV-style is the only way to see a country.

Peace Corps Cambodia is pretty freaking hardcore. I was starting to think that Peace Corps Samoa was hardcore after experiencing PC Thailand. But let me tell you, these Cambodia volunteers are rock stars.

To start with Kelsey is in Group 2. I will pause for a minute and let that sink in. Group 2! We were Group 79 in Samoa. We were there to celebrate the 40th anniversary of PC Samoa. They haven't even celebrated their 5th anniversary here in Cambodia.

There are good reasons for the Peace Corps in Cambodia to be so new. For those of you out of the history loop there was the
Khmer Rouge, the genocide (try to imagine being killed for knowing two languages. all the people older than me and Cale who speak French in this country had to hide this skill to save their lives), the Khmer Rouge insurgency that lasted until 1999, and a countryside riddled with land mines. For all intents and purposes, the Kingdom of Cambodia is only a little over a decade old.

The current groups of Peace Corps volunteers in country (Groups 2 and 3) can still be considered pioneers.

Kelsey lives outside of Sisiphon (Sway) with a host family (all Cambodia volunteers live with host families). Her family survived the wars and genocide in refugee camps in Thailand. I am not sure when they returned home to Cambodia. They live in what I have come to see as a typical Cambodia home. Closed in wooden structure on stilts with additional living space underneath (usually filled with hammocks and where the cooking occurs).* We slept on the porch area of the house on stilts.

*I have been very surprised by traditional housing in both Thailand and Cambodia. For such hot countries, the housing is so enclosed, with such tiny window. Samoan fale make so much sense to me.

Most of Cambodia is dirt roads and Kelsey's village is no exception. There is electricity. Kelsey's family has power, but she even refrains from using a fan at night because the power is expensive and rarely used. Her family has a hand pump by the house, but I got the impression that not everyone does, as other people came to pump large quantities of water from the well (carrying it away in buckets attached to long poles balanced across their shoulders). The family does their cooking over traditional charcoal, ceramic stoves. There is also a single propane tank with a burner literally attached to the top of the tank in their kitchen. If Kelsey wants to refrigerate anything she must take it down the road to the house of her
VSO friend, her family has no fridge.

Before visiting with Kelsey, I thought I knew hot. Boy was I wrong. Our first night in her village defied science; it was so hot. When the sun went down, I anticipated a slow, slight lowering of the temperature. If anything, I think it got hotter. I was so busy being amazed by the quality, intensity and illogical-ness of the heat, I am not sure if I actually suffered as much as I should have. Though, have no delusions, I suffered...a lot. It was mind-boggling hot. Volunteers in Thailand complained of the heat. Mike lives in a province that means hot and dry. It was over 100 degrees there when we visited him. It was nothing compared to that night in Kelsey's village. I have no idea what the temperature was, but it must have been well over 100 degrees and the humidity must have been 99 percent. It was awesome, in the sense of the word awesome meaning awe-inspiring and not cool.

The following morning we paid a visit to Kelsey's school and became a sort of Show and Tell. Tune in next time when I recount this tale.

— Sara

PS. I woud like to apologize for my lack of photographs of Kelsey and her family. I didn't want her family or students to think I thought they were tourist attractions.

1 comment:

Teresa said...

I need Grandma's hammock... it looks awesome!