Leadership and Character Development Institute. That’s where I am at the moment, volunteering for two weeks. 80% of the students think that’s a “sort time”. I guess it is. At the moment, I’m quite glad that I’m not staying longer than that, though.
It’s so damn challenging. Let me introduce you to my surroundings and daily life: A hell lot of dogs, begging for food, following you around. When I went to the bathroom at night, they woke up from the torch light, barked and sniffed at me, wriggled around my legs and feet, so I could barely move. I didn’t want to step on one of them and have it bite me. No, thanks. Some people might think they’re cute, there are actually quite many puppies, but I don’t. They shit in the middle of the way, hopefully I won’t step into their poo, thankfully, I haven’t (yet).
We all shower with a plastic bowl, that we fill up with water. That itself isn’t too bad. Just the bathroom floor is so incredibly dirty and I can’t wear my flip flops because they all leave their shoes outside. Whatever. Even two seconds after showering I feel sticky again, because the air is so humid. I feel so dirty and sweaty and stinky, I don’t even want to know what’s on my skin this very second. I use deodorant in the morning, just to pretend I was smelling nice. I don’t even want to touch my own body.
Everyone else here uses the water other people have used to shower for washing their clothes. I did it once. And I will never do it again.
The students and the teachers get up around 4:30 to 5:30 am. Fortunately, I don’t have to do that, but once I’ve gotten used to the rhythm a little more, I might get up earlier.
For the ones who don’t know, I’m a vegetarian. Apparently, being a vegetarian in Cambodia is quite hard to manage (especially if you don’t want to eat egg and rice all day. And especially if you volunteer at an NGO school where they don’t have a lot of money to spend on food, so they don’t even have much fruit). On my first night, I ate plain rice. On my first morning, I ate rice with soy sauce. For today’s lunch, I cooked some veggies for myself because I was sick of having egg after having 4 (!) eggs yesterday. I guess, I’m making progress, yay!
The students are wonderful, though. They give me a big smile back when I smile at them. Some of them are very outgoing and confident and talk to me a lot. They’re so sweet. I’ve been asked a hundred times where I was from, how old I was (18? So young!), what my name was. Sometimes what my future plans are – couldn’t give them a satisfying answer, though. And other times how many countries I’ve visited – I had to count first, and even then I wasn’t sure if I hadn’t forgotten any European country. They were pretty shocked and fascinated about my answer. It’s so unfair, how I don’t know the number of countries I’ve been to while some of them haven’t even seen a lot of their home country.
They’re all very respectful, to each other and to the teachers, they’re (most of them) very ambitious, they study a lot outside of the regular classes. And some of them are just so funny. One 17-year-old girl, Srey Nat, said the other day: “My stomach is full but my mouth is still hungry.” That’s ma girl. When I took photos of them they were either shy, flattered and a little embarrassed or wanted me to take their picture with some friends. Unfortunately, I don’t have computer access at the moment, so you’ll have to wait to see the photos for two weeks. I can only share the photos I take with my phone at the moment.
The students think, I have a Cambodian face. I guess, there’s something to it, especially in a profile view. One student compared it to a ball – charming young man – and sweet girl Srey Nat to the full moon (after I told her what my name means).
One thing that is very frustrating here (apart from the teachers not always understanding me and vice-versa) is teaching the classes. Not because you have to be very patient with the students and let eleven students read the same story to you over and over again. Not because it’s so frickin’ loud in those classrooms because one is not well isolated from the other. But because the teachers here stick to their English teaching books a lot. Those books are pretty much the same as the ones I used to hate in school. And my partner teacher (who shows me how things work in class) wants me to do the same. But the worst thing is that he wants me to rush through it. They don’t have too much time for every set of tasks. The problem is, though, that even when I’m not rushing the students struggle to follow the content. So if I rush, I might as well tell them about German grammar. In German. There is so much the students can learn from a foreigner, so why do I have to work through every single task that they often don’t even understand? And I can see that they’re bored. And I’m bored too, and frustrated. The only thing I can do, is support them outside of class, talk to them and help them with their vocabulary and pronunciation.