fbpx

Please Don’t Walk Through the Mass Grave.

Traveling is changing plans. On Friday, I left the school. I just couldn’t bear it anymore, it all got too much. It was dirty, I was feeling lonely, bored, frustrated, I couldn’t really talk to anyone. I just wanted to cry and scream and throw things on the dusty floor. So I made a decision and told the teachers I’d leave. There wasn’t much of a reaction. The students were sad and disappointed. One of them even said I was betraying them because I had PROMISED to stay two weeks. He didn’t understand when I said that’s what I need right now, I should stay for them, he said. Yes, I did feel sorry and a little bad because they’re always happy about foreigners staying at their school. But I was mainly proud of myself. Proud to have made my own, authentic, true-to-myself decision – and as opposed to the previous couple of days, I was very happy to be on my own, because I could just do what I felt like doing.

 

 

 

 

I got a “taxi” to the hostel in Phnom Penh I had booked and it was really nice. Probably even nicer because of what I had experienced before. When I went to go eat something, it started raining so hard. I found shelter under an awning, and a friendly Cambodian offered me a chair to sit down. It was so interesting to see how the locals reacted to the rain. They moved their mopeds away from the road onto the sidewalk, they put on their plastic raincoats that covered their whole body, they arrived home, soaked, and they didn’t seem to care. They’re just used to it and they accept it – in contrast to people in Germany who always appear as if rain was this new and really annoying thing. After 45 minutes the rain had pretty much stopped. But the street was FLOODED. People were wading through the water that went up to their calves. That was another thing they didn’t really seem to worry about: how dirty that water was. There was a market close by, so the rain soup definitely contained remains of fish and other dead animals, maybe shit, pee, plastic, food leftovers, and I don’t even want to know what else. By that time I was starving. So I dared to walk through the urban brew to get to the restaurant. Yum. But to be honest, after those few days at the school, I didn’t care too much. After all, it was just my feet.

 

 

 

 

The same night I met Alex from London, whom I spent a lovely night talking to. I finally got to speak English again and, even better, got to do some deep talk – or as Alex taught me, DMC (Deep Meaningful Talk). Thanks, Alex, for letting be the English student after teaching it for a few days 😉

The next day, Alex and I went to see the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) and the S-21 (Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum) which are both famous tourist sights close to/in Phnom Penh. They’re both remnants of the brutal Khmer history. The S-21 is a former high school that the ultra-communist Khmer Rouge, under the rule of Pol Pot, changed into a prison to torture people that didn’t fit into their ideology. When there were too many people to kill and bury, they brought people to a then-orchard which became the Killing Fields. The Khmer Rouge ruled from 1975-1979 and aoround 1.5 to 3 million people (approx. 25% of the Cambodian population) were killed in their genocide. It’s shocking how few we learn about other genocides, regimes, wars, etc. in school and media apart from World War II. I can’t say it was nice to visit the Killing Fields but it was definitely an experience I wouldn’t want to have missed. It’s very different from European monuments. When you enter Choeung Ek you’ll see a memorial straight ahead. It looks like classic Cambodian architecture, almost like a temple/ pagoda. But when you come closer you see hundreds of skulls. You can walk around the huge glass box that contains skulls and all kinds of human bones. They tell you how a person was killed by means of the different kinds of fracture or color of the skull. They would never do that in Europe. Maybe they wouldn’t even excavate all the dead bodies, skeletons and bones. Another thing that is very divergent from the European, or at least German, style of remembering cruel crimes is the balance of cold horror and fresh beauty, darkness and light, death and life. All those bones, the mass graves, historical displays, and on the other hand the calm pond, plants and trees, chickens walking around, and colorful bracelets visitors had hung on trees and the mass graves’ fences.

It’s not a place I wanted to take photographs at, but I remember it all quite clearly. Just like I remember one of the signs saying “Please Don’t Walk Through the Mass Grave.”

Teaching but no Touching

Teaching but no Touching

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.

Sweat Shower

Sweat Shower

Phew, first day. Felt very long, but so beautiful and interesting. And yummy.

A lot of walking, a lot of sweating, a lot of being scared of dying when crossing the road (now, after this day, I’m pretty chill about it), a lot of bananas. I was thinking of not showering, because I had already showered in my own sweat. This place is like a sauna. Hot and humid.

I met Colette this morning, she arrived at the hostel last night. I couldn’t sleep, so I saw her and I was like, that;s ma girl. She’s traveling on her own as well, so we had a really nice time today. Central Market, Wat Phnom (a temple), David’s Home Made Noodles & Dumplings (very delicious and very fascinating to watch the boy make the noodles!). And two of the best things today were places we stumbled upon. Another temple, but one that was way quieter and relaxed and not so touristic, and a food market that was only frequented by locals. It was really dirty, but after India nothing can shock me. I love how the most interesting places are usually the ones you don’t expect to see.

And then another awesome place for dinner after chatting on a rooftop bar. Feeling happy and ready for bed.

Tomorrow I might decide to wear a sign that says “No Tuk Tuk, thanks.”. We’ve been asked “Tuk Tuk?” for about 5000 times. Probably not blending in with the blond hair and the camera in my hand…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Leaving transforms Living

When people realize they’ll soon be dead, their priorities in life change. We’ve seen that in tons of movies. Suddenly, they want to do all the things they’ve been wishing to do their whole life. And they realize which people they really want to spend time with.

The latter is what’s happening to me right now. I’m not dying, thankfully, but dying is leaving and leaving’s what I’m doing. On October 11, 2018, I will head off to South East Asia – first destination: Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

And the less time I have in my home country, Germany, the clearer I get about who is really important to me. That’s my family and my closest friends, of course.

I don’t know what it’s like for you, who’s reading my words right now, but I usually meet with a lot of people. People it’s nice hanging out with, but people who you know won’t stay in your life for long. Or people who you don’t have

a deep connection with. Surely, there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s something about setting priorities. It feels like tidying up your room, clear and refreshing. It’s interesting to actually notice who you really want to give your precious time to.

I’m happy not to be gone forever, but I appreciate experiencing this weird yet wonderful perk of leaving.

 

“Aren’t you scared?”

“Aren’t you scared?”

“Aren’t you scared?”
That’s what most people ask me when I tell them about my after school-plans.
“I’d be scared”, they tell me.
In autumn, I’ll be traveling to South East asia on my own.
And the answer is, Yes, I am scared. But you know what? I’m even more scared of NOT doing it.
Starting to study at the university, planning my future job life, knowing what I’ll be doing till I’m 70. Turning 40, thinking, Why didn’t I do what i could have done?
THAT’S what I’m REALLY scared of.

Privacy Policy