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Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Match of the Day...

Here's the video Oly made of our 1GOAL football match. Worth watching, I think!

Fever Pitch

Considering that up until two weeks ago I wasn’t even aware that there’s a World Cup this year, I’ve suddenly found myself in the midst of all the football fever – and seem to be organizing a football match.

It all started when fellow volunteer Oly Shipp stopped over at Jen’s Hotel on his way to some medical meeting. Over a cup of tea and a biscuit (I take payment in foodstuffs) he casually drew my attention to an e-mail we’d gotten about a month ago that asked volunteers to organise a football match as part of the 1GOAL campaign. I remember getting that e-mail, seeing the word ‘football’ and pressing DELETE.

Well. Oly is a male volunteer, and these are few and far between out here in Cambodia. So I must admit my heart-strings were tugged when he started exclaiming just how much it would mean to him to be able to play in a football match. Wouldn’t I help organise it?

Always keen to have something to do, yes, I said – I would. What does he need? Not too much,
I was assured. It’s just a football match, how hard could it be to organise? Well, indeed. So I committed to organising a match at one week’s notice. Oh, and then Oly tells me he’s going to be away until Wednesday. The match was to be on the following Saturday. Do I mind?

Actually, organizing the match was surprisingly easy. Nevermind that we showed up to the training match without a football. Even the best made plans have glitches.

1GOAL is an event piggy backing off World Cup fame, aimed at raising awareness for education. There are 72 million children worldwide that are still being denied the opportunity to attend school, and by signing the petition at a local 1GOAL event, world leaders can see just how much people across the globe support the concept of Education For All. We got 340 signatures to add to this petition - the majority from children.

The grand plan: A football match between VSO volunteers and Ministry of Education Staff. Both teams must have at least two female players. VSO will provide t-shirts, the Ministry a referee and Linesmen and we got the local arts school to provide some of their drummers for added effect.

I have to say, considering we threw it together in a week – the morning went really well! There were loads of spectators, a good team spirit, music, banners, cheering… Never mind that the ‘Education For All' banners actually turned out to be second hand from an old drugs campaign, the message was there (VSO also provided a couple of banners) and everyone was in high spirits. We turned up the evening before to find kids doing some litter collection and the Ministry painting new white lines on the community football pitch. We bought some new sand for the goals and have left a new set of goal posts as a donation to the community.

It was great. And the best part was that everyone was involved: Education volunteers, health volunteers, translators, community members, ministry education staff, the local arts school and an ever growing selection of random children. A brilliant Saturday morning. We even ended up on the local news!

Now, I have no idea how England are doing in the World Cup this year. But our score? VSO [6] : Ministry of Education [4]. A new England squad in the making?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

A series of goodbyes...

Time’s they are a - changin’ , and after a sudden influx of new volunteers the crossover is coming to an end. Now it’s time for some of the old hands to say goodbye, if they haven’t already left.

It’s quite sad. I’m excited to have new faces around, but I will really miss the people I’ve gotten to know over the last nine months. We’ve shared a lot and suddenly Sisophon doesn’t quite seem the same without them.

So, to the following people I hope they had a safe journey home:

Jan: VSO veteran after four years of service knew everything there is to know about life in Svay and made a particularly good Friday evening gin and tonic. All we needed to provide was a tube of Pringles and let the sunset do the rest.

Sophie: A new arrival, for a mixture of reasons has decided that Cambodia is not for her. A shame, she was becoming a great part of the team and is missed at our daily coffee.

Anne: My sanity in Sisophon and a great friend. Hopefully I’ll make it over to Australia to visit one day!!

It’s weird the friendship situation out here, the turnover is so high that people come and go within a matter of months. If you stay, you get used to it, deal with it and welcome in the new arrivals. Yet, you’re thrust into such an intense situation that you get to know each other really well really quickly and then suddenly it’s “See you, have a nice life in your country half way across the world from me!”. Without wanting to sound weird, I wonder sometimes how much of these friendships are really true and how much of it is circumstantial – will we really keep in touch? Well, to all of the above – I certainly hope so.

It felt very strange coming home on the bus on Sunday knowing that the people that welcomed me in have now gone. Now I’m the one that’s meant to know where stuff is.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Larks in Laos

Another admittedly great thing about Cambodia are the number of national holidays. Khmers don’t get annual leave so there are lots (40, I think) of days off, and hey – if ones on a Thursday, then why not take Friday off as well?

As frustrating as it can sometimes get (it actually is, when you need to get things done) they provide ample opportunity to go off and explore a bit of the country… And yes, I did come here to work. But I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Anyway, come May, it was time to celebrate Khmer New Year. Or rather, as I know how much Khmers like loud speakers and 4am, it was time to high-tail it out of the country for a much needed change of scene. Teaming up with my fellow YFDs we decided to head for the 4000 islands in Southern Laos, via Rattinakiri to visit Kirsty’s. It took two days to get there, and crossing the ‘boarder’ (passing through two wooden shacks on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere) was an interesting experience…

Laos immigration: Good morning.
Me: Good morning.
Laos immigration: Two dollars.
Me: Why?
Laos immigration side: For Sunday tax.
Me: It’s Saturday.
Laos immigration side: Need two dollars.
Me: No.
Laos immigration: Two dollars or no Laos.
Me: What is the money for?
Laos immigration: Ink for stamp in passport. I not stamp without money.
Me: I need receipt.
Laos immigration: I not have. Two dollars.
Me: I have VSO receipt, you can sign this.
Laos immigration: Not a Laos receipt, can’t sign.
Me: VSO work in Laos, it’s okay.
Laos immigration: You can have passport back, but it has no stamp. You need stamp. I need money for ink.

It went on like this for another minute or so before I decided to put my principles aside, pay the two damn dollars and enter Laos. I did however take great pleasure in handing over a $50 note and demanding change. As did the other six people in the line behind me.

Laos was beautiful. The 4000 islands are located on a stretch of the Mekong river that, in dry season is home to – you’ve guessed it – 4000 islands. Although, it is a fairly loose definition of the term ‘island’. Still, for just $4 a night, there was beautiful scenery, and all I had to do was fall out of my bungalow, land in a tube and float around on the river for the best part of the day. If anyone was feeling energetic then we’d perhaps go for food, or hire a push bike. But mostly we chilled, and I have to say – I think it’s the first time I really truly relaxed and managed to put work out of my head.

1) Child swimming, and yes he is using the bottles as floats.
2) Bungalows - a bargain at $4 a night.
3) View from the bungalows, good water for swimming!
4) A random Laos women.

Behind on blogging: catch up one

Apparently, I’m not allowed to get away with a token blog entry on ants. I confess, I’ve been so busy lately with work (more later) and keeping up with a heavy schedule of DVD watching commitments that I’ve barely had time to write. So much has happened since I last went into any detail, that I’m not too sure where to start.

So… life:

Life in Sisophon is going really well at the moment, there may not be many touristy things to do, but I’m really enjoying just living here. I don’t know why, I never really felt unsettled before, but now it really does feel like home and there are things and people I will truly miss when I go back to England.

A big part of this improvement comes from my making more of an effort with the town around me. I’ve joined a local art club which I absolutely love and go two evenings a week. I recently painted a watercolour Apsara dancer, who was naked and had beautiful breasts (“mool sa’at”). This was the source of much amusement for at least two lessons, and I had a crowd of 15 year old boys round me the whole time I was painting. We decided she was too beautiful and expensive for any of them. This class is fast becoming my favourite part of the week and has really made me realize how important it is to have something that yours, and something that’s fun. For those two hours I don’t worry about work, my boyfriend or the army of ants that have taken up residence in my towel. It’s about me, a paintbrush and whether I’ve got the right colour for the orchid petal.

I’ve also started language lessons again with a new teacher, my friend Saory. Saory works at the District Office of Education, and teaches me twice a week. She’s great, has a sense of humor and is slowly getting to grips with the fact that in order to teach me successfully, she needs to imagine I am five years old. The first lesson, she was a little over optimistic with my language capabilities… now we work at a more appropriate level: I… like… rice… = K’hnom… cholchet… bye…

Over the past nine months I’ve also made some really great ‘barang’ (foreign) friends, and have a social life! I love the internationality of everything, there’s Australian, American and English. Sometimes there’s a little confusion over the English language (did you know the phrase ‘Can’t be arsed’ isn’t used in America?) but we manage to work round it.
Finally, my VSO team (me and Mary) get on fabulously. Together we’ve built up a bit of a routine, coffee at ‘Coffee Man’ in the market everyday at 11am. I never thought someone who’s a whole 40 year old older than me would become such a good friend, but there you go.

1) Me, Mary and Jan having a team coffee.
2) Me and Anne.
3) Lisa cooking at my house.
4) Some Banteay Meanchey 'Barangs' at Jan's leaving party (Kelsey, me, Anne, Jan, Deidre, Dan).
5) Kelsey cooking at my house.