Sunday, 20 February 2011

I-to-I Day Two: False Alarm

Sunday 20th February 2011

MP3 track of the day: In the Ghetto – Elvis Presley

Weather: Hot, sticky but cloudy

I had to be up a decent time to meet the others, at 9:30am, within reception. I had a shower and yep it was cold. As I went downstairs I went through all my excuses for not being able to do construction work; weak wrists, insurance policy didn't cover it, no protective equipment etc etc. I was prepared.

Once downstairs the others were there and I, for the first time, met our mysterious leader. I forget his name (a good start) but he was a Cambodian … and a pretty nice one too. As soon as I had sat down, he inquired as to 'are we ready to go?' and off we went, without breakfast. Our group of seven took two tuk-tuks across the city. Fortunately our 'tour of the city' didn't take that long with our leader pointing at things as we drove by. Only three times did we exit our vehicle to have a look around.

After our 'tour' we didn't head back to the guesthouse, instead we headed out of the city and to one of the placements called 'library one'. On the way I quizzed our leader about what we were going to be doing (i.e. was 'library one' actually built) but he didn't seem to get my subtle questioning. I suppose I would just have to wait until I arrived. We went out of the main built-up part of the city and into, what would be better described as, a village. We stopped outside a building and the group started to disembark; I was a little puzzled as to why we had stopped here until I found out that this building was 'library one'.

'Library one' was already built … that was a good start. However the building didn't look much like a school; it was a narrow building with three floors. I thought it looked more like a house or guesthouse with the bedrooms turned into classrooms. We were allowed to wonder freely and we went upstairs to see a class of twenty – eight to twelve year olds – in the middle of a lesson. They had attended on a Sunday for extra tuition. Obviously the arrival of seven westerners disrupted the class to a stand still. The children asked us questions such as:

  • “What your name?”

  • “How old you?”

  • “Where you from?”

A lot of my group got involved with the children straight away whereas I stood back, assessing the level of English present. The children could be understood however it seemed that joining words such as 'is' and 'are' haven't been covered. A lesson for a later time perhaps. We didn't stay long and we moved into an empty classroom. We could hear the teacher resuming her lesson. Once within the empty classroom I had a look around at the resources; a big whiteboard was erected at the front of the classroom with enough seats for twenty-four small children, though the seating could not be rearranged to maximize learning. There were plenty of books and overall I was impressed.

We said goodbye to the teacher and children – who were lovely – and went down the stairs and out of the building. We then went across the village and into a small area that can only be described as a slum. Wooden shacks on stilts, built from any spare wood found, were arranged in a square with rubbish filling the streets connecting the houses. The people were friendly however their living conditions could be compared to any slum within India. I walked very quietly, taking it all in, as our leader explained all the issues. I wasn't sure what to make of the slum, however piety wasn't one of my emotions. Anger certainly was but not directed towards the government, in fact I found my anger directed towards the people living here. I couldn't understand why something wasn't done about the littering of the area; they had the land and it wouldn't cost them anything to create a rubbish tip, away from the houses, where the rubbish could be sorted into different materials. This would help to improve the area and then they could remove all the large stones from the streets to make them appear in a better condition. As I looked around me bare-footed children played with rubbish, the peoples food was cooked surrounded by flies attracted by the rubbish and it was such an easy, and cost-fee, problem to solve.

We left the area, boarded our tuk-tuks, and I thought we were heading to 'library two'. In fact we were heading back to our accommodation and, along the way, I quizzed our leader about lesson planning. He said that tomorrow we will be observing and that should help us to plan future lessons. I was feeling more and more relaxed, firstly construction work seemed to be out of the window and secondly there did seem to be some order.

Once back at the guesthouse we were given ninety minutes for a break. I headed straight out, not only to get lunch but I thought the walk would help me dissolve all the visual information I had taken in over the last two hours. After lunch I went in search for a few packets of biscuits; you see our working schedule is 9am – 11am and then 1pm – 3pm. As 'library one' and 'library two' were both a thirty minutes from the city center it seemed pointless returning during the lunch period. With no restaurants within the area (none that I want to eat at anyway) I decided that a couple of packets of biscuits, and a large bottle of water, would see me though until 3pm. Once back at my guesthouse I packed said biscuits, and a good book, with my gifts for the children all within the one bag ready for tomorrow.

The ninety minute break was almost up. I headed down to meet the rest of the group within reception. Our leader sat us down and went through each of our projects. I will be working at 'library two', along with three of the others, teaching English. The schools construction hadn't been finished, however the closest to building work I'll get would be painting some of the classrooms … few. We were also told a bit of background to Cambodia, cultural taboos and other country specific information. Contact numbers were handed out encase we couldn't make it to our placement, to which I replied that tomorrow morning I have to be at the Chinese embassy for 8:30am. 'No problem' was the answer and tomorrow I shall only go to the 1pm – 3pm class.

All was going well and we were told that pronunciation would be the area of English that we would have to focus on the most. We were told that Monday to Wednesday were normal English classes with Thursday being devoted to 'health and cleanliness' teaching (basically how the children can look after themselves) with Friday being devoted to sport … Friday was going to be a hard day, two big bottles of water were needed. It was also at this point that we were told that no food was included within the package, not even breakfast … which was a little annoying. Along with my Chinese visa costing me $45, and my Cambodia visa extension costing the same, these three weeks might not be as cheap as I hoped they would be.

Our meeting ended and our leader took us for a quick fifteen minute walk around the area. Apart from pointing out a place that I could get a suite made I had seen everything before. At around 4:30pm we were left to our own accord until 7pm where we would all go for dinner. I sat in the restaurant surfing and talking to other volunteers.

The group met at seven and our leader chatted to me about tomorrow. He said that, unless I fancied getting on the back of his motorbike, there was no other way of getting to the school. My heart sank a little. A word of warning to anyone thinking about traveling to South East Asia; never, ever, get on a motorbike. During my time here I have seen so many motorbike accidents and, I think, most tourist injuries, within this area of the world, are because of motorbikes. I really had no choice, I had to pick up my passport tomorrow or else the Chinese might loose it and anyway, the embassy is only open Monday to Friday so this situation would occur regardless. I declined the motorbike offer and decided to start my voluntary work a day late. I didn't blame I-to-I, it wasn't their fault; it's just one of things that happen … worse things happen at sea I suppose.

As we walked to a 'street food' restaurant our leader had chosen I wondered what I was going to do tomorrow. More reading I thought to myself, what else was there to do. I did also fancy visiting my old favorite restaurant (I've missed the vanilla shakes) and I've been told that there is a 'Blue Pumpkin' (you know, the 'death by chocolate cake' shop) within Phnom Penh. Decision made, I would hunt down said shop and eat more chocolate. I felt a little happier.

We arrived at the restaurant. It had been a while since I had eaten at a street food place however the memories came flooding back. Plastic seating, plastic tables with a strange array of condiments and cutlery. I order the 'noodles with Chicken – without egg'. Me, being the only one in the group who had ordered noodles, had to wait an age for my meal to arrive. When it did arrive it had a great big egg lying underneath the noodles. What was worse was that the chicken was mainly bone and I did reminisce about the huge pieces of meat in KFC. All-in-all I picked the egg off and ate what I could, it was nice but not very filling. However I have to say that the meal only cost £1!

Afterwards I headed back to the guesthouse for a quite night, abit of TV and to read my book. So today had been a mixed day. I was glad that I would be teaching English however this voluntary experience was going to cost more than I thought (plus I was starting a day late). Not only was food not included but if I wanted a warm shower I had to pay extra and I also had to pay to get to my placement ... each day. The group was nice, our leader was approachable and the children I was going to teach seemed lovely. Just like my 'Trekk America' trip in June I again found the only annoyance being a financial one.

Toodle Pip!

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