(Monday) Walking across the border I couldn't help but wonder am I in two places at one time or is this no man's land? I had my backpack on my back and my day pack on my front as I followed step by step in a single line. When we approached the wooden shack we got our stamps and crossed over the border. While waiting for a few others I decided to use the restroom. There was a restaurant across the street, and the man said I didn't have to pay. When I was done using it the girl asked for 500 Riel, but I explained I only had Dong or USD. The man started laughing hysterically asking if I needed toilet paper. I think he mistook my words. After an hour drive we arrived at Siphen and Mach's home for our home stay. I had no idea how much these next few days would impact me...
We were greeted with big smiles and snacks made of rice, coconut and bananas. Immediately I felt a sense of calmness and a great deal of happiness. Siphen and Mach's house is located in rice fields. On the property are a few houses and a small school. There's an outdoor kitchen and covered eating area in the center. A pond is set near the back and was created from a bomb crater. It's laced with fish and lily pads.
Dinner was nothing less than spectacular. They prepared spring rolls, pork, rice, fried shrimp and onions and fresh fruit. We all dove right in for the mangoes. I helped myself to seconds of everything. The 15 of us (Hough joined us for a few days!) ate outside with such pleasure and enjoyment. Everyone was laughing and eating while enjoying the cool breeze even if it was coming from a mechanical fan. After dinner Siphen told us more of her family's struggle during the Khmer Rouge. One of her older brothers fled to a refugee camp and later went to America. For 10 years, her family thought he was dead. Another of her brothers had been killed during the genocide. Her story is amazing and encouraging to listen to. After the struggles and terror of the Khmer Rouge her family works hard to create a better future for Cambodia.
(Tuesday) In the middle of the night I woke up in a fit of panic. I couldn't see anything but could hear the animals and insects outside. Scrambling in my sleeping sheet I felt trapped and confused. There's only electricity when the generator is running so I forced my eyes to adjust to the darkness. When my tired mind realized where I was I went back to sleep and woke up the next morning without an alarm clock.
Breakfast included a nice spread that fueled us for the hot day. We went to Siphen's school in a truck pulled by a motorbike. It reminded me of a hayride except there was no hay and instead of a tractor there was a motorbike.
The next classroom was full of 12th graders, and I was practically forced to sit down and converse. It was a good push that I needed. I picked a row of three boys. They were very welcoming and engaging. One of them, Semae, stuck out to me. We shared stores and answered questions for almost 20 minutes. He was so enthusiastic and full of questions. His English was very good. He told me he wanted to go to a university but feared he couldn't because his family couldn't afford to send him to school. This is very common in Cambodia. Many families work in the fields and make little money. When I asked him what he did for fun he mentioned that he had no free time because of his studies. I was really inspired by him and the other students. They are eager to learn and wish for the opportunity to go to school. These kids want a better future for themselves and a chance at a career.
The most expensive university in Phnom Phen is $800 a year. After talking to Semae and later Siphen, I decided to help sponsor him. By providing grades, documents and other information, I will be able to help send him to a university and earn a degree. Talking to these kids really inspired me. I couldn't believe how much hard work and determination they have. To us this tuition is a small fee in which rent usually costs more than this. However, this is a lot of money for many people in Cambodia. Even the cheaper schools that cost several hundred dollars less are hard to afford. Siphen has offered to be the middle(wo)man and make sure everything is taken care of and both parties fulfill the agreed terms. I am really excited at the opportunity to help this kid. I normally prefer to spend my time volunteering instead of writing a check. This feels a bit different because I have had personal interactions with him. He moved me. I walked out of that classroom feeling inspired.
After our conversations we sang some songs. We tend to sing "If You're Happy and You Know It"even if we are all a bit old. Everyone got involved and clapped their hands or stomped their feet. Several rounds later, the students sang on of Cambodia's anthems. It was so beautiful. I felt as if I was daydreaming. They sang with such perfection.
When we left the classroom we headed to the library. There were many students reading in there. Books for Cambodia helps fill the room. The kids let us read some of the English translations before we head to the organic garden. The garden is ran by the Eco-Club, and the students are able to bring the fruits and vegetables home to their families. I love the skills that are taught and the opportunities that are offered outside the classroom.
The sun was so hot that we decided to have some sugarcane juice. There was a cart in which they crushed the sugarcane and drained the juice. Sometimes more sugar water is added. We drank it as is out of a plastic baggie. It was very refreshing.