I am in a lazy delirium. My sleeping schedule goes with the flow of the place, but there seems to be exhausted overlap where my body doesn’t want to wake up after a night’s sleep or nap. It must be the heat and the buckets of water I exchange every day through sweat and bottles.
The daily routine is this: wake up at 6 AM due to the noise of kids doing their chores or throwing balls at the wall near my bedroom (or waking up earlier if my mosquito net loses its seal and I get bitten and start itching and feel like I’m in a cage rather than the other way around), eat breakfast with S. (Which consists of dry cereal with soy-milk and a sip of juice. We provide our own breakfasts to not put extra burden on the cook.), sit and read a little, venture outside and say “hellos” to everyone, get swarmed with the littlest kids who seem to crave attention, retreat to my room, wash hands (with sanitizing gel if they are especially dirty), read from one of the books I brought or S. lent me (including an excellent book of details called The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker), eat lunch (which the cook makes and is often an egg-based pancake and rice, or seafood or tofu with vegetables, all washed down with Coke and water. A pile of empty cans and bottles is getting pyramid sized in my room.), teeter between alertness and consciousness eventually deciding that a nap is in order and passing out while trying to read again, defecating in a hot musky bathroom while sweating and using the water hose in leu (pun intended) of tissue, drinking more water, heading outside the gates to buy block ice and drinks from a vendor down the road (trying out my broken Khmer outside of the linguistic safety of the orphanage), almost getting hit by the chaos of the motorcycles, having my gaze met with curious looks, playing a ball game with the kids that begins with me shirted and eventually soaking it through with sweat before deciding to take it off (the pile of dirty, sweat incrusted shirts increasing in size until I either run out or figure out how to wash them), making a fool of myself by somehow misunderstanding the rules of the game (especially a game called “Monkey” that involves a soccer ball), taking a quick cold shower or splashing cold water on my body to cool off, sitting in on a class to learn how to teach, hanging out with the kids some more, washing my hands, eating dinner, playing more games, maybe take another shower or wash hands, eat prepared dinner similar to lunch, wander over to the main building to watch the children learn traditional Cambodian dance, followed my them sitting on the floor and studying, I try to help with with English homework and they all try to teach my words in Khmer (with them laughing and persistent despite my mispronunciations) sweating in the heated breezes, retiring to my room and setting up my mosquito net which never quite stays put, feeling very tired, defecating, flossing and brushing my teeth, climbing into bed after turning on the fan and falling asleep sans blanket at about 9 PM.
I like it here though at am a little of a loss as to what I should be doing as there isn’t really time in the kid’s full academic schedule for me to teach my own class, except for the littlest kids which would be difficult as they don’t know much English but are currently being taught grammar. And it would be hard to explain grammar to them in the language they are trying to learn. It would be like a Martian trying to teach a man how to extract some weird mineral with equally weird tools, when the man wouldn’t even know what the tools are called or how to use them. By the way, my analogy making brain is sun-fried these days. So I teach little informal lessons and help people if they have questions, and just by conversing in English I’m helping the children learn. But compared to S. who actually enthusiastically dives into his own lessons, my teaching style seems less effective. I am probably getting the reputation as the quite friend of S. that mostly sleeps, eats, reads, plays ball games, and writes about his sleeping and eating and reading and ball game playing. But that impression is better than being a Shadowy Stealer of Children’s Souls I had in the ol’ US of A.
The positive atmosphere of this place is wonderful. These children have a lot of hope and their days here seem positive and productive. They are their own friends, they are fed, and they are learning to be self sufficient. But Cambodia as a whole seems very cutthroat and difficult for people. It is a poor country with not too many opportunities. And the more educated you get the more apparent this becomes. I have had long talks with the teachers here who are mostly my age and are still in University. They are very focused and enthusiastic about their studies and helping the children learn, but they seem disillusioned by the lack of clear opportunity once they leave school. And I don’t know what to say to them, because it certainly seems true. And the gap between educated and ignorant and rich and poor seems so much greater here than in most places in America. You can see the disparity even on the street here. Large multi-story homes dwarf smaller shanties. Amidst the bikes and pedestrians pin-balling down the rough dirt road are new cars and new motorcycles. I imagine these gaps will continue to widen. And where do all of these people end up when they are expelled into the world? Some type of scrappy boxing match with off the record knife-play? At some type of dorky advertising agency that hocks crap people don’t need? At Bono’s doorstep getting misted with floral perfume and free CDs? Only Our Lord in Heaven (OLH) knows such things, I’m afraid.
And it isn’t smooth sailing all the time either. Kids will get cuts and bruises. And there is a little boy that may have HIV with a boil on his forehead and a crusty sore behind his ear that there doesn’t seem to be anything one can do about, at least here. His fate is a mystery in the scheme of things and is pretty sad (Dear OLH, why do all the awesome kids die young?) The nutritive value of the kid’s food isn’t very high as it is mostly rice with a couple bean-like things. And the hygienic conditions would make the average American’s skin crawl, as there isn’t much hand washing and the food is practically prepared on the floor where the girls bathe in the back of the main building, and there is a lot of nose picking without hand washing, and the toilets are dark and dirty and just a squat hole without doors, and the showers are cold, and the ground is dusty, and the garbage blows around. It is hard to describe the feeling of this place overall, it really needs to be seen and felt (especially the constant sweat and dirt). You feel these differences continually but you also get used to them. It seems more human somehow, all of the minor sufferings and filth. Like there isn’t some grand complicated illusion being put on by cements and soaps to make the world appear clean and focused on the daily issues that are really important.
Now for some photos: (Some photos taken by S.)
My bed in the computer lab: a frame and foam mattress.
W. and S. standing at the back door to the kitchen next to the charcoal.
A game of volleyball in the main yard.
The children studying in the evening.
The closet main road to the orphanage.
The road outside the gates.
The boy’s room.
L. manning the stereo during the almost-nightly dance lessons.
One of the boy’s squat toilets.
The gates to Palm Tree orphanage.
Moto taxi driver idling by the gates of the orphanage.
S. at a local shop.
N. sweeping the kitchen floor.
C. and children playing a game where the player throws her feet higher than her head trying to hook a chain of rubber-bands with her foot while landing on a knee and flip flop protected hands.
Children getting a lice shampoo.
Children watching television on the one day they are allowed to (Sunday).
N. and A.
Line of children waiting to get called in for dinner.
A. scheming by the water hose.
A group of children posing after a soccer match.
The area behind the girl’s room that is both a girl’s bath, dish cleaning area, and laundry.
Some of the younger children practicing traditional Cambodian dance in the evening.
I’ll probably have time for one more post while I’m in Cambodia. I miss a few of you guys a lot.
PS. Holy cow riding a scooter at night feels like I’m cheating death. I was lucky once this year, so I’m not going to push it too much again, but there aren’t a lot of options for getting around.