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Settling in at the Harpswell Foundation Teuk Thla dormitory

So Monday was a blur as I slept for much of the afternoon. One highlight was arriving in the kitchen to find and make coffee, smelling breakfast and quickly turning away and marching right back to my room. I love food. And I eat pretty much anything. And still, the smell in the kitchen did not invite me back for breakfast although Darcy assured me that it was edible and quite tasty. The thought of having multiple small salty, bone-in fish atop a scoop of white rice did not appeal to me so I chose to skip breakfast.

With breakfast out of the way and coffee brewed it was time to find my way into the library with my lifeline laptop for a Skype call with Maddie and then with Steve. My daughter, Madeline, aka Maddie, is already better at skyping than I am and we had a lovely conversation about the flight, missing luggage, the young women I was meeting and of course, the question I dreaded hearing from her again. “Mom, tell me again why you had to go?” she asked. Wow, it was way too early in the morning for a question like that and on an empty stomach to boot. You would think that I would have that answer down pat after planning this trip for nearly a year.

But in that moment, all I could think was yeah, why am I here and not at home snuggling with you. So I stammered and blurted out that I’m showing her that she can be anything she wants to be, go anywhere she wants to go, see the world and I hope to share some of what I know with these young women. And it hit me, that’s exactly why I’m here. I want Maddie to truly understand that the world is hers for the taking and making. When we have, we share. When that happens, everyone benefits.

This leads me to the second highlight of the day. Darcy and I taught the first of many English classes scheduled during our stay. We were wholly unprepared since we didn’t realize one curriculum book was in the room underneath the rubble of what was our desk. The newest vocabulary word the girls learned was “winging it.” The whole class was in English so it wasn’t a complete failure. In fact, the exercise in their book was about learning to write topic sentences and then extend the topic using examples to support their topic. One example paragraph in the book (that we borrowed) was about nonverbal communication. Since we didn’t realize the paragraph was the sample to illustrate the exercise, we read the example paragraph as if it were the topic exercise itself and used most of the class time to share different gestures used in the US. We even managed to teach them the “high five” and the “knuckle bump”. Well, Darcy taught the knuckle bump to me along with the rest of the girls. We learned from them the informal greeting “Sompiah” with the hands in prayer in front of the face. The higher the hands, the more respect is shown. We also had the pleasure of each girl introducing herself to us and telling us where she was from and what she studies at University. I was struck by the confidence these young women exuded along with having a strong command of the English language. It was humbling as I still only know one language despite taking Spanish through high school and living many years in south Texas.

One would think that after a long nap and teaching for 1.5 hours I would be wide awake, but no. I fell asleep with the aid of my ipod.

Tuesday finds me more refreshed as evidenced by my boyfriend Steve’s comment during our Skype session that I look so much better than yesterday, so much so that his extreme worry from our first skype call was lifted. Although I have only eaten one meal since Sunday I’m still not hungry and opt to wait on breakfast until about 10:00 AM. When I do finally venture down to the kitchen I am pleasantly surprised to find scrambled eggs along with something I don’t recognize. But at least there are eggs to go on top of the rice. Yes, rice again, even in the morning. Luckily for me, one of the girls was also in the kitchen getting breakfast and eager to see if I liked the food. I piled a small amount into my bowl and set about eating with her. Yum – the additional food mixed in with the scrambled eggs looked like pieces of wet cardboard but was really salty radish. She explained that the radish is soaked in salty water for days and then used in cooking. Interesting use of a vegetable I thought only went in salads or in rabbit cages. Score one for me; I tried something new and it was still not yet noon.

After breakfast I set out to straighten up the room, wash my clothes and, of course, get back online to read the many comments on Facebook. Thank you everyone for your support and encouragement. Once I read all the comments I felt myself itching to explore outside the gates of the dormitory. Darcy and I set out to explore the city. Truth be told, we researched fitness centers in Phnom Penh and stumbled across the Cambodian Country Club which offered memberships to include a swimming pool, fitness center, tennis courts, ping pong, volley ball and even an equestrian ring for horseback riding. But more importantly, a restaurant that looked like it might have something more on the menu than with rice.

We called the local tuk-tuk driver; he goes by the name T. His English is fairly good and we were able to tell him roughly where the club was located. Only he didn’t go the route we were familiar with and we ended up on the main road towards the airport. The scenery was great and we took some pictures that we hoped would turn out for posting here. The best one was of a flat carriage tuk-tuk full of dead chickens, or at least I hope they were dead. No, they were dead – just kidding. They were all still feathered and hanging from the sides of the carriage and loaded on top. Too bad, we were in the middle of taking a left turn when we saw the chickens and were too startled to snap the picture in time because Mr. T. was turning directly into the opposing traffic who were also trying to turn left – only their left but not ours! Maybe we’ll snap the shot next time. Keep your eyes open for the dead chicken pictures.

Phew – we found the club, had a fabulous lunch, checked out the facilities and spent time practicing the Khmer language with the concierge. We learned the informal way of saying hello, soo-a s’day, nouw ey naa? Which means where is the… and finally sok sa bai which means how are you? All in all, a successful trip even if we won’t spend the $100 per month to join this club. The Lonely Planet guide book titled ‘Cambodia’ assures us that we can find local fitness gyms for about $10 for 10 visits.

It is almost time for our second English class and after having talked more thoroughly with the dormitory manager, Varony, we feel a bit more prepared. We have books, we’ve reviewed the lesson plan and we’re ready… well, as ready as we’ll be on only our third day here. Wish us luck….

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