We arrived in Phnom Penh with little fanfare. As THE international airport for the country, it took us no time to get through this Spokane-sized airport and we were in a tuk-tuk weaving through a slow crawl of motor bikes (motos), cars, and more motor bikes. Our hotel, The Goldiana, was by far the nicest hotel we have stayed in since leaving the US, similar to a Holiday Inn (that might say something about our accommodations on this trip). We were ready for some shut eye after the many hours of travel and few hours of sleep we had received. Since we actually had “work” in the morning we knew we needed to get to bed, but not before dinner and meeting with the folks from the organization we are working with to find out more details about what we would be doing in our time here.
Monday morning, we found ourselves in another tuk-tuk on the way to a hair and nail salon, which would double as our classroom for the week. We realized quickly how difficult teaching can be (especially when you don’t know their language) and thought of many of our friends who do this professionally, day in and day out. We understand better why they are so tired during the school year!
Our daily routine has been to get up around 7am, do some calisthenics, eat a big bowl of fruit, museli, and yogurt, finish preparations for our lessons, around 10am take a tuk tuk the approximately 12 minutes to the salon, teach until about noon, take a lunch break, return and watch a half hour or so of Cambodian TV or music videos (which we would make the girls explain to us), and teach until 4pm. We have taken to walking home from the salon instead of taking a tuk-tuk to get a little exercise and download the day together. Walking in Phnom Penh takes a little getting used to. Crossing the street is best described as playing a game of “Frogger,” minus the sinking turtles and alligators. If you are not familiar with “Frogger” the idea is to get across the street without getting squashed. Traffic does move fairly slow here, but there is a lot of it. Generally, you want to time it so you only have motorbikes dodging you and the road is clear of cars. We have also tried the tactic of using a Cambodian man as a blocker which worked very well. We were sure to thank him upon safe arrival on the other side. We’ll try to get some video, if we can.
Teaching has been challenging and rewarding. Most of the girls are very quick and they want to learn which makes our task easier. The girls are 16-19 years old. After two days of teaching, the girls invited us to join them for lunch on the third day. We were pleased to accept their invitation. They fixed us a simple, but delicious meal of rice, pork, egg, garlic, squid oil (sounds weird, but it’s good), and chilis. Today, the fourth day, we were again invited to dine with them and had deep fried tofu, tomatoes, onions, over rice with a side of soy sauce and chilis. Again, simple, but delicious (the first time either of us actually really liked tofu!). Their dining room is the floor in the kitchen which they seem more than comfortable squatting over while they eat.
Tomorrow will be our last day at the salon and next week we will work with girls who are 7-12 years of age. Saturday we plan to join Laurie (co-founder of the organization) and Michelle (intern) in a few touristy things around the city. We have found a temporary home here in Phnom Penh at the Golden Tour Eiffel Guesthouse–it was a pretty money find, if you ask us and is more like an apartment than a hotel. It includes a kitchen with dishes, fridge, gas cooker, table and chairs; our very own bathroom; a large bedroom with TV and cable and a DVD player (which we have a funny story about); and a balcony with chairs. We love it. Check out the photos below for an idea of what the place is like. This will be our longest stay in one place since we moved out of our house, August 17, 2008, nearly 5 months ago. We have also found our favorite place to eat in the area and we have tried almost all of their Khmer dishes. The two big draws to this place are how great the food is and that they are running a 30% off discount on their food (which means dinner, a beer, and dessert for about $9) as they are introducing a new menu. Also, they are incredibly kind and seem to really enjoy their work.
We have had a lot to process the last few days and have more to share, but you probably have other things you need to do so we’ll leave it at that for now.