So I have neglected this blog for an entire year and I have realized, unfortunately, that I miss adventuring. Now while I am stuck on campus finishing off my senior year, there is no reason for life to be boring! So I have decided to pick up this blog again in honor of my favorite type of adventure--cooking!
I love to cook and talk about food so I hope you feel inspired to try some new recipes! Everything here is vegan, sugar-free and absolutely delicious (I promise).
Oh and please email me any time with your adventures (kitchen related or not)! Email me at

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The First Few Days in Sre Ambel

Hey! I am back in Phnom Penh for the weekend. I wanted to write last night but there was a downpour so heavy I wouldn't dare leave the guesthouse. Generally I find the weather to be quite wonderful here. It never gets too hot because it usually rains sometime before 10 and 2 in the afternoon. I really enjoy the rain though, because it makes the after-lunch nap cooler.

Wednesday I drove down Route 4 to Sre Ambel with Tivea because it was a holiday (the King's Mother/Queen's Birthday). The drive down was about three hours and decent enough. We pass a lot of small 'villages' whose main income centers around providing rest stops for travelers. It is hard to describe these villages because they are mostly constructed from random wood, straw and other construction material. What marks the poverty isn't the buildings themselves however, but rather the unbelievable amount of trash that lies everywhere. Everywhere you look there are just plastic bags and wrappers covering the ground. I know there is no garbage collection system here, but I am surprised that there is no disposal system, especially in the ones so close to the city. As the journey continues these small villages slowly fall away to countryside. The countryside is filled with rice paddies, as expected, and it beautiful in strangely flat sort of way.

And then come the mountains. The Cardamoms are actually impossible to describe. I have sat here for a few minutes to try and find the words, but I am afraid I must give up. I think it is that they seem to bream and thrive with wildness, indeed I wouldn't dare call it 'wilderness' for that seems too tame. Maybe it is because I am told there are tigers in the mountains, but I think I sensed their mystic before I knew that. Looking at the the forest one can see more shades of green imaginable (I kid you not, the grass at the bottom of the mountains is actually neon green). I don't even think crayola has made that many greens. Looking at them it is clear why the Khmer Rouge were able to build up their army here and why they held out here for thirty years.

Sre Ambel itself is in the valley of the mountains, in a low lying area a couple kilometers north of the delta. I can't tell if people are here because the earth is completely flat or if the land is flat because people are here--my guess is that it is a mixture of both. The main crop here is clearly rice production, but you can find cows, water buffalo, chickens, and pigs everywhere. Traffic jams are caused by herds of cows, not cars. Where I am staying is pretty nice, there is a gorgeous view of the fields and I have pretty big bed covered in the ugliest green anti-malaria mosquito net you will ever see. There isn't much to complain about except that there is a rooster outside my window that caws from 4:30am to about 7pm. It is actually the most annoying noise I have ever heard my life. I would trade sirens for that rooster any day of the week. Otherwise it is nice to have fresh air and be in the country.

My housemates are two Khmer Ahimsa staff, Narith and Minea (pronounced as if there was a 'k' between there i and n). They are both total sweethearts but don't speak much English. We generally sit around pointing at objects, while I say the word in English and they say it in Khmer. As for the rest of the Khmer Ahimsa staff, they are all very sweet. Three of them (including my housemates) are only a few years old then me. I knew I would get along with them when the first day Ramy (the third younger staff member) said to me, "Here we play a lot, eat a lot, and [be] crazy a lot." To clarify, Khmer Ahimsa is a local NGO that focuses on peace building within the communities; they used to be a branch of AFSC but now they are independent. The first day there I went with the Head Peace Manager to a local Muslim village that is having a land crisis. Nobody here speaks English very well, but from what I gathered a company has come in and kicked 68 families off of their land in order to create a sugar plantation. The people are clearly upset about this and Khmer Ahimsa is working with them to provide financial support so they can visit with government officials. Khmer Ahimsa also informs them of their rights and tells them what things they can say in resolution meetings. Cambodian people are known for not expressing anger, but it was clear even with the language barrier that these farmers are very very upset.

The second day I worked with ISLP, a branch of AFSC that works with land conflict issues as well as sustainable management. There I have a more concrete job, basically working as an editor and English teacher. All of the reports and case studies that ISLP writes are translated into English, but by people who barely speak English. As a result the reports are extremely confusing and almost impossible to decipher. I usually spend 20 minutes reading one page. Most of the problems comes from key differences between the language. For example, the Khmer language does not use articles (the, a, an) and does not use sentences like we do. Their idea of a sentence is our idea of a paragraph. It is hard work but I actually really enjoy because I get to learn about their work and reading each paper is like solving a puzzle. In the end, I will edit quite a few papers and present them to the staff, teaching them why certain sentences were grammatically incorrect and why certain phrasings are better. For this teaching part though I am going to need to buy an English grammar book...haha.

Overall I have really loved Sre Ambel so far. I probably won't come back to Phnom Penh next weekend, because I am going to Sihanoukville and then to see the community forest. I'll try to write soon though! Hope all is well!

PS In rereading this I realized that some of the phrasing seems a little awkward. For this I am sorry but please understand that my spoken vocabulary is limited to about 100 words!

1 comment:

Dad said...

I am glad to hear that you like Sre Ambel and that you enjoy the work. It is upsetting to learn that locals are removed from their land by big companies. Hope you stay well and please write soon again.