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

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My Birthday, Crab Banks, and the Burmese

Okay so it has been a really long time since I've updated, so I'll be making two different entries. I've also finally loaded all my pictures onto a DVD, but seeing as this computer wont recognize it, that will have to wait. I will be in Phnom Pehn for a week straight soon, so I will definitely do it then.

Oh and before I begin: Happy Belated Birthday Baby Julia!

Okay, here we go.
I had a very relaxing but wonderful 20th birthday. I had a bit of the '20-freakout,' but it was no where near others that I have seen so its okay. On that Sunday I went to the Phnom Penh wildlife reserve/zoo (about 2 hours from the city by tuktuk) with Ollie and Nev. (Before I begin to talk the zoo adventure, let me just say Thank God for those two girls. They kept me sane and allowed me to not spend my birthday alone.) So the ride to the zoo was pretty typical and filled with the average Cambodian scenery of flat flat land, scattered palm trees and various shanty filled villages. We drove along a 'highway' so you can't say the view was stunning, but it was still pleasant. Things got really weird when we turned off the highway though onto a small dirt road that led only to the zoo. The zoo was about three km down this road and since we were in a tuktuk it was pretty slow going. About a km in, in what seemed to us to be the complete middle of no where forested area, hundreds of beggars started to appear on the sides of roads. They didn't say anything, just placed their hands out. While beggars are common at touristy sites, this zoo was in the middle of nowhere and not visited frequently. When we were there we were the only other guests. So these beggars seemed very out of place-enough so for me to write it here. What really got to us though was these two giant 15 foot elaborately decorated puppets with scary demonic faces that were also along the path. The puppets were wore by two men and standing on the side of the road just swaying the wind. Now imagine this: you are in rural Cambodia, in the forest, with no village for at least two miles, and you see two of the scariest puppets you've ever seen while the only noise you can hear is the roar of your moto and the wheels of your carriage hitting rocks. All three of us were too shocked to take a picture. When we came back, they were gone.
As for the actual reserve, its composed for three different sections. All of the animals there have been rescued, mostly from illegal traders at the boarder. The first section was completely open and almost safari like. We walked around feeding monkeys and deer and looking at some various smaller birds and rodents in cages. The martins were beautiful and the white squirrels kind of freaky. The deer were all really cuddly and nuzzled up against us. We were followed around by several Khmer boys who were imposing themselves as our tour guides. This was okay though because they knew a lot about the animals and offered to take our picture for us. I have to say though it was really funny when they asked, "Oh, you want picture with common deer?"
My favorite part of the zoo by far was the sun bears. If you haven't heard of them before, please go look them up right now because they are the strangest creatures I've ever seen. Their chests are concave and they have a beautiful yellow patch on their chest. There were a lot of other animals of course, like tigers and elephants. They were both locked up for the evening though because we got there pretty late. I know there were other animals, but I can't remember now. The pictures will explain more.
The Monday after my birthday was the staff's payday so they had a dinner together at the office. At the dinner though they brought out a cake and sang me happy birthday. It was really really sweet and I appreciated it a lot. Afterwards, I learned some Cambodian dance moves (very traditional) and suffered through some karaoke. I should mention now that the office karaoke is just the same ten songs over and over again. Half of the songs are also in the mix Tivea plays daily. Lets just say I've heard 'I will always love you,' 'The Power of Love,' (sidenote: Cambodians can't under that phrase 'power of love.' They see love and power in a different way then us and in a way I can't understand. I've tried to explain the English meaning, but it just doesn't translate) and 'Hotel California' more times then necessary. Luckily another staff member brought new music two days ago, so I think things will improve.
The first two days back in Sre Ambel (the 30th and 1st) were pretty simple besides that and mostly composed of me editing papers. I don't mind this work though because I learn a lot about the organization and the various issues. While I correct someone is usually next to me, learning about English while explaining to me aspects that aren't included in the paper. This way we both end up learning a lot. The the 2nd I drove down to Kompong Som (Sihanoukville) and Stung Hav with Tivea and Siem for some meetings. Sihanoukville itself is a decent sized city, very touristy, and has many beautiful beaches. I saw more westerners there then I've ever seen in Phnom Penh and you really have to search for the Khmer places. I went to the beach for a little bit in the afternoon, which was amazing. I was the only one in the water because Siem can't swim and Tivea is obsessed with fishing. While I was in the water a small school of barracudas jumped past me, which was both terrifying and amazing. I realized then that I had actually never seen a barracuda before; they have horrendous teeth but their silver scales reflect the water so they look this beautiful shade of blue-green. Again, one of those "OH, I'm in Cambodia..." moments.
The first day there we met with the Chief of the Integrated Coastal Management in Sihanoukville and then with a program advisor from UNDP. Both meetings were in Khmer so I obviously had no idea what was going on. I found out later though that the meetings were concerning establishing a crab bank in Stung Huv. Basically a crab bank is a way to sustainably manage a crab fishery. When the fishermen catch a female crab, they bring it to the bank and leave it there for a few days so it can release its eggs. Since the eggs can weigh up to 30% of the crab's weight, the bank offers to pay the difference. The hatched crabs are released back in the ocean and this way those crab eggs are not lost to the market. Other areas with crab banks have seen a noticeable increase in the number of crabs caught.
Animal Bank like this are the majority of the work ISLP does now. They first started to set up community fisheries and forests to allow villages to manage their livelihood in an environmentally and economically sound way. Much of the conflict in the area then was over land (as it still is today), both between villages and between villages and companies. Once the wildlife populations rebounded in the community areas, villages outside of that community began to use the resources illegally because they had completely mismanaged their own. In many cases, this also led to violent conflict. This is when ISLP realized that while the conflicts were over resources, they stemmed from an economic problem. So the Animal Bank schemes were formed, often in conjunction with Heifer International. There are Buffalo Banks, Pigs Banks and now a Crab Bank. The first two banks are run differently however, with the poorest families in the villages targeted as recipients of a female animal. Once that animal produces another female, that animal is passed on to another member in the village. In otherwords, its the gift that keeps on giving. These villagers also receiving training on how to properly care for the animals; these are techniques that in many cases have been used for other animals, such as chickens. Indeed I had read many success stories from these banks--of a widow who is now a pig and chicken raiser and of another widow who now has a rice winery because the gifted buffalo allowed her to till more land. This isn't the kind of work I expected to be doing when I first came here, but I find it really interesting. The establishment of the community areas and the Animal Banks have reduced poverty and thus conflict in many villages along the bay, earning ISLP a lot of respect because they always remain neutral and look after the community as a whole. This isn't the only thing ISLP does, but its what I have been involved with the most.
The second day was filled with more meetings about Crab Banks but unfortunately in the morning I accidentally ate fish curry and was then incredibly ill all day. I have no idea really what happened during the day. At night though 30 or so Burmese peaceworkers came to visit with Khmer Ahimsa, and that dinner was about to start my most inspirational experience here.
The Burmese were all amazing people. They were outgoing, friendly and chatty in an overwhelming kind of way. They firmly believed that peace and understand can be made through discussion and learning--this is a belief that permeated their every action. Talking with them taught me so much about why I am here and why I am interested in conflict studies. The horrendousness of the Burmese government is far worse then I realized. Myranmar has around 100 different ethnic groups, and every single one except for the leading parties' is persecuted. If you are ever suspected of being antigovernment, you and more family pays and often with your lives. Organizations of any kind are banned there and almost all of the peaceworkers I met were working illegally. In truth, they were risking their lives by just trying to keep their country together; the situation is so volatile there the government could target them at anytime. All of the workers that came were extremely well educated and possessed a determination I didn't realize a human could contain.
Before they came I was beginning to become cynical about my work here. I was beginning to feel useless because I can't speak the language. I would look around and see so many Khmer people helping Khmer people I began to wonder why I wasn't at home doing community service. I've learned the power of a local movement since I've been here and I began to question things. The Burmese made me see things differently though. So many of them would come up to me and personally thank me for coming abroad and for working on peace issues. They told me how they feel so desperately that they need the help of the western world because they don't have the resources to do it on their own. Not just the economic resources, but the intellectual ones. They told me how seeing me and the two other foreigners gave them so much hope that they didn't have to work for peace alone. In Myanmar they often feel like they are working for the impossible and that no one knows about their problems. They feel like the world has turned its back. Every time another one pulled me aside to give me this speech, each speech being a little different, I felt overwhelmed but impassioned. I feel like I get a lot more now, I get why western involvement doesn't have to be this terrible thing, and how people with that much life in them can really build peace.
On that Friday with the Burmese we all went to this island in Kompong Som Bay. The boat ride down the river was absolutely amazing and I got to see some of the most beautiful mangroves and clouds in my life. The clouds here are incredible and are unlike anything I've ever imagined. I am convinced that the sky is actually 3x as big and that the clouds are bigger then the state of NJ. They cover the entire horizon and sometimes look more like a painting then reality. Its incredible. For the island, it was also incredibly beautiful. There is nothing like a sparsely populated island in Southeast Asia. The plants...the huts...the ocean...beautiful. Unfortunately, the island is the host of a serious resource conflict. The government just signed a 99 year agreement with a seaweed farming company and the actual farm will block the fishermen's access to the ocean. This is a serious threat to their livelihood exacerbated by the fact that seaweed farms are now starting to be recognized as a serious pollutant. They create toxic water and poison all the fish in the area. Apparently the company convinced the government that people don't actually live on the island, even though the villagers there legally own land. Right now they are in the middle of negotiations to get the seaweed farm to move its location over a bit so that the fishermen can actually access the sea.
After this we went back to Sre Ambel and had a Q&A with some of the local peacebuilders. Many of the peacebuilders are women because they care the most about seeing the community hold together and because the men after busiest working for their livelihood. One of the women was a former Khmer Rouge soldier. One finds this a lot with the peace builders because the former Khmer Rouge first took up arms for peace. They are people who care a lot and want to fight for justice. Many of them have now learned from the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge and feel tricked themselves by the Organization. Remember, most Khmer Rouge soldiers were just peasants looking for liberty. They never meant to tear their country apart. Unfortunately, once they realized the truth it was too late. Most did not know about places like Toul Sleng until the Vietnamese invasion, and even then they were so insulted by the Vietnamese they still took arms. The woman I met joined the Khmer Rouge in 1979, the year the Vietnamese came. Now these former soldiers have learned from their ways and are now the strongest peacebuilders in the country. Also remember that Koh Kong province, where I live, is the last place to have a Khmer Rouge resistance so the region needs strong peacebuilders.
After the Burmese left on Friday, I stayed in Sre Ambel and basically relaxed for two days straight. Both of my housemates were home and we just slept and ate all weekend. Some might say it was a waste of time, but to be honest I needed a mental break like that. I feel like I barely get time to breath here so taking two days to relax was definitely needed.
Okay so like I said I will be need to break up these entries. There is so much more to write about but I just can't do it now. Hopefully I will do it today, but we'll see.

Oh and PS my entire bag decided to go swimming...with my iPod. The camera is fine, thank god, but the iPod only flashes me a sad face. So if anyone wants to send me a song or two through an email I would appreciate it. I miss music (that's not Karaoke). Thanks in advance!


Dad said...

Karina, it is very nice to hear form you again. Your adventures should be saved for a later “Karina Memories” book! Sorry about your Ipod. I’ll be sending you a Brazilian song.

Sarah said... don't even like zoos lol