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

Monday, July 21, 2008

Phnom Chisor

So I am pretty behind in writing about events here, but I will be in Phnom Penh for the next week because the ISLP staff is having a retreat with AFSC to start their transition to a local organization. The head board of AFSC in Philadelphia decided that the organization was to no longer run programs in other countries, and instead work with local organizations. I am not sure why they decided this, but now ISLP will be separate from AFSC and be an organization instead of a program. While I think this is a good step to take, it makes me nervous because many local organizations cannot sustain themselves. Khmer Ahimsa for instance is having a lot of troubles and have ran through their initial EED budget. As a result, staff members haven't been paid in two months and might not get paid for another one.

So while I am pretty behind in writing, I am just going to write about yesterday and then try to recap the last two weeks later. I have been trying to upload photos, but it is very slow, especially since power goes out here pretty often. I have already lost half a post and 20 pictures this morning. Oh well.

So yesterday I went to Phnom Chisor, an 11th century temple ruin about two hours from Phnom Penh. I went with Jon, a Californian just a year older then me who traveled with the Burmese. It is nice getting to hang out with another American and flex my English muscles as we like to say. He is here interning for a peace organization that teaches master courses for peace workers from all over the world. All last week and all this week the classes are running and he told me to come to lecture tomorrow night on Cyclone Nargis and the refugee issue. Clearly I am very excited. Since we are both clearly interested in peace issues we have a lot in common, but he is more of a theorist while I am the go getter that couldn't care less about theory. To me, the theory is only useful when adjusted for the situation and when initially based on field research. For him, he likes to study how the theory actually applies in the field. Maybe its just two sides of the same coin, but it makes for interesting conversation. Through him I've realized that the expat community in Cambodia is very small--he is working with Margaret, the Quaker I met when I first came here. I have already realized though that the country in general is pretty small and that it is easy to find people who know each other in the city. Either that or everyone is connected to the Boddhi Tree--its hard to tell which.

Now getting to Phnom Chisor was an adventure in itself. We had to take a bus toward Takeo and get off at the turn for the temples. Sounds easy enough but it turns out the signs are all in Khmer and if it weren't for a nice Khmer women with a clue we probably would have ended up in Takeo. Once off the bus it was a 5km moto ride to the base of the hill followed by a 503 step climb to the top of the mountain. Obviously these weren't your normal steps but rather ones that were awkwardly sized, slanted, and just plain annoying. It was also clearly lunchtime, midday, and overwhelmingly hot. I could tell from the soil that it haven't raining in a while (more on this later) and air was hotter then usual. On the hike up though I got to really appreciate how much Khmer I have learned here. I can't even begin to say I can speak Khmer, but I can understand quite a bit. There are definitely times when I am teaching and I don't need the translator and there was once at dinner where one of the staff members was telling a story in Khmer and I actually thought it was in English because I was only half listening but could still understand it.  I wish I could actually speak Khmer, but listening and responding in English has seemed to work 85% of the time. 

So while the steps were overwhelming, my lunch nauseously hot, and my water bottle empty, the ruins were still stunning and the view amazing. I realized while I was there that I have never actually seen ruins before and now I am even more excited to go to Siem Riep.  It was very surreal to walk through ancient ruins overgrown with plants and try to make out the few carvings that have survived. Inside some of the remaining buildings were modern Buddhas (Phnom Chisor was originally built for Shiva) and one of them had really huge lignam. Inside the lignam room a nine year old boy decided to befriend me and follow me around the rest of time I was at the temple. He didn't say anything to me, but this kind of thing often happens. Cambodian children are always amazed by barangs and since I am not huge like other foreigners they are even more curious. Cambodian people in general are very calm and soft spoken. Often I have to strain to hear people and sometimes Khmer people will be having a conversation I can't even hear. Sometimes even I feel loud, which I know it saying a lot. They are not people who get angry easily and I have only once seem a Khmer person get noticeably upset (the man was having his land siezed...I would be upset too). When they don't understand things or are confused, they laugh. Many Americans get confused by this last trait, but it is something that I do too so I fit right in. At first with my housemates I couldn't tell if they were laughing at me or not understanding, but once I realized they actually didn't understand a word I said I couldn't help just laugh along with them.

As I mentioned, the view was incredible, but the apparent dryness of the land worried me. Once we came back from the temple and waited for the bus on the main road my speculations were confirmed. There we met a Cambodian named Vuth who is currently studying at university for Environmental Science. Obviously we had a lot to talk about. His English was pretty good, but the language barrier was too much to really discuss issues in details. It turns out, from what I understand, students from his program started the Cambodian Environmental Youth Network, which is working to promote sustainable issues among students. Right now they are trying to organize a bike ride from the capital to Sihanoukville (320 km). He was talking about the challenges they face in trying to promote the issues and I wanted to give him some suggestions but the language difference just wasn't working out. He told me more about details of environmental issues in Cambodia, especially about the farmers. Apparently 2-3 farmers die every year from misuse of pesticides (my interpretation from 'medicine') and lack of training. The farmers here are never trained on how to use pesticides or fertilizers so they almost always just end up using the wrong kind. He was telling me how the land doesn't grow as much anymore, but he didn't know why. I wanted to explain to him what happens when soil is misused, but again the language barrier. He told me how where there are only fields and no trees there is also no rain; he talked about how he thinks the lack of trees and rain are related but didn't know for sure. I told him that there was a connection, but I couldn't find simple enough words to explain the water cycle and transpiration. In talking with him I rerealized how much we need training programs/organization here for the rural farmers and how much important it is for the developed countries to help. This goes back to what I was saying about the Burmese, and about how the West needs to work with the developing world and stop just telling these organizations what to do. There are complex cultural ties associated with these environmental issues (the use of charcoal being one example). It really broke my heart to hear well educated Vuth, with four years of university under his belt (out of six), not know the connections between basic environmental science problems I learned about in high school. It has nothing to do with him, or his school, or his professors, but rather with a general lack of resources and accessibility. Again, I am not judging, I am just reappreciating what the Burmese told me three weeks ago. 

Okay so the power keeps failing on me and I am going to have to end here. I hope all is well with everyone! Thanks to those of you that sent me music!


momma said...

i can't wait to see your photos!!! it sounds like you are meeting the most amazing people. i hope you will learn portuguese as quickly.

GM said...

Great reading. Thanks for all the wonderful details of your adventure.