March 11 by Walker and Elia

After a nutritious breakfast of bread, peanut butter, bananas, and dragon fruit, we boarded our bus to the Tonle Sap lake, the largest in all of South East Asia. After getting on our boats (13 people in each), we made our way through the river to the Tonle Sap. The river was surrounded by houses on 20 or 30 foot stilts. The river in the wet season will rise to the houses doorsteps, which was about 30 feet higher than what we were boating through. We came to a part of the river surrounded by forest. Yut told us that during the wet season, people in the five provinces like to hunt rats because they are considered healthy because they stay in the trees, and supposedly eat only greens for the months of the rainy season. The trees are tall, but during the rainy seasons, all but the tops of the trees are submerged in water. Due to the fact that it was the dry season, we were able to see the exposed structures beneath the houses that are used to support the main parts of the buildings. After about an hour, we got to the open lake and ate lunch at a floating restaurant. We had fried rice and noodles, which were both really good. It was an incredible experience eating lunch on a floating platform in the middle of a lake. While one of the boats was on its way back to bus, it’s engine stopped working and it had to be towed by another boat. We walked through a village in very intense heat to reach the bus, but it was interesting to see the stilt houses up close.

We drove back to Metta Karuna, our interfaith center to work on a wheelchair project with land mine victims working on the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines. We split into teams of 4 and constructed 4 “Mekong Wheelchairs,” which are great designs for Cambodian terrain and resources. Some were for children and others for adults. We then sat down with Nobel peace prize recipient and land mine victim named Reth. He explained to us the importance of the land mine and cluster bomb treaties signed by many but not all countries in the world. He inspired everyone to love one another and “grow the rose in our hearts” in order to eliminate the land mines and prevent such violence from happening again.

We enjoyed our last dinner in Cambodia at a restaurant called “Brown Rice” where we took a quiz about the information we’ve learned throughout the whole trip. The smartest and most talented team named, RZS, aka Rory, Zoe, and Sophie won the competition. After dinner, we all went out to the Blue Pumpkin for some ice cream before returning back to Metta Karuna to pack and get a good night’s sleep.

 

March 10 by Zoe and Rory

This morning we had the chance to sleep in until 8 am after the long, action-filled day yesterday. Then, around 8:15, we headed to the hotel breakfast, where we were thrilled to see a simple selection of Western options, which have been few and far between, such as peanut butter, Nutella, and white bread.

We enjoyed breakfast (and the hotel wi-fi) then journeyed to a traditional Cambodian cooking class at Le Tigre de Papier. Upon arrival, we were handed a menu and asked to select an appetizer and main course that we would learn to cook and ultimately eat for lunch. There was a myriad of interesting Cambodian dishes, but being picky eaters like ourselves, we settled on vegetable fried spring rolls and vegetable fried rice with egg.

After choosing what dishes to make, we headed to the market for ingredients, where we were overwhelmed with culture shock, and pungent smells. We weaved our way through the busy aisles in between the many tables of fresh produce, spices, nuts, meat, etc. We were most shocked when we passed a fish table, where half-alive fish floundered around, and with an elderly lady squatting in the middle with a huge knife, decapitating fish after fish and preparing them to be sold.

Once we gathered our ingredients in the market, we returned to the restaurant, donned our aprons and chef hats, and began preparing our meals. For us, this included shredding vegetables, wrapping and frying spring rolls, and stir-frying rice. After we finished preparing our meals, we went down stairs to enjoy them together.

With satisfied stomachs we headed to Artisans Angkor, a social enterprise that strives to educate underprivileged Cambodians about traditional craft forms. We walked through the buildings and were able to watch the different craftsman create. We saw some people carving soap stone sculptures, painting intricate paintings, and weaving silk. At the end of exploring, we all found our way to the amazing gift shop, where we were able to support the many artisans by purchasing handmade, authentic Cambodian gifts for our families.

Then, we headed to another social enterprise called Friends International where we learned about their initiative, which involves giving marginalized children and their families access to education and the opportunity to gain specific skill sets that can help them out of poverty and give them the ability to live better lives in general. We went back to the hotel for some down time, and then returned to this incredible social enterprise for dinner at their restaurant called Marum, where the Cambodians in training prepared a delicious meal for us.

After dinner we went to a Cambodian Circus, Phare Ponle u Sap, where we watched an incredible and entertaining show. This social enterprise also has the goal of providing opportunity for underprivileged Cambodians by teaching them a skill set that can help them out of poverty and towards better lives.

We were happy to be able to support three inspiring social enterprises today. Each one truly gives disadvantaged Cambodians a chance to live educated and purposeful lives. And of course, we enjoyed shopping, eating, and being entertained at the wonderful organizations as well.

March 9 by Milo and Sophie

This morning we woke up at 4 am to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat. Although this was extremely difficult and we were all exhausted it was definitely worth it. We hopped on tuk-tuks and drove to the ticket booths where we were unpleasantly surprised by photos of ourselves printed on to our tickets. Then we crawled back on the tuk-tuks and headed to the temples. Upon arrival, we noticed almost immediately the herds of tourists just there to see the sunrise. Then once past the first gate we found a spot on the steps of a library to the right of the temple. However the coffee, as well as most tourists, were on the left.

At this point it was probably around 5 am and the perfect chance for people to get their coffee. As we all began to wake up, we watched the sun rise over the ancient temples. Then we all headed over to the left side to grab a hearty western breakfast of pancakes and shakes.

Once finished with breakfast, we finally went into the temple. While inside we learned how there are 3 levels of Angkor Wat. The first for everyone, the second for the monks, and the third reserved for the king. On the top of the third area, when looking down, we saw a square shape that is a symbol for women and from outside the towers were a phallic symbols, the male sex organ. At the top, the views were amazing and a perfect photo opportunity, but this was hard to get to because of a steep climb.

After leaving Angkor Wat, we moved onto the next temple, Bayon. This temple included many faces found on the top level. Altogether there are 54 faces, one for each original province in Cambodia. While there we also saw elephants that we later discovered were not acceptable to ride due the abuse of the animal. The temple also included 4 smaller towers representing the four gods.

Then we headed to the “Tomb Raider temple”, Ta Prohm. This temple’s beauty was magnified by the trees growing all around it and connected to the temple itself. We learned how the trees were increasingly causing problems by ruining the temple and simultaneously holding it together.

After, we quickly grabbed lunch before heading back to the center to have a relaxing afternoon. Then, we headed out for dinner “on our own” at pub street, where some of us got dinner and even fish pedicures.

Later, we met up again and went over to the night market. We all got to test our bargaining skills and buy things for ourselves and friends and family. After shopping, it was past 10 p.m. and everyone was so exhausted from the long day that we went right to sleep, excited for the next day.

Responsible Tourism

Childsafe, an award winning program of Friends International, faces an uphill battle trying to teach the many well-intentioned tourists about how to interact with local kids. Super inspiring work with children, families, and targeted local activists trained to recognize and report situations putting children at risk. Revenue generating enterprises (i.e. Resaurants, gift shops) provide vocational training AND contribute to economic sustainability.

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March 7 by Vika and Lina

On the 7th of March we visited our first Angkorian temple Wat Nokor in the city of Kampong Cham. Surprisingly enough, that temple had few visitors in contrast to the temples in Siem Reap. The structure of the temple is really beautiful, and even though it is not in its best shape you still can see the magnificence of its design and elaborate decorations. Inside of the ancient temple there is a new Buddhist pagoda, which is full of monks trying to give you blessing bracelets for little donation. After the temple we visited the social enterprise “Buddhist for Social Development Action” and we listened to a couple of lectures there. The second presentation was EXTREMELY detailed and it was about the mission of that social enterprise and the way it is connected to Buddhist philosophy. BSDA helps in bringing children from the streets who suffer from HIV, homelessness and other means of oppression. They have established 6 social enterprises that employ and educate these children with the skills they need in order to get a better lifestyle. Actually, for dinner we went to the SMILE restaurant that is one of 6 enterprises established by BSDA. Needless to say, the restaurant had extremely cozy atmosphere with delicious food and friendly waiters. Another awesome point is that we got French Fries (yay American food) and we did not have any rice!!!! And finally a fun fact: Carrie Clark is a great singer!

March 6 by Yonni and Camila

Waking up to screeching pigs for the last time, our group said our goodbyes to our lovely host families from the village of Koh’Pdao and set off on an hour-long boat ride back to the mainland. Students boarded our coach and drove over many tall wooden bridges to Kampong Cham, where we will continue visiting local social enterprises. We stopped to stretch our legs and eat lunch where we were able to see the heavenly icon of wi-fi on our phones for the first time in five days. We then tuk-tuk’ed to our hotel where we were able to take two-handed showers with amazing water pressure (after getting used to the island bucket showers) and walked to a local Cambodian restaurant, Mekong, ironically along the Mekong River for limited pizza slices and delicious Cambodian cuisines with mango shakes. We then headed back to the hotel to rest up and prepare for the Buddhist temples and enterprises to come tomorrow.

March 5 reflection by Eugenia and Cecilia

We woke up around 6 AM and started getting ready to go to the breakfast at the community center: we changed, brushed our teeth and took our bucket shower. Right after this, we took our bikes and rode until the community center, where we met the rest of the group. We started having breakfast around 7 AM. That day’s food was basically fried rice with vegetables, a very traditional Cambodian meal that can be easily found in any restaurant you go into, coffee, Royal D (orange juice powder) and delicious banana chips.

After eating, we were divided into our work groups, which could be chicken house 1 or 2 or pig house. Both of us were in chicken house 1, so, we took our bikes and went to the place we had started working two days before. On that day, our main objective was to dig 1-meter-deep holes using a spade and a coconut shell to help us. We worked on it from 9 AM until 11:30 AM, of course, having some breaks to drink coconut water and eat apples.

After being done, each of us drove back home to take a shower and start packing, as that would be our last day at the island (we would leave on Friday morning). By 1 PM we went back to the community center to have our last lunch there: rice, of course, vegetables and chicken. Some time later, our guide Amanda, asked us if we approved or not of “voluntourism” in a scale from 1 to 5. Then, we were given some articles to read about the theme and we were divided into two different groups of discussion. At first we were asked to debate between the people who were in our own group to see what each of us thought. After this, Amanda told each of the groups to defend a position: group one would be against and two would approve. After sharing our ideas and building convincing arguments, each group had to present them.

After this activity, we were free to do whatever we wanted to: some of us decided to stay at the community center reading or resting, others went back home to finish packing… But, we all met by 5 PM at the community center again, to have our last dinner there with our homestay families. It was a very pleasant moment, once we had the opportunity to sit on a mat and serve them, as a way to thank them for all the hospitality.

Later, we went back home, and, as we didn’t have power, there wasn’t a better option than going to bed early and have a good night of sleep, as the next day would be totally exhausting!

March 4–Two reflections by Talia and Constance

Today was a Buddhist holiday so we didn’t build the chicken and pig pens. Firstly, after breakfast, we helped our home-stay parents cook the food that we were going to offer to the monks that were coming to visit the village. Once the food was prepared we walked to the school where the monks were. It was really cool because the mother I was staying with offered us her proper clothing to wear. Although I couldn’t fit!! (The people are very little) Camilla wore a top and skirt and it looked really good! Once we go to the school we all sat and began to chant with/to the monks and Buddha. It was a very enlightening experience; seeing how passionate and synchronized the locals were as they chanted was really amazing. The best part was after the chanting. We changed into out sarongs and sat in two lines. The monks then continuously poured water, infused with incense and flower petals, on our heads and chanted. This was meant to bring good luck. Throughout and coming out of this I felt very peaceful and grateful that I was receiving such a blessing. I think it really worked, because the rest of the day was very calm and pleasant. We then returned to our home-stays for lunch with our families. Although my family did not sit with us, the mother was very attentive and the meal was the best I’d had on the island!
Following lunch, after reading and discussing a few articles on charity work, we went to a small beach to swim and relax. It was great. The water was really refreshing and we were allowed to actually show skin and wear a bikini or swim-shorts!! The current in the water was really strong; luckily no one got swept away! [We brought local lifeguards]. It was really nice to take a break and have such a relaxing afternoon; it definitely helped with the whole group mood, and everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun. Afterwards we were lucky enough to go see the dolphins! It was awesome; even though we didn’t see them close up, the idea that they were there and pretty close was cool. When everyone was really quiet you could hear them breathe out. It almost sounded like a sigh. It seemed like they were swimming circles around us!
All in all it was an amazing day. On the island we focused a lot on what was wrong and how we could help, whereas today we got to experience the beauty and good parts of the island. I really enjoyed it and I think most everyone did too—Talia

 

Constance

Today we started off our day by waking up in our host family houses. We woke up to the scorching hot sun, and the sounds of the different unique Cambodian creatures. As we bike to breakfast I begin to appreciate more and more my surroundings: the beautiful people, the hellos from all around, and the incredible raw nature that surrounds me. Breakfast was rice, per usual, and a delicious aloe yogurt. (Something I’ve never tried before.) After breakfast I then biked back to my host family house, where I was then given a beautiful Cambodian scarf to wear to the wonderful Buddhist holiday service. After thanking my elder house parent I set off to the service. Walking up the rickety stairs the excitement of this new experience begins to kick in. As I take a seat, with the bottom of my feet hidden, I begin to observe the different religion. Then once the service is over, we are finally able to be blessed by the monks. We all then change into our sarongs and take a seat. We then proceed to get water dumped all over us from the monks; it was such an amazing and spiritual experience, one I will most certainly never forget. As the day goes on, at around 4, we then mount the boats and go to the private island for a swim in the Mekong river. This was such a fun time and such a great time for group bonding. Soccer was played, chicken fights were made, and laughs filled the small island. After we were done swimming we then took the boats to the middle of the river where the pink Dolphins were said to be seen. The serenity of this boat ride was magical. Although we did not get to see as many dolphins as we had hoped, there was something about the peace and silence of just sitting in our tiny three person boat that is, to be quite honest, unexplainable. We then headed back to the mainland, where our home stays were, and got ready to eat dinner. As I sit down at the dinner table, and look around, I then realize how truly lucky I am to be able to have experienced such an amazing day in the beautiful country of Cambodia.—Constance

In Koh P’Dao–March 3, By Alyssa and Liza

KohP'Dao

Kao P’Dao is a village on Roungaev island in the Mekong River.  Cambodia Rural Development Team organizes home-stays there in order to fund its efforts to help rural communities through programming in sustainable livelihoods.  One of its programs is food security, which involves training in growing crops, as well as transitioning from reliance on fish to more diversified food sources.  Our service on the island was helping with the construction of chicken and pig houses.  Other CRDT programs are related to water and sanitation, renewable energy, environmental education, income generation, and waste management. 

Our day started with making our beds and meeting the rest of the team in a community center at 7 am. As usually we had a Khmer lesson first and went over some specific words that are useful for our homestay such as bantup tdeuk (bathroom), peuk tdeuk (to drink water), and of course ping peang (spider), thom (big) and samlaap (kill). With our first day on the island we began learning about Buddhism. The quote of the day was “Empty your cup,” referring to right speech and right understanding. Morning was completed with noodles for breakfast instead of rice, which became our daily nutrition.

Before the sun arose on the sky we began to build the chicken houses, which the community declared as a need. The work was hard, because the required skills were not the ones we use in our daily life in Ross school. We were sweating terribly as we continued digging and carrying baskets of dirt under the very strong sun, but it was all worth it due to our swim in the Mekong River as our promotion. All of us were dressed appropriately, covering our knees and shoulders during swimming. As soon as we were done we became hungry and more voices were shouting klean bai (I’m hungry) waiting for food. Our lunch contained rice since we did not have it for breakfast, and it was the longest break without rice in the past week we had in Cambodia.

Right after lunch we had a guest, one of the oldest men in a village named Mom Sam Mey, who was a governor of this district in 1999. But he was there to share his experience on surviving the Killing Field and generally Khmer Rouge period. As the U.S. started bombing his island even before the Killing Fields he was a 22 year old educated soldier. As well as he had been a monk, for which he was captured and accused on the Killing Fields. He was strong and made it through as other 52 families on his island. In 1979 he joined the army of Cambodian National Liberation Front that organized against the Vietnamese-installed government following the Khmer Rouge regime. Later, he used his passion as a governor and now the island contains 168 families. Mom now has a beautiful wife and 10 kids (2 died).

Later we had to read the Pepy Reader book [a collection of articles organized by our hosts] and discuss whether there should be a Khmer Rouge trial or not, and surprisingly the opinions were equally spread. Dinner was delicious and healthy, and as we were having our meal we saw a beautiful fire-orange sun going down to be hidden behind other islands. We drove back home with our bikes and flashlights and as we were at our final destinations we immediately fell asleep regardless of the time. Since we all worked so hard as well as enjoyed the day, we were sleeping in our beds under mosquito nets by 7 pm.