Mar. 2009

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Arun Sua s’dei,

I’ve heard spring has arrived in the States, and done so quite nicely on both the East and West coast. Hooray for blue skies and the 70’s (not the decade). Here in Phnom Penh – hooray for the ah….. mid 90’s, and the first rains to wash off the trees, bring out the mangos, and hold down the dust.

Now, I left one story out of last month’s novel. To start, I think everybody likes to be greeted when they arrive home, but this was a little different. After class one evening last month, I was coming to a stop on the driveway in front of my house when just ahead I spotted the hose… or was it… Nope, it was… yes, a big, long, black, but unfortunately NOT dead snake. As I pulled up beside it, my welcoming committee of one decide it was time to say “hello”, and it stood up. By that I mean… like a cobra stands up. And with that, I figured it was time to try out my multi-purpose Hyundai as a tool or ah… weapon of sorts. I thought; let’s see if I can run it over. That’s what the Cambodians do. But, by the time I got backed up and lined up, our team of dogs had arrived and chased my slithery greeter under one of the tractors. Yay, and hooray for our team of goofy dogs. Greeters good! Cobras bad!

On to March, and an amazing conference in Bangkok. Eighty plus people from all over Asia (and a half dozen from Europe) met for five days, and the discussions were pretty much non-stop. Have you ever heard someone talk about how your soul works, well… it might be a bit much to get into here, but conversations get interesting when you are sitting around a table with people from Bangalore, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Korea, and Holland. Outside the conference things were a little interesting as well. One evening, I had a reality check when I found myself in a Bangkok shopping mall walking from store to store with a pastor from Bhutan, looking for and discussing the pros and cons of various women’s shoes as a gift for his wife. Not sure what I contributed, but he did find a pair he thought she would like. Some situations you just don’t expect to experience in your life time.

Back in Phnom Penh, there have been some other learning events. I had a fun Friday when I went to Chumpuwan High School where the kids from our Center (orphan home) go to school. I was able to sit in on two classes and got a first hand experience of our kids’ high school education. The first class was a 10th grade algebra class with 84 students. And, I realized that it doesn’t matter if it’s in English or Khmer, algebra is still a relative mystery to me. The experience was still a lot of fun. The kids are all eager to learn, but it’s a teaching and learning challenge when you have eighty plus kids in a class. We also checked out the library and had sugar cane juice in the outdoor snack area. Sugar cane juice, now that’s an all-natural energy drink. (Public school teachers here get paid and average of $30 a month.)

English can’t compete with fish. What does that mean? Well, the last four days of the month, the fish pond at the Center was drained and it was all hands on deck, or maybe all hands, knees, and elbows in the mud. In general, the boys take on the draining of the pond and collecting of fish while the girls get the guts. Some how I found myself immersed in both. The girls cut, clean, salt and pack each fish into clay jars for fermentation. By the end, they had packed forty or more jars, each about the size of a twenty-five gallon drum. That’s a lot of fish! You can eat the fermented filets as early as two weeks but they are best aged anywhere from two months to two years. Yes, that’s right! Hungry? When you check out the pictures this month, pay particular attention to the compare-and-contrast for the cute little girls you do see taking on the fishing job.

What’s up with the EVT (English and Vocational Training) program:

March started off with a Phnom Penh field trip for the 14 girls (and two directors) in our Sewing Program to do a little market research. We hit three high-end shops to check-out the designs, the quality, and the price range. The girls also took note of the various ways the products were displayed, and discussed by the shop keepers. At our third stop, Water Lily, the French owner took time to explain her design concepts, and to inspire each girl’s imagination. We also explored one of the markets selling more factory produced items. Here, the girls were each able to purchase a few meters of material to share and get creative with. During the week following the boutique tour, the girls surprised me and each other with the variety and quality of the bags they had created. This last week, it has been back to business and the girls are discovering how teamwork makes production both fun and effective. I’m not sure which is louder the roar of the machines or the roar of their laughter. They are making amazing progress. I will include pictures of their products in the next newsletter. And yes,… how you can get you hands on one or many.

Kids’ Library:

Rosa is doing an incredible job and Monday to Friday from 8:00 to 10:00am she teaches 25 or more kids in our library. She has an unbelievable schedule that includes classes in English, Khmer, singing, dancing, and story telling. The kids love it and it’s fun to see the library in full swing. We hope to have a TV/VCR set-up and computer with educational software for the kids by the end of this month. Prayers.

Things learned:

  1. Greeters are good. Cobras…not so good.

  2. The Bangkok weekend market is a great place for second hand shoes.

  3. It takes me 23 seconds to clean and filet a fish. BUT, that is 20 seconds longer everyone else at the Center.

  4. I still don’t like, or understand the need for algebra.

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