So the story starts where it always does Phnom Penh, Cambodia, much to nobody's surprise. The past few weeks have been chaotic, but rewarding.
Here's some statistics for the mathematically inclined on our past month in Phnom Penh:
Motorbike: 600km per week on average
Evading capture by police: 3 times
Caught by police: 1 time
Batoned by police: 1 time
Offered illicit drugs: 27 times
Offered boom-boom rooms: lost count
Paying bribes: 2 times
Fatal accidents witnessed: 3
In all honesty, it sounds worse than it was, the police beating didn't particularly hurt (only one bruise that's still here 3 weeks later), and bribes never exceeded $1.25!
So we start the story, once again at the place we both love, NFC. For the past month this place has been like a second home to us and we've felt totally welcome and met some awesome people - kids and staff. Focusing in particular on the computer class we've helped to create a curriculum and an interactive teaching style, something that has been both challenging and rewarding. The concept of interactive is near non-existent in Cambodian schools, as is common sense. Rote-learning is the standard..and so is paying off teachers and cheating in exams. But after 3 weeks all the kids went from thinking the mouse is something you eat, to being able to explain indentment, alignment, tables...and even apply it constructively to their own projects! So that has been totally rewarding, and so has seeing the teacher come alive with enthusiasm and really encourage the kids - it makes all the difference.
We notice that a lot of volunteers love to visit, to have photos with the kids and play games. The kids are great at both, and they've had a lot of practice. So we decided to do something different. Scouring the markets and streets of Phnom Penh, we created a couple of technology challenges. Building a 2m bridge to support 500 grams of weight rolled over the bridge, made simply out of paper, tape and 2 meters of string. With some creative thought and application, along with a male-female face-off, the girls won with a bridge that could support my weight (and no I haven't become "Asian size"). Another, dropping an egg from 5 meters in the air, supported by a basic contraption of their invention so the egg doesn't break, worked well - with 3 safe eggs used for the next meal, and the broken one fed to the dogs, or some kid outside?!
A movie night with baguettes filled with condensed milk (a Cambodian treat), and Cambodian jokes that get completely lost in translation have been awesome.
We have purchased and installed 5 new computers, doubling the size of the computer lab, and covered the rent of the organisation for a month (3 buildings, on 2700sqm). We've made some cool friends, who of course have facebook and gmail too. But NFC really does give the kids a real future. The kids all have aspirations of their own, and families to support back home - their motivation and resolve is huge and I'm sure they will be participants in transforming Cambodia for the better.
Twas an emotional break-up, sort of like a funeral, but not. And it felt like my birthday with awesome gifts the kids had made. I'm sure I will return, as persists my obsession with Cambodia (surprise, surprise)
So, the rest of Cambodia was interesting, and in Cambodia there's never a dull moment. Chris left to Thailand on the 22nd, and I stayed on until the 27th, which involved getting a visa extension and bribing by way to the front of the 2hr visa queue, and then getting caught by cops on the way home "No license Kampuchea", so after being asked how much I wanted to pay ($1) and being told it was less than what he and the other 10 cops wanted me to pay ($5, or .50c each), me pulling out my cellphone and him settling for 5000reils ($1.25), and I could proceeds once again without my Kampuchea license, to the Myanmar embassy to collect my passport. On arrival there was a "noh possibow", and 'passport gone'..."Good to know", "Can you find it please". To most government workers at 5pm on a Friday afternoon this would be slightly annoying, but they get "overtime", so all was good. Two hours passed which involved me having to salute the Myanmar Ambassador to Cambodia, whilst waiting for the fat visa lady to come back from what quite probably was the longest lunch ever, I got my passport back, visa and all. With a moto-ride with an off-duty policeman back to the apartment.
The 27th rolled around with a 6am, and 12 hour bus-ride from Phnom Penh to Bangkok which involved crossing at the infamous Poipet border (Poipet town is also a hole, and is a Khmer Rouge hideout, for those who haven't heard of Khmer Rouge, google 'Genocide') , me using offensive Khmer words to persistent touts, all the while fire was exchanged between Thai and Cambodian troops 100km north at Preah Vihear temple on the border. An illegal taxi in Bangkok who didn't have a clue how to drive, have any directional sense, speak a word of english...oh I lie, he did speak english, throwing in "falang" (foreigner), and "Son of a b..." in the same sentence, before finally discovering heaven (it's called All Seasons Hotel Huamark), and finding Chris, after paying a shouting taxi driver lass than he wanted.
So I guess you can tell, I am more or less obsessed about Cambodia, so prepare yourself for my return, and buy some airplugs - I'm back on the 4th!
The Union of Myanmar, should be interesting, tune in to hear the latest!