Max Strong - Culture & Community, Khmer Project in Cambodia
My first three weeks of the Khmer Project has proven to be both fascinating and educational. Prior to my decision to become a volunteer with Projects Abroad I had never experienced Asia beyond the television, books and from others experiences. I had always wanted to see with my own eyes this part of the world and my choice of Cambodia has proven to be a great decision.
Like most every traveler, my first couple days here I experienced both jet lag and a serious case of culture shock. However, after the first week of nearly sleepless nights and my body's attempt to adjust itself to what was around it, I was able to finally immerse myself, both within the culture and in the city of Phnom Penh. The first week consisted of Piseth and me visiting the many interesting sites in and around the capital. The Royal Palace, in its delightful tackiness made for some amazing pictures, many memories and a lot of educational facts on its history. The Tuol Sleng(S-21) Museum and The Killing Fields was a horrible and sorrowing, yet incredibly educational reminder of the countries not so distant past.
The following week I began cooking lessons, a puppet making class, traditional Khmer music lessons, Khmer language lessons and my daily visit to the Home of Peace Orphanage. At first, the days were tiring. With so much to see and hear around me my body had a hard time keeping up, but soon I was able to take advantage of the opportunities that were given to me and the make the most of the situations.
The puppet making lesson at Sovanna Phum was an excellent experience. This class allowed me to work with the other workers at Sovanna Phum and watch and learn how they created the puppets. The work was not easy, especially when the workers around me were able to construct as many puppets as I created in three weeks in one day, however I was able to persevere and I ended up creating two puppets that turned out very well.
The music lessons, set beautifully on a stilted house sitting above one of Phnom Penh's many lakes was filled to the brim with a variety of boys and girls from ages three to around twenty all of them eager and willing to learn the many types of Cambodian dance. Since I am a horrible dancer I was placed on a Xylophone instead. At first it was incredibly frustrating to even attempt to learn a song, but as time went by, the incredible patience my instructor showed in teaching me the song helped me learn it.
The cooking lessons I received were interesting. I believe what I learned was invaluable and will always have an idea how to cook up Khmer cuisine, no matter what setting I am in. I also thank my teacher for her patience in helping me learn.
The Khmer language lesson was something I truly looked forward to. I had never even heard a sentence of Khmer before I came to Cambodia, so the lessons I received proved to be very helpful and interesting.
Four days of the week I spent at the Home of Peace, an orphanage for youngsters and mentally disabled children. This was an incredible experience in ever way. At first, seeing the children, many of them diseased and without parents hit me like a brick wall. A lot of my first week I spent distracted, thinking about how sad the situation was for the kids. Unable to go beyond the walls of the orphanage, unable to enjoy a family, unable to enjoy the life that I now live, all these factors added to a sinking feeling in my stomach. However, as time passed I saw that my presence at their home was truly helping them learn and grow and I began to love every bit of it. I spent many priceless moments playing with the children, talking to them and feeding them. I am ever so thankful I was given the opportunity to work at the Home for Peace.
My first three weeks in Phnom Penh were filled with some downs, but also many, many ups. Everyone has been very helpful and friendly, especially the wonderful people of Cambodia with their genuine kindness, which helped me through some rough patches. Jo Walton, one of the Projects Abroad western staff, was very helpful in being friendly and helping me adapt to Cambodia and of course Piseth, the Khmer Project coordinator, greatly helped me in learning the ropes of the city and has taught me a lot about the culture, I am excited to also visit Siem Reap with him to see the famous temples of Angkor Wat.