Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Volunteers, Staff and Others

I've go into a volunteer project with two expectations: 1) the project may or may not be satisfying and could be frustrating and 2) I'll probably meet some really cool people.  This was indeed the case this time.  I didn't often feel like we were making much progress, but I did enjoy my Koh Rong companions.
I tried to get pics of everybody, but I had to borrow a few for this post. No, I'm not trying to look through my flash.  (Photo by Declan)

MCC PEOPLE
When I first arrived, there were two volunteers around, plus an intern and a dive instructor. Cami (American/ Italian) and Ceri (Welsh/Londoner) were the volunteers.  Cami had been on the island for almost a month by the time I arrived.  At that point she had done a lot of teaching English, but not much coral reef surveying.  She only overlapped with me for a week.  We tried to get some surveying in before she left, but weren't terribly successful.  Cami moved on to do other volunteer work in Phnom Penh.
Cami and BJ (photo by Ceri)
The volunteer that I worked with the most was Ceri, a middle-school math teacher from London.  She was seriously into teaching English and getting kids to sing catchy tunes, often in a round, to learn the days of the week and other useful phrases and terms....yeah that damn song just started playing in my head again.  Argh! I thought that I had managed to delete it!  Since there weren't many people with reef experience around, I started training Ceri on reef identification on my first day of diving.  Over time, Ceri got into identifying marine organisms and became quite skilled at it.  Unfortunately, it didn't do us much good because we didn't complete many reef surveys.  Ceri was the one that first found the seagrass beds in the bay when the two of us were out on a survey.
Ceri teaching the kids how to brush their teeth.
Ceri petting her pet worm.  We're not sure if a worm had burrowed into her foot or not.  If so, then it probably made its way to her lungs and then she swallowed the larvae.  So right about now the adults would be pumping out eggs in her intestine.  For some reason, Ceri was often thinking about parasitic worms.
When I arrived a German intern named Daniel was also on the island.  He had been working on the project for 11 months, mostly on the neighboring island, and was around to help us get some reef surveys started.  He also functioned as a jungle gym for the local kids.  Daniel was great to have around.  He always gave me material to make fun of and he knew the local reef fauna well.  Plus, he would distract the kids when we were getting overwhelmed.

Child transportation in Koh Rong.  Thanks, Daniel.  Nid misses you dearly.  Now she has to walk. (photo by Ceri)
Kylie was the coordinator and dive instructor for the island.  Originally from Canada, he recently got engaged to a local girl from the village on Koh Rong Samloem.  A week after I arrived, an anthropology student from Oxford named Declan arrived on the island.  He was not a diver and was starting out by learning how to dive from Kylie.
From left to right:  Declan, Ceri, Kylie, and Daniel.  The beer is called Klang, which means "strong"
In my final week, Tina arrived from the UK.  She's Swedish, but she's going to school at Cambridge in the UK.  Fortunately, she lived in the US to learn, as she said, "proper English" before moving to the UK.  I really enjoyed using that line with the other two Brits.  
Ceri (hiding a cigarette), Declan and Tina
Tina and Ceri watching a heavy rainstorm from their window (not jail)

STAFF
Three times a day, Rim would cook us meals.  I hadn't considered fried rice for breakfast, but I quickly came to enjoy it.  By the way, Nid, from previous posts, is the daughter of Rim and Mr. Dam (the nicest guy on the island, who really would encourage people to Dike!  Dike!). 

Rim moving charcoal for our meal.  (the charcoal was like my alarm clock, it choked me out of bed each morning)

Nid and Rim (phot by Ceri)

The "boys" that took care of us and ran the boat all looked younger than they were.  Mr. Dot was the go-to guy for all kinds of things.  He often saved us when we needed to say something in Khmer or needed to understand what someone was saying.  He helped with our teaching by translating for us at times and he kept our SCUBA tanks full.  Plus, Mr. Dot had some stylish shirts. Actually, almost all of the guys did. My ragged button up shirts could not compare.
The stylish Mr. Dot
Even in swim trunks Mr. Dot may sport a slick shirt.  I was definitely the worst dressed guy around...except for Kylie.
Mr. Dot writing the Khmer for one of our lessons.
Then there was Mr. Worn.  A name that was easy to remember.  Worn kept our boat from hitting things and handled our SCUBA gear when we needed to get in or out of the water.  He could be super serious, but sometimes he'd be a total goofball.  Worn had a talent where he could sleep with his face smashed into the wooden floor and he legs tangled up above him in a hammock.  Often Worn would be in some crazy hammock position.

Worn

I don't have a picture of Mr. Rong, but he was our boat driver and he was excellent.

An interesting note:  Our staff along with their friends and many of the other villagers, including babies and children all wore facial bleaching cream, typically at night.  I'm not sure of the origin of this, but I assume that sunscreen would be more effective and, perhaps, cheaper.
One of the boys washing off his facial bleaching cream.
Mr. T was our police chief and probably the jolliest guy in the village.  One day Ceri and I were walking up one of the roads to check out the bay and he saw us.  He came driving up in his air conditioned truck (probably the only AC on the island) and asked us to get in.  Fortunately, we weren't being arrested, we were just being given the grand tour.  He drove us all over the wide, unfinished roads of Koh Rong. 



"Our Pets"
Two dogs "lived" with us.  Katie, who belonged to Mr. Dam and Rim and was impregnated by BJ.  I once saw Katie go to the bathroom on the boardwalk and then run madly around as a worm hung from her anus.  She ran straight through our house yelping and swinging a tapeworm with a little feces attached.  Maybe retelling this story is why Ceri was so worm-obsessed.
Katie

BJ

This woman loved BJ and Katie and they loved her.  Their arteriosclerosis may also be from her.
Many other interesting people passed through while I was on the island and I don't have pics of everybody.  This little post is here to remind me of some of them. 


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Girls of Koh Rong

Village girls always stopping by to visit us.  Or, if we walked through the village, we would hear them yelling "Hello!" from all around (Note: most kids in the village would yell this at us).  The youngest of the girls would just waive and waive, or say "Hello" like a broken record. 

The famous waiving baby of Koh Rong.  It's amazing how fast kids picked up waiving.  I waived to all kinds of little kids in Cambodia and they would look confused at first and then slowly start doing something like a waive.  In the end, they probably became waiving fanatics like this little one.
She was a waiver too, but she was also skilled in rapid-fire hellos
A young girl from the far side of the village.  At times we would hear hellos ringing out from very far away, usually when they spotted us somewhere across the bay. 
The child that we saw the most was Nid.  Her mother cooked for us and Nid often spent her days in our place.  If  you could slow down what Nid was saying you would realize that she was often repeating English sayings at an incredibly fast rate.  Embedded in her English expressions was usually her name.  One of her favorite expressions that she would yell at us was "HellomynameisNid."   Rapid phrasing like this was common in the village.  We'd often hear "HellohowareyouIamfinethanks."  It really saved time.  You knew they were doing fine before you even asked them.

It was possible for Nid to be peaceful....typically it was induced by the possibility of candy from Ceri, or an afternoon nap.  Otherwise, she could be a bit of terror. 
Nid liked to have her way.  One day Nid's brother, Dal, had a balloon.  I was sitting on our "porch" watching him play with it, when it exploded.  Behind the exploded balloon was young Nid carrying a large butcher knife that she decided to use against her brother's balloon.  She realized that I didn't like her running around with a large knife and went running off to the kitchen with it. 
Nid laying in our kitchen/gear locker.  Looks sweet, doesn't she...?
Other girls would stop by to visit regularly, one of them was Vid.  She told us that she was 5 years old but she was bigger than most girls twice her age. Vid loved to repeat everything you said or count from one to five over and over again.  I'd usually try to keep her going above five, but her spontaneous counting outbursts usually only went to five.

Ceri and Vid.  Both hysterical.
At one point Vid really enjoyed having her hair braided by Ceri.  It never seemed to last long, but she found it entertaining, nonetheless.



Once the word got out that we were cleaning cuts and bandaging boo-boos, we saw a lot of boo-boos.   One of our resident, hyper-dramatic girls was Da.  I cleaned a cut on her thumb one day and she was not happy with the sting from the alcohol.  Most of the kids were really good at taking the pain.  Impressive, actually. Da didn't like the cleaning, but she enjoyed the Band-aid....even though she would always take it off and smell it.  (Band-aids may have been pretty cool things to have...perhaps even cooler than the stickers that Ceri would hand out at English lessons.)  Da would love to scream and play very rough (e.g., hitting people) and she would feign fainting at regular intervals.  Typically extended bouts of screaming and being dramatic would cause her to overheat and she'd need a break. The fleece pull-over probably helped with that.  The presence of a camera pointed at anyone but her would instantly activate Da and she would run to be in the picture.  She never really liked her picture though.   
The hyper-dramatic Da.
Tina and a couple of girls.  Da (center).
 Indeed, the girls were fun and sometimes dramatic and none of us could really talk to one another, but we'd hang out and try anyway.  They were a regular part of our day, stopping in to visit, have their picture taken, or play games. 
Girls playing a game with a collection of stones.
One of my favorite girls on the island, was Na.  She was super sweet, incredibly bright and very polite.  Nat thought that my beard was quite funny, but that has been a typical response in Cambodia.  Na was excellent in the English lessons, but she was never willing to write answers to our questions on the board, no matter how much I encouraged her. 
Na.  I'll miss her very much.
Na. Running to class because she was worried she was late.  On sunny days the kids were usually late.
Girls sorting fish or working on the nets (Na on the right).
Each day, at around 5pm, the kids would start to gather around our place.  They were waiting for class to start.  I'm not convinced that they were actually looking at a clock or a watch or cell phone.  Once the sun was low, they just started to show up.  On cloudy days, they came over extra early. 

No, we didn't jail them.  They were outside of our window watching us, waiting for English Class.
Certainly the best students in our classes were the oldest girls.  They knew much more than the rest, but none of us could ever seem to remember their names for more than a few moments.  I even wrote them down, but I couldn't remember which name went with which girl.  Ceri and I asked them their names so many times, that we eventually were too embarrassed to ask them again.  Many Khmer names were very hard to pronounce correctly.  Fortunately, Na and Da and Lin and Nid and Vid were some of our most regular visitors and we could get their names down. 

The older girls knew the most English in our class and probably in the village.


Friday, July 29, 2011

Boys of Koh Rong

From a very young age the boys on Koh Rong are out fishing.  Often they fish from dawn to dusk. It's their entertainment and it's how they help feed their families.  The youngest boys fish from the boardwalks between the houses and from the pier.  They find scraps of old line and old fishhooks and wrap the line around cans or whatever they have.  Sometimes they catch bait fish and use them to catch larger squirrel fish, grouper, snapper, bream and rabbit fish.

A young Koh Rong fisherboy wrapping line around n Ankgor beer can
Young boys sorting out a bunch of tangled line

Boys fishing between the boardwalk and our neighbor's house



These boys managed to catch a number of small squirrelfish and others
 If there are boats docked in the village, the kids will often fish from the boats.
As the boys get older (probably 11-14), they tend to paddle out into the bay or sea on small boats made from layers of Styrofoam with baskets attached for their fish and equipment.  Their paddles are made of many things, but they seam to usually be flexible, plastic trays.


A Styrofoam boat captained by a 12 or 13 year old fisherman.


These guys really wanted their picture taken
  In many cases these young boys will travel far off shore and, occasionally, the get caught out in the elements.
Young boys paddling hard to get out of the storm.
  
Teenagers tend to start running the larger boats similar to the one as in the picture above (behind the Styrofoam vessel) and go considerable distances, often for most of the day.

Once the day of fishing was over, many of the boys ran down to the front of our house for their English lessons....the oldest boys would only show up if the older girls were there and then they'd hang off to the side and pretend not to be listening.  Although the boys studied hard, only the youngest ones were willing to come up to our white-board and answer questions.  The teenage boys needed some coaxing.  

I'm really going to miss some of the boys (in fact, I miss many of them already) and I worry about what will happen to them in the future.  I'm skeptical that the fish will always be there for them or their families. Although they work hard they also play a lot and if the island becomes a giant resort, they may become a tourist attraction.  

Most all of the boys and girls were really friendly.  In fact, most all of the villagers were very welcoming.  There were a few villageres that I especially bonded with, one was named Bora.  Bora was always on the move.  If he wasn't fishing, he'd be running around in what looked like pajamas, doing cartwheels and kicks or swimming or hanging out at our place looking at books and playing thumb wars.  Bora really loved English class...it was probably the songs that Ceri had that he enjoyed so much.   

Bora and Katie (very pregnant)
 

Bora and our neighbor girl Lin, waiting for class on a rainy day.
Bora and Lin studying their notebooks from class.

If the kids knew that you were pointing a camera at them, they would instantly turn into hams.  Here's the boys swimming and showing off for the camera (Bora is in the colorful, striped shirt)




The middle-school-aged boys would typically attend class, but they really seamed to get excited on the day of the three-hour tour when they started asking me what the marine critters on our posters were called.  After that day, they would stop by and practice all of the time.  I wish that I'd had more pictures to show them because they really wanted to know more. The young-man below was especially good at naming urchins, giant clams, coral and fish.
Carrying dried leaves for roofs and for fish traps
 Someday I would love to return to Koh Rong and see what has happened to all of these kids.  I'm afraid that the changes to the island would be overwhelming and sad for me to see.  I wish them the best of luck in navigating the changes ahead. Maybe we did some small part in preparing them.  I can at least hope so.