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.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

An Island that's about to Change, A LOT


Recently, Koh Rong was an island that consisted mostly of dense jungle.  There were a few small fishing villages, the one that I lived in, for example, and there were some lovely beaches (although, like other uninhabited beaches that I've visited, quite a bit of trash washed up on their shores).
A recent satellite image of Koh Rong



Then the island was sold and HUGE roads that mostly go nowhere were put in.  Some of these roads are about as wide as a four-lane highway.  



Very soon the aerial view of the island will be very different. Here's a quote regarding phase one of the plan for the island.  The plan for the island can be viewed here.
Phase One will include "two spa resorts, 160 estate villas, a beach club, five restaurants and a lagoon". Each villa and room will have sea view and privacy. In the same time, infrastructure will be built; including an airport in the middle of the island, port, roads, power, water and telecommunications.
from http://www.kohrong-island.com/
In the map above, you can see the fishing village.  It's the tiny bit of orange.  As you can see the amount of development planned is significant.  There is a slick developer website set up about the investment opportunity on Koh Rong here.

Although the claim is that the island will be developed in an environmentally sound way, it is hard to imagine the airport, numerous roads, casinos, resorts, golf courses, and resulting run off and feces will do much good for the reefs or the mangrove or the seagrass or the small fishing community.  Currently, tourism mostly consists of small bungalows on a few of the beaches.  I do hope that the plan for a marine protected area goes through and that those that wish to maintain their way of life in the village are able to do so.  There will be many new economic opportunities for the villagers.  Perhaps, if they know enough English they will get jobs with the tourists.  Otherwise, there will not only be a flood of tourists, but also a flood of workers to the island.  I don't know where that would leave the wonderful people that we worked with in the fishing village.