Saturday, December 11, 2010


We have been living at our permanent site for over two months now. It has been enough time for me to reflect (positively) on some events which occurred during our pre-service training.
So, for those of you who might not know, Peace Corps is a 27 month commitment. The first two and a half- three months are dedicated to INTENSIVE cultural language and cultural training. During this time, trainees live with host families. We eat their food, drink their fermented snake alcohol, watch endless family wedding videos, and perfect the art of “nod and smile”. At the same time, the brave families have to coddle us like infants, since we practically are. We have a slight inability to care for ourselves in such unfamiliar surroundings. If you can hang, you are sworn-in as an official Peace Corps volunteer. Peace Corps selects your permanent site for you, which you are informed of about three weeks prior to swear-in. I will admit that training was very difficult for me and I must publically thank my wonderful husband, and best friend for his support and commitment to our marriage vows for the duration of this period.
Anyway, Jake and I were placed in a small commune in Kampong Cham province with about 15 other volunteers-to-be. We lived with a couple in there mid 60s who asked that we call them Ma and Pa, a young woman we called our little sister who was 21, and her son we called our nephew who was 5. We also had a dog and a poor little cat. The also family acquired a puppy shortly before we moved. The family decided to give each of the animals names after finding out we had a dog named Reese. I thought that was interesting and amusing since before meeting us, the family thought it strange to name an animal. For the majority of our stay we thought the young woman was the daughter of Ma and Pa but we later found out that she was not. We are still unclear about the relation, or if there is one.
The concept of animal cruelty does not exist in Cambodia. In the states we believe that if our children show signs of animal cruelty, they might grow-up to become crazy axe murders. Well if that was the case here, all the children are soon-to-be crazy psychopaths. Our host nephew was my least favorite person in training for this reason alone. Many children in Cambodia find great entertainment in torturing animals. Our nephew was the ring leader of this sort of thing. For example, Jake and I would return from training to find tiny wheel barrel-like tracks in the gravel in our front lawn. We both noticed these tracks because they decorate the gravel often, but we never really put much thought into what caused them. It wasn’t until we watched our nephew take our cat’s hind legs into his fists, while straddling the cat backwards (and naked), so that the cat was facing the opposite direction and its body was in between his legs. The cat’s front paws dragged on the gravel and his head poked out from underneath our nephew’s naked ass. He proceeded to pull the cats hind legs up to his chest and run in circles and loops while the cat’s front paws dragged along the gravel. The cat’s front paws formed the geometric shapes which we were seeing. The amazing thing was that the cat was so use to this type of treatment that it never hurt the kid. It was pretty disturbing to watch, but looking back on it-the tracks in the gravel, the look on the cat’s face the fact that the boy appeared to enjoy doing this most when he was naked, makes it a little hilarious now.
Another memory which stands out for me was one that I actually didn’t even witness but Jake did. It is more hilarious to me since I didn’t actually see it happen. So, Jake was sitting outside with the family one day, as he often did. I was busy doing something but I can’t recall. Anyway, while Jake was watching the women of the family slice bananas into slivers, he noticed our host dad pick something up from the trash pile. Jake watched as our host dad looked puzzled. Our host dad walked over to the rest of the family while holding a purple plastic tampon applicator. He looked very puzzled and tried to push and pull the applicator parts every which way. Jake observed in horror knowing well what the object in our host father’s hands had been previously used for. He proceeded to show everyone and they too fondled the applicator in complete bafflement. I assume Jake just watched the event unfold without looking too disgusted or embarrassed. Jake later told me “Jenn, you missed Pa walking around the front yard holding your used tampon applicator. He passed it around to all the neighbors making the banana things.” The most disgusting part of the whole situation is hand washing did not exist in this household. What ever was on that applicator, was now on those delicious banana things (similar to a fruit roll up), and most likely on our dinner. No wonder we were sick during training so much.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Intergrating (what a job)

11 ways I know I’m integrating into Cambodian society successfully:

1. I prefer using the booty blaster* over toilet paper and contemplate installing one in my bathroom when I return to the states.

2. I have started asking people how much they paid for things on a daily basis.

3. I started wearing surgical mask. They have become an accessory to my wardrobe like most of the Khmer men and women in Chhouk.

4. Seeing naked breasts on a daily basis (grandma’s or breast feeding women, or mentally ill person in town) no longer strikes me as odd.

5. I mean mug other foreigners I see and wonder to myself, “what in the hell are they doing here?”

6. I automatically jump to conclusions (she’s a prostitute-FOR SURE) when I see a woman showing her knees and shoulders.

7. I’m invited to eat rice, teach a one-on-one English class, go to a farm or complete a letter of recommendation for/with someone everyday.

8. I’ve have lost 10 lbs…probably due to an unknown parasite which will be discovered a year from now at the annual physical.

9. I keep small-medium spiders around the house because they kill the other bugs (this would never happen in the states).

10. Sweating through three sets of clothing a day seems normal.

11. I'm starting to feel guilty for not doing Jake's laundry (this would never happen in the states).

*A booty blaster is a kitchen sink sprayer which is attached to some toilets in Cambodia (found mostly in hotel bathrooms, nicer restaurants and nice houses). It is used in replacement of toilet paper. A good booty blaster ensures you do not need to use your hand.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Take A Walk In My Pants

So where do I begin? We just completed training and we are two days into our official service as volunteers. School has officially, unofficially started which means that no one shows up. I figure this would be a wonderful time to add a letter. Being a Peace Corps Trainee (PCT) was one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life. I am so happy to have completed that chapter in my service. However, with the bad also came some good stories. For example, the most embarrassing story of my adult life:
During training we lived in a medium sized village called Boukinow, in Kampong Cham province. Jake and I had spent 6 successful weeks learning how to integrate into Cambodian society. At this point in my life in Cambodia, I had started using my newly developed Khmer language skills which was starting to help me make friendships with our neighbors and business women that I frequented (ie coffee lady, waffle lady, phone shop lady, students). At this point I had also completely lowered my standard of what “clean” means and what “will” and “will not” gross me out. This is essential for survival in rural Cambodian. I had also grown a liking for Khmer fashion and I starting experimenting with new fashion styles.
One day I decided to buy a pair of Thai Fishermen pants. For those of you who are unfamiliar with these, let me explain. They are a peculiar piece of wardrobe, I tell you. So the pants are made of very thin cotton, kinda silk-like which is awesome in the heat. They are very baggy and loose on the crotch area, which is also awesome in the heat. They do not have a zipper, buttons, elastic or a waistband for that matter. They only have two ties on the back of the pant which are used to keep the pants attached to your body. To do this, you take the excess fabric and fold in, towards your hip, and then you pull the strings from the back of the pants to the front, and tie. This creates a waistband and gives the pants there signature look. It also gives opportunity for major wardrobe malfunction.
So, one day I decided to wear my new pants out on the town. I happened to opt for full comfort by choosing to go commando. We went to our regular coffee spot and the morning was going as usual. I ordered a café tuk da-go k’dow (hot coffee with sweetened condensed milk/khmer milk) and Jake and I socialized with our friends while glancing at the TV which is turned up to a deafening volume each morning. The early morning entertainment usually consisted of a very bad B Chinese movie with terrible Khmer dubbing which is always about 5 seconds off. These were mostly bad action or Kung Fu films with some soft porn and no sound effect noises due to the dubbing. The content of the films always seemed inappropriate for 6am in the morning. Sadly, I guess I have been programmed to think that Good Morning America is what morning entertainment should be. All of the hang bai (café) patrons are thoroughly entertained by the films when they are not busy staring at us. Anyway, Jake left for language class before me and I departed to our house to meet my Khmer teacher for one-on-one tutoring. As I walked down the main road, I noticed a man give a double take while looking at my pants. Unfortunately, I didn’t think anything of it since everyone was impressed by my newly acquired fashion and stared frequently while making comments. I continued on my way and ignored the stares. I got to my village entrance when I noticed a young girl’s mouth literally drop while staring at my crotch. This stare seemed a bit over the top and I looked down to see that my pant strings allowed the waistband to become loose, exposing my entire bush! Yes, I walked across town showing my bush to a society where women generally do not show their shoulders or knees unless she is a prostitute or attending a wedding. Cambodia is generally very conservative when it comes to females’ dress. So, after I noticed my full frontal exposure, I quickly put my pants together while holding on for dear life. I tried to race home while thinking in the back of my mind that my neighbors were already talking about the incident. I was told that word gets around very quickly in small villages; and I believe it. I was also paranoid that my language teacher, who was riding his bike a few minutes behind me, would have rode through the people who gathered to hear to poor girl’s commentary about me. I finally reached my house to find the usual scene; my host mother and host sister cutting bananas on the wooden platform bed while host dad was wandering around the front yard in anticipation of our arrival home. I tried not to look too panicked but they laughed at me for they way I was trying to hold my pants up. I quickly changed and attended my tutoring session. My teacher never mentioned the incident but in Khmer culture, he probably wouldn’t say anything because it would mean that I “lose face.” Losing face occurs when someone publically calls a person out for doing wrong-and I done did wrong!
This was one of the worst moments of my adult life. Just when I reassured myself that I could learn to successfully live in Cambodia, I made a reputation for myself as being the newest flasher in town. The best was telling Jake about the story when he returned from class. His classic response was “Jenn, you gotta be careful.” From that day on I only wear those pants in the house.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

To Begin...

Hello World,

First, Let me introduce myself. My name is Jenn and I am currently preparing to embark on a 27 month adventure in the Peace Corps with my husband, Jake. We leave for San Fransico on July 19th before departing for Cambodia on July 20th. The Peace Corps application process has been a long, and trying one and I am ready to reap its rewards!
Let me just say, I never thought I would become a blogger but this adventure has inspired me to write. I have never considered myself to be a gifted writer except for when it came to love letters. So as this journey unfolds, i will send my love through these letters.

Peace and Love,