Karin Holzknecht

Karin Holzknecht

Karin is from Australia and has a Bachelor of Arts in Professional and Creative Communication. She is keen to learn more about the world by being an active part of it.

Welcome to Paradise

 Posted by Karin Holzknecht at 11:20 pm  Cambodia  Comments Off on Welcome to Paradise
Oct 282008

In talking with/writing to friends and relatives back home I have compared Sihanoukville to Queensland Australia’s Gold Coast, but actually I think it is more akin to Byron Bay in New South Wales. It has the same bohemian vibe. One long weekend, six of us volunteers headed down to Sihanoukville check out the beach scene. Our volunteer coordinator sorted out tickets to get us there. It is a bus ride of about four or maybe five hours, which seemed longer because the buses here invariably have some very loud Khmer music videos and stand-up comedians on the TV, which gets a bit wearing after a while, and the seats are never comfortable. Once we arrived we bought tickets for the trip back and grabbed a tuk tuk to Serendipity Beach, which is the main backpacker hang-out in Sihanoukville. There are actually three main beaches, but we didn’t manage to get to the others. I would definitely recommend Serendipity: the guesthouses are right on the beach, with outside seating spreading out onto the sand, and a room in any one of these is an extremely reasonable price. Our guesthouse had a bar looking right out across the bay to the islands in the distance – so amazingly beautiful. At night they let off fireworks all along the beach, they fire up the barbecues for that authentic beach feel, and some of the places have comfy couches right there on the sand, looking out into the pulsing black sea and the stars. I kept feeling like I was stuck in a “wish you were here” postcard the whole weekend.  

That first night most of us headed across town a bit to a restaurant called “The Snake House” which was a guesthouse that also had a reptile display. This was a fairly upper-class establishment with very reasonable prices, and the restaurant has a huge, open fish tank in the middle of the eating area, where you can watch the fish and look at coral. While you’re waiting for your meal you can wander around and look at all the different snakes and lizards. They had some really spectacular iguanas! After that relaxing first night we parted company and the next morning a few of us headed across to Bamboo Island (Koh Russei) for a night. One of the other volunteers had recommended it as being worth a visit and I for one was absolutely blown away. 

First of all, to board the boat we had to wade waist-deep into the sea and climb up a little ladder (the water was perfect so it was a lovely novelty). Thankfully a man from the boat transferred our backpacks from the beach to the boat on his head, because knowing me I would have accidentally dropped mine in the first wave! The boat itself was a long fishing boat with an outboard motor, and a canopy over some long bench seats. The trip there was fine – I usually get seasick, but the breeze in my face was just so delicious and everything was so interesting I didn’t have time to think about it. I can’t say the same for the golden Labrador that was one of our fellow passengers. I’ve never seen a dog look so sick! It got sicker and sicker as the trip went on, until it was lying on the bottom of the boat with its tongue sticking out and its eyes closed. It perked up very quickly when we weighed anchor at the island though. And wow! What an island! The beach so clean and white, the water so blue and clear, the island itself so green and lush… we immediately went to the first eating hut and booked a bungalow for the night. It was a few doors down, right on the beach, and very simple – but who needs more than a place to lie down and a mosquito net over your head at night? We swam to our hearts’ content – sometimes in the rain, which was unforgettably delicious – and read books, drank fruit shakes, played cards and generally relaxed.  

The next morning we got up early to watch the sunrise and do some yoga on the beach. The sand was cool under my feet and the air was fresh. It was like something out of a daydream. I laughed to myself at the end while doing savasana (the final relaxation pose) because usually I have to imagine I’m lying on a tropical beach with the sound of waves in my ears and the sun on my face!  Afterwards we went for a dip and the rest of the day was spent pretty well in the same way as the first. One major difference – if you do ever end up heading to Bamboo Island, make sure you take the trail across the island to the other beach. You walk up this green, semi-beaten path, past the wooden stilt-huts of the villagers decorated with strings of shells hanging from the verandahs, past chickens roaming free and cows in their fields, through a patch of jungle, until the trees clear away and you see the other beach spreading out before you. This one has really good waves for body-surfing, and an equally lovely eating hut where we hung out playing 500 and chatting. Then we headed back to catch our boat to Sihanoukville again. The trip this time was not quite as tranquil and I had to work hard to concentrate on the land and the sights instead of the rocking of the boat. Lucky I was because I saw a sea eagle snatch a fish right out of the sea! We were pretty glad to get back to the guesthouse at the end of the trip though, and have a nice warm shower. When you’re sharing rooms you can get pretty classy accommodation for not very much a night! 

The rest of the trip passed pretty uneventfully until halfway through the bus-trip on the way back to Phnom Penh when something fell out of the bottom of the bus with a clunk. After a brief stop the bus kept driving but it soon became evident from the pungent fumes that something needed a decent looking at. We all got off the bus and it drove off towards Phnom Penh without us. We felt a little bereft, especially because no one had explained anything to us about what was happening next. We just followed everyone else trudging towards Phnom Penh, calculating in a half-laughing manner how long it would take us to walk back to the city as we passed each road marker marking down each kilometre we walked. 92, 91, 90, 89… one of the volunteers struck up a conversation with a few different passengers who spoke a bit of English, and was given the impression that the bus would come back eventually. It was certainly a peaceful way to see the countryside, and I was glad for a chance to stretch my legs. Kilometres passed and we ended up hopping into a mini-van that pulled up, soliciting passengers. We hadn’t gone far with this driver when we came into a fairly large town and spotted our bus at a garage. So the Khmer guy travelling with us, one of the men we spoke to on our trek and our self-nominated translator, got the driver to stop and went to see what was happening. Well, the bus had just finished being fixed, so we all piled out of the mini-van and back onto the bus. The bus went back to pick up stragglers, pulled a crazy u-turn on the fairly narrow road, and a few hours later reached Phnom Penh: home sweet home.

Packing for Cambodia: clothes

 Posted by Karin Holzknecht at 5:05 pm  Cambodia  Comments Off on Packing for Cambodia: clothes
Oct 252008

This was my biggest worry when packing for Cambodia – what on earth should I take to wear?! Here are my tips. Don’t bother bringing a jumper unless you need one for the plane. Don’t bother bringing more than two pairs of socks – thongs (by that I mean flip-flops) and sandals are the order of the day here. It’s worth bringing some sneakers but I wouldn’t worry about dress shoes. I know this isn’t clothing but don’t bring a sleeping bag or a mosquito net! You don’t need them. Do bring swimmers/bathers/togs/swimsuit/boardies – whatever you call them! One of the guys here recommends bringing long pants – most men here wear them. Otherwise I recommend shorts and skirts for the girls. Make sure most of these come below the knees so you can wear them in the classroom. Also bring t-shirts that cover your shoulders and aren’t too low-cut so you can wear them to school. Singlets and shorter shorts and skirts are fine for around the city and around the house. The more cotton the better – and try to avoid bringing dark clothing because it attracts mosquitos like nothing else.

Having said this, if you are particularly attached to any item of clothing, I wouldn’t bring it. It won’t last more than a month what with all the sweat, dirt, suncream and insect repellent. There is a washing machine in the house but some things will become dirty beyond redemption. Clothing is cheap here so it might be better just to budget for buying clothes and not bother bringing many with you. It is difficult to find singlets here so bring some of those. Another of the volunteers is currently craving wearing high heels and dressing up – and it might be worth bringing along something smarter for a classy night out if you have room. Raincoats and hats are also good things to pack. I think that’s about it!

Packing for Cambodia: essential items

 Posted by Karin Holzknecht at 4:40 pm  Cambodia  Comments Off on Packing for Cambodia: essential items
Oct 252008

For those of you who are considering volunteering in Cambodia, I have set about polling the volunteers here in the house to give  you an idea of what is essential packing and what you can probably give a miss. Having said this, please be aware that most things you can buy here and probably cheaper.

Here are a few special mentions first:

Insect repellent – don’t leave home without it. You can apparently buy it here but I don’t trust it so much. Get something that is at least 30% DEET but watch the strength if you have sensitive skin and avoid putting it anywhere near your face! The mosquitos mostly go for your legs anyway. DEET is a carcinogen so its best not to use stuff that is extremely potent.

Rehydration salts – these are especially useful. Don’t buy them before you leave though because you can buy them here for much much cheaper, and I have it on good authority that they work very well. When you get to Phnom Penh just head to U-Care Pharmacy (ask for directions from the staff here) and stock up.

Travel books – don’t bother buying one. If you want to clue yourself up before you come, rent one from the library. Once you get here there are three or four here in the volunteer house to refer to, and you can buy copies in the markets for very cheap.

For smokers: don’t buy cigarettes from duty-free shops. They are cheaper in Cambodia.

For coffee-lovers/tea-lovers: beware. Bring your own.

Girls – if you wax, bring your own strips or bring an epilator. You can’t be guaranteed of getting a good wax here. Also, if you use tampons, I would advise bringing some with you. They are expensive here and only sold in eight-packs.

Swimmers – bring them! I forgot to pack mine and they aren’t that easy to find here. If you head down to Sihanoukville (on the coast) you’ll be able to find more. You’ll want bathers for those especially hot days to go to the pool, and if you end up going to a day spa like Bliss you’ll want to take full advantage of the plunge pool! And of course if you go to Sihanoukville (which I would thoroughly recommend) you’ll want to go swimming too. The water is heavenly.

Laptop – opinion is divided. Some people who didn’t bring them wish they had, others who brought them wish they hadn’t, some are extremely glad they brought theirs and others are just as jubilant they didn’t bring theirs. This one is completely up to you – just know that the house is secure and there are lots of cafes with WiFi. The volunteer house itself however does not have internet connection.

Adaptors – the house has universal powerboards so you don’t need to worry so much in terms of that, but for some parts of the house and for the school (if you want to plug in your laptop for example) you need either a US adaptor or a European adaptor.

Phone – might be worth getting your mobile phone unlocked so you can just buy a simcard over here. It is cheaper than buying a phone here. Everyone uses mobiles here to stay in touch. Email is not such a big thing and people often don’t have home phones. Having said that, it is possible to get away with not using a mobile here too.

Okay – top suggestions from current volunteers: bring US cash. There are ATMs but a few of us have had difficulties getting our cards to work. In terms of how much money to bring… it depends a bit on how much you plan to go out at night, eat out, luxuriate, and buy souveniors, but about $2000 should cover you. Torch – there are frequent black-outs. You might want to consider getting one that you can wear on your head so your hands are free. Sunscreen – I don’t trust what they sell here. Day backpack – for weekend trips. Camera. Ointment for bites and burns. Anti-bacterial hand gel. Sunglasses – polarised is good. Water bottle – they sell plenty of bottles of water here but finding a water bottle is impossible. A good book – there are quite a few in the volunteer house but if there’s one you really like it’s worth it for travelling amusement. Ipod or other musical device – this helps when you miss home a bit, when you’re bored on the bus or the plane, and for music comprehension in classes too. Raincoat. Small packs of tissues – handy where there is no toilet paper, or if you’re really hot and sweaty, or if your hands are all greasy from food… Panadol and/or stomach settling meds. Useful to have some in the house from the start. Passport, naturally. Finally – if there are any toiletries you are particularly attached to; brands of deodarant, showergels, soap, shampoo, face-wash – you can buy all sorts here in Cambodia but if you’re particular about these things you might be wishing you brought your own before long.

That’s about it! I hope this has been useful for you. Happy packing!

Teaching: the joys and the complete misunderstandings

 Posted by Karin Holzknecht at 10:14 pm  Cambodia  Comments Off on Teaching: the joys and the complete misunderstandings
Oct 172008

We’re past the half-way mark of the teaching term now so I feel like I have sufficient experience to talk about the classroom side of volunteering here in Cambodia. During the orientation week, we had a brief introduction from some previous volunteers and other local English teachers as to classroom techniques, some practical activities to use, and also a more general idea of what to expect from our students. Everyone in the house was a bit nervous the night before our first day of lessons, but without exception we had generally good first days. After two or three days of teaching I already felt like an old hand. The students themselves help you tremendously. They are as a rule very friendly and very ready to learn. Your students will be curious about you and what you do and where you come from, and will almost invariably call you “teacher”, which they shorten to “cha”. You get so used to it that you’ll be responding to “teacher” when a student spots you on the street and calls out to you. Students will also be keen to tell you about Cambodia and its customs and recommend places to see and foods to eat. Paradoxical as it is, you learn a whole lot more from teaching than you actually teach!  

The average teaching day with eleven volunteers in the house is four one-hour lessons and a back-up lesson. If you are back-up you are “on call” if someone is sick or unable to teach for any reason. We have also just started helping out the school by doing new student testing during our back-up lesson. Testing new students is not at all hard and even good fun. The students are divided into levels 1 – 8, as well as some Advanced Discussion and Advanced Communication classes. The different levels are offered more than once a day and at different times, to be more accommodating for students’ schedules. Many are working or going to school or university, so it is easiest for them to attend English classes early in the morning or at night. As a result there is a four-hour gap from noon to 4pm where nobody is teaching. This is good for us teachers as we all get a chance to write the next day’s lessons or go shopping or sightseeing or grab a delicious frappacino from coffee shop ‘Jars of Clay’ down the road. I really like my schedule – I have two classes in the morning starting at 6.30am. Around 8.30am I’m back home having second breakfast, and then I have a gap until 4pm when I have two more lessons. Teaching four classes a day is completely manageable. The first week it was a little difficult getting into the routine, but you get faster and faster at planning lessons and have more and more time free. It really is a great life and a fantastic opportunity – combining the fun and structure of teaching with the freedom and sightseeing of a person on holiday. That’s another thing – there are many, many holidays in the Khmer calendar. Our longest run of straight Monday to Friday teaching weeks is three in a row. 

The school itself is a short walk from the volunteer house. It’s a three-storey building with reception at the front, staff room out the back, and eight classrooms sprinkled throughout the levels. Most classrooms don’t have air-conditioning, but in my experience this isn’t really a problem. Each classroom has a whiteboard, which is the major teaching tool – a few of the classrooms have a TV, and most have power points if you want to set up speakers and do a music comprehension. If you really desperately want to use a TV and don’t have one in your classroom you could always swap rooms with another teacher for that class. The school and the staff are fairly flexible and always willing to help out with any reasonable request. About four or five weeks into term we were given some feedback on our teaching so far, which I found really helpful, and astonishing to see with how much detail some students had responded. After discussion with the other volunteers it was clear that a common request from all students was “more games!” It’s a good suggestion – games are fun for a start, and get students talking. I’ve noticed the students here in Phnom Penh particularly love team games. They get really into it.

Of course it isn’t all sunshine and daisies. There are the moments of utter incomprehension when you aim too high or haven’t explained properly or led up to something slowly enough or speak too quickly, but to counter these there are those “aha!” moments when they really get something and get excited about it. Overall, I’ve had a great teaching experience so far and I hope the students are learning something and having fun!

A few words on animals

 Posted by Karin Holzknecht at 9:49 pm  Cambodia  Comments Off on A few words on animals
Oct 172008

One of the stand-out differences for me living over here has been the animals. Even dogs and cats are so different from what I’m used to seeing at home. And when you see a cow here in Cambodia you know you’re not, to use a well-known phrase, in Kansas anymore! The first thing I noticed in terms of animals here in Phnom Penh is that dogs are everywhere. Who knows if they have owners or not – but they are on every street: black scruffy ones, grey woolly ones, brown skinny ones, white yappy ones; mutts of every kind and variation imaginable. They roam freely and you can often hear them barking, but I have yet to hear of any one being bitten by them. They are simply part of the street furniture, and finding a street minus dog poo is a rare treasure! There is one dog in particular I want to tell you about. I have no idea what breed he is or what his name is but we early-morning teachers see him just about every day as we walk to school. He is grey with very strong, long, white whiskers at the front of his muzzle like a grizzled moustache. He has a stocky build, legs short in proportion to his body. A few houses down from the school there is a building site, which has great pile of sand out front edging onto the road, and this is his castle. He lies on top of this pile of sand, staring out at the world with a weary yet determined expression. That’s an old man dog. You can’t get any doggier than that dog right there. He’s seen everything, he’s done everything, he knows everything there is to know about being a dog. He’s quintessential. 

From dogs my mind naturally turns towards cats. I’m a cat-lover myself, but the cats here are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Without exception they are skinny and straggly, even the ones kept as pets. This anorexia gives them a very unfortunate appearance – their eyes boggle out and it makes them look quite alien. I was surprised when a newly acquired acquaintance told me about hearing cats fight on their street – I had not heard any cat fights since arriving (though plenty of dog fights) and quite frankly I didn’t think any of them would have it in them! While we were in Kratie-town, wandering the streets looking for a place to have a few quiet beers, I remember we were frightened by something crossing the road heading directly for us. It was tiny, so no alarm there, but it was so entirely mangled and scrawny in appearance that it took us a long time to recognize it as a kitten. I thought at first sight that it was some kind of mutant rat. It mewed pathetically at us, I think begging for food, and became particularly attached to one of the volunteers, following her as she was walking, although it was tiny and couldn’t move very fast. It was affecting – this poor little thing fending for itself in the streets – and we had a hard time just leaving it there, but there really wasn’t any alternative. I have since heard of people adopting kittens straight off the street.  

The cows are different too – they are creamy coloured with big floppy ears and great big humps between their shoulders. On my trips through the provinces I was surprised not to see that many horses. I thought there would be lots in the country to pull ploughs and carts. There were instead big black oxen like water buffalo that the people use when ploughing the rice fields and planting. I did see some horses and apart from having thicker legs they weren’t that different. The chickens are funny too – they are taller and stretched out looking. In the country they’re let free to wander around everywhere, and it’s cute to see the hens with their broods. Chickens in Phnom Penh are mostly sold live. You can see the chicken men riding around with great piles of live chickens on the backs of their motos, all strung together by their legs. It is an amazing sight.  

Of course the elephant in the room, although not really animals per se, is the insect life over here. Mosquitoes naturally are everywhere. Do not leave home without a good quality insect repellent containing DEET. Having said this, be careful when buying extremely concentrated DEET products. Mine is only 30%, and if you forget you have it on your arms or hands and wipe any sensitive skin on your face, it will burn like anything. Even putting it on your arms and legs makes them feel hot. And DEET is a carcinogen so it isn’t good to over-expose yourself to it. In Phnom Penh there isn’t any malaria, so you don’t really need to worry about the mosquitoes at night, but watch out for the big ones during the daytime with white-striped legs – those ones are known to be carriers of dengue fever. Again, having said this, in the years this school has been taking volunteers, not one of them has contracted dengue fever. The mosquitoes are just the tip of the iceberg though – there are all sorts of weird and wonderful insects here. The most common are the cockroaches and crickets.

One night a few of us teachers were sitting around on the dining benches when one of the volunteers jumped up and said, “A bird just flew into the house!” “Where?!” We chorused. We hadn’t seen anything. So she walked over to where she had seen the ‘bird’ fly in and suddenly screamed as the thing flew off again. This time we all saw it. It was an enormous bug of some kind. After examining it closely, we ascertained that it was the freakiest grasshopper ever to flutter over the face of the earth. There were two male volunteers in the house so naturally it fell to them to try and dispose of the thing or somehow get it out of the house. It was very scary. Since then we have had two or three more enter the house and we are old hands, but I will never forget the first ‘bird’. 

Finally, I must put in a mention for my favourite wildlife here in Phnom Penh – the geckoes. These little guys show up every night, adorning the walls, attracted to the insects the lights draw in. They are particularly welcome because they go for mosquitoes, but all in all they are seriously cute little dudes. I never get tired of spotting them.

Living in Phnom Penh

 Posted by Karin Holzknecht at 7:53 pm  Cambodia  Comments Off on Living in Phnom Penh
Sep 142008

I’ve been in Cambodia for three weeks now and those weeks have been action-packed! For the past few days we have been having so much rain. Every night I can watch the lightening splash around the clouds, and sometimes the downpours are so heavy the street outside our door floods. The porch roof of the volunteer house is tin and sometimes the drumming of water-drops is so loud it interrupts your conversation and you need to speak up. For a South Australian this is all very exciting and jealous-making. 

I’m really enjoying living in the volunteer house here in Phnom Penh. It’s like being back at boarding college in lots of ways. There are eleven of us volunteers staying here and we all get along well. About an hour ago we even had a yoga lesson from one of the volunteers! The house itself is quite luxurious – there is a wide front enclosed verandah that leads in to the tiled living area. On this ground floor there is also the kitchen, the laundry, and a TV room with a large collection of DVDs, which are very cheap and easy to pick up at the Russian Market (Toul Tum Pong) not far from the house. The next floor up is bedrooms – all bedrooms have ensuite bathrooms with Western-style toilets, and most volunteers share a bedroom with another volunteer. There is no hot water in the shower but you honestly don’t need it. The top floor is bedrooms too, and access to the roof. The roof is a beautiful place to hang out… it all makes you feel very lucky and very rich! 

The volunteer house itself is very conveniently placed less than five minutes walk from the CWF school, about five minutes walk to a couple different internet cafés, and about ten minutes walk to Toul Tum Pong, the Russian Market, where you can buy just about everything you really need. For creature comforts like Milo, Tim Tams and Vegemite you can catch a tuk-tuk or a moto to the supermarkets or shopping centres closer to town. Riding in a tuk-tuk is the most enjoyable form of transport I have ever come across. Because you’re in the open air you feel so connected with everything happening around you. You can smell the food cooking in the markets, watch the crazy “no rules” traffic dance around you, and feel a beautiful breeze on your face, which is absolutely divine in the humidity. Riding on a moto is also enjoyable but make sure you take a good look at where your footrests are before you hop on behind the driver! It’s very difficult to find them with your legs in the way. And watch out for the exhaust pipe when you get off, or you’ll get a nasty burn. 

The people here are very friendly also. They smile a lot and like a laugh, and the smaller children are always calling out “hello!” to you. The kids are very inventive with the little they have. In our street and other streets nearby they play for hours with elaborate, very long-tailed kites they make out of plastic bags and sticks and string. The older boys like to play hackey-sack and are extremely good, especially because most of the time they don’t play with a ball but with a weighted shuttlecock! Badminton is very popular here. There are a few people who play in our street every morning (morning is the best time for exercise), and if you head out towards the Riverside in the evening you see many Khmer out playing badminton, hackey-sack or soccer. Soccer is probably the most popular game here though – I suppose because the equipment is cheap and the game is fairly easy to learn. If you go to Olympic Stadium in the city at any time of day there is always a bunch of boys playing soccer in the wide, empty space out the front. It’s amazing, considering the climate, how much exercise many Khmer do – five minutes into our yoga classes I’m always breaking a sweat, and that’s in comparison to those brave kids running around in the sun!

Another favourite Khmer pastime is playing cards. Four of us volunteers went to a local karaoke bar the other night and took a pack of cards. The minute we started playing we had the waiting staff and even some of the other customers peering over our shoulders and watching the game. At one point the manager joined in our game, and did quite well considering the amount of English he spoke and the amount of Khmer we can speak! There are often great moments like this when the gap between cultures is spanned and I absolutely live for those times.

Visit to Kratie

 Posted by Karin Holzknecht at 7:43 pm  Cambodia  Comments Off on Visit to Kratie
Sep 142008

During the orientation week the volunteers all went by bus up to Kratie-town in Kratie province. This was a trip of six hours or so, and very far out of Phnom Penh. We went to visit the organization our school supports, the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT), and to see their projects in action in local rural villages. A 45 minute mini-bus ride and a short boat ride later we were on an island in the middle of the Mekong River, meeting villagers and seeing the ways CRDT provides support to them. Most significantly they had encouraged the use of fish-ponds and frog ponds as a renewable source of food, and also installed bio-digesters in some homes. Bio-digesters are a great invention – they turn animal manure (and most villagers have a cow or oxen or chickens or a pig) into gas that can be used in the house to cook on and to power lights with. A few cowpats in the morning will last one house a whole 24-hour day. The frog pond we saw was entertaining to sit and watch – it was more like a frog enclosure, and there were so many in there hopping about.  

How to describe the village? Everything is so green – the villagers had planted large areas out with rice-paddies – and the dirt road going through the village is in very good repair. The different houses are spaced along this main road. The houses are all wood and on stilts and have slat-flooring with small gaps between to encourage airflow. One house had bamboo slats as flooring, which felt a bit unsafe for us heavy Westerners! Cambodians are a very narrow people. Beneath the main house in the area left clear by the stilts there are hammocks to rest in during the heat of the day. Chickens wander around everywhere. I thought the rural life seemed cleaner and healthier because there wasn’t so much rubbish everywhere, and the air was fresh, and everything was so green with trees and grass and rice, and they had more space and a patch of land.  But it is certainly no-frills living. We visited the village school, which was in a long barn-like building. There were about thirty kids in the class. They sang us a welcome song and we sang happy birthday and “lean on me” back. One or two of the girls stood up the front and sang a song for us by themselves. They were all very sweet but torturously shy. 

After dinner that night, we all walked up to the local wat (temple) for some dancing. There is a wide space in front of the actual building where there was a huge speaker set up and the music was turned up very loud. The monks in their bright orange robes were sitting on their verandahs nearby watching. It took a while for the little kids to lose their shyness but after a little while they were dancing along with us very happily. We even managed to get some of the older villagers out to dance too. Every now and then on the more melodic numbers the women would come out and do a more subdued traditional Khmer dance, and it was fun trying to learn the steps and being able to catch your breath. It really was a great night and lots of fun – although I think every one of us volunteers managed to soak our clothing completely through with sweat! By 9.30 we were all just about dead and headed back to our respective host-village houses for a well-earned sleep. The country life seems so idyllic to me but every now and then you would see something that would remind you how remote the island villages are on the whole. It was so beautiful though.  

Coming back to Phnom Penh the bus trip seemed twice as long. At one of the pit stops there were a few girls carrying platters of fried spiders around. This is not unusual in itself – what freaked me out was that one of the girls was wearing a live spider on her blouse like a brooch. I guess this might have been to prove the freshness of her wares? It wasn’t a small spider either! This spider was about the size of my outspread hand. I thought I was pretty good with spiders but that scared me a little. I’ll stick with the crickets. They’re much yummier anyway.

10 sleeps to go…

 Posted by Karin Holzknecht at 11:42 am  Cambodia  Comments Off on 10 sleeps to go…
Aug 152008

…and counting. I am not ready, but in my experience it will all come together in the end. It always does. Armed with mosquito net, insect repellent, teaching books and a camera I am fully prepared to go forth and have an adventure!

A question I am often asked by my friends and relatives (and other people I gush to about my upcoming trip) is “why Cambodia?” Well, the truth is, I have no idea what prompted me to sign up for this trip. I was just looking around for a volunteer opportunity and when I saw this listing for Cambodia something clicked and I thought: “that’s it. That’s where I’m going.” It just seemed to fit with what I was looking for – an opportunity to give of my skills to a country and a people who could really benefit from them, just as I will undoubtedly benefit from my experiences. Now that I’ve researched a bit more about Cambodia I am really excited to be going there and experiencing their unique culture, learning more about their mysterious and incredible history, and sharing stories with the people there. I have a sneaking suspicion that no matter how much I attempt to give in this volunteer experience, I will always be getting more back than I can possibly equal.

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