For some reason, it’s nearly the end of May. Our year away has this distorting effect of making us feel like we have spent an absolute eternity in Cambodia, and at the same time allowing the days to slip through our fingers.
Firstly, I need to talk about the most important thing. The rain! It’s come back, steadily but surely, cooling us down and giving tiny bits of life to the thirsty and dusty ground. There are two things that have been a consequence of this. 1. Crazy, crazy amounts of mango (svay). It has suddenly become available and it is so ripe that when combined with chili salt, it is literally something else. 2. It has been making me feel nostalgic, because the last time it rained was when we first arrived at our project in the height of the wet season. It’s strange to be reminded of those novel, emotionally charged days.
Quite a weeks ago now, Lexi, her lovely visiting grandparents, and myself spent a week in Siem Reap.Throughout the year, I have been building up a mental picture of the town that houses the biggest and probably the most famous temples in the world. The children have often asked about our plans to visit with a sense of longing; Our Cambodian friends have referred to Angkor Wat as a ‘Once in a lifetime’ visiting opportunity. I thought that Siem Reap was vastly different to Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital and the city that we have grown used to. Siem Reap is much smaller, and for obvious reasons far more touristy. Angkor Wat was stunning and impressive; Whilst going from temple to temple, I found the idea of it being so ridiculously old difficult to comprehend. Intricate carvings and corridors make life 1000 years ago seem impossible. We went at sunrise to see the sun come up behind the temples as it does in all of the postcards, but after waiting for an hour, we realised that it was already light… More of a ‘sun appearance’ that ‘sunrise’ (Lexi ‘Is that it?!’).
It was good for us to experience Siem Reap with Lexi’s grandparents. They did a great job of making me feel like part of the family, and gave us two a different perspective (and the chance to be pretentious show offs about our Cambodian knowledge).
Annoyingly, teaching is going really well for me. Annoying because it seems to have taken me until May to find the knack and get the most out of everyone’s time in the classroom. My class of little ones still has it’s moments, but there is progress every day and I think where we are now is a real achievement compared to the classroom dramas and disruption that used to happen daily. Since the older children have left, my relatively new class of twelve and thirteen-year-olds has also been going upwards. One of the caregivers sits in (I am eternally grateful) and participates (I’ve caught her revising at lunch time) and the enthusiasm of the children makes it a lot more easier and enjoyable for me.
This month hasn’t been without difficulty, however. It’s fair to say that it has been emotionally exhausting. With every ‘down’, we are left questioning how strong we are and how much it takes for a person to give up. Mainly, it is respect, or lack of, that makes things tough. It’s a problem that is bigger than us, and affects us deeply. I’m coming to terms with what we can’t change; If we had another year at Group Home, perhaps a continuation of our tirade on respectful behavior (citizenship sessions, translated talks, meetings, new strategies) would make a real difference. When we are faced with rudeness or our instructions aren’t followed or we aren’t listened to, in ‘darker moments’ it can feel like we aren’t getting anything back from what we put in. I’m not trying to say that we do everything we do here to get a ‘thank you’, but we also aren’t here to be treated badly or abused. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that the children are only small, so it’s not fair to expect too much of them. Besides, many of them have a beautiful moral compass. But it’s a shame to realise that authority in Group Home realistically requires age and threats, two things that Lexi and I don’t have.
I guess that in our short time left here, we can’t let these issues defeat us. We’ve got to remember that although they might not always show it, the children do benefit from us being there, and our presence and contribution adds a lot of value to their lives. If you’re still here, below are some nice pictures from World Earth Day, a global citizenship day that Lexi and me decided to mark at Group Home last week.