February means the half (kala) way point of my year in Cambodia, which is a little bit ambiguous. At the end of every day we get overly excited about crossing off the day on the homemade calendar plastered across our bedroom wall, with six months feeling like an awfully long time and England being a faded memory. But, at the same time, six months?! I’m pretty sure it was only a couple of weeks ago that I was excitedly telling everyone about my plans to volunteer in Cambodia.
Lexi had a family visit this month and was away in Sihanoukville for a week, whilst I stayed at group home. This was strange after doing practically everything so far with Lexi this year, right down to brushing our teeth together in the morning. I realise that although I have developed massive amounts of independence this year, it has largely been gained through and with Lexi. She has given me courage, motivates me when I feel like I literally can’t get up off the floor, and really, most of the discoveries I have made in Cambodia have happened with Lexi at my side.This is turning into a bit of a Lexi appreciation speech, but some things need to be said!
Things at group home are going well. We face challenges on a daily basis, but we understand that these problems are the ones we signed up for…. And also that we weren’t being lied to when they told us that our project would be hard! At the moment, I think it’s fair to say that we feel quite out of our depth with the older children. Being a teenager is difficult in ordinary circumstances, but to make the transition from adolescence to adulthood when you live in relative poverty, have no parents and are HIV positive is on a completely different level. Mostly it is behavior, with teenagers being rebellious in attitude in both lessons and around the house, forming ‘gangs’. However, our charity Magna has just formed major plans to move the older children to a house in Phnom Penh. If this happens, it means that they will be able to live fairly independently and close to job opportunities, which is brilliant. We’re not sure what this means for us and our lessons with the older children yet, but for now we are focusing on conversational English skills with them.
Even though we have low points very often, the little things such as a child coming on massively in English lessons, getting pulled into a tickle fight, or someone knocking on the door to give us a drawing makes me feel like I have the best job in the world. Even if we are just a small part of the children’s lives and are simply observing their daily routine as they grow up, there is a big sense of privilege in being among them.
We had a nice group home tribute to pancake day earlier this week. Despite the swarm of children following us around all day asking for ‘nom cake’ and the usual baking chaos (I might have lost my temper when a particularly naughty seven year old threw a twig into the batter) we had a lot of fun.
It has been Chinese New Year and even though Cambodia is relatively far away from China, the children off school, closed shops and firecrackers perpetually sounding throughout Kampong Chhnang would make you think differently. The other morning, Lexi and me walked out of our bedroom bang into 3 monks giving a blessing to the landlady, and we had an impromptu party at group home with green tea and various parts of a chicken. It has been stressful trying to organise and entertain 43 children, but their sheer ecstasy when they were watching late night fireworks from a neighbouring house in their pajamas was definitely wonderful to see.