Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Basic Vocab?

Well I’ve officially been in my new job in Cambodia 1 week, and I love it already! I have 5 students that I teach every day, and by next week, that should be upped to 7. While it can get a little tiring to sit in the same spot for 5 hours every day, I enjoy interacting with my students so much that I hardly realize when an entire hour has gone by and find myself having to grudgingly end my class with each one as I see the next student enter the room. All of the Khmers (the name given to Cambodian people- pronounced “come-eyes”) are so eager to learn and have a joyful spirit that is truly contagious!

A typical lesson starts with a list of several vocabulary words for the student to define. These words are in relation to a short story from the Bible that the student reads, followed by a few comprehension and discussion questions. It’s funny to me how many seemingly-simple words in English are confusing and hard to define. Try explaining the word “bow” to a student. No problem. It’s that thing girls put in their hair. Oh, wait. Do you mean “bow” as in “bow and arrow”? Or maybe you’re thinking of the front of a ship? Or “bow” as in “take a bow”? Hmmm… That’s an awful lot of explaining for a three-letter word!

Today, I experienced the perfect example of the ambiguity that often goes along with the definitions of English words. While working on the new vocabulary for a particular lesson, my student, Sary, and I had an interesting little digression from the lesson. It started with us trying to define the word “ram”. (Our lesson was about Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Isaac, and how God provided a ram in Isaac’s place.) Anyway, the conversation went something like this: (In case you can’t tell, Sary is “S” and I am “J”)

J: What does the word “ram” mean?
S: *Looking quite confident and proud of herself * “Random-access memory or temporary storage space on chips in a computer”
J: *Trying not to giggle* “That’s true. But since this story is from the Bible, that’s not the kind of ram we will be talking about today. The “ram” we are talking about is a boy sheep. Do you know what a sheep is?
S: *Thinks for a moment and suddenly seems to comprehend* “Oh! I know! It goes on the water!”
J: “No…. That’s a ship. They sound similar, don’t they?
S: *looks confused* “So… sheep…it means more than one ship?”
J: “No. More than one ship is ships, with an ‘s’.” Sheep is an animal with a very soft coat. *draws horrendous stick-figure of a sheep with a cloud-shaped body*
S: “Oh! I know! Sheep!” *seems to finally actually understand*
J: *Relieved, and ready to get back on-task* “Okay, so what is a ram? It is a boy sheep.”
S: “But what do we call a girl sheep?”
J: *Thinks for a minute* “Ummm…I guess just sheep.” It’s the same as with cows. You know, a girl cow is called ‘cow’ and a boy cow is called….”
S: “Ox!”
J: *wonders why she felt compelled to explain this in the first place* “Actually, that’s a different animal. A boy cow is a bull.”
S: *looks very confused* “Bill?”
J: “Let’s move on…”

Needless to say, I am sure I will have plenty of fun stories to tell from my experiences teaching English in Cambodia.

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Because of work schedules and other obligations, we will be postponing our celebration until this Saturday. Nearly 20 Americans from either PIP or CBI (Cambodian Bible Institute) will be gathering together for a big potluck meal here at Dennis and Sharon’s. It should be lots of fun!

Side note: Yes, I have had it pointed out to me that a female sheep is actually a “ewe”. I’m a city-girl, and I was thinking under pressure!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

BIG News!

Well, as all of you know, I came to Cambodia on a semester break from school, intending to return to India after a month of vacation. However, now it looks like that month break might be extended…to about 3 more! Yes, this is my big news. As of right now, I will not be returning to Mumbai at the end of the month, and will instead be staying in Cambodia and doing volunteer work until March!

I’m sure you want to hear how this change of direction took place, so I’ll offer a brief explanation to you all.

I have been praying about and questioning my presence in Mumbai for the past few months. While my initial adjustment to India was difficult, I did not ever view the task as insurmountable. Throughout the 5 months I spent studying at TISS, I learned a great deal and was exposed to a lot of unique experiences. I would not trade the opportunity I was given to learn and grow in India for anything in the world. However, when it comes down to it, the situation I was in was not a good fit for me and what I want to do with my future.

As I said before, I learned a lot from going to TISS. I think the school has and will continue to produce wonderful social workers. My field work at Akshara opened my eyes to the plight of women on this continent in a way no textbook ever could. It has instilled in me a passion to champion for the rights of women around the globe and to use my position to act as a voice for the silenced in society. But in the end, I decided that I have gained all that I came to India to gain and that it would be more productive for me to finish my degree in the United States. It is therefore my current plan to apply to graduate schools within the U.S. and to obtain my Masters degree in my home country.

So where does Cambodia fit into all of this? Because I have several months between now and when I would start another graduate program in the U.S., I felt I wanted to use those months in a positive way. I didn’t see a point in staying in India and paying for another semester of school that would not transfer over to a U.S. system. In talking with my wonderful friends here, I came to know about a few different options for me to volunteer with nonprofit organizations in Phnom Penh itself.

One in particular that really seemed to fit with my desire to incorporate my faith into my work is Partners in Progress. After talking with the director of the program and discussing how I might be able to plug in, I’ve decided to work with PIP as an English teacher in their English Bible program. ( has a video about the English program as well as its many other works for those of you that are interested) Basically, I will work Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm teaching one-on-one English courses using World English Institute’s Bible-based curriculum. The program has a waiting list a mile long, so there will be no problem finding students to fill these spots, and I am plunging into my new job in just 2 days!

I’m really excited about this prospect, as I feel it will only add another dimension to my understanding of nonprofit work in the international context and will provide me with more practical experience in a foreign country. Also, because I really view social work as an opportunity for me to live out my faith and show the love of Christ to those around me, PIP’s faith-based foundation and focus are especially appealing. I feel incredibly blessed to be allowed to be a part of an organization that is doing so much good in the world, and I really do encourage you to look at their website when you get the chance. The English program is great, but it is just one of many amazing programs that PIP oversees.

I know that this post comes as quite a shock to a lot of people. I hope my explanation is clear enough and answer s any questions you might have. If you want to hear more about this decision and my embarking on my newest adventure, please don’t hesitate to email me. I’d love to share how I feel like God has guided this and is working in my life to help me serve Him and His people in the best way possible.

So, even though I may not be “Jill in India” any longer, I hope you will stick around to see how “Jill in India and BEYOND” develops! I’ll still be writing as I know Cambodia will have plenty of adventures for me to share with all of you!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Road Trip!

I've been in Cambodia a little over 2 weeks now, and believe me when I say that I am having a wonderful time! I'm experiencing so many amazing things, in fact, that I am having trouble trying to pick and choose which to write about. I was going to tell you all about the Water Festival, and my visit to the Teul Sleng Prison Museum and about the Royal Palace. But that was before today's trip to the National Park, which was so beautiful that I simply could not wait to post pictures about my adventures with Dennis and Sharon.

Friday was Sharon's birthday (happy birthday, Sharon!), so to celebrate, we took a road trip about 65 miles outside of town to the National Park. There, we spent a relaxing day hiking to and taking gorgeous pictures of some amazing waterfalls!

See the white line in the trees? That's the waterfall!

Here it is a bit closer!

Okay, so we didn't exactly make the hike completely on our own! Here is the cart that took us a tiny portion of the way.

Our driver proved to be this incredibly nimble and really sweet woman who guided us all the way to the top. I have to say, I was more than a little embarrassed at how adept she was at climbing over the slippery terrain in her flip flops, while I gingerly tested every step I took. I guess she has made the trip more than a few times ,though, so she's figured out how to go.

To be honest, after a full day of traveling and hiking, I'm ready to call it an early night. So, instead of regailing you with my usual sort of in-depth stories, I will leave you with some photographic depictions of just some of the sights from today's excursion. I'll try to catch up with you all soon and share about some of my other adventures in Cambodia. Until then, enjoy!

Okay, so this one is just for fun.... I couldn't resist!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Cambodia Has Critters Too!

We found this little guy hiding behind the trash can in Dennis and Sharon's kitchen. The pen is there just to give you all an idea of how tiny our little friend is! Of course, not all of our roommates are that small. I think he's just a baby.

Anyway, I promise to write more later. This week is Water Festival and I've already participated in some festivities. Rest assured that you will hear all about that adventure, plus a few others, very soon!

Monday, November 3, 2008

An Authentic Experience

One of the amazing blessings I have experienced in my many travels abroad has been to almost always know someone in the country I am visiting. While I would like to consider myself to be a fairly adventurous and independent person, I tend to deliberately go places where I will know at least someone along the way. Part of that is for safety reasons, but mostly it’s because I find that experiencing a foreign land through the eyes of a resident greatly enhances the authenticity of my exposure to that culture. Rather than limit my activities to clich├ęd “tourist” areas, I can witness and participate in the true-to-life daily routines of native people.

My wonderful friends that I am staying with in Cambodia have not been living here terribly long. Having arrived in Phnom Penh at the end of August, Dennis and Sharon are still settling into their new life in Asia in a lot of ways. However, their enthusiastic spirits and genuine desire to make a life in Cambodia have made then wonderful guides nonetheless. They have been incredibly gracious hosts already, opening their home to me and letting me “break in” their guest bedroom and all its amenities. I’m really enjoying having a room to myself and just spending time relaxing without the pressures that my hectic schedule in India was putting on me.

That being said, while a lot of my time in Cambodia has been spent catching up on some leisurely reading and much-needed sleep, I have gotten to participate in a few really unique opportunities through Dennis and Sharon’s work in Phnom Penh. A few days after I arrived, I accompanied them and a vanload of Khmae students to a nearby village to participate in a Health Fair for the children in the area. Due to the obvious language barrier, there was not a lot that I could do to help at the Fair. However, I did get to witness some really encouraging work that is going on in the community, and see the application of some of what I am learning in school about social work in the rural setting.

Basically, the Health Fair consisted of 4 educational stations that the 200-plus children visited throughout the afternoon. Based on specific health concerns that these children face, each booth had a unique message it tried to convey. One booth focused on dental health and taught the children how to make toothbrushes out of bamboo or palm. Another taught the kids about nutrition by explaining the importance of eating different types of foods, and how only eating rice is not sufficient to meet nutritional needs. The third booth addressed common illnesses like the flu, diarrhea, worms and malaria. They taught the kids the importance of hydration in the face of diarrhea, how to avoid the spread of worms, and how to protect themselves from mosquitoes.

The fourth booth demonstrated proper hand-cleaning techniques and emphasized the difference soap makes in getting dirt off of the children’s’ hands. At the end of the booths, the children were offered a dish called Baw Baw Saw, which combined different vegetables, proteins and grains to make a simple, yet nutritionally-dense one-pot meal. Finally, the afternoon concluded with an entertaining skit about sleeping under a mosquito net to prevent the spread of illnesses.

I was really impressed with how this Health Fair was conducted. I know much more needs to be done to really drive these important points home in the minds of the kids, and that one visit will not lead to the necessary changes in their health and hygiene practices. However, with repetition, I definitely see this as an effective tool for helping the children lead healthier, happier lives.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Two Days in Thailand

I feel a little weird writing this post about Bangkok as I sit in my room in Cambodia, but since I have a few weeks to describe my various escapades within this country, I've opted to go ahead and tell you all a little about my short visit to Thailand.

I left Mumbai early Monday morning. A rickshaw driver (hand-selected by the man that helped us find our flat) picked me up at 1am and took me to the airport. From there, I took the short flight to Bangkok. 3 ½ hours hardly seems like it should be long enough for an entire change of country, language and culture, but that's how long it took for me to go from the loud, dusty and crowded streets of India to the quiet, clean and orderly ones of Thailand.

After getting through customs and exchanging my Indian rupees for Thai baht, I caught a bus to Khao San Road, a well-known tourist area of Bangkok. From there, I walked a few minutes to my hostel, which I had reserved nearly 2 months ago. I found my room, plopped my stuff down, and after a 15 minute cat-nap, went back out to start discovering the city!

Khao San Road

Since I only had one full and two half days in Thailand, I wanted to make the most of my stay. So, Monday afternoon, I spent my time orienting myself to how to get to various monuments and looking in some of the shops nearby. That evening, I ventured out to Siam Center for some quality time with the Thai mall scene. (Hey, I am on vacation!) After having gazed at enough over-priced merchandise there, I caught a tuk-tuk (the Thai version of a rickshaw) to Patpong Market where I haggled my way through a few frivolous purchases before heading back to my wonderful hostel bed.

The next morning, having benefited from the first noiseless night's rest that I've had in months, I was ready to hit the ground running! After enjoying complimentary breakfast on my hostel's terrace, I headed for the most famous monument in Bangkok- The Grand Palace.

There, I oohed and aahed over the amazing architecture and ornate detailing that covered every nook and cranny of the buildings within the Palace walls. While I could take the time to describe the incredible beauty of the construction, I think these pictures do a better job than my writing ever could. So….

Next stop on my list was Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Personally, I think this is one of the more impressive monuments I could have visited on my trip. Measuring 150 feet long and just under 50 feet high, this statue took up the entire room in which it was built.

The rest of my day was spent riding ferries across the river, walking through markets and just enjoying the beautiful Bangkok scenery. I went to bed that night feeling fully satisfied with my accomplishments for the day.

Sadly, Wednesday was my last day in Bangkok. But, since my flight wasn't until the afternoon, I did have a few hours in the morning to walk around a little more. I didn't want to go far, so I mostly walked through the stalls on Khao San Road. Then, a little before lunch, I packed up my luggage, grabbed a quick lunch on the run, and caught the bus to the airport for the next leg of my journey.

While I have already had an amazing time in Cambodia, I think I will save those stories for a later post. But, just so you know that I did in fact get here in one piece, here is a picture of the wonderful welcome I had at the airport in Phnom Penh!

With Dennis and Sharon Welch in Phnom Penh, Cambodia!