Well it’s Sunday morning again (8th) and I haven’t posted last week’s blog yet, because I was waiting till I could upload a photo. One of the annoying things about my new home internet connection (using a mobile phone dongle connection) is that there is a ‘fair use’ policy which for some reason squeezes any uploads – I can download from bbc, listen to i.player etc without a bother – and Skype is good which helps a lot – but there seems to be an automatic restriction on blog photo uploads or you tube uploads. I have to go to an internet cafe or use internet at work (when available) to do that. Anyway, I constantly compare this experience with my first volunteer experience 36 years ago this month (!!! I think we flew out mid November 1974 just after the stone age) – then there were no mobile phones, no internet and only on telephone in the school I was based in and it only worked sporadically. However there was a reliable postal service. Last night, I was stuck in a traffic jam (see below) and gave Joan in Stirling a quick call on my mobile to let her know I would not be back in time to skype as we had arranged. Communication is really not that bad.
At the moment it’s 9.00 on Sunday morning, the 8th. I’m lying on my verandah sofa with my back to the wall, listening to the BBC news from Saturday as my Guardian Weekly did not arrive this week for some reason. I catch up on news by listening to the Radio 4 10.00pm news (at 6.30 in the morning over here!) two or three mornings a week, check out the BBC website for headlines etc…
I was on the bus because I was coming back from a trip to a place called Koh Kong (SW Cambodian coast, very near the Thai border). I went there to see some Cambodian schools in action and had a great trip, visiting three different schools and seeing five lessons as well as speaking to school Directors etc. It was a privilege to be allowed into these people’s lives. My trip was hosted by Ilja Klink, who is a talented Dutch teacher and a VSO Learning and Teaching adviser to KK schools so she set it all up for me. Ilja started last year and followed on from a lot of VSO work in the area, but has less money to play with (VSO education had a big grant from the World Bank and the Japanese Social Devt Fund (I think) to help with training teachers in Cambodia from 2005 -2009). She’s doing a good job there and has a very nice life in KK –it’s an easygoing place, very relaxed, on a big river bank with a 1.5km bridge (built 2002) across to the Thai border road. It used to be very inaccessible but within the last five years the three remaining big rivers have been bridged. I didn’t realise till I got there that KK also had a very bad reputation until quite recently for Western paedophiles coming here and buying children for sex. Very sleazy and unpleasant. There still did seem to be quite a few older guys hanging around but Ilya said that things have improved over the past five years, partly to do with the bridges and more people coming in etc. I said to Ilya I was going nowhere without her being there in case anyone thought that I was one of them. Of course, these guys should be given appropriate treatment (I usually favour removing their goolies, but realise this could never be public policy!!), but I also despair for the Cambodian families who think so little of their girl children that they are willing to sell them for this purpose. I have still to understand a lot about Cambodia and that is one part of it. I will write about the education aspects later on when I have got something to say that goes beyond anecdotes.
Pictures of Koh Kong
My journey back was not good. It took 5 + hours to go to KK, but coming back it took 9 hours!! First we stopped for an hour somewhere.. I don’t why. Then when we eventually arrived at PP on the outskirts, we got stuck in a jam. I still don’t know why there was a jam.. we were just stuck. When I got to my house I was very tired, but discovered that one of the TV channels was showing Man U vs Wolves so I watched the second half. There are 70 odd channels on my TV but there is no guide so I never have any idea what will be on so it sits in the corner, acting as a shelf for my keys and my torch. However I suddenly remembered that it was Saturday at 11.00 (4.00 UK time) there are three channels show English Premier League sometimes ( I don’t understand why or when!). It finished at 12.00 here!
I’ve just been listening to John Humphries speaking to 4 Chinese students at the LSE on the i-player (Saturday morning’s Today programme) – fantastic. You couldn’t make it up. Humphries is so stuck in his Western media bubble and they wrapped him up . it was like teaching an infant.. ‘no, there is a different way to look at the world’. East meets West. He’s such a pompous git. Not that there isn’t a lot wrong with the East too, mind you, of which more later, when (if?) | pull together my confused thoughts on this beguiling and disturbing country and its culture of contrasts.
So far today I had a long lie (7.00), had my hair cut (best yet – he finished off with a cut throat round my ears and a massage of my neck and shoulders! – so I’m going back to this guy again), did some shopping and had a leisurely breakfast (still finishing off my cup of tea).
I have a couple of photos of me surrounded by Cambodian kids in the school playground of one of the schools. I was sending e.mails while waiting for the School Director to speak to me (Ilya and her excellent translator/assistant Chet were getting material ready for a training workshop they are running on Monday). They just appeared around me and Ilya whipped out her camera – these kids are not in uniform (all kids wear white tops and most navy blue shorts or skirts at primary) because they are the #afternoon# group – many schools run two sessions because there are not enough classrooms, so some come in the morning and some in the afternoon. However although they are the afternoon group, they come to school in the morning for the social life, the playground and also some get tutoring at the morning break from the teachers (many Cambodian teachers have to take extra jobs to make ends meet – pay for a primary school teacher is $50 (it was less than this until this year!!)
VSO was one of several organisations to make a contribution to increasing teacher pay with their influential report on the value of teachers and the reason why teachers are motivated or demotivated in their work. There is both an international report (‘Valuing Teachers’ – http://www.vsointernational.org/what-we-do/advocacy/campaigns/valuing-teachers.asp ) and a Cambodian report, which was launched with a lot of local publicity here last year. Two UK MPs ‘volunteered’ for two weeks in order to be here for the launch including the SNP MP for the Western Isles, Angus McNeill.
Here’s a couple of little video shots from the journey. First the new bridge at Sre Ambel – it’a about 150Km from Koh Krong and makes the travel much easier.. I also inadvertently carried on to the bus, so you might as well see that as well. A very comfy double decker!
These shots of rice fields on they way back will show you how much the rice has grown since I first arrived. Some is almost ready for harvest. Cambodia aims to become a major rice exporter by raising cultivation levels to those experienced in the middle agea, when intricate irrigation systems allowed some part os the Angkor Empire to produce multiple harvests each year.