I came home from school the other day to find Tee hunched over a mound of big grasshopper-like bugs, ripping their wings off, cutting their hind legs at the knees, and tearing out their stingers before tossing them in another bowl. It took me a few seconds to realize that some of the ones from the first bowl were still kicking. Then I saw some of the half-legged, wingless ones dragging themselves around the other bowl. I know I should be more adventurous, but after seeing that, I couldn’t bring myself to try one. Too bad, apparently these treats cost $7.50 a kilo – more than beef!
Cambodian Buddhism doesn’t have a Sunday, per se, when everyone gets together and goes to a service. What it has is tngai sul (Sul-day, if you will). It happens every 8 or 9 days, I think from something about the lunar calendar. I don’t understand that part, but I know it is Sulday when I come down from my pre-dinner shower and see a haze of incense smoke in the air.
Today was Sulday, and I asked my host mom about what she was doing. She let me sit with her as she presented a bowl of fruit and five shot glasses of tea to the Chinese spirit house (sort of an altar for the family’s ancestors) in our living room. We knelt holding incense between our fingers while she talked/prayed, asking for health, happiness, and success for her daughter’s exams. Afterwards, there were five more bowls of fruit and incense to put out – one always goes in the kitchen, one at the front gate, one at a smaller altar upstairs, and one on the hood of the car.
My map project is still a work in process, although getting dangerously close to completion. I know better by now than to give an actual time frame (like Microsoft – It’s gonna be done by Saturday… Tuesday… next week… about a month… We’re gonna bring it out when we’re freakin’ ready, right?)
We had a blast today going to town painting, something the students are much more eager to do than that pesky drawing stuff. I’ve mentioned before that none of them knew where to find Cambodia on the map, and I answered that question a few more times today. Then, when I was helping mix some paint, I asked a question I thought they’d all shout the answer to – “What color do red and blue make?” They looked at me for a few seconds then told me they didn’t know. One girl guessed purple. I shrugged – “I don’t know.” I handed over the cup and mixing spoon to another student then watched her face light up – “Cher, it’s really purple!”
Dear students of Cambodia, there are so very very many things to learn. Please don’t let those boring 10 or 12 hours of class a day convince you otherwise.
Yesterday morning, I was told that two of my three co-teachers don’t want to teach with me next year because if they do, they have to show up to class. That’s actually true – if I wasn’t there, they’d be able to cancel class whenever. Now, some teachers here work 8-12 hours a day with private classes, so they do need breaks sometimes. Still, I was bummed that I haven’t won them over to make it worthwhile. Later in the morning, another co-teacher sat me down to talk about next year. He said the students didn’t improve at all this year (probably true), insinuating that he saw that as my fault. He had lots of, eh, feedback on my performance and lots of questions about what I was going to do to shape up. It was a rough morning.
But in the afternoon, it was cloudy and a little cooler than it has been. I taught one of my grade 12 classes for the last time, and we played running dictation – one of my favorite games that the students always love. Afterwards, one girl and one boy student were called up front to sum up the year. I don’t know if my co-teacher prepped them, but it turned into a thank-the-foreigner speech time. They turned to me and said how lucky and happy they were to have an American teacher. They said they liked English class this year more than ever before. They wished me good health, beauty, happiness, and a hunky beau (well, not in those words, but that’s the idea).
Maybe I couldn’t handle a morning like that every day, but stuff is worth getting through for a really good afternoon.
Also, tonight I tried grilled honeycomb for the first time. Just sayin.
This box is the last of three that have been in my house over the past few weeks. I think my mango average has been about three a day. Mango season, I will miss you.
I was enjoying a free, class-cancelled period yesterday afternoon, having a nice chat with two students about my parents’ names, their favorite colors, and when they eat dinner. Out of the blue one of the two girls, Kanya, asked me if I ‘want thin.’ She has seen me jogging sometimes. I must want thin. Teacher, I want thin too, Kanya said. She pointed to her friend who has the quite common skinny skinny skinny Cambodian body type. I’m ugly and have black skin, she told me.
I wish I could show you a picture of Kanya. She is gorgeous – shiny black hair, round face, flawless skin. She is maybe 5’3 and 110 pounds, something on the lower side of the healthy BMI scale, certainly quite thin. Her friend, I think, would be considered underweight on the BMI scale.
Women in Cambodia talk about weight all the time, probably even more than in America. I would say someone tells me that I’m fat – to my face, this is – about every other day. I chalk it up to Khmer culture. I hadn’t really thought about the pressure young women must feel when their looks are constantly scrutinized by other women. That shirt is ugly. Your nails are not beautiful. You’re breaking out. That girl is prettier than you. As Kanya talked, I imagined her mother pointing out to her other girls who are skinnier, fairer, smarter, and on and on.
Kanya, I said, I think you’re really beautiful. For me, I don’t want to lose weight. I think I’m just right. I do go jogging for fun sometimes, but I don’t want to be too skinny.
The thing is, I don’t think I’m fat. Can I say that again? I don’t think I’m fat. Sometimes it seems like I’m the only woman who doesn’t. Growing up, my mom never commented on my weight or on other women’s weight. Now, when I am constantly told that I am fat and am surrounded by skinny skinny skinny, I am actually glad I’m not thinner than I am. As for Kanya, like most girls, I can probably never convince her she isn’t fat. I will certainly tell her, even though she doesn’t believe me, that at least I think she is beautiful.
Also Mom (real Mom), I cannot thank you enough for never telling me I was fat. You did good.