In Which I Eat a Sweet Roll Off the Ground and Misunderstand Trafficking

A small victory was achieved this morning when J and I were able to effectively communicate with Mom-sung (phonetic spelling), the woman who watches over the Daughter’s House: One egg lunch Jeff. Eat rice Brooke. Lunchtime. Egg. One. Jeff. No egg Brooke. Eat rice. 12 lunch.

We spoke all these words in Khmer, and Mom-sung eventually decoded our accents and repeated the words in Khmer with gestures. It didn’t sound the same, but we checked our notebook, understood we were all saying the same magical words, and then threw a party! We clapped and cheered, Mom-sung hopped up and down, we danced a small circle all around each other with big smiles and thumbs up signaling success.

When we came home for lunch, we found three eggs, heaping plates of rice and some cucumber. Close enough!

For almost four days we have been happily settled into our host home, but totally confused. Mom-sung, so sweet and energetic, speaks to us non-stop in Khmer with lots of gestures, but we can never figure out what is going on. For the first 24 hours we had no food or water, because the Daughters (who we would typically eat dinner with) had already eaten dinner, and we couldn’t figure out how to get breakfast, because the girls eat breakfast at the workshop.  Even with our translator friend, something just kept getting lost in all the back and forth and when all conversations were finished—there was still no food or water!

Finally around noon the next day, half-starved and dehydrated, we saw a roadside stand, purchased a sweet roll and a bottle of water, accidentally dropped the roll on the ground, stumbled over each other to dust it off, and ate it anyway. Given that we had just eaten a roll off the ground, we did not have to try very hard to convey our desperation to Srey Leak (our translator friend, CGI Kids host, and the woman we spend our days with), but continued the long walk to and from home visits. It would have taken less effort if the little girl we were going home with hadn’t sped off on her bike without us. We walked half a mile down, turned around to ask the sweet roll ladies who the girl was and where she lived, walked another quarter mile but couldn’t find her, looped back around to the village chief’s house and then found the girl.

When our friend walked us home at 1p, she spoke a few words to Mom-sung, and the next thing we knew, a giant plate of rice and several fried eggs with soy sauce were set out in front of us.  By 5p we had a 5-gallon water tub and immediately got water-drunk. That night we ate dinner with the daughters: shoes off, cross-legged on bamboo mat, spices and sauces in a bowl, chopped the roasted chicken, spooned the rice, and dipped everything into everything. By 7p I was in bed with the dehydration-walked-forever-in-the-hot-sun-barely-ate-but-accidentally-worked-out-because-I-didn’t-know-the-day-would-go-like-this headache. I slept 11 hours, drank another liter, and have been back to normal ever since.

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We also went into town for a birthday party yesterday, visited the big supermarket, and came home with a few essential easy-to-store groceries and maybe a sleeve of Oreos that somehow ended up in our bag.  Srey Leak helped us set up a bread delivery each morning, so now we get 4 baguettes. Two for breakfast and two for lunch. And then (are you tired of me yet?) today we passed a little surprise pop-up roadside market and bought tomatoes and cucumbers to eat with our baguettes. We bypassed the frogs, eels and snails, though.

(Uh, also Jeff ate a baby duck at that birthday party. Video is on FB. Gag me.)

In my notebook, the first three pages are words in Khmer, like water, breakfast, lunch, egg, one, two—all words we needed to know in the order we needed to know them. You could easily read my vocab list as though it were a journal and understand what was going on in our life simply by the words we learned and in what order. Funny. I think it’s safe to say between the vocab, the bread delivery, the water tub and our surprise market, we’re now onto a regular routine of eating :).

In other news—this is it, I promise— I have a nice little lost in translation moment. Yesterday we sat in the schoolyard waiting to meet with a teacher for THREE HOURS after having been told the teacher had just gone to the market. Later we learned she’d left to attend a customary three-day funeral. Whoops. During our three-hour wait, we got into a pretty intense conversation with Srey Leak about the dangers of being born beautiful in Cambodia, and the value of lighter skin tone as it relates to beauty, which is why most Cambodians wear full-length shirts and pants despite the heat. They want to protect their skin from the sun—not out of skin cancer fear, but fear of turning a shade or two darker.  In the middle of this discussion, as she was introducing all kinds of different “issues” in Cambodia, she told us they have a big problem with trafficking. J and I looked at each other like, here we go. Straight into the issue.

She continued to talk with a look of concern, said a bunch of things we had a hard time following, made the motion of two fists banging into each other, and then said, “Yeah. Trafficking is a big problem. The cars and the motos crash into each other and sometimes they crash into a tuk-tuk. They drive too fast.”

Traffic. They have a big traffic problem.

An album of school kids, meals, the bamboo train, our neighborhood and other first-week-firsts? HERE!

The Ole Vanilla-Vinegar Trick and Other Silly Stories

Alternate titles for this post: In Which We Stumbled Into a Student Choir In the Dark
or
It’s laining! Blooke! The lain! The lain over the rake!

Three days ago, the plantation director, agronomist, house lady and I sat around the kitchen table racking our brains on how we might obtain ingredients to make an “American” breakfast and dinner, per the request of Anastasi, the woman who cooks for us.

My fallback breakfast staple is eggs in a basket, which I call one-eyed sailors (gets a laugh every time), and French toast, because almost everybody has eggs and bread. Milk was an issue, but after two days of discussion, someone brought a few bags of whole milk from Gisenyie, and so the French toast plan came to life.

I asked if they had things like cinnamon or vanilla or syrup for French toast. When they didn’t understand me, I showed pictures on my laptop. I am still chuckling at the sight of everyone gathered around my laptop, scratching their heads as they studied a picture of cinnamon.  We don’t have, they said, totally puzzled. They didn’t recognize the picture of syrup, and I could never really explain what it was to satisfaction.  I decided to improvise with honey (which has crystallized into a thick paste), boiled on the stove with water until syrupy. I asked about vanilla. They got very excited and said, Yeah! We have! We have!

We gathered the next morning with the ingredients for eggs in a basket, and they stood around the stove ooooh-ing and ahhh-ing as I cut holes in the bread, cracked an egg inside, and flipped each piece of bread like a pro. We all enjoyed, and it earned a table-wide applause.

TeachingThe cooksFrying panCookingBreakfast

The next morning I woke up, and the team was assembled in the kitchen as they had been the day before, but this time with the ingredients for French toast proudly displayed on the counter: eggs, bread, milk and vinegar. Wait, what?!  I picked up the vinegar and looked around like, What’s going on here? Everyone smiled and said, Yes! Yes! Vanirra!  It turns out, our accents combined with misplaced emphases, plus all the interchanging ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds make vanilla sound like vinegar.

Vinegar

They were crushed, and also laughing. They had no idea what vanilla actually was, and we had no electricity to show them on the Internet.

In the end, we made some spectacular French toast with plain old milk and eggs, and I sprinkled a tiny bit of sugar on each side as it cooked. We water boiled the honey into syrup, and we sliced sweet bananas on top. Five of the six present loved French toast, and report they’ll make the breakfast for their families this weekend. Score! Anastasi, however, doesn’t drink cow’s milk, so she showed up at the table ten minutes later with her very own self-prepared Egg in a Basket. Double score!

French toast

In other news, no electricity and straight rain all day.

But we did accidentally stumble into a student choir in the dark. We heard this music in the distance as we were sitting on the front porch, and we and set out to find it. We found it in a dark classroom.  The high school students were practicing at the end of their school day, and the lyrics (as translated to us by one of the students) say something like, “Don’t be afraid, I am your God” and “In life there will be struggles, but I have died so you might have life.”

And finally, I leave you with some ‘l’ and ‘r’ exchanges that gave us pause…

  • Blooke! You will swim in the rake?
  • Yes, you are here with ARARM…
  • The organization is called Aflican Load (Road)
  • Licardo will pick you up?
  • Here you will find an example of servant readership
  • Yes, they have lapid services!
  • So, as we crose…
  • She will prepare the coffee for loast!
  • It’s laining! Blooke! The lain! The lain over the rake!
  • Now we will take bleakfast.
  • You have the right in your heart. Harejullia!
  • Ah! You are praying cards?
  • The students! The football, they are praying!
  • Ahhh, so glad I see you are arive!