This morning, eight new friends and I parted paths. As I sat in the hotel room waiting for 9am and Nick from Globalteer to arrive, I listened to some Bonnie Raitt, which for some weird reason always makes me feel at home. I was sad to say goodbye to my buddies but excited to start a new chapter.
Nick arrived, a native Londoner who has been living in Cambodia for 2 1/2 years, and took me to the Globalteer guesthouse to get settled and prepared for the next few weeks. The guesthouse is just a few minutes bike ride from the center of Siem Reap and is very comfortable. There are two double beds in my room, a nice shower, a good view and storage space - it seems very cozy, besides the fact that it doesn't have air conditioning, but with an extra $4/night I could get a room with air conditioning, but I want to try it out first without and put my needy New Yorker personality to test. The house seems great - there's a café/lounge at the top that serves $2 and $3 Khmer dishes and all sorts of Western dishes, as well as fruit shakes for $1.50, with wifi connection. The sweet man who runs the café, Mac, reminds me sort of of my dad mixed with Gerard Depardieu in that movie City of Ghosts.
Volunteers of all ages live in the house and work in different projects around Siem Reap. I was immediately introduced to Simon and Naomi who arrived today as well. Naomi, a really nice 22yr old girl from Australia, and I will be working at the same project, the Anjali House, which is luckily only a 5 minute bike ride away.
Nick took us into the city to show us a bit around so we would have our basic bearings. I LOVE Siem Reap. It's a very clean, modernized, civilized town that has obviously better developed than the rest of the country thanks to its catering to tourists. The streets are paved, there are plenty of comfortable and clean restaurants, a Westernized pharmacy (where you can get anything over the counter), and tons of boutiques. There are lots of bars and a bigger nightlife and apparently you can get a beer for 50 cents in a lot of places. It's more expensive than Phnom Penh, but well worth it. Compared to the capital, it's another world completely. I am thrilled to be here and very excited about the next three weeks.
Naomi and I were then taken to the Anjali House for some basic training and to meet all the volunteers there. To my surprise there are many young women volunteers from all over the world, even as young as 19. Most of them have been there a while and are staying a while - they seem to love it and be very comfortable. We discussed our schedule and sat in a couple classes to see how it goes. There are two sets of classes: one in the morning and one in the evening - they are alternated with the kids' Khmer schooling. The kids have an English class, a general studies class and a workshop where they get to do arts and crafts or games. There are three different levels: kindergarten, beginner and intermediate, and I think there are some advanced too, but it will take me a couple days to really understand how it all works. The kids all seem wonderful, some unruly, but others very tame and good. It's a mixed bag - they all come from different backgrounds, but all from struggling ones. It's no wonder some of the kids act a little out of control, I'm surprised they don't more so.
I spoke to a guy from the Netherlands named Richard who is helping with the puppet festival and working with the kids who are photographing the "behind the scenes." He was excited that I wanted to come help out, because he doesn't have a background in photography, so that will be a perfect job for me!
Anyway, so class runs from 8:30 - 4:00 every day with lunch in between and the rest of the day is up to us. I'm looking very forward to being here with the kids and meeting new people, it seems like a great set up. And I'm definitely looking forward to the $5 hour massage in town that I've been longing for....
Sorry, no photos today - I took a break, the tendonitis in my thumb is starting to kick back in from all the intense shooting last week. More soon!