We met our host families at a ceremony at the village Wat. At first I thought there were only women in the family, but men showed themselves a day later. I could only say, Sun rup soo! (hello). However, by the end of the week I mastered a few phrases and could count to 60. Our language classes are usually 2 or 3 hours in the morning, sometimes 4 hours in the afternoon. The rest of the time we are in culture and ESL training classes. No time for mischief. We are not allowed out after dark.
Last week all the PCTs were measured by a very happy local tailor for our sampots and shirts (with collars). My shirt with two skirts cost $32. The men were fitted in long pants. Amazingly, one can ride a bike in a sampot—however the dismount is not pretty.
My host family is very kind and curious. Another PC volunteer, Miranda, and I share them; a mother and daughter and extended family: two babies, a teenage girl and lots of neighbor kids. The men come and go. Everyone is quite helpful with the language. When we don’t understand something, they shout out the correct pronunciation—better penetration that way.
My room is smaller than most American walk-in closets. It has a window that doesn’t actually open, thank-god-a-fan, a platform with my sleeping mat and mosquito net, and a lockable trunk filled with PC gear. We were all issued new bicycles with helmets that we are instructed to ALWAYS wear. Not wearing a helmet, riding a moto, or having sex with a prostitute are grounds for ET—Early Termination.
Breakfast is at the market, which is where I get fruit. My family apparently does not care for fruit. Or maybe it’s too expensive. At the market I can buy a small pineapple for about 50 cents and the fruit vendor carves it up for me lickety spilt with her big old rusty knife. We bike home from school for lunch: rice, soup, chicken, bok choy or green beans, variations on that theme. Dinner is similar. My Mai (mother—who is 56, it is more proper to call her Ming or Aunt, since I am older) is a good cook. I disappoint her though, because I don’t eat enough bai (rice). In the evening Miranda I sit at the table with the family and play with the babies while they laugh at our attempts at Khmer (which is pronounced Kam-mai).
As we bike to school, other PCTs fall in line, all wearing styro helmets, peddling our shiny new bikes. We pass mats of drying cassava, which smell a little like burned rubber. There are other vegetable vendors selling mounds of ginger or bales of lemon grass. Along the way there are also grey cows with big pink ears and sad eyes, sad because they are beasts of burden. As we ride to and from school, children cry out, “Haloo!” and to which we reply, “Sosadai!” and we all laugh.