Sunday, February 10, 2013

Shut(ter) the front door..

Last year I spent a weekend in Battambang, the second largest city in Cambodia.  It was a great weekend and one of the highlights was walking around the city photographing the somewhat well preserved and full of character French colonial architecture, in particular the doors and shutters.  I am fascinated with old doors and was supremely excited to come upon these great finds.

And my favourite:

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Dismembered Ginger Bread Men

On the 31st July 2012 I entered a brave new world.  A world of games, puzzles, paint, picture books, dress up corners, runny noses and 3 year olds.  Lots and lots of 3 year olds. Well, 19 actually.  

In these 19 little lives I am discovering a multitude of developing personalities.

I teach children who laugh at me for forgetting to sing the "Good morning" song and others who's voices I have never heard.  I teach children who are learning 3 languages concurrently.  I teach children of Khmer, Italian, German, South Korean, American and Danish descent, and this multi-culturalism is one of my favourite things about teaching and living here. I teach a little boy with long curly black hair and a pout that Keira Knightley would envy who asks, "why" after almost every statement or instruction I give.  I teach a little girl with an iron will and a rare but luminous smile who refused to hug me when the others did before surprising me weeks later with a quick squeeze.  I teach a soft spoken, immaculately dressed boy who managed to produce the largest amount of vomit I've ever seen on my table as well as his stylish grey V-neck.  I teach a boy whose blend of Khmer, French and English is incessant and incomprehensible and who is given to frequent outbursts of loud laughter and hand motions.  In each child is an ever developing personality and it's a great honour to teach and love these little people.

Despite my reservations about teaching such a young age group these children have grown on me tremendously as I get to know and understand them better.  As the weeks have worn on I've learnt how to discipline and teach very different personalities and cultural backgrounds, and have learnt who responds to what forms of discipline.  It's mostly a really fun job and on any given day I might be found painting with shaving cream, chalk drawing and making ice cream in class.

The cooking lessons have perhaps been the biggest challenge for me.  I love cooking but have discovered through trial and error that cooking in a way that engages a lot of eager little hands and short attention spans is an art.  Fortunately for me, children are full of enthusiasm, even if the outcome is rather far from the projected ideal.

Case in point: Gingerbread Men or rather, "All Spice and Rice Flour Torso's."  On the day in question I realised I hadn't actually checked which ingredients I already had at school and which I needed to buy but a quick mental recap convinced me I had everything I needed. On arriving at school I discovered I had no ginger and no cake flour.  What I did have was all spice and rice flour.  Great, they should work as substitutes.  Anyway, baking's just like cooking, you just follow your heart right?  Wrong.  

So off we went, pouring and stirring and rolling and cutting and drumming up excitement for the gingerbread men.  A little while later they were out the oven, looking decidedly chunky and  disconcertingly dismembered.  On tasting, something akin to fragrant sawdust lodged in my tastebuds.  Dang rice flour.

With a bit of water to counteract the dryness, and to my great surprise, all but the pickiest children partook of the "feast" and once again this piece of wisdom came to mind:

Don't follow your heart, follow the recipe.

I wish I had some photos to show but I forgot to take some so instead, a few other glimpses into my morning job:)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


The first time visitor to Cambodia should be forgiven for being underwhelmed at their first view of the countryside out of a plane window. Particularly if they happen to be arriving in the dry season. A quick Google image search of Cambodia will bring up scenic vistas of verdant, green rice paddies, beatific oxen pulling carts and artfully dotted palm trees.  It was with these images in mind that I eagerly waited my first sighting last February.  My frequent and careful glances past the man in the window seat (making sure to stare fixedly out the window so he wouldn't think I was looking at him) finally yielded some results.  The image that stands out is coloured various shades of brown.  Brown fields, dusty brown roads, a few bedraggled trees.  The tedium was broken by a lone motorcycle hurtling down a long, straight road leaving a cloud of dust in it's wake.

Months later, as I sat on a bus bound for the coast, the images I'd seen online sprang to life as we drove by.  It was true! The countryside was beautiful and green and everything it was promised.

As I flew back into the country after 2 weeks in South Africa I looked out the window again, and this time the view filled me with a sense of familiarity and joy.  I was flying back to what for now at least, is home, and I knew that what once looked to me like an unwelcoming barren wasteland was in fact a land teeming with life, host to some of the kindest, most hospitable people I have ever met.