Power Outages

Here's the thing about a developing country: sometimes the basics are not so basic. Cambodia does not generate enough electricity to power the whole country. Some is bought from Vietnam, some is produced domestically, and when there isn't enough, well, the power goes out. In the hot season (March/April/May), Cambodia routinely (as in every day) shuts off power to different parts of the country, or even the city. The blackouts can be anywhere between a half hour to five or six hours, any time between 8 am and 11 pm. This makes everything hotter (life without a fan is awful), more inconvenient (get whatever you can out of the fridge as fast as you can), and a little suspenseful (when will the outage be today?). We've grown accustomed to power outages, keeping flashlights handy, learning to do things in the dark, even simply announcing it (oh, power's out again) instead of groaning. Even though it isn't the hot season anymore, it's been pretty warm the past few weeks, and we've had sporadic outages.

Yesterday, we (Deanna and I) came home for lunch. I went into the bathroom, and as I turned on the light, we heard a pop, and the light went out. It wouldn't turn back on, and I realized that the light in my bedroom wasn't working either. In fact, the power was out altogether. Chalking it up to poor timing-- thinking I had unwittingly chosen the exact moment of a power cut to hit the light, we went about the lunch routine and sweltered for an hour before heading back to the office. It's not uncommon for the power to go out somewhere between when we walk in the door for lunch and the moment we decide something needs to be microwaved. Life is cruel like that sometimes.

By the time Deanna went home at 4:30, the power was still out. It was out when I got home at 5:15, when our friends came over for dinner at 5:30, and as we were lighting candles to help brighten things in the ever increasing twighlight at 6:10. While it isn't unusual for the power to go out for such a stretch, what was odd was that the neighborhood was responding unusually. When the power is out, everyone gathers outside to talk, we hear the whir and hum of generators, and once, after a really long cut, the whole complex cheered when the lights came on. As we peered into our neighbor's homes, we noticed they were turning on lights and watching television. Curious.

With a glance at each other, we examined the lone fuse box for the apartment. It's not a very complicated system, I guess, because there is only one breaker switch. As neither of us are engineers, electricians, or particularly adept at construction of any kind, we had not expected that flipping the bathroom switch would blow the fuse for the entire apartment. Oops. A quick flip of the switch, and the lights came back on. Just in time to illuminate our embarrassed faces and ensure that our friends had a hearty laugh at our expense.


Looking Happy

Tourists love the Russian Market. To be fair, I also love the Russian Market. But I think that's more to do with it being the location of my favorite DVD seller and close proximity to the best lime soda in Phnom Penh. Anyhow, on a typical day at the market (especially a weekend), you can find people from lots of different locations browsing the stalls, buying things they don't need, and haggling.

One such couple caught my attention last week. I'm now able to bargain for most things in Khmer, which is nice, because I get a better price. I've been helping all our volunteers negotiate for things, since now that I can bargain better, I can experience the thrill of haggling. They watched me negotiate for something for one of the volunteers, and asked if I had any "tips." I laughed and told them to be friendly. Later, I found them browsing the fruit. They asked what was good, and I helped them purchase a couple of apples. Then the questions came. Here are the highlights:

"So how do you know the language?" the German woman asked.

"Well, I live here, so I had to learn."

"What do you do here? What made you move?" her English boyfriend (?) queried.

"I work for a Christian NGO, we do a lot of health education and community health work...I really liked Cambodia after visiting, and decided to move back." (something of an understatement, but hey, these were strangers)

"This is great, we've really been wanting to meet someone who lives here. It seems like such an interesting place." Boyfriend was the one most interested in the experience, but German girlfriend nodded along.

"Yeah, it has its ups and downs, but Cambodia is a great place. I really enjoy living and working here." By this time, my volunteers were approaching, and we were out of conversation points. In fact, it was getting kind of awkward. However, they decide to throw in a stunner.

"Well, you look really happy. It's so great to see someone who is really happy here."

I've never had a complete stranger tell me something so kind before. It was especially odd, given that it was about 100 degrees, I was sweaty and dirty, tired, and a little stressed. I didn't feel unhappy, just... it wouldn't have been my prevailing emotion. I was surprised at how good it made me feel, at how genuinely convinced they were of my contentment. I wish I'd had more time with them, even (strangely) wanted to ask them to have coffee, to try to understand what it was they saw in me that was so "happy." Sadly, they've departed Cambodia and I've returned to my busy schedule. Nevertheless, it was a small blessing to me, there by the fruit stand in the market. After a year of ups and downs, in the midst of a summer of challenges, two people were able to see my joy in being here, the thrill that comes with doing what I should be. I think it must be so great to see someone who is really happy here. I'm glad that someone was me.


Linguistic Foibles (Part Deux)

Sometimes, when I'm speaking Khmer, I inadvertenly say something funny. The other day, a shopkeeper thought I was negotiating a $225 furniture set for $25. We had a good laugh, once he got over the shock. However, sometimes language mishaps go both ways.

KonPleang is a 40-something Cambodian member of my church. She lives in one of the slum villages, and speaks not a word of English. I ran into her unexpectedly while working the other day, and she greeted me with a big hug and smile. She is one of the sweetest ladies I know. Yesterday, she wore a shirt to church with some English writing on it. In bold letters, the shirt proclaimed: "True F***in' Canadian."

Which is, quite simply, both explicit AND incorrect.


Rainy Days

Abbie and I after 5 minutes in the rain.

This is my second rainy season in Cambodia. Therefore, I feel qualified to dispense some advice about rainy season behavior. Here are Kate's Tried and True Tips for Surviving the Rainy Season:

1. Wear dark colors. Bonus points if these dark colors also include water resistant or quick drying fabrics.

2. An improperly worn poncho is as effective as no poncho at all.

3. Rain hurts at high speeds. Be careful out there.

4. Someone should invent a windshield wiper for motorbike helmet visors.

5. Time your trips appropriately. It's better to be heading home than going out when the monsoon hits. No use traipsing around like a drowned rat in public.

6. Get home quickly! The roads flood-- which means you may get stuck and/or splashed by an SUV driving by at an inappropriate speed.

7. It's always the hottest right before it rains.

8. Laundry should be done in the morning if you want to hang it outside. Otherwise, you'll just do it again later.

9. Rain makes things colder and smellier, depending on the thing in question.

10. If you think it's going to rain, it probably is.


Dream On

It finally happened. My work life-- coordinating our stream of ESL volunteers-- has finally spilled over and infected my brain. I woke up last night from a dream in which a volunteer was asking me questions. On a daily basis, my job is to answer many questions from volunteers regarding teaching, health, general Cambodia info, World Relief trivia, and personal stories. These questions, however, were a little weird. Especially since they were about raising her adult-aged son, whom I've never met-- not something that's part of my aresenal of useless knowledge.

I'm not sure what's going on in the complicated neurological pathways of my mind. In the past, I've had some pretty interesting dreams-- once I was a spy, I've had TV characters show up, and I even practiced my own wedding. I think this dream might be an indication that come August 3rd I'll need a break. It could also be my brain's way of telling me that these volunteers are leaving their imprint not just on Cambodia, but on me as well. In the meantime, I'm hoping it will be safe to sleep tonight. I'm overdue for another wedding rehearsal.


New Look

Here's a secret: I love the David Bowie song, "Changes." I can't explain it, I'm not a huge Bowie fan in general, and it's kind of an odd choice for a favorite. Nevertheless... there it is.

I've been humming this song a bit as I reformatted the blog this week. Not much is different, layout, some new links on the sidebar, a new photo. I've been feeling like it's time for a new look for awhile. The old layout felt a bit cluttered, and I always had trouble reading it. I was in the mood for something crisper, cleaner, a bit more minimalist.

Anyway, look around a bit, let me know if you like it, and enjoy the ch-ch-ch-changes.