March 13, 2010

Jake and Charlie living the Muslim life in Svay Khleang

This is the third and final posting from this week’s visits to three different student village settings — seeing Corinne, Seth, Bailey, Sarah, and Chloe in Tampoun villages, Michael and Austin in their Jarai village, and Charlie and Jake in Kampong Cham province. The Graber Millers head off tomorrow morning for Siem Reap and Kampong Phluck, where they will see Julian and Annalisa, and then Keith will go on to Oddar Meanchey Province (12 hours from Phnom Penh) for a visit with Rachel and Kat. Charlie and Jake are loving their multicultural experience in Svay Khleang, located off a dirt road and right on the Mekong River in Kampong Cham.

Jake and Charlie had wanted to live with a Cham Muslim family for their service experience, so our local assistant Marya arranged for this village placement in Svay Khleang. Cham Muslims are one of the minority groups in a country that is almost entirely Buddhist, with some animists and others thrown in the religious mix. Charlie and Jake are learning much about Cambodian Muslim culture, having been given Muslim names (Ahmed for Jake and Muhammad for Charlie) and participating in daily prayers at the local mosque. Some of the younger boys in the village are teaching Jake and Charlie Arabic prayers to say when they respond (sometimes) to the five-times-daily call for prayer, and also showing them how to properly do ablutions (ritual washings) at the well just outside the mosque.

Svay Khleang residents’ primary income is growing tobacco, so lush tobacco fields are everywhere in the community, including on the island situated in the Mekong right across from Charlie and Jake’s home. Under their house is a stack of shredded tobacco drying until it is ready to be shipped out.

The two thoroughly enjoy their kind-hearted Muslim parents, who have been gracious in every way. They are loving their mother’s cooking, with frequent curries and other delicacies prepared for them. The two share a bed in one corner of their homes’ open spaces (what we might call a living room). During the open parts of the day they hang out with their family or take walks or bike rides. The pair then teaches at both noon and 5:00 each day, sometimes together and sometimes alone. Their teaching takes place at the local school, with a classroom full of eager children from the village.

Charlie and Jake seem completely pumped about their experience, enjoying the Khmer and Muslim dimensions of their learning. Last weekend Charlie also took a weekend trip to Ratanakiri to visit the seven people there, and next weekend Jake will go to Kampong Phluck to see Annalisa and Julian.

On the way to Charlie and Jake’s village we stopped in Chluong so our driver, Sok Lee, could see his in-law’s family briefly before we headed out again.

Saturday night Trisha, Allison, and Annie were all in town, so the Graber Millers had dinner with them at Setsara, a local Thai restaurant. They are all doing well and enjoying their service assignments. Julian and Sarah both were ill last week but seem to be recovering admirably. All pairings/groups of students have a cell phone, so they report in regularly about their health (mostly quite good) and what is happening in their contexts. The Graber Millers are looking forward to seeing Julian and Annalisa and then Kat and Rachel this week.

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