March 19, 2010

Annalisa and Julian, our Kampong Phluckians

Julian and Annalisa are living in working in two of the three villages that make up the Kampong Phluck communities, the stilted villages near the Tonle Sap lake and Siem Reap. The entire group visited Kampong Phluck back in late January when we went to Angkor Wat, and many said the village visit was almost as intriguing as the ancient temples of Angkor. Homes are placed on 20-foot stilts, and during the rainy season (beginning in about June and running through the fall), the Tonle Sap expands to three times its dry-season size, flooding the small land mass in Kampong Phluck and requiring boat travel for getting around.

Right now we are nearing the end of the dry season, so the river running through Kampong Phluck (pronounced “pluck”) is about six or eight feet lower than it was when we visited two months ago. Julian is living on one side of the community’s wat and Annalisa is on the other side of the wat, which technically places them in different villages even though they are a two-minute walk away from each other. Julian is the only 2010 SSTer who is living with a service family who hosted 2007 SSTers: his family hosted Greg Yoder and Jesse Shirk-Byler in the first Cambodia SST. All other families in every Cambodia service location are new this year. Julian loves his family, including his mom and dad, a couple of sisters and brothers-in-law who live at the house or nearby; at least two brothers, one of whom lives in Siem Reap; and several nephews as well as neighbor children.

Sometimes Julian bathes on the back bamboo deck, draped in his krama but in clear view of the river snaking through the town. On at least one occasion he and Annalisa have experienced Western tourists coming through town while they were bathing, and then been the subject of tourists’ photos as they went by their homes. (Chloe experienced something similar in her Tampoun visitor, when she was bathing at the well when tourists came by to buy fabrics from her mother.) More often now, Julian bathes in the brown pond 100 yards from his home, where most other men bathe as well. Julian’s usual attire is only his krama, as is shown in most of the pictures, though he also puts on a shirt in the evening when he teaches. Julian says his mother is a great cook, and (nor surprisingly) he eats fish nearly every day.

Annalisa’s family also has been warm and wonderful, with a collection of sisters and brothers as well as younger children around the house. Although the family had no bathroom before she arrived — most homes in the villages, including Julian’s, don’t have bathrooms — Annalisa’s family installed a squat toilet after she arrived in Kampong Phluck. She bathes back behind her home, first gathering water from a brown pond and then putting it into a cut-off barrel. Her home includes a vegetable garden on the dirt, but both her home and Julian’s also have small gardens up on the outer deck of the home — the only gardens they are able to use during the rainy season. The day Keith visited, Annalisa’s sister Sambath spent part of the afternoon with us, clearly enjoying Annalisa and Julian’s company.

Julian and Annalisa have almost their entire day free to read, shower, relax, play sei, take walks, and watch volleyball. As many as a dozen tourists also make their way through town on many days, so when they are available, they also chat with the tourists, amazing them with their stories about living in the exotic village. One day they boated out through the “flooded forest” with their friend Sovin, and another time they walked nearly all the way to the Tonle Sap Lake, but eventually were stopped by deep mud. They discovered that the lake area where the SSTers swam in late January is now only waist-deep, as is true for much of the Tonle Sap before it makes its monumental expansion in a few months.

Annalisa and Julian’s teaching begins in the evening, either at the school beside the wat (on several days) or on the floating boat restaurant that is moored along the bank a few hundred metres from their houses. The floating boat restaurant has a bathroom, which Julian used some last week when he was ill. Julian and Annalisa’s friend Sovin lives on the boat, runs the restaurant, and greets tourists, and Sovin also teaches some English in the village. In any event, all of their teaching is confined to 5:00 or 6:30 slots in the evenings.

During the day Annalisa and Julian have sought to help around their homes. Annalisa assists with a lot of cooking. Julian helped his Dad tear down the previous back ladder to the house and reconstruct a new bamboo ladder (see photo). In preparation for his sister’s wedding 10 days ago, Julian also painted the front porch and railing of his stilted house. The Kampong Phluckers also have taken the hour-long trip into Siem Reap on a couple of occasions, once when Julian was sick and another time when other SSTers came to visit. When the Graber Millers visited, Annalisa and Julian returned to Siem Reap with Keith to join the rest of the family at the Green Garden Home Hotel, where we stayed with the whole group in late January. There we enjoyed meals at the Blue Pumpkin and a favorite Indian restaurant and also spent time playing sei (the hackysack/shuttlecock game) in the hotel pool.

Kampong Phluck is an ideal and idyllic village for SST service, and Julian and Annalisa are making their mark and immersing themselves thoroughly. They and the other SSTers have two more weeks yet in their villages before they return to Phnom Penh for their reorientation. Later today we’ll post another blog about Kat and Rachel’s site in Bantey Meanchey.

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