Monday, April 21, 2008

You Tube to the Rescue!!

After spending a few days scouring the internet, googling "Khmer Language", "Cambodian Alphabet" and the like, I finally had a breakthrough. Would you believe that right now, You Tube is the most comprehensive source of learning materials for the language of the Cambodian people?

I've found many wonderful lessons on the 33 Khmer consonants and vowels, complete with the all important native pronunciation!! This alone has helped me to get a foothold on a totally different language family from my own.

check out this vid for the consonants:

Well... I'm off and running. The squiggly lines and shapes are actually starting to make sense. I'm still well off from forming whole words, but it's not bad for 2 weeks when you consider what a pain it looked like it would be!

Chat at ya soon!


Friday, April 18, 2008

Khmer You Varmint!!

Hello all!

Well, since I got my news in the mail from Cambodia, it's been all about getting things done. As a volunteer, I will need a special PC passport that I will use while in Cambodia. I will also need a visa to work in that country. I got all the paperwork and photos together and sent them off last week.

Next in line to complete was my "Aspiration Statement". This is a short document meant to be a sort of introduction to the PC Country staff. Details I provided in this statement will help the PC folks to customize my training in accordance with my experience and what motivates me personally. I had a pretty good time going back over my history putting things in perspective for this. It was interesting to see that it looked like events throughout my life have been leading up to this opportunity. Little clues early on that I would enjoy being a teacher, and love traveling. (Many thanks to those that helped me in putting my thoughts together so that they made sense and didn't make me look too much like a nut-case!)

Now, I can turn myself to the challenge of finding Khmer language resources. So far, there have been more than a few hits from my google searches. The big obstacle is that none of the sites is a "one-stop-shop". It looks like I may have to pull bits and pieces from multiple sites.
Khmer is an interesting language. It's derived from an ancient Brahmi script used in southern India. There are 33 consonant sounds and 24 vowel sounds. Their alphabet is arranged according to where in the mouth the sound is formed. In this way, the list of the alphabet is a sort of "map of the mouth" and has the added benefit of giving you a hint as to how to say each sound. Kinda clever huh? I think despite the complications and differences that learning this language is going to be interesting and maybe even fun!

If I get extremely lucky, I'll be able to find a native speaker of Khmer locally that can help me out. I'm not enthusiastic about my chances of finding someone after I move to VA though. Oh well, the way I look at it, I might as well get in the mode of overcoming obstacles now.

As of now, I'm planning to leave Tampa for VA at the end of April. Wish me luck!!

Chat at ya soon!


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The wait is OVER!! IT'S ON!!!

So, yesterday I was coming back in from another rousing day out and about. If your reading my blog, then you know I've been checking my mailbox everyday looking for news from the Peace Corps regarding where I'm going to be posted. As of my last post i was on Defcon 1... it was in the mail!!

So I stopped by the mailboxes (which in this neighborhood are located at the corner of each street) and checked my box. Two flimsy pieces of junk mail. " Oh well." I thought. It was only put in the mail on Friday. It would have to be some sorta miracle for it to make it that quick.

I went back to the car, got some groceries out and headed into the house. "A few more days won't kill me."

Then I looked down at the doorstep and saw this.


I took my stuff inside, puff puff, and puff, tried to puff, puff control my breathing. I picked up the envelope and took it inside. I sat down at the table and slowly, tore open the package.

Yep, it was my invitation kit alright!! Inside this blue packet was the culmination of a long, eight month qualification process. Hours of trepidation for myself, and for those that were with me. From my personal interview in Ft. Collins Colorado, through my medical testing in Virginia, all the way through the circus that was my Dental clearance. It all came to this. Where would it be? Philippines? Cambodia? China? Thailand? or maybe the frozen tundra of Mongolia? I decided not to wonder anymore. It was time to open the kit, read the letter and embrace my least the next two years of it.


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The Kingdom of Cambodia (or Kampuchea as the natives call it) is amazing. It's a land of mountains and floodplains. Of ancient and mystical Angkor Wat, and the brutal Killing Fields. The Cambodians a people proud of their 1000 year heritage, but still overcoming the "near total destruction of their educated workforce" by the Khmer Rouge in the mid to late 70s. Over 1 million people were killed during this attempt by the communist regime to erase all traces of western influence from Cambodian society. It's going to be awesome to be part of helping a proud people complete a economic, social and cultural comeback! My volunteer class will be only the second group in, with the Peace Corps program starting in Cambodia in 2007.

This of course comes with some challenges. The first I'm coming up against is language related. It seems that Khmer, the official language of Cambodia is not yet supported by programs like Rosetta Stone and the like. It will be up to me to seek out what resources I can and give myself a leg up prior to my Pre service training. I guess this is the point of going to help out. To help Cambodia grow and be more of a part of the global society. My welcome kit went over a few more potential challenges to give me an idea of what I was getting myself into. My favorite part of the kit though was in one of several letters included from current volunteers describing necessary equipment for exercising: "I'll pull on my cross trainers and go running along the river. I carry my ipod in my left hand and a dog-whacking stick in my right hand (Dogs are feral animals in this country and attack if you enter their territory. They're not lovable pets, but they are delicious)."

Yeah... count me in!

So there you have it. I have between now and July 20 to get a few more ducks in a row and then I'm off! It's kinda funny that here I am, writing about my "Pupa stage" and I get posted to a country that is also in the midst of its own transformation. Sounds like a good match to me.

Chat at ya soon!


song of the next two years: Run to the Hills and Wasted Years by Iron Maiden.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Premonition, A Decision, and Long Awaited Fruition

What a last three days I've had.

Monday: Received an email from a good friend of mine with the gift. She said she had a dream about me and that I had finally heard from the Peace Corps. She told me to be on the lookout. As usual, I cynically thought "sure, I'll be right there" and prepared myself for more waiting.

Tuesday 3pm: I'm sitting in Barnes and Noble, decompressing (i.e. impressing all the hot ladies by reading a graphic novel, DC's Infinite Crisis actually) when my phone rings. I check the number, see the 202 area code and my heart starts to race. 202 is D.C. , Washington D.C. I'm thinking this is it. I let it go to voicemail just to make sure. I check the message and sure enough, it's "Carmen" from the PC placement office, and she has an invitation she'd like to discuss with me. Again, it's like all of my nerves lit up at once. Almost shaking with anticipation, butterflies in my stomach, I went outside to call her back. This was it, I'm finally going to find out where In Asia I'll be spending my two years!! Philippines? Cambodia?

I get Carmen on the phone and she throws me the curve ball. It seemed the PC had a shortage of applicants with business experience for a posting in the Caucuses. For the geographically challenged, think Georgia (not Jimmy Carter GA) and the Ukraine. The placement folks saw my background and it made sense to see if I would be willing to take that posting. Taken completely by surprise, I came unhinged. I spent the next few minutes on the phone sounding like an idiot, or maybe a ssssstroke v-v-victim.

"er...uh..yeah... I see. er...Caucuses? Ham Sandwich... hmmm...yeah."

I told Carmen I wanted to think it over but I'd let her know before 5pm on Wednesday. I hung up the phone and my head promptly flew off into outer space.

Tuesday 4pm: I needed to get grounded. I needed some advice. I tried to get in touch with my recruiter...but she was out of the office. I chatted with a couple of close friends with some experience with government service and for the most part, over thought the whole thing. I really want to help out, but the prospect of changing both my primary project (from teaching to business development) and my region from Asia to the mountains between Europe, Russia and India kinda threw me for a loop. I had to go teach English class, but all I wanted to do was to look up the Caucuses on the internet and start running through my decision making process.

Well, I finally decided that since it took me several weeks of research and scenario running to decide on my original region that it didn't make sense to choose a new path based on only a few hours. Also, I was really enjoying the new prosepct of teaching for a living.

Wednesday 4:30: After much over analysis, weeping wailing and gnashing of teeth, I called Carmen back to let her know my decision and to make sure that she understood that I really want to help, but feel like the best option was to follow my original path. I was worried it would look bad if I didn't agree to help out however they needed. Carmen assured me it wouldn't count against me. I felt better. But, I was back at the waiting game again. Crap.

Thursday 2pm: Finally got a call back from my recruiter. I returned her call and let her know about the alternative offer, of my decision to decline, and of my concerns about it reflecting poorly on me. She agreed with Carmen's statement that this would not be a big issue and for me not to worry about it. I felt better. But again, I was back to the waiting. Crap Crap Crap.

Thursday 3:30: In Barnes and Noble again. Finishing DC's Infinite Crisis. Phone rings again. Again, it's a 202 area code...D.C. This time I answer. It's Patrick, who identifies himself as my placement officer. I'm not sure what to expect at this point but I say "how are you doing?" I have no heartbeat.

Patrick says he spoke to my recruiter from Denver, and that I shouldn't worry about the whole Caucuses decision. In fact, after a few questions about why I wanted to be a teacher and what I've been doing to qualify myself, he let me know that my Invitation packet would be going in the mail Friday. Just like that.

So...It's Friday, almost 2am as I type this. I'm wired. But, the wait is almost over. In a few hours the packet will be in the mail. The wait is almost over.

Been a helluva few days.