In my mind, I closed my eyes and slapped my forehead in disbelief at the question. I’m always amazed at what people will ask when they’re learning about other cultures.
Yvonne and I took a guided tour of the Amish Farm and House in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Our guide, who was not Amish, was knowledgeable about the history of the Amish and Mennonite communities in America and gave solid answers to a wide swath of questions. She stared at the man for only a moment before answering. …
Twelve well-behaved children sat politely on the floor, their beautiful, smiling faces looking up at Mike and me as we stood in front of the small classroom. It was about 7:00pm on a Thursday evening, and they were there to learn English. We asked if they had anything they wanted to know about us. “What’s your favorite color? And your favorite animal? Your favorite fruit?” These were not the questions we had expected. But what should we have expected a group of five to twelve-year old kids to ask? “What do you think about the current state of affairs in the U.S.?” Not!
We had been touring in and around Siem Reap that day, visiting a silk farm, Angkor Wat and other Khmer temples, with our Cambodian guide, Borin. Being a tour guide in Siem Reap is a fairly good way to make money, and if you know English and especially Chinese, you’re more likely to get hired. Borin was learning Chinese and his English was pretty good. I was actually surprised at the extent of his vocabulary, but tour guides pick up a lot of words from their clients.
We came to learn that, in addition to working as a guide, Borin volunteers his time a couple of evenings a week teaching English to a group of children in his neighborhood. When we heard this, Mike and I offered to visit his classroom and speak English with them. Borin’s three children were in the class; the smallest, age 5 and the oldest, age 12, eagerly raised their hands whenever we posed a question to the whole group. Borin explained that learning English is imperative for children in Cambodia. “English is a passport to a better job, the key to prosperity and having a better lifestyle. It is hope to a better future,” he said.
Standing in front of the classroom, I came alive! My natural desire to write on a white board and teach were ignited. I had the children guess English words by playing Hangman with them, which they loved—and they were good at it! Mike and I sang English songs with them, racking our brains to remember the words to TheWheels on the Bus, the Itsy Bitsy Spider, and Old MacDonald Had A Farm, songs we hadn’t sung since our now 22-year old son was small.
The coup de grace, however, was when we taught them how to sing and dance the Hokey Pokey!
In Cambodia there is a shortage of English teachers and a lack of resources, such as tables, chairs, books, and school supplies. When asked what we could donate, Borin requested tables for the children to study. We gave him $24.00, which was enough to buy four tables. When we received a picture of the children sitting at the tables, we felt glad that we had made a small difference.
Borin’s daughter, Nary, hopes to become a doctor when she grows up. With the efforts of her parents and so many other people who are committed to helping the next generation in Cambodia, she hopefully will get her wish.
Note: There are many opportunities to do volunteer work in Cambodia. Some organizations charge a fee, but many don’t. Even just asking your guide, as we did, might unveil some.
As we headed out of our hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, young hotel staffers near the door greeted us with wide smiles and folded palms. I’m sure it was required of them, but over time we found that their warmth and friendliness were very genuine. Buddhism’s call for kindness to others is part of Cambodia’s culture and there was a gentleness to many of the people we met during our time in Cambodia.
Outside, several tuk-tuks offered us rides. We declined, preferring to walk the short distance to the tourist market area, where there were hundreds of shops all selling basically the same stuff: cheap jewelry, clothing, and leather goods. High-quality, gray-market Nike and Under Armor shirts can be had for $5 if you’re willing to negotiate. …
I was thrilled and honored last year when an abridged version of “Moroccan and a Half” was published on Hidden Compass, an online travel magazine. There, I got to share space with some amazing and even famous writers and photographers. This past March 1, I was equally honored when the original unedited version won a Solas Award in the Destination Story category from Travelers Tales. Here is that story.
Moroccan And A Half To understand a people, you must live among them for 40 days.-Arabic proverb
The taxi driver glared at me when I demanded that he use le compteur. “What do you think that is?” he snapped in French, pointing at the already-running meter under his dash. Looking both pained and angry, he glanced into the rear-view mirror at another passenger already in the back, then turned again to face me.
Switching to English, I apologized as I got into the front seat of his bright-red petit taxi, explaining that every other driver in Marrakesh had insisted on an inflated, fixed price for tourists like me. “Are you a tourist?” he asked, his voice still raised, chiding me. “Aren’t you living here?”
Strange! I meant to post this short piece back in early January and somehow it fell through the cracks, sitting here on WordPress as a lonely, forgotten draft.
It’s great to be traveling after a long hiatus! And adding to my blog.
We are in Mexico for ten days. Next month we’ll be going to Cambodia and Vietnam, and we are planning on at least two more international trips this year, dates and destinations TBD.
This week we’re in Yelapa, where I’ll be in a writing workshop and Yvonne will be hanging on the beach or volunteering at a local library for kids (we will do things together in the afternoons). After that we’ll spend three nights in Puerto Vallarta, then home again.
We arrived in Yelapa this morning by water taxi. On the way here, the chunky, six-year-old English boy sitting in front of me got sick and threw up all over. The driver stopped the boat and handed his mother a mop, which she used to clean up the mess on the floor and on the bench. The boy stood up and somehow he’d even gotten it all over the back of his shirt. Fortunately there was no wind or she would have been mopping it off of my face. I thought it was funny, but we wondered how long it would be before the stranger sitting next to him would agree.
We’re staying in a beautiful apartment right on the beach. This is the view from our room:
We walked up and down the hilly paths this afternoon. What’s nice about Yelapa is that there’s a real village with friendly people who offer a pleasant ¡buenos tardes! and a smile. Even the dog and cat that passed us in the opposite direction were mellow, unconcerned with us or each other. The only upset I saw was a squawking rooster running down the road with wings outstretched, followed by a man carrying a frying pan.
Where we are staying, which is on the other end of the beach from the all of the day-tripper thatched-roof bars and beach umbrellas, no one is aggressively pushing their wares. We do want to keep an eye out for the Pie Lady though.
When we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), we were given this advice on crossing the street in a Vietnamese city: “Hold up your hand as you step into the street to let the cars and bikes know you’re crossing. If that doesn’t work, close your eyes and just keep walking.” …
The two fighters had just finished a round in the ring. Their handlers wiped them down, squirted cold water down their throats from squeeze bottles, and massaged their backs and necks. Both contestants had a look in their eyes—they were strong, fearless, undeterred by any injuries inflicted during the fight.
Students from the 6th grade class at Escuela Primaria Juan de la Barrera waited eagerly for me to begin reading them a story. Aline Shapiro, an American librarian whose dream had been to build a children’s library at the school, introduced me as a guest reader from California and handed me a book entitled Coyote: Un cuento folclòrico del sudoeste de Estados Unidos. I was a little nervous as it was my first time reading a book aloud in Spanish. In the middle of the story, after stumbling over just a few words, I asked the children “Me comprenden? Do you understand me? I was happy to hear them answer “Si.” …
Chitu had dug out most of the cave himself. Carved into the mountain like a big doughnut, the front door led into a bright, beautiful family room and kitchen. A short tunnel of white plaster led out of the kitchen through two bedrooms, a huge walk-through closet, a bathroom, even a laundry area, all with electricity and running water, and back around again into the family room. It was nothing like what I imagined when I heard the word “cave.” If the door had been round, I could have mistaken it for the entrance to Bilbo’s hobbit hole. …