Full Moon Festival

Peace Corps probably should have included in the welcome book we got before coming to Cambodia that you will be confused 95% of the time.  I seem to never know what is going on.  I figured that once I understood the language a little better, I would know what was going on… nope, not true!  We celebrated the full moon festival this week.  Peace Corps had done a good job with teaching us about Khmer holidays, but my family is part Chinese, so we celebrate both Khmer and Chinese holidays.  So basically I had no idea what was going on the whole time.

It all started on Wednesday.  My host mom had told me that she was going to Phnom Pehn because her niece was engaged.  She comes back at around 7:00 pm and everyone runs outside.  I follow them and see my host mom shoved inside this van with 5 boxes and bags of flowers.  It looked like she had gone to Sam’s Club.  Now in Cambodia gas is super expensive, so even though my host family has a car, they rarely use it and my host mom took a big van to Phnom Pehn.  So she crawls out of this 10 passenger van with at least 8 other people, a moto, and a ton of boxes inside.  It was crazy!  We helped unload everything and bring things inside.  Now at this point, I’m so confused.  She said she was going to Phnom Pehn because her niece was engaged.  Was she getting married at our house?  It wasn’t wedding season yet!  My host mom opens her boxes and out comes a ridiculous amount of fruit and cakes.  In my broken Khmer I try to ask what is all of this food for.  They say something about the moon and something will happen tomorrow.  Alright, I’ll just have to be patient.

The next day I come back from the market to see my host mom filling plates with beautifully arranged fruit and cake on plates.  She divides them up, and places them on the many altars around our house.  I think I ask if they are offerings for their ancestors, and she says that no they are for the gods, which of course confuses me even more.  Do Buddhists  believe in gods?  Why didn’t I pay more attention in world religion class?

One of the altars with the offerings

One of the altars with the offerings

My host mom lighting candles

My host mom lighting candles

Getting the offerings up to another altar

Getting the offerings up to another altar

After the altars are all pretty, I run upstairs and read for about an hour.  I come back down, and all of the food has disappeared!  What?  Now my family had told me that the cakes were very expensive for Khmer standards, so why would this food be gone?  There was no sign of it anywhere!  I tried to ask where it went, but my host family just laughed at me and said something about tomorrow night and the moon.  Did the gods eat them?  Did the dogs jump up and grab the food?  Did my family stealthily eat the 4 boxes of food in an hour without me noticing?  Aut dung te!  (I don’t know!)

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The full moon

The next night everything is normal, until after dinner.  My host sisters move our dining room table outside, and my host mom brings out another box filled with more unopened cakes, and starts putting them on plates.  They bring the food outside, and set up the table with candles.  They explain that because its the full moon, they offer the food to the gods.  My host family prays and lights some incense, and then the table and the food go back to the house.  We got to eat some of the fancy cakes and fruit.  It was a fun, albeit very confusing first holiday in Cambodia.  I still have no idea where all of the original food went, but maybe next year I’ll find out :).

The fancy offerings

The fancy offerings

Lighting incense

Lighting incense

My host mom and I

My host mom and I

My host sister praying

My host sister praying

My host sister and I

My host sister and I

My younger host sister and I

My younger host sister and I

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Hi everyone!  Sorry it has taken so long to write again.  It has been crazy here the last few weeks.  Last week we finished up training, and headed to Phnom Penh for swear in.  It was hard to leave my host training family.  Even though I was only there for 2 months, I felt like I was really part of the family.  Luckily, my new site is still in Takeo district, not too far from my training family.

I packed everything up last Monday, and then headed to Phnom Pehn on Tuesday for a few more sessions and swear in.  It was so nice being in Phnom Penh for those few days.  Our hotel room even had a heated shower and air conditioning!  I ate a ton of western food (and hardly any rice!) and enjoyed the city life for a few days.  On Friday, I was sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer (until that point I was a Peace Corps Trainee) at the Ambassador’s home.  It was an incredible experience.  I am hoping to find some of the pictures taken, and if I do I will post them.  It was an awesome experience being able to talk to the Ambassador and other Embassy Officials.

A few hours after swear in, we were off to our new homes.  I am lucky because I have a few other volunteers around me within an hour bike ride.  My new host family is awesome.  I have a host mom, host dad, a sister my age and a younger sister who live with me.  My host mom is a housewife, and my host dad has a moto repair shop in front of our house.  I also have a host grandma who lives down the road, and a older sister who is married and has the most adorable baby who lives about 10 km away.  The house is absolutely beautiful!  We have electricity and running water (and even a western shower!!!).  My community seems very nice and welcoming.  There have been 2 PCVs in my town before me, so they understand what it is exactly that I’m doing.

Unfortunately, school doesn’t start until the 1st, so I have gone from a packed schedule of training, to absolutely nothing.  During the first few weeks, we are supposed to be focusing on integrating-a tough task for someone who doesn’t speak the language very well.  In the mornings I go to the market with my host mom to buy food for lunch and dinner, and grab some breakfast.  I am so excited because there is a lady who sells waffles at the market, so that has been my staple breakfast since I got here!  Then I usually head down to the school.  School isn’t officially in session, but many teachers offer private fee based classes, so there are lots of kids at the school.  I buy my coffee and hang out with whatever kids and teachers are there that day.  In the afternoons I will hang out a little more, go for a bike ride and then read.  It is hard having all of this free time every day.  I am so used to having multiple jobs/taking a ton of credit hours that it is strange not to have a to do list a million miles long.  Hopefully I will get used to it soon!

Also I finally have an address!  I know some people have been asking for it, so here it is:

Samantha *Last Name* K7
Peace Corps Cambodia
PO Box 2453
US Embassy
Phnom Penh 3
Kingdom of Cambodia
Asia
And here’s some pictures from the last few weeks

My sweet training family that I was so sad to leave

My sweet training family that I was so sad to leave

Beautiful Lake

Yes that is a monkey sticking his hand out of the cage.... Yes that is a monkey sticking his hand out of the cage….

My awesome neighbor kids who loved to help me prep for classes

My awesome neighbor kids who loved to help me prep for classes

The Killing Field in Phnom Penh

The Killing Field in Phnom Penh