Tuesday, 31 March 2015

the month that was March

I spent the majority of March volunteering in Cambodia and decided to use the prompts from Fat Mum Slim's Photo-a-Day challenge as a way of recording my journey.

Almost all pictures from the month were taken in Cambodia, with a few at the end taken in Singapore.

A few of my favourites enlarged for you....

Swimming with the elephants at Mondulkiri Project

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

This little angel had me wrapped around her little finger!

Faces of Bayon Temple, Angkor Wat
The kids were so photogenic and so damn cute!!

So there you have it, the month that was March, from Cambodia, in pictures.

To check out more of my pictures from my trip, don't forget to follow me on Instagram.

Linking up with Ms Mystery Case for Worth Casing Wednesday, Living my Imperfect Life for The month that was... , My Brown Paper Packages for Wednesday Wanderlust and My Little Drummer Boys for Wordless Wednesday!!

Monday, 30 March 2015

flying days after plane disaster

I am drafting this to you from the seat of my flight from Phñom Penh to Singapore via Kuala Lumpur.

Flying just days after another plane tragedy took way too many lives and I must confess I am a little more nervous than usual. Generally speaking I am OK with flying... I hate the first 10 and last 10 minutes of the flight.

This flight is a little harder and many thoughts come in and out of my mind while waiting for and during take off. This flight is a Malaysian Airlines flight.

I will confess to being a little hesitant when my travel agent told me it was the best flight option for me. When I told people of my travel plans someone even commented "You're not flying Malaysian Airlines are you?".... but I couldn't let events from the past prevent me from travelling. Gosh if we all did that we'd never leave the house!!

I wonder about flight MH370, a number we all know but have no answers about. I wonder how the hell a big arse plane can disappear without a trace. I wonder about MH17 as well... we have a few more answers about what happened to it, but I wonder if we will ever know the full story. I wonder if we need to. 

I wonder how the families who had loved ones on board both those planes are dealing with their loss. I wonder what thoughts were running through the passengers and crews minds as whatever happened happened.

I wonder about the staff on board that flight, going about their job, often we focus on the passengers and forget the crew. I wonder how the other staff at Malaysian Airlines, the staff aboard this flight, coped when both tragedies involving their company occurred. Did some of them leave? Quit their job? Did they go on business as usual? Are they concerned each time they board a flight? Of course I'm not about to ask them... But I wonder.

I wonder about the co-pilot on the Germanwings flight. I will confess to not having read any of the news articles other than a headline to say it appeared he deliberately refused the pilot entry to the cockpit. I must confess to not really wanting to know the sad story that must be behind a man who could end not only his own life, but those of all the staff and passengers on board.. 

I must confess it makes me a little angry, that shit could have been prevented. It didn't have to happen. Those people didn't have to die. 

I am sitting by the window, the lady on the aisle seems to be praying during some turbulence. I wonder what she's thinking?

At the end of the flight a message comes in the TV in the seat console that says 'Thank you' and I can't help but think, 'No, Thank You Malaysia Airlines'**

I wonder all these things but it will not ever stop me from travelling by plane. If we stopped doing things that might kill us then we wouldn't get out of bed in the morning. 

Linking up with My Home Truths for I Must Confess and One Mother Hen for Open Slather!

**I was not thanking Malaysian Airlines about 2 hours after I wrote this post when I finally arrived in Singapore only to be told that my luggage wasn't transferred to my connecting flight in time and should be delivered within 24 hours... was not a happy traveller! Thankfully it was delivered intact the following day.

Friday, 27 March 2015

volunteering in Cambodia

I can't believe my time in Cambodia volunteering has come to an end. It honestly does not feel like I have been here for 4 weeks but alas, it is almost time for me to hop back on another plane.

I know you have all been busting to know what I have been doing and how it's been going.

I live at a volunteer house with several other volunteers. The number varies from week to week as people's placements end and start. Currently there are 21 of us in the house. We are all volunteering under the same organisation, International Volunteer HQ but we are mostly placed at different placements around Phnom Penh. 

The entrance to our house.

I was placed and have spent the last 4 weeks at Joy Day Care Centre. It is part of the ministry of TransformAsia, which was started by Setan and Randa Lee, who survived the Khmer Rouge and have devoted their lives to helping Cambodia rebuild. Their organisation supports many projects across Cambodia. 

My day starts at about 7:30 when I wake and get ready for work. Breakfast is provided at the house and is white bread with a variety of spreads and fruit. I have become extremely proficient at spreading my toast with the back of a spoon, for some reason bread knives are a rare item in Cambodia. I gather my packed lunch of rice and meat with vegetables and head off at about 8:30. My Tuk Tuk driver waits for me outside each morning and takes me on the 15 minute journey to the centre.

Cruising in my Tuk Tuk

I usually arrive just before the children do and so I get the room ready for them, get their uniforms off the clothesline and await their arrival. Some mornings I chose to go on the morning pick up which means I have to arrive an hour earlier.

Example of some of the houses where the children live.

Attempting a bus selfie

Most of the children live just outside of Phnom Penh around the town dump. They come from some of the poorest families in the area with the majority of their parents working at the dump foraging through piles of rubbish in search of anything worth selling, recyclable items mostly. They earn just a few dollars a day, if that. If their children did not attend Joy Day Care they would more than likely be foraging through the rubbish as well. They would not attend any schooling if it was not for TransformAsia and Joy Day Care, which is provided to them for free. At the centre they also receive medical and dental care if they require it. 

This clip describes it in more detail:

Once they arrive, any time between 8:45 and 9:00am, they line up in a straight line, one of boys and one of girls. They sing a few songs, most with actions, some in English, but mostly in Khmer. Once finished they pray and then head upstairs. The number of child who attend the centre varies each day and can be anywhere between 20 to 35. The maximum number they can facilitate is 40.

Morning assembly

The building is 4 stories high. The first floor is like the dining/assembly hall and kitchen, the second floor has 2 classrooms, the little kids room (ages 2-3) and the big kids room (ages 5-6), the third floor has the office and another classroom (ages 4-5) and the top floor is where one of the teachers lives, but is also the where the volunteers have their rest time and where we watch movies on a Friday.

I have spent most of my time in the little kids room. Once they come upstairs we shower and dress them in their uniforms. Their hair is washed and their teeth are brushed. Their home clothes are washed during the day. Some of them wear the same ripped and stained clothes each day, some way too big for them, some way too small for them. None of them wear footwear.We have anywhere between 8 and 13 children in the room on any given day. Once they are all showered they have free play time until about 10:30. The older children participate in more formal lessons of both Khmer and English.

Play time! They LOVE the duplo/lego and it is often the cause of some pretty nasty fighting!

The little kids room

The older kids participating in an English lesson. They are learning the days of the week and the months of the year

At 10:30 (or thereabouts!) a bell will ring signalling lunch is ready. We pack up, pray, head downstairs and have lunch. The room is swept and the mats laid out for nap time.

Lunch time!

Whilst the students eat there are jobs to be done. I usually hang out the washing, help serve food to the students, it's like an all they can eat buffet of rice, soup, meat, vegetables and varies slightly from day to day, wash the dishes and clean up after they have finished. This usually takes them until about 11:15am. Once they are finished they are free to head back up to their rooms to "sleep"...I say "sleep" because for the most part they run a little wild while all the teachers are downstairs, but eventually they settle. 

Washing up station!

The teachers have lunch and then everyone settles down for rest time. Some days I wander to the shop up the street to buy a bottle of water and an ice-cream for 1000 riel each, (25cents!), before napping. I always manage to fall asleep during rest time, despite it being on the floor.

My nap time

We wake at 2pm and head back downstairs where the children are usually just starting to stir. We get them up, shower them again and then dress them back in their home clothes and they play again until just before 4pm when we pack up and get ready to go home. They usually also have another snack, fruit mostly, during this time. 

Sometimes they colour/draw

At 4pm the children leave in the minivan, a 14 seater that they all cram into, anywhere up to 30 of them, along with some of the staff members and head home. My Tuk Tuk driver is usually waiting for me at this time and takes me back to the Volunteer House. I usually arrive home just prior to 4:30pm depending on traffic and which route he chooses to take. 

The Joy Day Care School Bus

Other volunteers filter in during the next hour or so before dinner is provided at 6pm. Some nights we chose to head into the city to eat at a restaurant or go to the mall, but mostly we just chill at the house and get ready to do it all again the next day.

The view of our house from the outside, ours is the one one the right hand side

There is not a strong enough adjective that I can think of to describe the experience I have had over the last 4 weeks, amazing, humbling, thought-provoking, emotional are all ones that pop to mind at first. These children have so very little and yet their eyes and faces are some of the brightest and bubbliest that I have ever seen and I will never ever forget the experience I have had.

If you want to know more about Joy Day Care, and even donate to the cause please check out this website. If you want more information on volunteering in Cambodia or many other countries around the world, I strongly recommend IVHQ

Linking up with With Some Grace for FYBF, A Brit and a Southern for Weekend Wanderlust, Chasing the Donkey for Sunday Traveller and Maxabella Loves for Weekend Rewind... Check them out!!

Monday, 23 March 2015

10 things I will NOT miss about Cambodia

Let me start by saying that I have absolutely LOVED my time over here and am devastated it is coming to an end, but there are a few things that I am not going to miss about Cambodia. 

Travelling for me is all about experiencing new cultures, meeting new people and having my eyes opened to a whole new, different and exciting world.

However with any travelling, and when you spend a prolonged amount of time in one place there are things that begin to grate on your nerves a little bit, and things that you miss from your own country. 

It is hard to believe that I have been here for 3 weeks and this time next week I won't be here anymore. To say it's going to hard to leave is an understatement so for now I am focusing on the things I am not going to miss in a useless attempt to make my departure that little bit easier.

So, in no particular order, I must confess there are 10 things I am not going to miss about living in Phnom Penh:

1. The Dust

Even some of the streets are dirt, which means more dust!
It is currently the dry/hot season in Phnom Penh, which means there has been no rain for a long time and none arriving in the immediate future. Everything is so dry and dusty, even in the city. I stupidly forgot my glasses on the Tuk Tuk drive to work one day! Rookie mistake! I spent a lot of the trip with my eyes closed!

2. The Heat

The forecast for my final week here.

Now I am not usually one to complain about the weather. I figure, what's the point, nothing you can do about it. I especially don't like to complain about the warm weather as I much prefer it over winter any day! But there's hot, and then there's just plain gross! The temperatures are a whole lot different to what we get at home during a yucky Toowoomba heat wave, so I think it's the humidity over here that I struggle with a little bit. As well as the fact that there doesn't seem to be any reprieve and no way of cooling down. 

3. Cold Showers

Our pretty little bathroom..aka wet room.

I know this probably seems a little bizarre given the above point but cold showers everyday is getting a bit much, it doesn't really relieve the hotness as you are sweating 2 minutes later, and when washing in cold water only I never really feel clean. Doesn't matter how hot it is, I always like to have a little hot water with my shower.

4. The smell

Just one of the many piles of rubbish I drive past on my way to my placement

It is not uncommon to see piles and piles of garbage just laying around the streets and people just throwing rubbish anywhere they like. Of course as it builds up, so does the stench. There are several points along my ride to work where I have to hold my nose and my breath, as does my driver! I realise that this country is growing and still developing and they have so many issues that they need to deal with but one one hand I feel like if they could get the rubbish situation under control somehow it would be a completely different place.

5. Rice

Lunch Pack

Each meal is provided by the volunteer house as part of our fee. Breakfast is white bread and an assortment of spreads. Lunch and dinner are varying versions of rice and meat and vegetables. White rice for lunch and dinner every day.....Every.... Single.... Day..... If I never see white rice again after this trip it will be too soon! 

I am not quite sure it has anything to do with the rice in particular but my stomach has not been right the whole time I have been here. I have good days (or more like hours) and bad. A couple of bouts of gastro, constant bloating and cramping has plagued much of my trip.. no fun!

6. Sleeping issues

Our beds are the volunteer house
My chiropractor is going to have a field day with my back when I return home. It's also a good thing my roomie and I hit it off from the start as our beds in the first room we shared were literally about 10cm apart. I have found the mattresses and pillows are either way too hard or way too soft, and during siesta at placement we sleep on the floor. I know I shouldn't be complaining about having a 2hr siesta in the middle of the day, and trust me I don't....until I have to get my tired ol' crippled arse/back up off the ground!!!

7. Being asked if I want a Tuk Tuk

Some of the Tuk Tuks that wait outside our house
Every time we step foot out our front door we are asked if we want a Tuk Tuk, every time you step foot out of a shop, just onto the street in general you are asked where you are going and if you want a Tuk Tuk! It's the same in all the countries I've been to in South East Asia but some of them are just downright harassing! They will follow you down the street calling after you constantly pestering and annoying you. Even if you tell them no and that you are just walking, some of them still persist. 

8. Constant fear of being robbed

The traffic is often intense

When we arrived and had our orientation we were warned again and again... and again about being robbed in Cambodia. I read and heard other people's stories about how they were, or they knew someone who was, robbed in Cambodia. Sadly each time I travel around the city my eyes are constantly darting back and forwards, suspicious of anyone who drives/rides too close to my Tuk Tuk, wondering if they are going to reach in at any moment and grab my bag. We constantly walk with one hand firmly gripping our bags. Some of the Tuk Tuk drivers work in conjunction with people on scooters/moto and take tourists the wrong way, down alley streets and rob them. One of the other volunteers had her bag stolen on her last night in Cambodia. She was leaving a club, walking along with a group of friends and before she knew it someone on a moto rode past and cut her bag from her shoulder and rode off with it, all the money she had just gotten out of the atm and her iphone with 12 months worth of travel photos on it. 

9. Bargaining

Inside one of the market halls
Some people thrive on bargaining and love the thrill of getting a good deal. I am not one of these people and often feel so guilty. I know that there are times where I have been "ripped off" but the way I see it, these people need that $1 more than I do, really..

10. To be honest I couldn't think of a tenth point, but couldn't handle just having 9! It doesn't have the same ring to it! I honestly have loved my time here in Cambodia and all these things listed above are totally manageable and bearable and you do get used to, or find ways of managing them (except maybe the cold shower one! That kinda does suck!)

What things do you struggle with when you travel?
How do you cope?

Linking up with Kirsty at My Home Truths and Alicia at One Mother Hen 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

to visit Vanuatu

OK, so maybe not right now, but I am here to convince you to....

I was, like many other people, sadden to read about the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam to the gorgeous island community of Vanuatu recently.

I was instantly reminded of the time I spent in this beautiful country back in 2011. 

The main food markets in Port Vila

The Republic of Vanuatu is made up of 82 small islands, with 65 of them inhabited and is situated about 1,750km east of Australia. A short 2.5hr flight from Brisbane will have you arriving in this South Pacific wonderland. The capital Port Vila is on the third largest island, Efate.

The markets where ladies have their hand powered sewing machines set up making dresses to sell to tourists

It was the January school holidays when I took off with a friend on a weeks holiday to enjoy some much needed R and R! I was originally meant to take the trip with another friend but as this was also the time that flooding was devastating many parts of Queensland, she was unable to attend. So I was grateful when another friend was able to step in at the last minute. Vanuatu is amazing but not really somewhere you want to travel alone.

Cascade Waterfalls are definitely worth a visit

We were also in the minority as it is not always a popular destination for single ladies, favoured more by honeymooners and couples. However this did not dampen our spirits whatsoever and we got stuck in to see the sites and take in every moment of this beautiful country.

We stayed at the gorgeous Sunset Bungalows that had decks hanging over the lake

While we were there there was also a cyclone, however by the time it reached shore it was little more than an extreme storm, with wild winds that stirred up the ocean. It meant the cruise ships couldn't dock for a few days and there was one sleepless night as the wind was quiet noisy. The next day there were a few trees and signs knocked down, but nothing compared to the devastation they are faced with at the moment. 

High winds causing rough seas.

We spent our days lazying by the pool, getting pampered at day spas, horseback riding and exploring the island.

One day hired a local driver to take us on a day trip around the island. We stopped off to watch a traditional dance show. 

I'm sure they were just saying hello!

This little cutie stole my heart!!

They were so cute and a little cheeky!!

Along the way we stopped at this little hut on the edge of the road which was a WWII Coca Cola Musuem. I don't remember this guys name but I do remember how much of a character he was and funny he was as he told us stories about all the things he had collected from around Vanuatu since the war ended and how he believes he has the largest collection of Coca Cola bottles.

This is how he wanted to pose for our photos

One night we went to have a traditional dinner and entertainment show.

My dinner is in there

My face after sipping the tiniest bit of Kava

Vanuatu was a fantastic getaway, affordable, close to home with a fantastic balance of sightseeing, things to do and relaxation time. I don't recall exact details of the costings but it was a little over $1000 for flights and accommodation (including breakfast) for the week and I remember commenting at the time that it was cheaper than a week at the Gold Coast.

So while Vanuatu is in a state of devastation at the moment, please don't forget about them. Having spent this time there and meeting some of the locals, I know they will bounce back, there is a reason they have been voted the happiest people in the world twice, but they are going to need our help. Consider adding it to your future travel plans, I promise you won't regret it and if you do, you weren't trying hard enough!

The sunset view from our Bungalow.

Linking up with My Brown Paper Packages for Wednesday Wanderlust and Ms Mystery Case for Worth Casing Wednesday 

In case you've missed the news about this devastating impact of Cyclone Pam click here