Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Adventures in the Marketplace

Adventures in the Marketplace

I'm running out of things to write. Not because nothing's happening, but because there's SO MUCH going on. Our typical daily schedule is very packed with activity as we try and cram as much culture, language, knowledge of the area, and acquaintance with the programs on base. Normally our day looks something like this:

6:30 - Wake up/Shower/Khmai Review
7:00 - Breakfast
8:00 - Worship and Prayer
9:00 - Culture Orientation
11:00 - Khmai Language Class
12:00 - Lunch/Khmai Practice/Shower #2/Nap
12:45 - Frantic Khmai practice in dorm room
2:00 - Program Orientation/City Tour/Local Visit
4:00 - Youth Center English Classes/Khmai Practice
6:30 - Dinner
7:30 - Free Time/Informational Video on Cambodia
8:30 - More Frantic Khmai Practice
9:00 - Shower #3
9:30 - All collapse exhausted and sleep a dreamless sleep

Today we had a little more free time than usual, so we went to the market at 4 to try our hand at bartering. The market is basically open air, but it's under a tented metal frame. Little stalls are packed high with things, and they all specialize. You'll have a row of toiletries and soaps, a row of sarong sellers, vendors selling just shoes, or pots, or jewelry, or fruit. We've not perfected bartering. As westerners they double or triple the price when we ask. We've managed to get a few thousand riel off, but not every time. We brought one lady down in price for detergent, but I couldn't get any off for my shoulder bag I bought at a shop on the street. In the far side of the market vendors sell slabs of meat, all on display, flies everywhere. On the opposite end of the market is a "Western" restaurant that sells pop and hamburgers. Down street #2 is the White Rose, which sells both asian and western snacks (If you're desperate, you can buy bread with peanut butter for 1500 riel). We stop there almost daily to buy a mango or papaya shake with vanilla ice cream added (3000 riel - about $.75).

Streets here are dusty, trash in the gutters, motos and bikes are prevalent with very few cars. In order to get into town we walk outside our front gate and hold up one finger. After bartering with the moto driver for fare, two people climb on back and hold on as he weaves his way through traffic into town. It's quite a trip to get used to. They drive very fast, and if there are traffic laws, no one pays attention.

Our time isn't all adventure. A few days ago we visited the government orphanage. Not all the children there have lost parents. Often a poor family will leave a child at the orphanage because they can't afford to care for them. Today we went to a goverment military hospital. Most of the people there are dying of aids. There were no doctors in sight. No medicine. Just beds full of people, slowly dying. Their families live with them in the hospital. Those that can't walk across the property for food cook in wooden buckets in the yard, using unclean water from the pond nearby. Only a few know to boil the water. Many children there also have aids. Most of the military men there contracted aids through prostitution. They then gave aids to their wives, and the wives give birth to aids infected babies. Those children lucky enough to be born aids free (though sometimes the virus doesn't show up in tests until the children are oldre) contract it soon enough through nursing - formula here is too expensive for most people to use.

We're learning more and more Khmai every day. Khmai is an easy language because there are NO VERB CONJUGATIONS!!!!! And except for a few high class people, everyone speaks in the present tense, so there are no past and future verbs to be learned. Our vocabulary is small, but today we got the linking words 'with'and 'and'so we can start taking things we've learned already and inventing new sentences. VERY exciting.

More later. We have to figure out how to get two people and a box of detergent on the back of a motodope.