On my last day in Siem Reap, I took Hanna's advice and tried to look for ways to volunteer. It's one thing to funnel money into the economy and eat at restaurants that give a portion to charity, but giving time and resources might be more useful. Despite having more infrastructure than Laos, Cambodia is still an extremely poor country.
Now, a quick note about my Princeton-in-Asia orientation. During one session, they asked us to write down occasions where we had done some sort of service work. It was pretty easy for most of us, including myself. In high school, I tutored Spanish-speaking kids in an after-school program called Amigos, I built houses over the summer with the American Jewish Society for Service, I co-led Michigan's Darfur activism group in college, and so forth. Then they asked us to write down a time in which we had genuinely sacrificed for someone else. This was much, much more difficult. It made me realize that, while I had done some good service work, it was all pretty fun and it never required me to give a lot of myself. Yes, my grades dipped a bit in college when I was juggling a bunch of activities, but that hardly makes me Joan of Arc.
The reason I bring this up is because I'd never given blood before, and I read that Cambodia's hospitals needed donations. I'm only squeamish about a few particular things, and VEINS are one of them. It's hard for me to even type this because it grosses me out so much. The idea of sitting somewhere while blood leaves my body is...yucky. But I figured that I should make some sort of sacrifice that actually feels like a sacrifice. So I did, and it wasn't bad at all. After I read testimonials to make sure the facilities were clean and professional, I headed down to the Angkor Children's Hospital.
Wait, an activity where they give you Coke and cookies and tell you to relax afterwards? How great! I'm reminded of a snippet of dialogue between Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock:
Jack: Uh, a cookie in the middle of the day?
Liz: I gave blood.
Jack: Does that burn calories?
So maybe it wasn't the grandest sacrifice of all, but I'm glad that I did it and now I'm no longer nauseous at the thought. I plan on giving blood quite a bit in the future, as long as I bring something to distract me.
I also volunteered for an afternoon at a school, called Savong School, on the outskirts of Siem Reap. A high schooler picked me up on his motorbike and brought me to the school, where they pretty much stuck me in a classroom and said, "Teach." Granted, I should have prepared something, but I naively thought someone would give me a bit more introduction. I taught three classes, and it was definitely a case of me learning more from the students than vice versa. My favorite was the huge class of kids, ages 7 through 15. It's such a different context of teaching when you're doing numbers and animals and you can ask, "How many pigs does your family have?" and get answers like "My family has four pigs." Also, one older student asked me how to practice English and I said that listening to English music or watching English movies is helpful. I asked if he had access to English movies, and he said no. Then I asked him if he had ever seen a movie. He said no.
On my last night in Siem Reap, I took a break from eating my favorite dish (chicken and fried ginger) and tried the local delicacy, amok, which was amazing. It's fish, cooked in coconut gravy, and wrapped in banana leaves. Here is my blurry photograph:
Next stop: Kampot and Kep.