Bateay Srei and Landmine Museum

Although I very much enjoy working at CKS, I wanted to have a classroom experience teaching English like the rest of my classmates. I’m the only person who is not in a school setting. Luckily because the Children’s Library is closed Mondays, I was given the opportunity to join Hannah’s class at Banteay Srei, a farm school about 30 miles out from Siem Reap near the village communities. I woke up a little earlier than usual so that Hannah could fill me in on the day’s lesson plan, learning fruits, vegetables, and animals. Most of it would be review, but reinforcing what they already know is a big part of teaching. I was super excited because everyone else makes lesson plans and really plan out what they’re teaching, but it’s insane how much effort they put in to prepare. I still put in a lot of planning for mine, but we’re only doing crafts. I love hanging out with the kids at the library and doing arts and crafts but I sometimes question if I’m making as much of an impact as my peers. I do teach English with the kids, but nothing formal. I’m more of someone that they can practice their English with or ask for help when they want to know a word or don’t understand something. The day at Bateay Srei went fabulous and the kids really knew their stuff. Except a lot of them would sneak peeks at their notebooks when Hannah or I would ask them questions. That day I observed more than taught, but I was just happy to have a change of scenery to see what my classmates were experiencing within their placement site.

Later in the day we attended a lecture about landmines in Cambodia and learned about the history and the effects on Cambodians today. The numbers were horrifying. Especially after seeing some of the victims after bombs or landmines had gone off- I could barely stomach that. To put even more emphasis on the lecture we all travelled out the landmine museum near where Hannah and I had taught earlier that morning. There were hundreds of neutral bombs and landmines rescued from the fields of Cambodia there. So much effort and risk was put into retrieving all of those bombs, and the landmine museum was started by a man who used to be a Khmer Rouge child soldier. He also played an extremely large part in helping retrieve many of the bombs that he had planted himself. It’s really hard to put into words the overwhelming feeling of being surrounded by these weapons that had the soul intention of killing others and realizing that lives upon lives were saved from the efforts of those people risking their lives to find the landmines. After the museum the group of us went out for dinner and the night ended pretty quietly otherwise.

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The next morning I was back at the library making masks of our favorite animals with the kids. It was a lot of fun but ended earlier than I expected, so we spent the rest of the afternoon reading fortune telling books. They have a book based in numerology where you add up each letter of your name it tells your fortune. With “Rebecca” my number was twenty-eight which said something to the effect of, “I’m agreeable, independent, smart, think too much, easy going, like to talk a lot, creative and successful”. I took a picture of the page and hope to get it completely translated someday (maybe even by myself!). After my time with the kids I went back into the research library to do more cataloging. I can proudly proclaim I’m now fluent in reading roman numerals. Also I had another run in with a creepy-crawly, I grabbed a stack of books of the shelf and apparently had disturbed a gecko’s home because he started running all over all of the books I was holding. I don’t think I’ve ever screamed louder in my life! He was the final straw that broke the back of my dream that animals and libraries could co-exist peacefully. In elementary school when I was powering through all the books we had on cats I always used to wish I had a cat with me.

All of us on the trip occasionally get together to plan lessons and talk about our experiences at the sites. That particular day we were discussing a “key learning moment” in our sites. A week or so earlier in my site a man came in and asked Dareneth where a certain book was in the catalog system and questioned if she had been cataloging at all (he was quite rude, honestly). Dareneth responded that they had cataloged 300 books in the past two months, which made me realize how slow of a process this was. After the Khmer Rouge period libraries were either neglected or completely destroyed and CKS Library is currently the second largest library in Cambodia because of their extensive restoration in collecting books after the war. However they must start from scratch in cataloging everything. Three hundred books in only two months seemed minimal compared to the thousands of books currently lining the library shelves. This was a key learning moment for me because it really gave me a purpose to my work there. At first I didn’t understand why I was handwriting every single individual title there, but each little piece of work is to build this library back up to a functioning modern library for Cambodians and visiting researchers. Because the library looks so new and modern it didn’t necessarily click at first how far they were behind in terms of cataloging. I can’t even imagine how long it will take them to finish, but I’m happy I can help at least a little bit.

After dinner that night I decided to take a swim by myself and it was absolutely magical. There were flower petals everywhere as I swam and Brandon was playing his guitar from his balcony. It was so relaxing just wading around to classics like “Freefallin’” and “Here Comes the Sun” in the moonlight. I’m really going to miss the pool when I’m back home!