Life in a Different Universe  

Posted by Molly Daugherty



I named this blog “Other Side of the World” eight months ago, before I could have ever imagined how different life would be across the Pacific. In hindsight, a more fitting and appropriate title would have been “Life in a Different Universe”. Interestingly, it’s my return home, more so than my arrival in Cambodia, where I catch myself comparing the two countries. Which, to be fair and honest, aren’t really in the same league. 
From the pre-washed lettuce to the railroad crossings and the overabundance of cheese, not a day goes by where I don’t have to stop myself from making comparisons. Because yes, our infrastructure is better, and most definitely our educational system, too. But, those heavenly thirty-five cent Khmer iced coffees and morning bike rides through villages and rice patties can’t be found in this neck of the woods.
The children and I still stay in contact through email and Skype. It’s a win-win for us both: I get to practice my Khmer skills and they get to quiz me about what Michael Jackson songs I know.  I can’t wait to return.
Some of my entries from this blog (and some additional pictures) have been included in a travel writing website. I recommend Trekworld to anyone who loves reading about anything travel related; look under “Give Back” for my contribution. 


Kynom Strawline APCA (I Love APCA)  

Posted by Molly Daugherty



























I’ve procrastinated writing this. Because if I delay for as long as I can, it will make my 186 days in this country turn to 190, 195, or more. It’ll be like all of the goodbyes, wiping of the tears, and exchanging of all the hugs was just a practice run for the real departure.
But, don’t force a good thing, right? I’m the luckiest girl I know, not only to be able to spend four months with the funniest, kindest, most caring kids on this planet, but half a year. There are about 1,329 things, people, and pieces of the daily routine that I’m going to miss.
I’m going to miss living in the country, where on the one main road five people on a moto pass a slow moving ox cart loaded with rice, cement, or any other heavy building material that makes you pity the two skinny, overworked animals.  All the while, a truck carrying fifty women in its bed honks its way around the two slower moving vehicles as it races to the factory. There’s a good chance that either a herd of cows or a pair of unhurried white girls riding their bikes will disturb the flow of this organized chaos.
I’m going to miss the questions that we do our best to answer every day. Some are easier than others, but they all come from kids who are so curious and almost concerned about the response. “Do you have stars in America?”, “Why Michael Jackson black baby and white when die?”, “Why do everyone in your country have money?”, “Is your country corrupt?”, “Why no eat rice every day?”, “Your country have roads a lot?”.
I’ll miss the unplanned topics that randomly appear in class, like eating disorders, ovens, and Google. We recently spent half a class voting on the name of the parasite that lies within me (a whole different story, but yes, I suffered from amoebic dysentery for longer than I would have liked). The majority of the votes favored “prune ian” which means “shy parasite” in Khmer.
Because Diana and I left APCA on the same day, we had a joint going-away party. And I must say, it was ‘off the hook’. After a two hour morning bike ride with nine boys, we began our party prepping. And by party prepping, I mean blowing up balloons, burning music, and finding a sufficient place on the APCA grounds to put the elephant. Yep, we hired a 96 year old elephant to come give the kids rides and act as a really cool backdrop for our pictures (that part wasn’t planned - it just happened to work out). I understand the hard core animal rights people might not be okay with this, but throughout the afternoon he seemed like a happy old elephant and at night he was able to retreat to the forest with his owner to eat and sleep. He also peed a lot, so we know he was well hydrated.
Other special guests to our party included The Ice Cream Man and The Candy Man. This 60+ year old villager makes the most intricate rice taffy animal-shaped suckers you can imagine. All 70 of the kids chose which creature they wanted to eat and then patiently waited, entranced as the man’s miniscule scissors cut, shaped, and perfected the masterpiece. I opted out of an animal and chose an “arb”, which is some kind of Khmer ghost made only of a head and long hair. It was delicious.
A dozen of us performed the Thriller dance before speeches began around the blazing fire. This was when it hit me that I’d be leaving them, and I couldn’t keep the tears in. I’ve gotten to be very close with the older kids since I’ve taught them every day for six months, and to see them all lined up thanking us was too much for me!  I don’t want to leave them and it saddens me how they’re all so used to volunteers coming, teaching, saying goodbye, and then never or rarely visiting again. I’m determined to do everything in my power to return within a year to show them that they’re worth returning for. Most of them have just about zero self-worth and I’m not going to let the price of a plane ticket stop me from showing them how important they really are.
There are a handful of boys that I studied with every evening after dinner, and sometimes our fifteen minutes of flashcards would turn into an hour because of how chatty and enthusiastic they are. When the car’s trunk was full of our luggage the morning after our party, and I was slowly making my way around to all the kids for hugs and last goodbyes, it was painful to see the look on these boys’ faces. It was clear they were doing their very best to stay away from all the other kids who were crowded around Diana and me. They were afraid of the others seeing them cry, because 11 year old boys aren’t supposed to cry, right?
I’ll never forget the look on Bunneth’s face as I made eye contact with him. His little forehead wrinkled as his chin shook up and down and his stomach started to quiver under his crossed arms. He had been leaning his slim body against an awning pole, but as I walked toward him for a hug he slowly approached with his eyes hidden under his hands. We were both in tears as I buried his little lice filled head into my stomach and I did my best to console him. But I suck at consoling people, so I just told him it was okay to cry.
Yes, I’m absolutely crying as I write this and remember our departure. And yes, I knew leaving would be hard. But there’s something called a job, and I need one in order to return.
It’s still too early (I’m procrastinating, remember?) for me to sit down and think about all the hundreds of things I’ve gotten out of these six months. I think I’ve learned so much that it’s a daunting and overwhelming task. I do know, though, that my time here wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable and memorable if it weren’t for my fellow volunteers, who I consider to be great friends after living and surviving Cambodia together.  Their creativity, energy, organization, and passion for the kids was always contagious and I know they will and are making a difference at APCA. It’s hard to come at this point in our lies financially, but it’s cool to see the little things we can do with and for the kids that they’ll gain from and remember.
Again, thank you to everyone who donated; the older kids are typing away on the netbooks and the smaller ones just got to paint with water colors for the first time. They loved it.
I remember from Semester at Sea how difficult it is to return home, but I know I can’t stay here forever. At APCA, I’ve been living in basically the village mansion. I lucked out by having a flush toilet, internet, drinking water, and 70 kids who were up for studying, Bingo, or a bike ride the moment I stepped outside. Now, I go from one paradise to another. A couch, a dog, Target, cheese, the list will only multiply as I rediscover the little things I’ve lived without. I don’t know why I’m so lucky to get to make this transition from one little happy place to another, but I do know that I’m not going to take either of these wonderfully beautiful locations, their people, or the valuable lessons they provide for granted. 
Here are some pictures from our party. I’ll also be posting some from our very humorous Fourth of July party a little later. I can’t wait to see everyone!


















































































Ain't No Rainy Day Blues  

Posted by Molly Daugherty

The rain. It’s like a super effective antidepressant during these times of drought.  It was supposed to visit us a month ago, so its late arrival is very well received. The gigantic black clouds that can’t be missed act as a welcomed harbinger of the one hour downpour they will provide. On a 90 degree Sunday afternoon, when kids are doing whatever they can to not move and stay distracted from the heat, these black skies are a promise that relief is not far away.
Because of the daytime heat, most of the smaller kids are already lounging around in only their underwear. But for those who aren’t yet semi-nude, when the first drops hit their extended hand they strip down like it’s a race.  
It only takes a minute or two for the rain to hit so hard you stop to wonder how it’s even possible. For the younger kids, this downfall means only one thing: play time.  Once nude, they sprint to the puddle-filled back yard to get as wet as possible; it only takes twenty seconds for them to get the dirt and sand…..everywhere. For once, their imaginations are in full swing. Ten year old boys are pretend fighting and this time it’s a bonus to get thrown down to the cool ground. Fourteen year olds are trying to teach the five year olds how to do somersaults, but no one seems to have much luck since the rain makes it hard to see. Other boys have taken their scarves and folded them into little whips so they can play helicopter. For some, riding naked on a bike through the quicksand-like puddles are their choice of entertainment. It is these kids who make playing soccer amid these puddles near impossible. Coupled with the rocks, flopping children, and the sand/water mixture that splashes into the eyes at every attempted kick, our soccer game only lasts fifteen minutes.
For the older kids, who are equally excited about the rain, this means work time. There are about half a dozen large cement basins that need to get filled asap. After that, they’ll use the buckets to fill the wash bins in the boys and girls toilets. They occasionally stop to splash their face with the cool rain, but then they continue and don’t stop until the rain has ceased. Some of the older girls find the younger ones and use this opportunity to take a real shower (since they use buckets normally). Shampoo bottles are passed around and soon half the children are running around with a head covered in white lather. Many of them have just received major haircuts since the lice was so bad, so their washing takes only a minute before the rain has done its job and rinsed it all away.
Children are shouting, yelling, singing (Ten Little Indians), and performing their own rain dances. The thunder and lightning sporadically make an appearance but no one pays any attention. Some start to wash their clothes under a rapidly emptying gutter; others get my attention by shouting, “Molly! Snake!” and then tossing buckets of water on me as I hesitantly turn the corner to see this non-existent animal.
When it stops, it’s very sudden, and things quickly go back to normal. The naked boys find their clothes and go back to playing UNO. The girls finish up the laundry and conclude dispersing the water. The ground is now thick and mushy and every bike, classroom desk, and piece of hanging clothing that was forgotten about before the rain hit is soaked. But it doesn’t matter. It’s still 83 degrees out and the sun is starting to set. By tomorrow morning we’ll be crossing our fingers that we’ll get another dose of this wonderful rain. The sooner the better. 

Leeches & Beaches  

Posted by Molly Daugherty


If there’s one thing that Cambodia doesn’t have a shortage of, it’s public holidays. In the time I’ve been here, we’ve observed over half a dozen of them, and the thing that sets Cambodian holidays apart is that one day off magically turns into two or three.  A holiday falling on a Wednesday means a five day weekend. The ‘big kahuna’ holiday, Khmer New Year, is drastically inflated. The official holiday lasts three days in mid-April, but as I learned, that unofficially means the whole week.  Plus, many of the teachers at Khmer school don’t come to class the two weeks before OR after the holiday – which means a three day holiday becomes one month of vacation. I told you! Pretty darn drastic.
The last holiday was a week ago. The country had one day off to celebrate the King’s birthday, so Diana and I decided to head to the southwestern part of the country near the city of Koh Kong. Diana had found online an awesome eco-lodge just south of the city so we stayed there for two nights. It’s called 4 Rivers Eco-Lodge and it’s by far one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. The resort has twelve floating tents on a secluded river and it’s only accessible by boat. The air conditioned rooms are heavenly, the food is delicious, and there are great little excursions offered.  The tents are so awesome I want to live in one someday (http://www.exclusivetents.com/)
One night we rode full speed in a speedboat in the pitch dark looking for fireflies. They were easy to spot because they all convene around one big tree and light up in unison – I’d never seen anything like it before. We also spent a morning at a nearby fishing village playing with the cute little kids and having them show us around their pagoda and school.  It didn’t seem that they were used to seeing many foreigners, as they poked and prodded at Diana’s legs while giggling uncontrollably.
After our two days of paradise were finished, we headed to Koh Kong, where we spent one night. We hired a boat driver for the day and had him take us to another fishing village and Koh Kong Island. After our two hour boat ride, we arrived to a totally empty and deserted beach – clear blue water and all. We beach-combed and swam for a little too long – my lip became severely sunburnt and would take four days and $84 to heal. But that’s later.
The beach was so wonderful it felt fictitious. But our bliss was over, and the next morning we began our journey to Chi Phat, a fishing village two hours away.
The next two days were what you’d call an adventure. Imagine a small, desolate, Cambodian fishing village combined with Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. The one main dirt road is lined with boarded up wooden houses and the horses and buggies can be heard every few minutes transporting the vegetables, fish, or construction materials through the village. In the center of this road is the Cambodian Eco-Tourism headquarters, a small, open-aired building with a miniscule restaurant and a large, handmade map of the Chi Pat area. It is from this map that the ‘eco-tourist’ chooses their excursions; anywhere from a three day trek to an afternoon bike ride. The prices were incredibly reasonable, and the best part was that some of the villagers ran small guesthouses in their homes for $5 a night.
After thirty minutes of standing in front of the map and sorting through their itinerary binders, Diana and I decided on a waterfall bike ride, sunset viewing via moto, and a day-long river-boat ride (with possible gibbon sightings).
I won’t go too in depth about the next 48 hours, because overall they were great. The area is gorgeous and much greener and mountainous than we’re used to. The people were more than friendly and so accommodating. However, it was hot. We think in the 100’s. Our previous day in the sun proved to be our worst enemy. Because of my burns, I had to wear a long-sleeve shirt the whole time. Because of my now blistered, swollen, puss-filled, yellow, hardened lip, I couldn’t leave our room without covering up with my purple bandana. It was impossible to drink water without a straw, tooth-brushing was unbearable, and smiling was out of the question. To add to my discomfort, the village only has electricity for two hours every evening.  So, we would hurry back to our room from dinner right at 7pm and turn on the small fan. We did our best to fall asleep by 9pm so that our sweat wouldn’t make falling asleep impossible.
On our three-hour long bike ride, my discomfort quickly escaladed. I am a woman, and when I ride on a bike fitted with a male’s bike seat, I feel like……I won’t go into the description, but it wasn’t comfortable since the terrain was pretty rough. When our guide (who spoke zero English) hopped off his bike and pointed to a trail, we followed him by foot to the waterfall. Since the rain hasn’t hit hard here yet, it wasn’t flowing massively, but there was enough water to take a dip.
I was treading water and realizing how strange it feels to be wearing a long sleeve shirt while swimming when Diana comes out from around the rock where she was changing. “I think I had a leech on my leg!? I pulled it off, though.” she says, much less frantically than I would have been. “Really?” I say, “Did it hurt?”. She said she didn’t feel it at all until she saw it – she had previously taken a tumble while we were crossing a river, so we assumed it had been on her since. Right at the time she fully entered the water, I casually glanced down at my hand and saw something small and black on my ring finger. Oh my GOSH! Yes, it was a leech. I tried to pull it off but I couldn’t – the thing was attached like glue. I kicked my way over to Diana and as she attempted to pull it off it quickly expanded around my finger like a ring. Thank goodness Diana was there; otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off on my own. Knowing that it’s sucking your blood AND getting bigger by the second is petrifying. She was able to pull it off me and I clumsily maneuvered myself out of the water and across the slippery rocks to examine the rest of my body.
AHHHH! One more! This time the side of my big toe was POURING blood and after I attempted to pull the leech off, our guide thankfully stepped in and yanked it off. He probably thought the whole thing was hilarious.
On our journey back to the village an hour later, we stopped to cross a river and I looked down. MORE BLOOD! Good lord, they loved me. There was blood oozing out from between all of my toes on my left foot. “Diana!” I yelled to her as she was stepping off her bike. She looked down and this time her reply was, “I have to sit. I might faint”. So I spread apart my toes and found one little black leech hiding in the fold of my pinky toe. I was able to pull it off this time and I rinsed my foot in the water, which provided no relief since it was about 2,349 degrees.  
The rest of the bike ride was delightfully uneventful and leech-free.
Once we returned to Phnom Penh (Yay! Electricity!)  I visited a doctor to see about my lip. I was given cream to put on it daily and then he sent me in to see his nurse. The nurse spent about twenty minutes with alcohol-drenched gauze in one hand and tweezers in the other. He pulled off my dead, infected layers of blistered skin to uncover the most sensitive, pink, and cracked undercoating. He would pause to show me the yellow puss-covered gauze before applying a new piece which stung like crazy. I left the doctor’s office with a white lip (from the cream) and noticed many stares while walking to the market. I am thankful to say, one week later, that my poor lip is completely healed and my blood-sucked finger and feet are doing okay.
The children were incredibly concerned about my lip when we returned to APCA that evening. However, once I explained that I was given medicine for it and that it would soon be healed, they thought it was hilarious.   
So, on to the next holiday! This time it’s the King’s mother’s birthday, so the country will enjoy a day or two of rest to observe her 74th year of age. I plan to pack my sunscreen and head to Malaysia to visit a college friend. I’ve never been to Kuala Lumpur before, so I’m excited to explore a different city. When I return I’ll be ONE month away from coming home to civilization! Woo hoo!




"I don't believe in Peter Pan, Frankenstein or Superman....."  

Posted by Molly Daugherty


“All I want to do is BICYCLE!.....”

And that is the song that plays in my head every morning at 6am when I hop out of my already sun-drenched bed to join Diana on our daily bike ride. About two weeks ago we each invested in a $40 used bicycle. I named mine right away. Her name is ‘Gong Sabai’, which means ‘happy bike’ in Khmer. And a happy bike she is! Her shiny, perfectly pitched little bell comes in handy as we maneuver through herds of cows. Her beautifully un-dented white wire basket (it won’t stay that way for long) comes in just as handy since Gong Sabai’s rider can’t seem to stay hydrated in the early morning heat and needs to bring frozen water bottles with her. We spend over an hour each morning getting lost in the rural dirt roads. We ride through small villages where the mothers holding their toddlers stare at us as we pass by. I think their first thought is, “Who the heck are these two white girls?” and then after we smile at them and say hello it changes to, “Where the heck are they going?” In addition to the confused mothers, we also pass pagodas, monks who are out for their morning offerings, children walking to school, and dogs who have nothing better to do than to run after the two white girls. Sometimes APCA kids will join us if they don’t have class, and it’s funny to see villagers’ reactions when they see Diana and me pedaling along with a pack of 8 teenage boys.

Bikes haven’t been the only exciting new addition to our daily routine. Thanks to the donations Diana and I have received (THANK YOU AUNT HELENE!), we each bought a netbook just like I mentioned in my last post. Now, whenever we aren’t teaching a class, we’re monitoring two kids on Rosetta Stone.  It’s an awesome program because it’s self-paced, so we just have to slap two kids down on the computers and give them headsets. Okay, maybe ‘slap’ isn’t the right word. But anyway, it’s really fun for the kids and they all enjoy it. Diana and I can’t go outside without someone yelling our name and motioning like they are playing an invisible piano, “Maliss! Computa?”

Cinco de Mayo has come and gone already? Crazy. Diana and I treated the Amret staff to our ‘cooking’. We decided to make tacos. This meant a trip to the international grocery store in PP to get taco shells and wraps ($5 for 10 wraps!!!), big cans of chili, lots of fake cheese (we couldn’t risk it melting in the 90 degree sun), olives and salsa. Add some onions, tomatoes, and 5 Amret staff who only shop at the local village market, and you’ve got a lot of explaining to do! Can openers, hard vs. soft tacos, how to fold the soft tacos, fake cheese, American eating habits, Mexican Independence Day (which we didn’t know much about), tequila….the list goes on. Let’s just say that Diana and I each had thirds (we have a picture of our clean plates to prove it) and most of the staff enjoyed the tacos, but not nearly as much as their teachers.

Next new development: Diana and I bought three swing sets and a slide! It was very exciting to have them delivered and watch as the little ones couldn’t wait to hop on and try them out. It was a great, fairly cheap investment for the kids; there is rarely a time when the swings are all empty, and it give us a good place to visit in the evening while star gazing and singing,” You Are My Sunshine”.  One of the swing sets is painted pink, which is pretty cool.

The boys’ dorm is finished! They are all moved in and the monks came last week for the blessing. One of the monks who came to perform the blessing is in my big kid class, so it was fun to see him do ‘monk’ things for the first time. As soon as the blessing was finished it was move-in time for the boys, who quickly and excitedly boxed up their belongings and organized their space. It’ll start raining regularly pretty soon, so the timing is perfect.

From my hotel room in Saigon (I had to leave Cambodia to renew my visa), I’m looking at these posted pictures like it’s not even me who took them. As much as I know each of the kids and their amazing personalities, it doesn’t even seem like this experience is real. I still find myself thinking, “How did I get here? In rural Cambodia? With 69 kids? Riding bikes with them, playing Bingo with them, teaching them about superlatives and comparatives..” It’s been an amazing experience and I’m so thankful I have two months left to soak it all up.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom! I love you!

































A Big ‘Aw Kohn’ ('thank you' in Khmer)  

Posted by Molly Daugherty


Aw Kohn!
I have been here for exactly 3 months. It seems like only one month, but I came into this knowing how fast the time will go. I am thankful I can extend my stay and enjoy the kids for two additional months.
Three weekends ago we took the kids to the beach, which is about a four hour bus ride from APCA. For those of us who weren’t vomiting into plastic bags (most of the kids aren’t used to driving, so they get really motion sick) we sang “If You're Happy And You Know It”, watched Korean pop music videos, and watched the big wide world pass by. For some of them, it was their first time seeing the ocean. For two days we swam, played football on the beach, and made ‘sand temples’. It was fun to see the kids sprawled across their hotel room beds watching Khmer cartoons after a long day in the sun and a real shower. Even after three weeks, we still hear the kids referring to their beach trip; “Like at beach! The lady with the paint on her body!” (tattoos).
So, I want to say thank you to everyone who has donated to these kids. Jessica and I were able to take care of most of the beach trip hotel bill, which was one of the main reasons we were able to take all the kids. It also allowed us to finance a second trip to Siem Reap!
This week is Khmer New Year, and Diana and I were able to take 10 of the older kids to Angkor Wat thanks to our donated money from friends and family. The kids who were selected were so pumped to visit their country’s world-famous landmark for the first time. We were pretty excited too! The great thing about Cambodia is how cheap the hotels and guesthouses cost; there were 14 people and it was about $50 for both nights TOTAL!  We took the kids to eat out for all the meals: pizza (their first!), sushi, veggie burgers….and then they said, “We want rice!”.  
We also splurged and took them on a hot air balloon ride with a beautiful view of Angkor Wat. Some of them were nervous, but the 15 minute ‘ride’ wasn’t climatic, so they were all smiles once we were in the air. Now they think they’ve basically experienced the equivalent of flying in an airplane.  It was a perfect trip and the kids were excited to return to APCA to tell the others about their waterfall swim, temple visits, and exotic feasts.

Their Future:
Every night I sit outside soaking up the cool(er) air and visit with the older boys as everyone else is busy Khmer dancing or studying. Our conversations are incredibly varied – Michael Jackson is always a popular topic, as is the Khmer alphabet (I’m trying to learn!) and past participles (no joke). But every night, it seems like our conversation always ends on a gloomy note: their future. When I first got here I remember hearing dreams of becoming doctors, math teachers, and interpreters. Two nights ago I couldn’t go to sleep because one of the most studious boys said, “I don’t know anymore. There is no money for university and Khmer school is almost finished.” The truth is that the older kids will graduate in one to three years and although university in Phnom Penh isn’t expensive by our standards ($400/year), it’s overwhelmingly unrealistic for some of them. Not only do they have to have the money, but their English needs to be improved. In addition, most of them have zero computer skills.
Last week in class I taught about world geography. Most of the big kids (some in their early 20’s) couldn’t point to Cambodia on the map. We discussed population and every day since I write the updated world population on the board. Instead of being amazed at how many billions of people there are, the students were amazed at how I could find out that information. As I did my best to explain the Census website, I was bombarded with internet-related questions. “How do they know this information?” “Does the person who makes the internet make a lot of money?” “How do you know this is really true?” “What is the website with the world map?” One boy in the first row asked me if I knew of any other websites and how I know about them. I tried to explain Google. In my head I was saying, “Tyler G Cole! Come to Cambodia right now, please!”
Then I tried to explain that at university a lot of schoolwork is spent researching, and that the internet is a great tool for finding all sorts of information. I wrote a few sites on the board that I had referred to for that day’s lesson, and the students frantically scribbled them down in their books.
So, over every meal we share together, Diana and I discuss what the heck we can do for these older kids. Yep, we’re here to help them with their English – and I’ve seen improvements already, but we’re confident computer skills are another necessity.  We decided that with the remaining donated money each of us have, we are going to buy a few netbooks and install a typing program and Rosetta Stone on them. The same wonderful $300 netbooks Diana and I both have are sold in PP for the same price. This will allow the older kids to become more comfortable with computers while they practice typing, pronunciation, conversation, and grammar.
Our hope is that this will instill in them a little more hope and confidence about their futures. Cambodia’s enrollment rate for upper secondary school is only 9.3%; Diana and I feel that we should do whatever we can to make their learning fun, consistent, and exciting. We won’t be able to change the dismal enrollment rates in Cambodia, but we can do our best to inspire the APCA kids to continue their education.




































































































































































 

Posted by Molly Daugherty


Jessica's Good-bye Party & Beach  

Posted by Molly Daugherty




Thanks to Diana I can now post more pictures at a time! Check out her blog: http://dianakuchta.wordpress.com/

A Trip from the Dentist  

Posted by Molly Daugherty


I was excited for the kids.
I quickly became terrified with the kids.
Now I am SOOOOO proud of the kids.

The dentist pulls into APCA around 10am and is greeted by a few dozen kids. He is accompanied by his hygienist wife and a Khmer dental student. They lug their dental equipment into the first floor main room and quickly begin their examinations. I suddenly realized this isn’t going to be such a great day.

There is no separation between the dentist’s chair, his help, and the kids. Maybe a dozen kids will be looking on, crowded around the poor kid whose turn it is to lie in the chair. There’s lots of chit-chat and I think some of the older, equally scared boys are trying to hide their discomfort and fear. It’s like they’re trying to say, “When I sit in that chair, my heart won’t pump a little faster. My toes won’t curl and I certainly won’t need a hand to clench.”  And then it’s their turn. They nervously grin as they are seated and the younger kids look on, hoping to be inspired. When they see his toes curl, though, the little ones become even more uncomfortable and frightened.

I’m on the third floor discussing lessons with the other volunteers. We hear screaming. Lots of it. Loud screaming that can be heard over the dentist’s drills and equipment. I jog down the stairs to see one of the smallest  9 year old girls in the dentist chair kicking her feet as her flailing arms are trying to be captured by the dental assistant. Immediately, I want to vomit. From my view on the second floor I can see the daunting blood-covered metal plyers half way in her mouth. Her poor crooked, rotten front teeth won’t be in her mouth much longer. Her eyes are glued shut but tears manage to escape like a river.  To see her in this much discomfort makes me sick.  However, we all know (including the children) that we should be thankful for the dentist coming to APCA and all the work he is doing.  I attempt to take a few pictures before I realize I don’t really want to remember this. I put the camera away.

The dentist’s gloves are bloody as he helps her sit up. Her fresh gauze is already soaked. I don’t know how many teeth were pulled, but it was more than one or two. She sits in the row of chairs a few yards from the dentist. We try to help her control her tears but all we can do is give her a cold towel as she is spitting blood into the garbage can.

This happens again thirty minutes later. Except this time it’s Rortha, the smallest ten year old boy you’ve ever seen. He is flailing around in the chair and screaming. As soon as the dentist sets his metal plyers (I know that’s not what they’re really called) down, Rortha tries to sit up on his own but he needs help. His eyelashes are covered in tears and there’s snot running down his chin. I sit with him on my lap for the next hour and try to help calm him down. We have to change the gauze every few minutes.

For the next few hours I try to help as much as I can; whether it’s holding their hand while being examined or wiping the saliva/blood mixture that has covered some parts of the floor. The kids who aren’t studying hover around the dentist, preparing themselves for when they’ll get called up.  Even though I’m not sitting in that chair, I share the same uncomfortable feelings as the kids: we’re all terrified, nauseous, and extremely nervous.  I later pull out bingo in hopes of providing some sort of distraction.

The dentist and his wife are great. They are from New Mexico and have been traveling around Cambodia doing this for the past few months. They are very friendly with the kids and do their best to reassure and comfort them in Khmer. Within five hours, they examine over fifty kids’ mouths!

I would guess at least half of the kids had at least one tooth pulled. I held my big kid class right after the dentist and his crew left. The APCA kids in the class who were freshly Novocain-ed were adamant about taking their spelling test. I gave them the option to take it next week, but none of them were interested. They explain to me that yes, the dentist ‘very hurts’, but if they do not go their teeth will only get worse.



 

Posted by Molly Daugherty




1st, 2nd, 3rd, & 5th  

Posted by Molly Daugherty


Since we’ve been teaching ordinal numbers lately, I figured I’ll continue the trend.

1st: Last week I went to visit one of the beaches in Vietnam for the first time. I had been to Saigon three years ago; as the bus approached the city I realized how clean it is compared to Phnom Penh. The dozens of high-rise apartments and millions of motos in Saigon dwarf the Cambodian capital that I have come to think of as monstrous metropolis. I ventured to Mui Ne, a small resort town on the South China Sea. The first day I biked around the sleepy town. For the next two days, I basically did nothing but sit poolside, read, and catch up on my Car Talk and 60 Minutes podcasts. It was heaven.

Another 1st: My yoga practice has gone international! There is a studio in Phnom Penh that I have been meaning to visit so I slipped in for a class last weekend. The instructor is Australian and there is a Khmer instructor who translates, although at the class I attended there weren’t many non-English speakers. I will definitely return.

2nd: For the second time, I picked up a new APCA volunteer from Phnom Penh and showed her around the ‘big’ city. Diana is going to be an awesome addition to APCA. She came incredibly well prepared and has a TON of donations. Plus, she even has teaching experience! Imagine that – someone who actually knows what they’re doing! I’m excited to be at APCA with her.

3rd: I visited my favorite place in Phnom Penh for the third (maybe fourth?) time: International Book Center. They have virtually every school supply, sporting equipment, party supply, teaching material, and little random necessity you never thought you’d need. I bought an English grammar textbook for the kids in my big kid class and then had them copied. The city is littered with three things: pharmacies, dentists, and copy centers. I was able to get 13 copies of a 267 page book for about $30. Thank you Aunt Helene for your donation – I put it to good use! I passed the books out today in class and the kids couldn’t wait to fill in all the blanks.
5th: For anyone who was wondering if I have continued to visit Lhysa the blind masseuse, the answer is YES! Guess how many times I’ve gone? In fact, they love me there so much that my $7/hour rate has decreased to $6/hour.  Not a bad deal.

Some more developments:
Every evening the three of us volunteers hop on bikes and ride to Amret, a micro-lending office down the street. Their staff has asked us to teach them every day, so now we end our evenings conversing with 10 incredibly eager and energetic twenty-something business men and women. They were the first people I have come across in two months who have been able to point to a map and tell me exactly where I am right now. I have gotten to know PP pretty well only because if I don’t, and solely rely on a map to show a moto driver, I’ll end up miles from where I intended to go. Before this week, I just knew APCA was about an hour northwest of PP. For some strange reason, it feels better to know my exact location.

Speaking of location, I have decided to be located in Cambodia for an extra two months! Yep, I’m extending my stay! Instead of coming home May 1st, I’ll return sometime in July. That means two extra months for anyone to come visit us!

Have you ever gone hunting for dried cow poop in the middle of a rice field with 60 kids? If your answer is no, I’ll brief you about it so when the opportunity arises, you’ll be prepared.

First, you will have children try to explain to you what cow poop is. Next, you will follow a group of bigger boys who are in charge of lugging the big straw baskets around. Your job is to scavenge up as much dried poop as you can find and throw it in the baskets. It’s really just like an Easter egg hunt since the poop is camouflaged and takes effort to locate. Then, you will have children try to include you in their game of tag, which involves throwing the poop. Others will come up to you with an unpeeled banana in one hand and a wad of rather fresh poop in the other. They’ll offer you the banana, and when you politely decline they’ll stuff it in their mouths.  Girls will come up to you and shove crabs into your face – apparently poop hunting isn’t exciting enough for some, so they choose to search for the mini crabs that can be unearthed from the 3 inch wide holes in the ground. Once the baskets are full enough, you will be told that you have collected a sufficient amount to fertilize the flower beds. This is when you’ll be informed (as you leave the fields) that you should never go close to those 3 inch wide holes because of the..…ummmm, what do you call it in English? Oh yeah, cobras.

 

Posted by Molly Daugherty






A Trip to Khmer School  

Posted by Molly Daugherty


As I join the mob of 8 APCA kids pedaling to Batdang School at 6:58 am on Wednesday, I realize I am more nervous, excited, and curious than I have been so far in my Cambodia adventures. Pheany warns me, “Police! Motos wear helmet!” There are two policemen standing in the middle of the road next to two small metal road blockades that warn of their presence in Khmer. The 9 of us cruise on by, but the small non-APCA boy who is tagging alongside our throng staring at the two strange white girls fails to see this fast approaching barricade. As his head it turned to the left toward us, he crashes into the barricade and falls to the ground. The policeman standing ten feet behind this scene doesn’t budge a muscle. Instead, he stares at me and as I meet his gaze it’s like he is saying, “How dare you! Look what you did!” As the smiling but embarrassed boy returns to his bike and continues to ride along our side, the 9 of us laugh hysterically. “The policeman thinks it’s my fault?” I ask, feeling apologetic. “Yes, maybe!” the children reply between giggles.

We get to school late. Which means it’s 7:02 and we’ve missed the flag raising. We park our bikes amid the hundreds of others and Jessica and I follow Chav to his 8th grade English class. We’ve been warned about the teacher by the other APCA kids; his voice is so low that sometimes you can’t understand what he’s trying to say. We’ve also been warned that the teachers are normally 15-30 minutes late for class, since they all eat rice together at school before starting off their day. So, the three of us wait outside the classroom and try to act like this is a totally natural thing. Except it isn’t. Jessica and I are the first native English speakers to visit Batdang School, and we definitely stand out in our non-uniform clothing. Literally hundreds of students just stand and stare at us. I try to distract myself from their gazes by asking Chav about the school grounds, his class schedule, and favorite subjects.

At 7:12 the doors to the classroom open and about thirty of us enter. Jessica and I take a seat in the wooden desk behind Chav right next to a window. The room has four large glass-less windows, a broken ceiling fan, a white board, and multiple homemade English grammar posters. We sit and chat until 7:24, when the teacher enters. Just as the APCA kids greet me every day in class, we stand up and chant, “Good morning, teacher! How are you today?” The teacher responds in his uniquely low voice and asks the students to sit. Jessica and I walk to the front of the class to introduce ourselves, and he welcomes us with a handshake.  We are unsure if he knows that we are here just to observe and see what the classroom setting is like – NOT to help teach or critique his teaching. He seems content so we sit back down.

The next hour and a half is the most chaotic, confusing, and frustrating class period I have ever experienced – and I wasn’t even a student! It turns out that one of the ‘sexy girls’ is in this class, so the boys who aren’t in class during that time (or who are still waiting for their teachers to arrive) just visit right at the window. It probably doesn’t help that Jessica and I are sitting directly in their sight, but batches of noisy students slowly walk by, pause, and then stand there observing the class. Some APCA kids come by and want to chat with me through the window as the teacher is explaining what an electrician is. “Maliss, teacher good?” and “You like teacher?” the APCA kids ask me. I just nod as I fight the urge to stand up and yell, “Everybody! Quiet!”
 Besides the outside noise, the actual classroom noise is overwhelming itself. As the kids are individually pointed to by the abnormally tall teacher, they stand and recite one of the seven vocabulary words (electrician, politician, difficult, famous, next, foreign, and become) to practice their pronunciation. This is great – except for the fact that while that one student is talking, the other 39 are chatting just as loudly amongst themselves. The teacher never asks them to be quiet or addresses this noise issue. It quickly gets on my nerves.

As if the noise isn’t enough, there are the late students. This is understandable…they know their teacher will be late every day, so why shouldn’t they? Two or three groups of girls come in 30, 40, even 47 minutes after the hour. The teacher rhetorically asks, “Why are you late?” and the girls just head to their seats.

My body is on fire, sweat is rapidly dripping from every pore, and there is still an hour left. The students are reading from a Khmer-English workbook (which has its fair share of grammatical errors) but neither Jessica nor I was given one, so we just sit quietly and exchange quick glances as small mistakes are made on the board.

Finally, the class is over. The teacher approaches us and asks us if we witnessed any errors. We assure him that he did great and that he is a very good English speaker. Jessica notes one little grammatical error left on the board and he thanks us. We discuss his teaching schedule and he asks us where we are from. He welcomes us back to class next week; we thank him and head out of the classroom into the mob of students who have crowded around the doorway. As I visit with some of the APCA kids who want to know what I thought of the class, I realize it’s literally getting hotter by the minute. I have my sweat lines to confirm this.

I pedal back to APCA with a thousand thoughts running through my head and my butt on fire from the black polyester seat. I am thankful for the breeze as it tosses my skirt in every direction, providing me with some relief from the hot, stagnant classroom air.   I smile at the policemen as I briskly cruise past their black and red barricades. This time, I do not cause any innocent children to crash into the barricades, and the policemen even acknowledge me with friendly glances.  

The next day, I am asked by another APCA student to accompany him to his 11th grade English class.  I agree, and this time we wait 40 minutes before we enter the scorching classroom. Sopheap asks if it’s okay if we pass the time by pretending he is a guide (his career aspiration is to become a guide at Angkor Wat) so we wander between the buildings and are greet by tiny 1st graders who make the APCA kids look chubby. 

We visit with the five monks who come to my big kid class at APCA. Away from their presence, I have gotten used to calling them ‘my monks’. They are fantastic, quiet students who fail to miss a day of class. They are open to me asking them monk questions and actually find it humorous. Now, every time I go to Phnom Penh and see any monks out collecting morning alms, I say to myself, “Hello students!”

Sopheap and I enter the classroom and sit in the front row. After five minutes (class was supposed to start at 1pm, and now it’s 1:50), somebody announces that the teacher won’t be coming today because, “he is too busy”. So, I am approached by two twenty-something male students who ask if I can answer some questions. As they pull English grammar books out of their bags one by one, it reminds me of Mary Poppins and her magic purse. The students want to know about past participles, irregular verbs, and infinitives. I find out from talking with them for the next hour (the rest of the class hangs around and listen to us, visits, and talks about me in Khmer) that they also attend the small international school near the market (tuition: $5 a month) and teach ABC’s to the small children at their villages. As we are finishing, one of the students enthusiastically says, “We request you to teach us!” so I invite them to my APCA class.

Sopheap and I exit the class after saying our goodbyes and one of my monks pops out from the neighboring classroom. “Teacha! Meet my teacha!” So I poke my head in and see the same teacher as yesterday. This time, he is teaching 9th grade, and I don’t want to interrupt. He sees me as all the monks in the first two rows wave, so I briefly talk with him as the class looks on. He explains that maybe Sopheap’s teacher failed to show up because he was busy. He is just as friendly as the day before and extends the invitation to return to his class soon.

On the bike ride back to APCA, I ask Sopheap hundreds of questions. I learn that his teacher is absent about two days each week. Sometimes he is sick, sometimes he is busy.  It’s hard for me to hide my astonishment, but I try. I can’t express the frustration I would have if I was Sopheap, because to him it’s completely ordinary.  

“Maybe you come next week!” he suggests, doing his best to hide his disappointment as we park our bikes in the APCA driveway and head to the classroom just in time for the big kid class.  Sure, I tell him, we’ll give it another try.

On my next trip to PP I read an article in the Cambodian Daily about the teachers’ salary delay. Apparently, starting in January all teachers were to receive a $5 raise per month (which means they make anywhere from $45-$150 each month). However, the administration portion of this salary increase took longer than expected, so some teachers still haven’t received their January’s salary. This means they probably aren’t too pumped to continue teaching every day, which is why during the past few weeks it’s been common to have an APCA kid say, “No study today! No teacher!”

That’s when I say, “Maybe no Khmer study, but you will study with Molly!” Then they start giggling, jumping up and down, and chanting, “STUDY, STUDY, STUDY!” Really, I’m not making any of this up. 

The "Babies"  

Posted by Molly Daugherty







A month already?  

Posted by Molly Daugherty


The kids:
Currently, there are 64, so I can’t write about each one’s wonderfulness. Well, I guess I could, but tonight I will write about the ‘babies’. The youngest kid at APCA is five – although you’d look at her and probably guess three. I’ve discovered that almost everyone here has had to make an estimation of their age. To increase the uncertainty, many kids I have talked to explain that in Cambodia, when you are born, you are one year old. Needless to say, I really have no idea how old the youngest kids are – or any kids, for that matter. However, I am confident in the following:
-          They have the longest eyelashes I have ever seen. Sometimes I wonder how these kids can actually see! When they come to class after bathing, their eyelashes are in dark, long clumps that is, for some reason, adorable. I’m talking about eyelashes that are nearly two centimeters long. If that doesn’t sound long to you, find a ruler and see for yourself. I had to flip open the “Quick Reference” page of my Lonely Planet to give you this estimation, so this time I’m not exaggerating!
-          They want to study ALL the time. “Molly, stuDEE?” some of them whisper through my bedroom window as I’m heading out the door to teach them colors, animals, days of the week, and Old MacDonald. Their morning class only lasts a half hour, so by the time we brush teeth there’s only twenty minutes left! They are also big fans of coloring, so I treat them to crayons and paper on Fridays.
-          My class is the only schooling for four of them, so during the entire rest of the day they entertain themselves outside. That might mean kicking Kiki, the poor mutt who gets harassed by 64 kids everyday (and every night receives food scraps from the volunteers), playing in the middle of the boys’ dorm construction area, snake hunting, going through the garbage pit, napping, or jumping up and down ready to pounce on me and tickle my neck the moment I step outside.
-           They have definitely given me a different perspective on growing up. No real bed, dolls, or stuffed animals. A few pieces of clothing to their names. No snacks, dessert, or birthday cakes. When one of them cries, it lasts for approximately ten seconds and then they’re good to go.  They can already ride bicycles, even though the bikes are adult-sized, because all the big kids ride them and so they taught themselves. They think saying, “Hello, yellow!” is the best thing ever. They are very easy to please, and their independence blows me away.
Over one month!
I can’t believe it even though I knew it was going to happen like this. I’ve been teaching for over a month but it feels like two weeks. Here are a few things I’ve gotten pretty used to in my time at APCA:
-Getting asked ten times every day, “Mollyball, you eat rice?” The answer is always yes.
- Watching an elephant slowly saunter down the road as I am teaching about third person singular verbs. An hour later in another class, we see the elephant again, this time headed back in the opposite direction. I think to myself, “Where am I? What the heck am I doing?”
-Hearing the only Akon lyrics they (think they) know. The APCA/Cambodia version goes something like, “I wanna mango right now, now, now” instead of, “I wanna make up right now, now, now”.
-Getting asked, “Maliss, pee?” in the middle of class. So I say yes, and the boys stand up, walk three feet, and relieve themselves. Way easier than hall passes.
-Getting stared at in the market. I have yet to see another Westerner out here in the countryside (and not as many as I though in Phnom Penh, either).
-Playing ‘football’ with twenty boys in the cow poop covered pasture under the 85 degree sun. No shoes, no fouls, no field boundaries, no shoulder-exposure for Molly. That might be the only thing I’m not a fan of in Cambodia. I’ll be coming home with some pretty white thighs and shoulders!
-This one makes me sad: Being told, “I wish I have more money so I can have better grade in study.” I won’t go into the details, but some of the older kids’ teachers at Khmer school prefer to make the students pay for extra help. It’s really sad, since all of the kids here are dedicated and passionate about their schoolwork and getting good grades. I am so happy I can be here to help the kids (especially the older ones) with their English anytime they want – for free!
Holidays galore:
This weekend is “Chinese Happy New Year” AND Valentine’s Day! Jessica and I have been working our butts off cutting, coloring, and organizing valentines for everyone. The kids made them in class for their peers, so 143 were made all together! Was there confusion about the mixing of holidays? Probably, but who doesn’t want to burn some fake money, eat a fire-roasted pig, and receive a heart with candy and a pencil taped to it all in one weekend? The holidays ended with a good ole’ orphanage-wide lice cleansing session….I think I’ll go take a shower now.

"Mollyball"  

Posted by Molly Daugherty

 
“Being boring is a choice. Those mild salsas and pleated khakis don’t buy themselves. And so it is with happiness – a choice.”   -Eric Weiner, from “The Geography of Bliss” 

Sorry for this unorganized post. There have been lots of little exciting events that have taken place in the past few weeks, so I’m relying on my chicken-scratch notepad outline to help guide me in relaying them to you.
Basically, I love the APCA setting. It’s a 1.5 hour taxi ride to PP, where I can buy just about any necessity I need. Including chocolate and Pringles - more on that in just a second.
Last weekend I came to PP to pick up the new American volunteer! I’m so excited to have Jessica at APCA with me; it’s nice to have someone to bounce teaching ideas off of and help out with the teaching load. We were on the same Semester at Sea voyage! Once we get into our normal routine, we’ll each be teaching three classes. This means I’ll actually have time to plan more for my classes and get semi-organized! A very good thing.
The two of us came into PP again this week – it was time to renew our visas (I can’t believe I’ve been here a month already!) so we are taking the opportunity to stock up on school supplies and food. I also visited my favorite $7/hr masseuse Lhsya – she failed to disappoint again. This time, she didn’t play around with my funny bones. Instead, it was like she was taking the sharp curved part of a hammer and prying apart all the muscles that I used to have memorized which make up my hamstrings. Still, I love that lady and the pain she puts me through, so I’ll return.
Next topic: Food. I could go on for hours about all of the thousands of feelings I encountered when I stepped into a full-on American style grocery store at 8am on a Friday morning. I was the only customer, there was American music playing (Michael Buble, if I recall correctly), and it seemed that every aisle was staffed with a cute, friendly employee just waiting to help me.
After rice and fish for three meals a day for nearly a month, I kind of went crazy. The sugar content didn’t matter and the prices certainly didn’t matter. I just wanted to stock up on any sort of familiar food. Preferably the most chocolate-y kind of anything. I ended up making three grocery store trips to two different stores in the weekend. Peanut butter, REAL Pringles, Crystal Light, Cranberry Juice, Hershey’s syrup, 3 Musketeers! I won’t bore you with the details, but it was the only time so far where I thought to myself, “I wish I was traveling with someone!” I wanted to share this exciting, overwhelming, and satisfying experience with someone who knew just how much comfort and happiness a can of Pringles can bring (they had more than just Original, too! Pizza flavored, BBQ…I’ll stop my Pringles rant).
Each weekend, I really enjoy getting to know PP a little better. Even the tuk-tuk drivers outside the guesthouse I stayed at remembered my name and wanted to chat again. And by chat, I mean that we try to converse in Khmglish. Only knowing, “thank you”, “delicious”, 1-20, “a little”, “no problem”, and “I don’t know” makes it limiting. Everyday I’m working on it though, and the kids love correcting my pronunciation (which needs a lot of correcting).
Highlights from the past few weeks (so you have an idea about the posted pictures).
-A visit from a Korean acupuncturist. It was the weirdest thing. The Korean NGO that supports APCA occasionally has an acupuncturist visit. When I asked what the purpose of this visit was, I was told to prevent the kids from getting sick – that was all the explanation I received. Some kids were very excited and willing to get a needle twisted into their finger and another one (or two) in their feet. When I asked others if they wanted to do it they said, “No!” but then after we ate rice I came back inside and saw that all the kids were being prodded. Some were crying and others were trying not to. Even the two youngest kids just sat there quiet and patient as a rock (are rocks patient?). “Maliss, you want accupuncta?” I was asked. After I politely declined with the excuse that I didn’t feel sick at all, it was followed up by, “but don’t you want to be more beautiful?”
I should say that I don’t have anything against acupuncture. Mom used to get it done and benefitted from it; the only thing I didn’t like was the black licorice looking marbles that she brought home one day and I tried out - without knowing for certain what it was. And it certainly wasn’t black licorice, or anything resembling candy. Then she told me how expensive each of those black balls were. Sorry Mom!
I love shopping in hot, crowded markets with a twelve cent waffle in one hand and ice and Coke in a bag in the other. I realize this sounds pretty drug-related, but I assure you it’s not. Just a small plastic bag with crushed ice and a can of Coke poured into it with a straw sticking out. Pair that with five acres of fake North Face and Birkenstocks and Molly couldn’t be happier (except if you handed her some Pringles).
Week #2 of line dancing. More Akon music = more kids getting their groove on. It’s nice to give them a break from their daily Khmer dance lessons. It’s fun to hear ten year old Cambodian’s say, “Kick ball chain, Kick ball chain…” (you’d love it, Liz).
The past week I taught body parts to one of the classes, so this week Jessica and I taught them the Hokey Pokey. The monks that recently joined the previous classes asked to stay for the lesson, but once they heard Dora The Explorer’s Hokey Pokey song on the speakers, they slowly found their way back to the pagoda.
All of the boys play volleyball in any free moment they have. Last week, I decided to join some of them instead of playing football with the younger kids. One of the older boys became really excited when he realized my name rhymes with ‘volley’. So, I explained to them that in ninth grade, when I played volleyball for my first and final year, someone came and watched me play and saw how good I was, so they said, “No more ‘volleyball’ – we’ll call it ‘Mollyball”. So, now in America nobody calls it ‘volleyball’ anymore. Needless to say, instead of being referred to as, “Teecha” or “Maliss”, “Mollyball” is my new APCA name.
Fun fact: in Bhutan, they believe that every time you sneeze, that means someone is thinking of you. So, I’d like to thank everyone who has been keeping me in their thoughts. This PP air is so different than APCA’s country air. I think thirteen sneezes in one day is a lot for me. It’s also a little awkward when you’re lying face down with your skull being karate-chopped and you’re afraid of releasing the sneeze because it might scare poor Lhsya. Don’t worry. I was able to somehow manage.
New things I will blog about next: Valentine’s Day! Jessica and I are looking forward to making it the best day ever for us and the kids: candy, balloons, Valentines, and even the cute red heart envelopes that we made in second grade to hang on our desks. We’re pretty excited. I will also write about how amazingly independent and energetic the littlest kids are. I teach them every morning, and although it’s hard and frustrating at times, my frustration disappears later on in the day when they climb into my lap and want to cuddle.