Notes From Under The Mosquito Net

The life and times of a Peace Corps Volunteer in Cambodia.

Create Cambodia: Day 2

The second day of the festival, and the only full day, is a pretty strong contender in the competition for ‘longest day of my life’. Don’t get my wrong, it was a great, fun day. It’s just that when I say full day I mean full day. This second day was devoted to sessions and workshops spanning the art forms, as well as just giving the students a chance to get to know each other and have some fun.

For most, the day began at 6:30 am, our official earliest wake-up time. As an aside, this may seem unnecessary to Americans who are used to having to pry highschoolers out of bed; not so here. We learned this the hard way last year when the girls started primping at FOUR A.M. Not that our quiet hours were obeyed, but at least there was an established rule I could cite as I walked around all night/morning whisper-yelling at students to be quiet. But anyway, we all rolled up our mats and mosquito nets at 6:30 and engaged in some quick stretching before the rice porridge was served.

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After breakfast Apsara Arts Association returned and began the day with a workshop in Apsara Dancing (‘apsara’ literally refers to the ‘angels’ in Khmer/Buddhist legend, but is also the name used for classical Khmer dancing). The same 12 year-old girls who performed the previous night came back the workshop. Their professionalism, skill and ability to work the crowd of 150+ older students was astounding, especially in contrast to the pervasive lack of confidence in Cambodian youth. Those girls were living proof that one of the principles behind the festival, that participation in the arts increases confidence, is sound.

Anyway, as you can see, students AND PCVs really got into it:

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The next workshop of the day was also courtesy of some returned performers, this time Krousar Thmey. I think I was dealing withe some  paperwork-related thing at this time and so, unfortunately, missed most of this workshop. For purposes of sharing I shall quote directly from Diana’s blog.

At 10:00AM we had our second workshop, done this time by Krousar Thmey. Krousar Thmey came to educate the students about working in the arts as a blind or deaf person. Our students got to meet with their performers and ask questions about a variety of topics. Our students learned some key words and phrases in sign language, and got to see how their names look and feel written in Braille. Very few of our students even knew that these systems existed, and they were all eager to learn more. They particularly loved learning sign language, and I caught them signing to each other throughout the rest of the festival.

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Finally, before lunch, we made rain. No, not make IT rain. Just made rain—or the sounds, at least. I’m sure some of you know how this works: one by one, standing in a large circle, you rub your hands together to make ‘wind’. When you get originator you can escalate to finger snapping, clapping, and stomping—and then gradually return to the wind.

This activity may sound pretty basic, but remember that these kids live in a world without summer camp or daycare games or first day of school icebreakers or…well, anything like this. So this activity was just straight-up wizardry.

After lunch and a much-needed break time (Cambodia is a country that demands mid-day naps) we resumed with another PCV-led activity, the Emotional Orchestra. The idea behind this activity was to hone drama skills, and the premise was this: students divide into groups and are assigned a simple emotion (‘sad’) and the conductor beings by telling them to act a little sad. Then the conductor can ramp up the emotions, or bring it back down. We did this as a large group, in small groups, and let students ‘conduct’. Silly, but fun and effective.

 The next workshop was led by Cambodian Living Arts. CLA’s mission is to preserve/revive the traditional Cambodian art forms that were large wiped out (along with any living practitioners) during the Khmer Rouge. The workshop they put on for the students was in Chapei Dong Veng—this is a traditional long-necked guitar that is played in an improvisational-interactive playing/singing style. They demonstrated for the students and let students and PCVs give it a shot afterwards.

After Cambodian Living Arts left (and, of course, a snack), we began the next workshop. Using construction paper and colored paper and crayons students were asked to make Starry Starry NIght—but with a twist. The new background would be Angkorian temples, conveniently replicated in the Khmer Arts venue. By this point in the festival students were starting to catch on to how things work and set to drawing.

Finally, through sweaty and exhausted after dinner, we knew it was time to become ROCK STARS.

OK—maybe a bit dramatic. What really came next was a rhythm workshop aiming to teach the kids how to make the basic rock n roll drumbeat using chopsticks. We used colored string and posters to break down the beat, and then put it back together. Whether or not anyone, strictly speaking, executed the task (hint: they did not), it was fun and brought everyone’s energy levels back up.

We then promptly confiscated all the chopsticks (‘drumsticks’) because god knows what would happen if we didn’t.

Now that everyone was re-energized, it was PROM TIME.

I guess that warrants some background. Last year, a spontaneous dance party began and grew into a multi-hour fun dance-a-thon. So naturally we aimed to re-do that this year. Minus the spontaneity. Regardless, a playlist of favorite Khmer and Western pop hits was assembled. Aside from being fun, this whole dance party business is special for the kids. Like so many other things I’ve mentioned in this post, a space for youth to dance and have fun AS YOUTH is just something that doesn’t happen in Cambodia. Yeah, school dances aren’t a thing here. There are weddings, but you can’t go to those until you’re a young adult, and when you do they’re adult-dominated and the dancing scene is anything but ‘free’ (hint: a lot of drunken drunken old men and adult eyes). So finally these kids cut loose, and cut loose they did. Good old-fashioned fun was had by all.

 

Finally, to bring all the sweaty, energized kids back to a state conducive to sleep, we did some cool-down activities (yoga and thank-you notes) and—minus those of us dealing with a student’s medical emergency—went to get some well-deserved rest.

Students slept better the second night, of that I am sure.

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