Bootcamp Blog 5 by Jan Lewis

Posted by on Feb 7, 2013 in English Boot Camp 2013 | 1 comment

Jan’s Bootcamp Blog

RETIREMENT!!!!!! The sound of that word put the fear of god into me but on the other hand I was looking forward to doing the things twenty years of continuous teaching and bringing up a family had prevented me doing. I had plans to travel but I never dreamed that when I finally decided to take the plunge and retire, within a short time, I would be jetting across the world to take part in the Bike for Cambodia English Bootcamp. I certainly did not have any idea that I would be back in this wonderful country within 11 months to take part in the second Bootcamp. I feel very privileged to be back here again.

As we bumped our way here along a very dusty road from PP I could feel the excitement rising in me. I was really looking forward to being back in Kampong Cham. There was also a little bit of trepidation, would the Cambodian teachers remember us? Would they be as enthusiastic as they were last year? What would the new teachers think of us? Many thoughts raced through my mind but I needn’t have worried.

7:30 am, bright and early on Monday morning we set off from the Mekong Hotel with the intention of being there to greet the teachers when they arrived but as we rolled up on bikes and me in a tuk tuk, many of our past teachers were already there to greet us with great enthusiasm and delight. It felt like we had never been away. There were many handshakes and hugs and of course smiles. Cambodia is built on smiles.


My partners in crime this year are Ola and Adam, who have just completed the gruelling Bike for Cambodia ride from Kep to Siem Reap with the other brave people. If you haven’t already sponsored them make your pledges they deserve your support!!!!! We are the Jolly Phonics/Pronunciation Team. This year as well as revisiting the phonics our aim is to improve the pronunciation of the teachers. Cambodians have particular difficulty with sounds such a ‘V’ and ‘F’, so we had to start from scratch and teach the correct shape of the mouth and the position of the tongue and teeth. Oh dear!!!! It was so difficult for some of them to position their mouth, teeth and tongues. In Cambodia it is impolite to stick out your tongue which seemed to have a knock on effect where top teeth are concerned. We persevered and most of our dear Cambodian friends managed to overcome their difficulties to a certain extent. That was the first day and we are already noticing the V and F pronunciation is improving as well as other sounds we have taught since then. We still have a huge uphill struggle with the ends of the words though. So many of the teachers have an amazing grasp of vocabulary and grammar but their pronunciation still makes it very difficult for us to understand them and for them to teach the children effectively.

At the end of each day we have been spending time in conversation groups. I have learnt so much about the culture and way of life in Cambodia. We have spoken about festivals and how they are celebrated. How they live in extended family groups. They talk about their hopes and ambitions and how they never have any spare time on their days off because they are either, preparing lessons, marking work or studying to improve their qualifications. Not much difference between them and their UK counterparts. They are also hungry for information about the way of life in UK, they would much rather listen to us than have to speak in English about themselves.

The teachers really seem to appreciate what is being done. They are enjoying the challenge of the grammar groups taught by Sarah and ‘Mrs Maria’, they revel in the games and songs taught by John, Penny, Ella and Chloe and they look for teaching strategies and ideas for their students in Pronunciation with Jan (Mama), Ola and Adam. So much to do and so little time.

Some of us have already been struck down with the dreaded Cambodian Revenge which luckily does not last too long but makes you feel like a squeezed out dish cloth. The food here is amazing. Fish Amok has certainly become a favourite with many of us, with its delicate flavour of coconut and lemongrass and succulent pieces of fish but some of us are becoming ‘riced out’. We find ourselves eating less and less of it. At lunch time we are presented with very, very large bowls of it which the Cambodian teachers take great delight in dishing out in very big portions.

One of the restaurants we frequent is charity run, it trains young people from the Kampong Cham area in catering /restaurant work and is a lovely place to eat if not slightly chaotic at times. One of the delights for me is watching the antics of the small gecko type lizards as they scamper across the walls and ceiling catching the dreaded mozzies and fighting each other for territory. They resemble the rubber, jelly like, toys that are for sale in museum shops in the UK.

Speaking of shopping, some us decided we would go to the shops and markets here in KC and buy things to take home. The only person who has managed to increase the trade figures in KC this week is Maria who bought some lovely things for her grandchildren. Ola and Adam have bought coffee filters made from tin plus coffee and pepper. Unfortunately most of us have increased the profits at the local pharmacies having said that, medicines seem remarkably cheap but I suppose when you are only earning $10 a week it’s all relative. There is definitely a niche market here for the tourist market which is not being exploited.

It was decided that we would not venture too far from Kampong Cham during our weekend off. We visited Tonlebet School to see the dental clinic, which has now been open since October. Last year it was a patch of dusty ground and a plan on a sheet of paper. Now it is a fully operating modern dental clinic where the local children can get their teeth checked and get treatment when there is a dentist in residence. Once again Ola has triumphed!!!!

On Sunday we travelled out of KC to visit a pepper farm which is run by Phally’s cousin. We were given the most wonderful welcome. They proudly showed us around the farm and explained how the pepper was grown. As you grind your next lot of pepper onto your pasta spare a thought for the people who work very hard to produce this little condiment. Of course the Cambodian people are the most hospitable in the world and a feast of different foods had been planned and we were told that the table we were sitting at had been especially scrubbed in honour of our visit. We were presented with dish after dish we seemed to be eating for hours. There was even the smelly and very frightening Durian fruit. Some of us decided we might never get the chance to try it again and I found it unusual but not as bad as I expected. In fact the Jack fruit I had tasted the day before, while being treated like royalty in Piseth’s sister’s beauty salon, was a much stronger flavour.

All too soon the days have flown by and it was time for our night out with our Cambodian friends I have always said that you need to an exhibitionist to be a teacher and some of the Cambodian teachers just couldn’t wait to get up onto the stage to Karaoke Cambodian style. After the best food

we have had this year we were up ‘dancing around the table’, trying very hard to coordinate the feet and the hands. It was a really lovely evening.

The last day, many speeches, lots of emotion, presentations and a lovely song called ‘Take me to your Heart ‘sung to us by the Cambodian teachers. No problem there guys, you are already in our hearts and always will be. I hope that what little we have been able to do in the short time we have been in Kampong Cham will leave a lasting legacy and that in the future we will be able to help them more. In the mean time I know they will try hard to put into practice the ideas and skills we have given them.

Finally one of my abiding memories of this year’s Bootcamp will be hearing a class of Cambodian teachers chanting ‘She sells sea shells along the seashore’ (not easy when you have difficulty with ‘s’ and ‘sh’) and Adam making them say it faster and faster until it sounded like a cacophony of snakes and they all fell about laughing. There was a lot of hard work during the two weeks but also a lot of fun.

One Comment

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