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A Day in the Life: Phnom Penh edition

October 5, 2009

5:00 AM: The dogs start barking. I open my eyes long enough to make sure my mosquito net is still tucked in around my mattress, and roll over, back to sleep.

6:00 AM: My alarm goes off. I decide that 6:30 Mass isn’t going to happen today, set my alarm for 6:45, back to sleep.

7:00 AM: Breakfast with the Jesuits and Sister Anne. Strong coffee and a yogurt, plus three or four glasses of water – I’ll need them later.

7:45 AM: After checking my email and gathering up my books, I hop on my bike, put on my helmet, and go to class. This is easily the most stressful part of my day. My ride to class is about 45 minutes long, and the first 15 minutes are through jam-packed rush hour traffic, complete with awful pollution, aggressive moto drivers, and apparently the entire working population of Phnom Penh on its way to work. Even though it’s early in the morning, it’s already at least 85 degrees.

8:30 AM: I arrive at Saint Teresa’s, a home for college girls that Jesuit Service supports. I study with the director, Ponhaka, who used to manage a similar center in Battambang. She’s 27, incredibly smart, always patient, and fun. Right now we’re learning the alphabet (there are 22 vowels, each of which has two distinct sounds depending on which of the 33 consonants it’s next to), but also adding to my vocabulary for daily life here and women’s health issues. Here’s a great account from a foreigner learning Khmer, which sounds all too familiar:

10:30 AM: We switch to English class. I take over as “nekrew” and Ponhaka becomes my student. Thankfully, she’s far beyond learning the alphabet, because I can’t imagine trying to teach anyone to read, especially not with all of English’s funny rules and exceptions.

11:30 AM: Back on my bike, to return to Jesuit Service, where I live and work. This time the ride doesn’t take quite as long, since the traffic is lighter, but it’s also much hotter – usually around 95. I get back in time for lunch a little after noon, and then crawl to my room for a shower and nap.

My afternoon could be spent studying Khmer, doing research for program development in Battambang, or in a meeting with a Phnom Penh organization that has women’s health programs. I also use this time for cleaning (the dust here is so bad that you have to sweep and dust every day) and catching up on emails and news.

In the evening, Anne and I often have a beer before dinner with the Jesuits at 7. When we finish, it’s the perfect time to call the East Coast, so I get on Skype for a little bit. Then, I have just enough time for a West Wing episode before  bed! Right now I’m in the middle of Season 3 – one of the best.


So there you have it – for all of you who are convinced that I’m out in the villages, building orphanages or administering life-saving medication… not so much. My days here are certainly not that exciting yet, but the routine is helping me stay committed to my studies and adjust life in the city. I’m trying to make some friends in the city (more on that later), but I’m only in Phnom Penh until Christmas, so creating a community here is not one of my major priorities right now. I have great friends waiting for me in Battambang!

One Comment leave one →
  1. adrienne permalink
    October 5, 2009 1:33 pm

    living vicariously through you is way more fun than doing work or ‘appreciating’ the ithaca weather. thanks for the update!

    ps — the girl with the wedding blog got deleted 😦

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