Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sue Sadi Chnum Timy!

Happy New Year to you in Khmer! What a mind boggling year it has been. Graduation, moving from Montana to Alaska to Cambodia (with Idaho and Chicago in between, coming to work with LWF Cambodia. I think a little part of me is still reeling from all the change. 2008 was a difficult, exciting and humbling year for me. I feel much older now but at the same time keenly aware of how young I am in many regards.

Through all the changes and new experiences of the past year, there were wonderful people to help me grapple with it all. To avoid turning this into the “Oscar acceptance speech” blog post, I won’t name everyone. Still, I am so thankful to everyone who made life great and taught me new things and since this is the time of year for lists, here are few of my lessons learned in 08.

Firefly Catching: thanks to Carolyn and other orientation friends for teaching me to capture this fascinating bugs for the first time

Bear Dodging at Sarah Palin’s: warning the Governor’s house in Juneau attracts furry friends, check around the corner before proceeding in front of the house, going around back should be sufficient to avoid any bears

How Not to Whale Watch: not in a small, aluminum boat while distracted on the phone so you scream when the whale spouts a few feet from the bow (much gratitude to Nathan the extreme fisherman for bearing with me)

Khmer Dancing: the shuffle steps and “lotus” blossom hand gestures were tricky at first for someone more accustom to hip-hop and rock n’ roll but with the right teachers (i.e. my colleagues) dancing in Cambodia is hilarious fun

Niyee Pisa Khmai (Speaking Khmer): Ok, so I haven’t learned how to speak Khmer super well, but I can get around and I’ve learned more about a foreign language in a month and half of lessons than two trimesters of Spanish taught me

Cooking in Cambodia: despite missteps like oily French Toast, salty oatmeal and spicy cookies, I am getting closer to mastering a basic stir fry and being able to feed myself, fist pound to Carrie for her guidance and willingness to eat my mistakes

So that about wraps up a sampling of what this year taught me. Above all those things though, I have found that people who will love you and support you, no matter how far you are apart or what you are doing, are invaluable. And I am blessed with many of those people.

As my coworker Sokny reminded me, “I think you are lucky to have so many friends here.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ommmmm Bak tick a ta ba do ba

Title song reference number two, any guesses?
Aside from the lyrics to a '90s song, the title of this entry also contains the Khmer words for uncooked rice: om bak (those of you who speak Khmer can debate my spelling of the word if you pronounce it differently). Om bak is also the name for a popular snack available around harvest time. It is made in a three step process and tastes best right after you make it. While in Kampong Chhang province two weeks ago, I got to help make om bak - much to my delight and the entertainment of the ladies who showed me. Here's what I learned about making om bak:

Step One: Put a cup or more of unhusked, raw dry rice into a pot. Heat the pot over a fire. Don't add anything to the rice. The rice will start popping and crackling. Cook until all/most of the rice has popped.

Step Two: Pour the freshly cooked rive into a giant mortar and immediately begin pounding it with a giant, wooden stick. This step works best with three people, two pounding and one using a thin, pointed stick to stir up the rice between poundings. At this step, it is also good to invite a foreigner to join in and laugh as she - not realizing how heavy it is - struggles to lift the big stick. Be warned, the om bak won't be crushed very fast this way if the your foreign guest is weak.

Step Three: After the rice has been sufficiently flattened, put it on a large, flat basket. To remove the bits of husk, gently toss the rice by flopping the basket towards you with gentle motions. Though this sounds simple, it can be difficult for first timers to accomplish without losing the good bits too.

After completing all three step, you'll have a snack that is delightfully crunchy and chewy. Enjoy with caution, according to Ratna one handful of om bak equals one plate of cooked rice.