Monday in a Picture – Mondulkiri Project

Shortly after arriving in Cambodia, I was in a hostel in Phnom Penh talking with PCV who is currently serving here. We talked about our experiences in Peace Corps and life. I asked the Cambodia PCV for recommendations on things to do while here. He spoke very highly of the Mondulkiri Project in northeast Cambodia. The project has an elephant sanctuary for rescued elephants, and offers jungle trekking in addition to visits to the sanctuary to feed and bathe the elephants.

My interest was piqued. I read more about the project, and knew that I wanted to go. The project is home to five elephants. At least one was formerly used for elephant rides in Angkor Wat. Another was used for hauling logs from the jungle. Another was abused by her caretaker. The project also employs Bunong people, who live in the local community where the jungles and forests are.

The 18 kilometer trek started at the tour guide’s homestead just before 9 am. The views from the trek were quite awesome. Apparently, it’s the end of rainy season so the mosquitoes were minimal, but jungle floor was very slippery. This was especially true on inclines and declines. I lost my footing a few times and was invited to promptly sit down on the jungle floor. The trek included swimming in a river at a waterfall right before lunch. During the after lunch trekking, the rain started. Although it started as a light drizzle, it progressed into heavier rain. The jungle floor became even more slippery. We finally reached our destination: the Jungle Lodge. They had hammocks with blankets set up for us. They also served dinner, which included bamboo soup (made in real bamboo), breakfast, and lunch the next day.

The second day was all about the elephants in the sanctuary. We went down to the sanctuary with many bananas. We were able to feed the elephants in the jungle sanctuary. Once the elephants saw that we had the bananas, the gentle giants approached and took the fruit from our respective hands. Some elephants allowed us to remain close while others walked away to munch on some young bamboo. In the afternoon, we were able to swim with and bathe the elephants in the river. After a full two days of activity, I was tired and sore. I’m super thankful for the hot shower and delicious food I had back in town. The above picture is of me admiring the view at the beginning of the trek, when I was still dirt-free.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S. – Here go two more really cool pictures. The first is of a leaf that apparently ran out of chlorophyll. The second is of an elephant munching

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This Ain’t Easy: Difficulties in Service

Peace Corps service is difficult. I often get asked if/what I miss about America. My answer is always food, and the variety of it. In fact, I have a list of places to eat when I return to DC. This question is often followed up by some variation of “isn’t it difficult being away from your family for so long?” Technology seems to shorten the distance. However, if I had to single out one thing, I’ve found the most difficult part of my service, this far, has been being “always on”. 

I’ve had jobs where I participated in on-call rotations. This is different. There’s a certain brain drain even when apparently doing nothing. One of the core expectations of Peace Corps is:

“Recognize that you are responsible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for your personal conduct and professional performance.”

That professional performance item doesn’t end when the work day does. In fact, the “work day” is never over. Off days are non-existent. Off days are work days. While it’s true that I’m not teaching 24 hours daily, there’s still work to be done. There’s still siSwati to be learned, improved, and perfected. There’s still Swazi English to be deciphered. Relationship building and maintenance is work. Active listening and mindful presence is work. Waking up and walking from my house to the latrine means that I have to be ready to interact. My actions (or lack thereof) are highly visible. All day, everyday, I am the face of America. I am the face of all Americans. I am the face of Black Americans. I am the face of American men. If I eat ice cream with a fork, Americans do that. If I’m loud, boisterous, and use lots of profanity, Americans do that. 

Months ago, I was speaking with a musician in Swaziland. Somehow, the conversation turned to drug use among musicians. The musician said something that would stick with me. When discussing musicians and heavy drug use, the musician stated that drugs were prevalent because it’s not natural for a person to be in a near constant state of performance entertainer mode. Day after day. Night after night. Show after show. The musician explained that they are expected to continually perform at the highest levels. Otherwise, they are replaced by someone who can perform at those high levels. In no way am I suggesting that PCVs do or should indulge in drug use. I am offering that anyone considering Peace Corps service might want to develop healthy (read: non destructive) coping mechanisms and vices.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.