31 October 2009

Long Hot Days

Well, the last two days have been very long, hot and frustrating. Dealing with Khmer tradespeople is fraught with traps, especially for foreigners who don't speak the language or fully understand the culture. By last night I was almost ready to pack up and return to Australia. Almost but not quite.

After have no power downstairs all night Thursday, I got up on Friday morning, and switched the circuit breaker on again downstairs (after it had been out all night) and 20 minutes later it was off again. Then got another 20 minutes out of it, and then we actually got about 3 and a half hours. Long enough for the fridge to cool down and the helper to do the ironing (as well as a heap of other things). She cooked our dinner and put it in the fridge. 10 minutes after she left, the power went off again, and I couldn't get it to stay on.

At 9am the washing machine repair man came, and ended up taking away a large part of the machine, promising to return at 10am Saturday morning (which he did).

After sending 5 text messages to the landlord, updating him on the electricity situation I finally phoned him, and he said someone should have been there. Not long after that a girl turned up, who I assumed was with the guys doing the roof, and made her stay either outside or up with the guys on the roof. (First mistake - never assume anything). A short while after that, another guy on a moto turned up, completed with wife, and two small children. Did not introduce himself, but indicated that they were all coming into the house. When I said no to that, not knowing it was the electrician, they departed, not to be seen again. Ooops. 2nd and very bad mistake! Even if I had known who he was, I still would not have wanted the whole family in the house.

When I rang the landlord to find out why the electrician still hadn't come, that was when I discovered my mistake. I apologised for upsetting them but explained why I had done it, and asked for something to be done. I apologised again the next morning when the landlord turned up at the house about 10.30am, but the damage was done. His wife is now very angry that I would not let a family of people I didn't know and could not communicate with into my house, and is now refusing to pay for an electrician to come and do the work. I'm still waiting. Meanwhile the power has been off downstairs for over 48 hours, and so anything in the freezer that I couldn't move upstairs is now going to have to be thrown out.

I spoke at length with the landlord, and he was understanding and sympathetic, but his wife is still being angry and unreasonable. I asked him how she would feel in my situation, and he agreed that she would not like it. He's trying again to get someone to come, but I'm really frustrated. I'm very close to simply packing up and moving out, except that I like the house and the location, and it would not just affect me.

So where to now? Who knows. I'm still waiting for the landlord to contact me, but it's looking very much like I'm going to have no power downstairs again tonight, and tomorrow is Sunday, and I have plans for the afternoon at any rate, so I'm not sure what's going to happen.

Meanwhile, what's happening on the roof? Actually, today I suspect there is very little happening. They cut the generator at about 11am, and haven't restarted it. They did come and measure for the sheeting, and now the landlord is talking about just putting chainwire around the roof space, so I have no idea what's going to happen and when it is going to happen. Here's a photo I took last night after everyone had left for the day. The pile of rubbish on the floor on the right is the old roof. Under all the bars are the old rusted out sheets of roofing iron. Things are definitely done diffently here. In Australia, they would measure it up, and order all the materials, completely remove the old structure, and then, when all the materials are ready, they would come and do the new installation (at least I'm fairly sure that's what would happen). Not here. They day they started the job, they measured up. Then disappeared for about 4 hours. Then they arrived and starting hauling the frame up to the roof. Then they started both removing the old and installing the new. Then today they actually came and measured for the roof sheeting, and obviously for the chain wire to go around the outside!

Why do I say they measured for the chain wire? I say it because a moto with trailer just delivered another pile of one inch square galvanized metal, and two huge rolls of 2" chain wire fencing. How they are going to get it up to the roof, I have no idea! The metal framing is easy enough. They are passing that up, one piece at a time, from a guy on the ground to a guy on the next door neighbour's flat roof (about 10 feet above the ground), and then up to another guy on my roof. The pieces are probably about 7m long, so that's not too difficult, but the chain wire is a different matter. They seemed to be struggling to slide it inside the gate from where it was delivered on the road. It is rolls about 40cm in diameter, and about 2m long, so I guess I'd better go and get the camera out for this one! Since it's only 4pm, I imagine they will make a start at installing it this afternoon, although I could be wrong.

On top of all that, the cold the children have been passing around has caught up with me now that I've slowed down for the holidays, so I'm sneezing and blowing my nose with unpleasant frequency. OK. I'll stop moaning, and go and see if I can get some good photos to add to tomorrow's post!


29 October 2009

Power Failures, Generators, and the Roof

Wow, what a lot can happen in just a few days. Sunday was a relatively quiet and unproductive day, but I enjoyed church in the afternoon, and then dinner at the Garden Centre Cafe, including poached fish, masthed potatoes, broccoli, and feta cheese salad, and then topped it of with a slice of Mississipi Mud Pie (not quite chocolate mud cake, but not a bad substititute). As I was enjoying my dessert, the heavens opened in a tropical downpour, so, even with my trusty poncho at hand, I decided it would be wise to delay the journey home a little. It was still raining when I eventually left, but not quite as heavily. Monday and Tuesday were relatively normal days with a Curriculum Review meeting in the afternoon (somehow I ended up on the HPE committee), and nothing special on Tuesday. However that's when the week changed. Tuesday afternoon I got a text message from the Landlord saying they would be starting the roof on Wednesday morning, and would be at the house for several days. "Oh no", I said to myself, "now I have to find someone who I can trust who can stay in the house while the tradespeople are there." Fortunately I was able to get a young lady whose mother works at the school, and whom I have met several times, and she was willing to help out. She got to the house before my helper left and stayed until I could get home from school. At that stage they were still pulling metal frame up to the roof, but about 5.00pm they started using their power tools, and 10 minutes later I lost power upstairs. Hmm. The circuit breaker had tripped, and so I reset it and headed back upstairs. 10 minutes later it tripped again, so I went upstairs to investigate. I was not impressed. There were bare wires connecting power saws to powerboards, that were in turn plugged into the power supply. There were also bare wires joining the welding equipment to that power supply. I contacted the landlord and explained my concerns, especially with the power going off twice in such a short time, and told him I would not turn it back on until they left, and also asked that he get them to fix the equipment before they returned the next morning at 7.30am.

Well, the next morning they all trooped in at 7.30am, and the landlord arrived shortly afterward, and we went up to the roof so I could show him my causes for concern. When we got to the landing below the roof, I was horrified to see two bare wires had been stuck directly into a power outlet (no plug, just the bare wires). Fortunately the landlord was able to understand my concern, and when he saw the other dodgy connections he agreed that they should not be plugging into the house elecricity, but would use a generator. With this confirmed, things starting to happen, and Rebecca arrived to keep an eye on things, I headed for school and a day of meetings. The cinnamon rolls and juice were great, and the meetings were OK. Lunch was Indian food, which was OK, although it didn't really excite me. The afternoon meeting also went well, and I was home by about 2pm.

That was when the day really started to get interesting. The first thing I discovered was that someone had locked my bathroom door, so the boys couldnt' use it (the landlord had asked them to use the one downstairs). Unfortunately it was the one door in the house that I had no key for. So I phoned the landlord and he arranged to get that problem solved. While I was waiting for that problem to be fixed, I discovered was that the electricity downstairs was off, and no-one could tell me how long it had been off. I turned the circuit breaker back on, but 5 minutes later it had tripped again. I tried once more, and 10 minutes later it happened again. Since I couldn't find any obvious cause, and the landlord was already on his way to solve the locked door problem, I waited until he arrived and then explained the new problem. Explaining my concern about food going off, etc, he managed to get hold of an electrician, and they came and spent considerable time trying to resolve the problem, including the fact that we cannot run my housemate's airconditioner and the microwave at the same time. Eventually around 6pm everyone left the house, and 10 minutes later the power went off again, and again 10 minutes later, then again an hour later. I give up! It's too hard for me to deal with this evening.

Tomorrow is going to be a long hot day (since I need to be home most, if not all of the day) and the generator will be running, and there will be strange people in and out of my house, including the washing machine repair man, so I guess I'd better head for the shower and bed! The roof guys will be arriving at 7.30am. I refused to let them come any earlier, partly out of a desire not to get up any earlier than I do for a normal school day, especially on a holiday, and partly out of consideration for the neighbors (imagine if the generator started at 6am, how popular would I be then).

There have been other things going on as well, but this post is quite long enough, so I'll leave them for another day! Good night!


24 October 2009

Water Tanks and Painting Competitions

Just what do water tanks and painting competitions have in common? Nothing, except that both had to be dealt with today.

First the fun stuff. A couple of weeks ago the principal received an invitation from the local Chevrolet dealership inviting us to bring our elementary students and their parents to a painting competition at their showroom this morning. We were given a choice, but all decided that we'd like to give the kids the opportunity, and that we would give up our Saturday morning to do it. Well, we end up with about 30-40 kids and about the same number of parents, loaded up a bus, and headed off. Traffic was heavy, but we arrived on time, and the kids had fun. They were all given a packet of coloured pencils, a piece of art paper, and a Chevy car brochure and invited to draw their favourite Chevy car. In the end some drew other things, but they all had fun. Then we were provided with drinks and pizza packages, and finally there was the prize giving. The kids had a great time, and some came away with some great prizes, and it was a good chance for some of the parents to meet each other in an informal environment as well.

From there it was a dash home to meet the landlord's wife, to try and resolve a problem with our water tank. These tanks sit on the roof, and the town water is pumped up to them, and then flows from them to the house. The advantage of this system is that if we lose the town water supply, we've probably got enough water for a day or two at least if we are careful. Unfortunately the last couple of mornings and evenings I noticed a strange smell to the water when I was having a shower, like something was dead in the water. Well, I finally had time to go up and check it out this morning, and discovered that, for some totally unknown reason, someone had removed the lids from both my tank and my next door neighbour's. Unfortunately it also appeared like a cat had been sitting on top of my and urinating in it! Hmm. (I've since drained the tank completely and refilled it, so hopefully we won't have any nasty consequences.) Fortunately there didn't seem to be any foreign bodies in it, so I put the lid back on and phoned the landlord. He was out of town, but agreed that his wife should come and see what we could do. I was fortunate to be able to get one of our Khmer staff to come and translate for me (who also happens to be very clever about these things and was able to communicate clearly what needed to be done, and get some answers for me), since she speaks very little English, although her husband speaks English reasonably well. In the end they have agreed to have a cage made to secure the tank, that we can put a lock on, and prevent unauthorised access to the tank, and sometime after the Water Festival holidays (which are very quickly approaching), when they finally put a new roof on, they will also actually put a steel grill all the way around the roof area. This will make it a much more safer place, for hanging laundry, and relaxing. I might even hang a hammock or two up there once it's done. The roof top is quite a pleasant place to relax in the evenings, since it gets lovely breezes, although the access (via a ladder) isn't so exciting. We will see when it happens.

Meanwhile, as well as the parent conferences yesterday we snuck in a trip out to the new building. It's looking good as you can see from the photo above. Tiles are down, and the first coat of paint is on. The basketball court has been roofed and enclosed, and looks great. The picture above is the front of the building, what is seen as you drive in the front gate. The building is L-shaped, and this side of the L has Pre-K classrooms (2), Art Room, and Music Room on the ground floor, the Library, elementary computer lab, and 1st grade classroom on the 1st floor, Science labs, middle-high school computer lab and classrooms on the 2nd floor, and more middle-high school classrooms and the multipurpose room on the 3rd floor. The other part of the L has 2 Kindergarten classrooms, the main foyer, and the administration area on the ground floor, 4 classrooms (Grades 2 - 5) and a large office/workroom on the 1st floor, 4 more classrooms and more office/workrooms on the 2nd floor, and then the cafeteria and kitchen on the 3rd floor. There are spacious hallways, and two sets of stairs, and greatly improved change room facilities for both swimming pool and basketball court. We are getting excited about the move, although there is still a long way to go. At this stage the first main event on the new campus will be our Christmas program on 11th December, and it's scary just how close that is.

Ok, that's all for now. I'll try and post more regularly, but that depends on school work being done first! And I've got a mountain of that to do. Fortunately I've got a brief holiday to catch up on some stuff from next Friday to the following Tuesday. Thursday is a teacher work day, which probably means meetings! I asked the principal today why we should have to be there when we know the elementary principal isn't going to be there. He didn't really have an answer, so I guess I'll just make the most of it, and hope the meetings don't go all day!

In His service


22 October 2009

Spinning Raisins

Couldn't resist posting about the fun Science lesson we did this afternoon. It went really well. It was based on a lesson that I had participated in during my final university practicum, and involved dropping a handful of raisins in a clear cup of "Sprite". Before we did it, students had to predict what they thought would happen, which is always interesting, and we also talked about the importance of observing closely and recording what was happening. There were some interesting predictions like "it will bubble up and explode all over the room", and they recorded some great observations. When asked to write some questions starting with "I wonder why ..." I could see I've got some students with the potential to be great thinkers (they are already getting there). Thanks to Mallie for the lesson! The students really enjoyed it.

Reprieve and Breathing Space

Whoa! It's time to stop and take a breath. The last two weeks were hectic!
First the good news. For reasons totally out of my control, I am no longer getting a 25th student. God answered the prayers of my colleagues (I confess I was too angry to pray), and I finally got work on Monday or Tuesday of last week that I wouldn't be getting the extra student. Thanks Lord. I mean that!
Second piece of good news. Report cards are finished and sent home! I eventually finished them at 8pm on Thursday night (only 20 hours late), and despite two power outages on the Friday, the Elementary Principal managed to read them, and the office managed to get them printed. Thanks so much ladies!
Third piece of good news. Our first Scholastic Book Club orders for the year have been placed and paid for! As a school, we have gained a lot of resources from our students' purchases from the Scholastic Book Clubs. This year I'm coordinating it for the first time, and that is going well. We are also looking forward to our first ever Book Fair. For those of you who aren't familiar with this, we purchase a range of books at a decent discount, and then hold a fun Book Fair, where parents and students can look at the books before they buy them. This can be a great fund raiser, so we're hoping that it goes well.
On a personal note, my social life was very busy during the last week. On Friday night it was a "girls only" movie night for teachers with six of us enjoying "Away From Her". Then on Saturday I had two couples and one toddler over for dinner. I even cooked - and even Allie liked my spaghetti sauce. Finally on Tuesday night I was invited to (and even attended) a 35th birthday party. I really enjoyed that evening, especially chatting with other Aussies.
I also recently started hosting a "home group" in my house here in Phnom Penh. We're a mixed group, and I've been enjoying getting to know some new people, and also the studies we've been doing. We meet on Wednesday evenings, so that means I have to be home by soon after 6pm that night. Fortunately Wednesday is my lightest day at school, so it's possible, although I am often still eating dinner as folk arrive.
Tomorrow I have more parent-teacher conferences, so I guess I should sign off for now, and head for bed. No kids, so in between conferences I have a chance to get ahead with grading papers and planning for next week's lessons. More holidays coming up, so that means some short weeks, and a teacher work day next Thursday.
That's all folks!

09 October 2009

Another week, another student

There are days when I hate being a teacher. Fortunately they are not many, and they are usually those days when report card time is approaching! Most of the time I love teaching, especially when the kids "get it", or when they are showing how much they have learned.

Yesterday was a lousy day. The main reason being because I got told that I was getting an extra student, sometime next week. As I already have 24 students in a too small classroom (I can't get between the desks as it is), and I have already had one student arrive six weeks late, who doesn't know classroom routines, and has missed a heap of work and assessment, and I have resources which are setup for 24 students (6 x 4 = 24 which means they all get to read the book over the course of the week), and a heap of other whinges, I was NOT HAPPY. I pleaded, I begged, I argued, I stated my case, but all to no avail. The student is coming, and I just have to make the most of it. "Get over it" is the sentiment that I was receiving. OK, so I deal with it. Doesn't mean I'm happy about it, and I still wish it wasn't happening, but I'm going to have to pray about it this weekend, that God will give me the patience I'm going to need with this student.

Unfortunately the timing was bad, report cards are due next week, and I'm starting to wonder when I'm going to get them finished. My goal is to have Maths and Bible grades finished and in a spreadsheet ready for inputting into the computer before I leave school this evening. I think I can do it, so I'd better stop procrastinating and get on with it.


04 October 2009

Taking Risks

One of my extra-curricular jobs at school, until this year, was managing the school sound equipment. This year, I was fortunate to have two new teachers take on the main responsibility, although I am still there as a back-up. Well, on Friday morning I wandered onto the basketball court to check that everything was going to plan for the Middle-High school chapel that morning and discovered that one of the two guys (the one with the most prior knowledge) was missing! That was OK. Found out he was on an official school trip. Anyway, that left us with no one to actually operate the mixer, so I decided to take a calculated risk and ask one of the high school students that I know is musical to do it. He was pretty apprehensive, but agreed. I appreciated it because I needed to get up to my classroom and students.
I didn't hear any more during the day, but that afternoon, he found me and thanked me for trusting him to do the job. He'd had a number of positive comments about what he'd done, and felt good about it. Even better, he's agreed to help out in the future if needed. Praise God. Praise Him that I was willing to take a calculated risk, and that God used that step for His glory during chapel, and for the future.