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Cambodia Summer Program.

The best birthday

Today I woke up at 6am, super early, but I couldn’t go back to sleep. Lots of people remembered it was my birthday which made me really happy, and a bunch of people sang “happy birthday” to me too. After breakfast we all went back to our homestays to help with cooking, as we planned to bring the food to the monks on the island who were going to give us a blessing. We went to our homestay mom – “mae” – and using very broken Khmer, we tried to ask how we could help prepare lunch. We ended up taking these leaf things and cutting up the stems.

We could only help for a bit before we needed to get ready for the monk blessing. My homestay mom decided I needed to be dressed up in traditional clothes – which was the cutest thing ever! Our shirts were super sparkly and sequinned, and kind of looked like the top of a lenga. Corissa’s was orange which apparently symbolizes marriage, and mine was blue and I kind of looked like Cinderella. We were really not expecting anything this elaborate, it was a full LOOK.

Dressed fully, we biked off to the spirit house. On the way, old ladies at the side of the road called and whistled to us because of our clothes. The ceremony consisted of some chants and offerings. After, we got blessed by the monks and they dumped HUGE buckets of holy water on us – it was absolutely hilarious and amazing. I thought it would be a little sprinkle of water but it was basically a shower.

After the blessing we went back to the homestay for lunch. Our “mae” had made a feast with all of our favourite dishes so far – really good omelette, ginger chicken, green stem things, fish and banana sugar chips. After eating we gave gifts to our homestays. I think they liked it but it was super weird – literally 6 baseball caps. We both had extra kiddie gifts, so we went to find Lina, Veet and Pon Reit, the kids at Janice’s homestay. Corissa gave them bubbles, which they LOVED, and a skipping rope which the girl was so excited to try out. Pon Reit carried the bubbles around in his pocket the whole day.

When we met back up with the group we had a short debrief on our gender talk from yesterday, comparing Cambodia to Canada in terms of inequality, male privilege etc. We then went back to the service site to finish the project. There was relatively little left to do – we needed to fill in some holes in the concrete with cement. I ended up painting the sign with Immy. After everything was done, the family whose house it was thanked us and we took the traditional picture of the group with the Appleby College flag picture in front of it.

Then we biked over to the community center for a “surprise” which ended up being dolphin watching. We got on super small boats to go out on the river at sunset to look for dolphins. This was my favorite experience of the trip so far. The sunset on the water was amazing, but we also saw so many dolphins it was unreal! They came pretty close to us, and because it was so calm and still on the water you could hear the dolphins before you saw them. Such an amazing moment.

We headed back for a farewell dinner with our homestays at the community center. This was really sweet and a nice way to say goodbye. At the end they had a surprise happy birthday thing for me – a rice cake with candles on and they came in singing – AHHHH! To top it off, Mom and Dad had sent a gift for me, a card and some earrings, but before I could even open it I started bawling just from the thought of it. This really was the best birthday ever. The rice cake was so good and I did my best to ensure that everyone got some in the community.

To finish off the night, me and Siofra and Immy did our “Hoedown Throwdown” dance and other people sang “Baby Shark” in Khmer, but actually saying “Baby dolphin”. Then the local community sang a Khmer song for us and showed us how to dance to it. The party was over, we headed back to our homestays, and said our goodbyes to the kids. This was easily the best birthday ever.