My second day in Battambang, I decided to rent a small motorcycle. There is no better way to cruise a foreign city in the tropics–faster than walking or biking and more exposed than riding around in a car. You take in the city buildings, the market, the sellers and shoppers, the commuters on their bicycles, the rattling pickup trucks. Get outside of town and take in the hills, trees, and fields from the dirt road.
On such a dirt road, I wasn’t sure where I was headed–that’s was the point–but after a farm field to my left, I saw the entrance to a property. At the head of the driveway, the front gate featured plaques reading “World Health Organization” and “United Nations.” I pulled into the dirt driveway. Ahead was an aged, long wooden building. Outside, there was a gazebo under which sat two women and a man dressed professionally. I thought this was a clinic.
I parked and approached the gazebo. The man responded a few English words. I was at a school, it turned out. I looked up and toward the building and indeed could make out a class in session through an open window.
I walked in and said hello:
Despite their straight-faced pose, they were pretty surprised to see me. Then with the permission of their teacher, I did what I knew best (I had been teaching English in China this year.)
Some could say ‘thank you’ and ‘hello’; we went from there. I was struck by how individual students greeted me. Asking a student a question meant them standing up, putting their hands together for a brief bow of thanks, and then the answer. Me thanking them for the answer meant another nod of respect from them before sitting.
While I taught, other classrooms in this building heard what was going on. Minutes later, I looked out the window frames to see kids staring and leaning in. I got them involved a little as well. After 10-15 minutes, though, the headmistress came inside in a stern manner one might expect. The kids in the window scattered, those in the class scuttled out of the room, and she questioned the teacher whose class I taught.
“Uh, whoopsie,” I thought sheepishly. I got the drift that the students were supposed to be at recess.
But I don’t think it was a big deal. The headmistress offered a friendly look, and I stuck around a little while outside to watch the kids play.
I said a few more words to the gentleman I met outside before starting my motorbike and riding off with some disbelief that I had just taught a class in Cambodia.
I never confirmed but assume from the plaques on the front gate that this institution had backing from worldwide educational initiatives. This school certainly was a different version of education from the classroom I saw along the road the day before.
Two other places I visited the day earlier included a hill with temple atop and cave at its side:
The other attraction foreshadows next week’s post. It was a memorial to those who died at this location during the country’s genocide in the 70s.
On the third morning, I was saying goodbye to Battambang, grateful for the school that I visited, for the wedding party I celebrated with, and for the crocodiles I walked beside.
At the bus stop, the city surprised me with one last image: