Today I am saying goodbye to someone who has become a dear friend. Jo arrived in Cambodia fourteen weeks ago and invaded both my house and my work. Ok so technically I moved into the house a couple of weeks after she did but still! Jo has been interning at Sovann Komar on a placement through her university. Yes, her time here actually counts towards her degree – lucky!!!
I’m not antisocial by any means but I was rather apprehensive about having someone to share my three hour lunch break at work. After teaching all morning, I looked forward to my tv, reading, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube-ing. Some people would call this time wasting, I called it relaxing. But suddenly there was someone in the room with me who might judge me for watching random videos for three hours straight without speaking a single word. To my surprise we slipped pretty seamlessly into a routine. After the first few days when I was helping her understand the workplace, giving teaching advice and generally getting to know each other, we had our three hour lunch down:
11-12 – do our own thing on our respective laptops (increasingly these were Sporcle quizes), usually accompanied by music of some kind.
12-12:30 – lunch time, where Jo would almost always order “bai saw bon tia” (white rice with an egg).
12:30-1:30 – documentary time! Every day we chose a different subject to learn about, ranging from the Bolshevik Revolution to meth, from South Africa’s apartheid to the entire Planet Earth series.
1:30-2 – last minute lesson planning.
Jo helped me teach three mornings a week and then I roped her in to assist with a troubled student for a couple of hours two days a week. Aside from that, we didn’t work together and I never really saw her teach. However, her class clearly adored her and she seemed to settle into her role quickly after being thrown in at the deep end. She was handed her own, particularly difficult, nursery class after their English teacher went on maternity leave. Everyone at Sovann Komar was sad to see her go and we celebrated by having a big lunch together last week. Jo was presented with a plate engraved with Angkor Wat (almost as good as seeing in person, I promise) and a certificate of appreciation. I was impressed with her composure!
I got to know Jo at home too. I moved into our apartment just a couple of weeks after she moved to Cambodia so we got the van to and from work together. I even became her own personal barista and our first interaction every morning would be me knocking on her door as I passed saying “coffee’s ready”. We would regularly eat dinners together and Jo was always up for a night out. We did try to get her into dodgeball but she decided she hated and went instead to her beloved ultimate frisbee sessions.
Jo is one of the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met. She dives into everything headfirst and will give everything a try at least once. By the end of her first full day here she’d already eaten frogs legs and visited the genocide museum. This eagerness for new experiences has helped her immensely in Cambodia as she has never shied away from some of the country’s quirks. She is happy and positive 99% of the time, a key quality for both a teacher and an expat living in a potentially difficult environment.
I admire her resilience as well. This last month have beaten Jo up rather a lot. A week after we came back from Thailand, Jo was feeling very ill. Feeling sick generally isn’t usual here but her fever was spiking worryingly high and eventually Jo took herself off to the international clinic. And here is my public apology for not leaving my social engagements for the evening and accompanying her – the performance of Romeo and Juliet, followed by alcohol was just too tempting. Turns out Jo had Dengue Fever! This is not a fun illness to have and she spent the next week at home recovering from extreme fatigue, headaches (and general body ache), a fever, and hives. And because it’s Jo and things just happen to her, she also had food poisoning at one point which we thought for a while might be Typhoid – double whammy tropical diseases would only happen to Jo! Luckily she is now almost fully recovered (except for that spot that looked suspiciously like a poisonous spider bite that appeared on Sunday evening …)
The title for this blog came from a night out in Thailand and has since become mine and Jo’s drunken catchphrase. Remember when you were a kid and you thought teachers didn’t have lives outside of work and they lived in the school? Well I guess that’s what my kids think about me. Except I do have a life. I’m a pretty normal twenty four year old who likes to socialise and go out for a drink or three on a Saturday night. And it is on nights like these that, sometimes, at about 2am, I wonder “what would the kids say if they could see me now”. On one particular Tuesday night (it was a holiday), I looked over at a dancing Jo as I drank out of my bucket (oh Thailand) and marvelled at how bizarre it was that us two are entrusted with the education of kids. I know that “Teacher Ruth” is only part of my identity, but it is an important part and drunken Teacher Ruth just had to remind drunken Teacher Jo, rather loudly, that “we teach children!”.
So I’ll wrap up this blog with a few of my favourite memories of Jo:
- Lunch on our first day when she got distracted by a puppy at work and walked off to play with it. I told her she’d caught rabies.
- Jo’s face when discovering various delicious food and drink for the first time.
- Her explanation as to why one of my Grade 4 kids had a scrape on his face – he ran into a tree during her frisbee lesson.
- Waiting for ages for Jo to jump into the Kampot River and then her doing it when none of us were watching.
- Countless Jars of Clay meals.
- The first time I asked her how her afternoon went with her “Little Monsters” and she said “good!”
- Jo’s attempts to learn her kids names by taking pictures of them on snapchat and writing their names on top.
- Singing along to Bipolar Sunshine at lunchtime.
- Being super scared of the fan in the market that is at head height and has NO CAGE!!
- The time she discovered Mervin’s Bubble Tea, then drank two and felt sick.
- Watching the Amazing Race (from Hallie) – “I hate him”.
- Educating her about various historical events – it made me feel clever!
- Jo’s attempt to understand what she was supposed to be doing with the “medals” at the Sovann Komar new year party – too many kids, not enough help from me.
- Her insistence that I couldn’t take a good candid photo of her – she may be right!
- Watching Jo watch the fire dancers with whom she temporarily fell in love in Koh Chang.
- Discovering It’s A Wrap, our favourite street food stall.
- Having a Khmer wedding companion with whom to get drunk and marvel at the extraordinary choices of decorations.
- Her love of my favourite temple on the Silk Island (see the blog post) and the whole day overall -basically an awesome date chaperoned by our boss, Kosal.
- “Where’s your nipple?”
Farewell Jo, I’ll miss you a lot, both at work and at home. I’m sorry if this made you cry in the airport but I did warn you. I promise to keep you up to date on all the goings on at Sovann Komar. The kids have asked me twice today where you are and Grade 4 just came up and asked if they could see photos of you. I’m refusing the latter request … for now. You’re a special one and I’m very glad that I got the chance to meet you. I love your sense of humour and your attitude to life. Cambodia won’t be the same without you but at least you won’t be beaten up by any more tropical illnesses! Never change because you’re pretty awesome just as you are. Love you millions, you worldly young lady!!
Enjoy the pictures!