Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Vebol the Dad

Vebol is one of the great un-sung heros of the Spitler Foundation.  He could so easily go unnoticed, yet his presence is vital to the running of the schools.  Vebol is a man of many talents:  administrator, gardener, pump engineer, painter and decorator, gardener, cyclist, tuk-tuk driver - and, occasionally - teacher.

He was appointed by the Foundation to be an administrator at Kurata School and his work here has been invaluable.  Regular blog readers (blogites? blogistas?) will remember photographs of Vebol blowing up footballs for the children whose interests lie at the heart of all he does.  He has also plumbed in and weather-proofed the water pump (recently stolen, we understand - but that's another story) and he was the first person to pick us (Nick and Loll) up in the new Spitler tuk-tuk.  As an administrator he's a marvel, spending days, and even weekends, at the school sorting out problems - or helping to put up whiteboards in teaching rooms as well as installing new ceiling fans with, perhaps, less regard to Health and Safety rules than you might find in the West.  When we first came across him, he was sitting at a tiny desk in the Kurata library on a child's seat, trying to work on the computer.  Jim quickly promised him a new desk and chair of  adult proportions, and this was promptly delivered to our house in Siem Reap.  It tested all of our powers of ingenuity cramming this rather unwieldy piece of furniture into the tuk-tuk.  But we managed it with minimal damage (soon repaired.) 

So it was with great delight - and some surprise, that we heard that Vebol had just become a father, though, being Cambodia, nothing goes entirely smoothly.  Jim takes up the story:

One day Vebol called me to say he would not be at school, saying, 'I'm busy,' a very common expression used by Khmer people.  He has beginning proficiency in English so our conversation was a bit light on content.
But, I pressed to know what he was doing.  (None of my business, but I asked anyways.)  He said he was busy with his wife.  "Oh!  I didn't know you were married!"

"Yes, baby."  He said.

He needed to run, so the conversation ended.  Later, I found out from Sarin that Vebol was quite busy, but his wife was a lot more 'busy'.  She was having a baby!
So, Vebol was sorry he couldn't make it to work, but he was in the hospital with his wife, who was having a baby!!

After the baby boy (healthy, mom heathy and good...btw) arrived, I got another call from Vebol.  I congratulated him and his wife on their new arrival.  Naturally I asked, "What's his name?"   He said,  "Oh, no name!  You name the baby!" Okay?"

I said, "What? You want me to name your boy?"  

"Yes, you tell me his name!"

Totally perplexed, confused, and frightened by the prospect of this task, I set out to find out what's up...

Was this for real? 
Well, babies are often not named for days or even a month until there is a blessing ceremony with the monks.
The monks give a name to the baby, but the family also can select an additional name.  And tradition provides the child carry the parents' names in some form too.

It is popular and a bit of a badge of honor to give the child a Western name too.  So, it turned out, that apparently was my task.

So, off to Google I went.  Naturally.
Hmm, popular names...let's see....oh here's a list of 500 or so names..
Oh, and it better be easy for the Khmer person to pronounce.
And, easy to yell too...just in case.
No final consonant clusters or difficult to pronounce vowels...
Keep it short...

I was panicked with responsibility!  In the meantime, the naming ceremony came and went at the Pagoda.  He received the name Visna (meaning 'destiny')...the parents also gave him the name "Joe"  (which PM Hun Sen carries as a name...didn't know that.)

So, I thought...Dang!  I missed the opportunity...and insulted the family.

But no!  What they wanted was a 'nick name'  a Western nickname to call the boy..."So what name is it?" asked Vebol.
I gave him 3 choices and he immediately latched onto the last one:  "Sammy"

Big smiles all around.

The next morning, Vebol calls (11AM), inviting me to a party, for Sammy.  I was AVAILABLE, of course.  It was a happy celebration, and Sammy was a trouper most of the night.

Welcome to the world Vebol Joe Visna  'Sammy'  (and a few other names, I think!).


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Grade 4 Singers meet Mr Damisch

About a year ago, I (Jim)  was contacted by Mr. Damisch through a mutual friend, John Furguson with American Voices.  Mr. Furguson has been sharing American culture in developing and war-torn countries for over 17 years by providing training, workshops and performances by professionals in the fields of art, music, dance, and theatre.

Mr. Damisch told me he was planning to be in Cambodia as part of a world tour he was doing in July 2012.  He offered to do a concert, free of charge, to benefit the Spitler Foundation.  It turns out Mr. Damisch, a lawyer from Chicago, has been doing concert tours for many years, paying all his own expenses, in hopes of bringing American culture and peace to countries around the world.  We could not resist the offer!

We began to correspond and fashioned a program that would work for the Spitler Foundation.
Jule (our German volunteer) and I went to some of the 5 star hotels to see if any would help co-sponsor this event.  The Sofitel Angkor Resort jumped at the chance.  Fabrice Ducry, the General Manager, is a strong supporter of the arts and cultural events and felt the idea of a benefit performance, in the middle of low season, would be a ‘win win’ for all involved. 
We decided the scale the performance should be small, since there would be so few tourists in town.  We’d depend mainly on the local Khmer residents and the ex-pat community.
Instead of using a ballroom, which might end up with 20-30 people (depressing!), we chose the luxurious lounge room which seated about 50 people in very comfy leather chairs with tables.  We promoted the event as a ‘salon style’ performance with food and drink available to the patron, mimicking a popular 19th century style of classical entertainment where homes were turned into mini concert venues and performers did their programs in the salon.

The hotel offered to do a little reception prior to the event, which we thought was great!  We made posters and also posted the event on the Siem Reap ex-pat page of Facebook.  Within a week, the venue was almost fully booked!  The turn out from the ex-pat community was incredible! By the night of the performance we had over 65-70 committed to attend.  A full house!

Our expectation was that July 13th would be an otherwise ‘dead’ time in Siem Reap.  But it turned out Siem Reap was a hotbed of activity that night!  The ASEAN Conference got booked into the hotel next to the Sofitel.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to be there, along with Prime Ministers from several Asian Countries.  The Sofitel also ended up hosting a big conference for Asian Women’s Rights and Equality (400 pax).  The Raffles Hotel down the road was hosting a major diplomatic event, and the Hotel Sokha was hosting Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, and a large delegation for meetings and festivities!
Traffic and the police presence was an awesome sight indeed.
Oh, and Spitler Foundation was hosting “A Classical Evening” with Mark Damisch at the Sofitel Resort!

Of course, the most special part of the evening was during the reception.  A select group of 4th Graders entertained the crowd with 3 songs they learned during English classes.  Special thanks to Nick Thorne for introducing these ditties to the kids. [Ditties?  This is choral singing of the highest quality!  Nick - Ed.]  The 16 children who performed had received nice clean tee shirts (Angry Bird)….for the show and really looked sharp.  And their performance was spectacular!  The crowd LOVED them.

It was a truly successful evening.  Although we did not press hard for donations, we did secure about $300 from the event.  Mark Damisch was a unique performer and his daughter Alexandra played a Chopin piece and led a sing along at the end with everyone joining in on the chorus of “All You Need I Love” by the Beatles.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Spitler School and the London Olympics.

We're back!

Olympic Torch – New Roads – Classical Concert.
. . . just some of the things that have been happening to the Spitler Foundation and its associates.  You may think that the movement of the Olympic Torch for the 2012 London Olympics has only a tenuous connection with Spitler School,  but we feel very strongly that this is not the case.  We (Nick and Loll) have been back in the UK for a few weeks now, having returned to do a little examining for the British A-level education system followed by some work teaching English for Academic Purposes at Teesside University in Middlesbrough, leaving Jim (and Jule) to keep things moving in Siem Reap.  And moving they have been, as poor Jim has been somewhat swamped by activities.  And the Olympic Torch?  Well, here it is passing by our front door in sunny Saltburn-by the Sea on its round-Britain trip before the opening ceremony in two weeks’ time. 
Meanwhile, back in even sunnier Siem Reap, the road to Spitler School has been renovated with funding from the Foundation and we hope that this will survive the torrential rain that we will be expecting from September when we return.  Last year the floods were horrendous and we spent nearly a month walking around up to our knees in water and unable to get out to Ann Chagn village as it was cut off.

More recently, Jim had arranged for the touring classical pianist, Mark Damisch to perform at the Sofitel Hotel in Siem Reap to raise funds for the Spitler Foundation.  He was also able to showcase some of the singing work that we had begun with the children of the school as part of their English programme and activity afternoons.  We have never pretended that the Spitler Choir would be a match for King’s College, Cambridge, but we have been very proud of their enthusiastic singing of The Wheels of the Bus, The Butterfly Song and One finger One Thumb.   Thanks to Jim and Jule, the Grade 4s built on this sturdy base and developed some pretty fancy routines to present to the audience at the Sofitel.  Here they are in rehearsal before the big event.

And how did it go? 

Well:  watch this space for Jim's special report on the evening - and of the other rather posh event involving our children, but this time at the Victoria Hotel.