HOW LIVING AT KRUOS VILLAGE IS SORT OF LIKE LEARNING THE CHICKEN DANCE
I have been at my service site in Kruos Village for three full weeks now. It’s been nuts – a whole slew of new faces, foods, words, experiences, lessons. I never quite know where I’ll be going, or which classes I’ll be teaching, or who I’ll be meeting. Life is inconsistent as my host community as I figure out just how we’ll best fit together. But there is one thing that has been a constant in my life these days, the one thing I maybe, sort-of, somewhat understand: The Chicken Dance.
Hear me out.
Kruos Village Church, my service site for the year (and also the complex in which I sleep, eat, and do just about everything) has a vibrant ministry catering to the children and youth of our village and our surrounding villages. In the mornings, church staff members (including myself) go out to neighboring villages and host five English classes for children of varying levels. Staff members return to the church complex around 11:30 where village children and youth are offered a free, nutritious meal. Three more English classes are taught over the lunch hour to these children. In the afternoon, older children and some area youth arrive at the church for slightly more advanced English classes, a music class, a math/science class and a computer class. Youth tend to hang out at the church all afternoon and well into the early evening, while I and another staff member return to the other village schools and teach two more classes to older youth.
ONE OF MY STUDENTS AT THE MORNING OUTREACH SCHOOL PRACTICING DICTATION
In other words, I work with a LOT of kids. And when one works with a lot of kids, especially when language is a huge barrier, one must find creative ways of forming and solidifying relationships. Enter the Chicken Dance.
My co-worker SoPhoeurn asked me if I knew of any fun games or songs that were simple enough to teach the kids at our Saturday outreach program. These kids are typically under the age of 10, so I needed something really simple, solely to be used as an energizer, a way to fill time while having fun. A quick Google search for “Easy Dances” brought up a list of options, and SoPhoeurn immediately pointed to the Chicken Dance and said “Yes! A song about a chicken is great!” At that’s how I found myself squatting and flapping my arms in front of about 30 utterly confused Cambodian villagers at 8 AM on my first Saturday morning as a church staff member.
News of my great skill at the dance spread quickly, and now I “Dance Chicken” on command, much to the delight of every single teenager who roams in and out of the church. I’m getting quite good actually. You know the drill: chirp your hands like bird beaks, flap your folded arm wings, shake your feathered butt, and applaud yourself for doing so well. It’s easy, it’s fun, and the more you get into it – the more you COMMIT to it – the better time you’ll have.
SHAKING OUR BUTTS WHILE DOING THE CHICKEN DANCE
Here’s the part of the blog post where I turn the Chicken Dance into a metaphor for my time at Kruos:
CHIRP YOUR HANDS LIKE BIRD BEAKS
Learning Khmer is hard. A lot of the words I learned during orientation sound a lot different when they’re flying at me a million miles a minute from a native speaker in their regional dialect. And so a lot of my “Khmer” time in Kruos has consisted staring at the person talking to me, trying to repeat back what they said, listening to them laugh because they know I have no clue what is going on. I cannot for the life of me get the second syllable of “delicious” right (I keep saying “pot’). But I AM getting better. My co-workers love teaching me phrases that make me sound like “a real Khmer” (I for one know my accent is actually atrocious, but the compliment is nice). Someone taught me the phrase “My heart doesn’t want it,” which I pretty much use all the time now because it’s the only Khmer joke I can really make. My students are finally starting to figure out which Khmer words I know and don’t know, which is making teaching much more enjoyable for both of us – we laugh through my mispronunciation, and I learn the lesson I’m teaching them in Khmer while they learn it in English. And I’ve gotten myself a Khmer teacher to help me continue to study the intricacies of the language. This week we learned how to write the consonants (there are 32 of them – and there are 21 vowels to still learn!).
HAVEN'T EVEN GOTTEN TO THE VOWELS
FLAP YOUR FOLDED ARM WINGS
Part of being a volunteer is giving yourself up to serve in whatever capacity is asked of you. I knew coming to Kruos that I would be serving as a teacher of sorts, but I had no idea how else I would be able to fit into the ministry here. I’ve quickly learned that living in community can mean giving of yourself in new and exciting ways. Each morning, I wake up and begin my day by sweeping and mopping the entire church complex. Some afternoons I find myself cutting vegetables. Other days I’m writing a report on church programming for our sponsors in Singapore. . I’ve not only taught my English classes, I found myself stepping up to teach 9 courses each day when four (FOUR!) of our Khmer-speaking English teachers left for university or a bible conference. At times, it’s been especially exhausting. But it’s also been incredibly rewarding – I’m feeling that much closer to my coworkers and the youth I work with BECAUSE I’m putting in the energy early-on.
SATURDAY OUTREACH IN THE NEIGHBORING VILLAGES
SHAKE YOUR FEATHERED BUTT
The biggest lesson I’ve learned in these first few weeks is that sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself. When I don’t understand what someone is saying to me, I’ve learned to be okay shrugging my shoulders and giggling as I mutter “Ot Yul” in my poor Cambodian accent. When I instinctively yelp when our tuk tuk goes off the road, I have chosen to laugh at myself along with my coworkers, instead of feeling self-conscious. When I don’t know the words to a song during mass, I’ve discovered it’s definitely okay that I just start dancing and clapping – and that others will join me. Perhaps that’s the biggest lesson learned yet: laughter is contagious. When I choose to share a smile instead of frustration, my environment reciprocates the joy.
TAKING A CUE FROM MY STUDENTS - LEARN TO HAVE FUN!
APPLAUD YOURSELF FOR DOING SO WELL
By committing myself to the language, by committing myself to serve, and by committing myself to laugh, I’m committing myself to an intentional year. I know that it will not always be easy to engage my community in the ways that I want, but I also know that there’s something a lot bigger guiding me through this experience (shout out to you, Jesus!). As I continue to push myself, as I continue to grow in my faith and my fortitude, I am also committing to loving myself and giving myself the grace and energy that I give to my community. By holding myself accountable to myself, I ensure that I don’t compromise relationships and can continue to live fully in the moments I get to explore every single day.
My favorite part of the Chicken Dance is, of course, the doe-see-doe. How blessed I am that I get to swing through this year arm-in-arm with the community here at Kruos.
PEACEFUL REFLECTIONS IN THE RICE FIELDS OF KRUOS WITH MY SISTER SUSANNA
Other fun facts from my first three weeks here: *I have added to my “new foods consumed list”: pig intestine, pork and banana sticky rice, and durian smoothies. I have also encountered my boldest food venture thus far: balut (fertilized duck egg – google at your own risk). *I’ve been swimming twice now. Swimming in Cambodia, at least for me, has meant staying fully dressed, jumping in an inner tube, and floating down some rapids while nearby food stands blast “Turn Down for What?!” at ear-drum-crushing decibels. *The Lord has truly blessed me by sending me somewhere where I have not had to see a single rat (my fellow Cambodian YAGMs are not so lucky). That said, I have seen my fair share of – and unfortunately unknowingly shared my bed with – a fair number of critters, including spiders, 6-inch centipedes, inch-thick beetles, fist-sized crabs, and a whole slew of ants. * This past Sunday, I learned that Lutheran evangelists brought much more than theology to Cambodia: all hail the universal community-builder that is the POT LUCK LUNCH! I made chocolate-covered bananas by melting down some candy-coated chocolate race cars (the only chocolate I could find at the big market in Kampong Chhnang city). They didn’t turn out at ALL, but they were exceptionally delicious. *This week is the Cambodian Buddhist holiday of Pchum Ben (there’s also a day this week celebrating King Norodom Sihanouk – Cambodia loves its holidays, this is my second since arriving!). I’m heading south with my host family. Pastor Mose, his wife Lehiya, their daughters Suzan (10) and Susanna (5), and my co-worker Manu (who is from Germany) will spend the week at their family home in Kandal Province. I’ll be off the grid until Friday!
HERE'S A CHICKEN BUTT TO THANK YOU FOR READING THIS BLOG POST.