This late posting is coming due to me having a delightfully packed schedule over the past 7 days. Last Thursday I ended up hosting another poetry open mic at Java Cafe, which led to a late night on the town. Friday, being exhausted, I ended up rushing around after the internship hours were over, got an offer from the editor of the Advisor, turned down the AEC teaching gig (for a second time), and then went to an arts and crafts party at a bar near my current apartment. I ended up staying too late making this wonderful collage out of tour guide advertisements.
Over the past two days I had the pleasure of joining a group of around 33 artists, all Cambodian to some degree, on a writing tour at Chambork Eco-Resort, which is near Kirirom, between Phnom Penh and the coast. The experience was fantastic because it allowed me to gain access to an area of Camboda life and history that I have been reading about during my adventures as library interns at Open Development Cambodia: the forest. Development consists of many angles, and one of them is the removal of natural resources, and resources in general. Deforestation and forest cover change over time are two major elements of Cambodia that have been in the spotlight for some time now. ODC just released this widely-reported page to the masses last week. You’ll notice the links in the corner of the page directing to library documents, which were hand selected by me. I feel like an anonymous benefactor–albeit a minor one, but one nonetheless. In fact. since I’m on this tangent, I’ll just go to speak out and say that the work done in under two weeks to make that page and release it to the public was extraordinary. The efforts put in by all the teams–the mappers, the ITers, the editors, and everybody else–impressed me over and over again, and it makes me proud to be the ghostly figure working among the champions, offering murmurs of advice on design and language when I can.
Back to this weekend: visiting Chambork was an intense experience as it involved teaching writers and non-writers alike, many many elements of the poetic mind, including motion/transience, and observation/environment. The experiences afforded to me as an educator were extraordinary enough, but I found myself being educated by many people on many subjects. I was the only English language native there, and though there was a fantastic impromptu translator by the name of Say Mony, who works for Voices of America, around to help me out when necessary, I did have the language barrier as a mode of isolation and yet inspiration as well. We toured the location, we did a home-stay, and we taught village students about writing. The event ended in a trip to a waterfall (pic below), which offered fantastic escape from city life and all its distractions.
Many of the problems with academia (and bad internships, by extension), revolve around too much theory and not enough practice/application of the ideas considered in the classroom. I would argue grad school is the same way. It can even be “worse” or “more intensely disassociative” than undergraduate experience for those students who don’t push themselves to go out and apply their education to everyday life and every possible opportunity for learning outside of the classroom. I’m no longer the lazy student (though I am exhausted most of the time, these days), but I had to learn like many people at early stages to make the most out of my time with everything I have done (especially those things, like grad school, that cost a fortune). Visiting the eco-resort was powerful mainly because it wasn’t tied with ODC, but still applied to the presentations of ideas I have gotten since starting grad school and since being at ODC.
In addition to learning about deforestation, we had the chance to check out the local library, school building, and pagoda: essentially a trinity of information centers scattered across the grounds of the entrance to the jungle, and a few kilometers from the heart of the village. The spaces were each beautiful and each had their own sense of truth to them. Additionally, the library was very new. While it seems archaic (and perhaps, by Western standards, is, with its bamboo walls and shelves), the library is a fantastic example of minimalism and ultimate utility. It is a house of books, and is open every day. You’re not going to find an MLIS graduate classifying the shelves, but you will find a used mess of books scattered this way and that. The disorder brought a smile to my face as I contemplated what it means for a library to be used, and once again revisited the idea that libraries outside of the “developed” parts of the world are still used as great generators of knowledge and holistic education.
Lessons turn up in unexpected places, and usually they come through immense challenges. From sleep-deprived poetics training to trying and being a part of a huge group of Khmer-speakers, this weekend actually reflected, quite well I must add, on my ability to handle a situation of experience and “information specialization” here in Cambodia. I have one more week and I still haven’t talked about some of my other experiences. Officially the course of the “DFW” is over, too, but the internship’s contract is still going, so I will still report. And a special preview: over the next few months I’ll be working with the Cambodia Library Association on developing some information literacy training for library staff throughout Cambodia. This upcoming experience will be quite different and yet equally mesmerizing. I’ll most likely continue to post about it after a two-week break, so stay-tuned!