February 5, 2009 at 2:42 pm 3 comments

Ever since I returned from Siem Reap last week the mosquito population in the volunteer house has multiplied and become more aggressive. Maybe the geckoes have died or this is a generation of mutants!

There’s a lot of discussion about dengue. Unlike malaria there is no antidote to dengue fever. I had a friend in the beginning of my travels who caught it in Bangkok and spent three months debilitating before I met him (still weak and emaciated) in September. It’s endemic among the rural poor, especially young children in Cambodia. Combined with malnourishment and lack of vitamin supplementation many youngsters do not recover. I doubt that this would be my fate but I have become more worried about the possibility of loosing 3+ months of my life to feverish debilitation (although I’m sure for some, the prospect of 40% weight loss in three months sounds enticing)

I remember a retired biologist I met in Chiang Mai, Thailand who spent most of his life researching mosquitoes and malaria. Not only did he express affection for these vampires, he respected them! He even fed them willingly by sticking his arm for them to munch on while breeding them for study! It was in his quirky museum I learned that only female mosquitoes feed on blood. Males are vegetarians satisfied by tree sap. He also had a theory about the beneficial affects of mosquitoes… He suggested that mosquitoes became infected with certain pathogens/antibodies as they fed on one animal after another and that they transmitted these to the next animals they bit (which may have saved them later in life) He called it nature’s way of vaccinating.


An interesting condition about teaching here is that most of my students are my age. This makes it difficult for me to become distinctly “teacher” with them because a part of me also wants to be their friend. And so when I notice that one of my students is blatantly flirting with another, it’s the three of us that end up blushing… which I imagine must be a very funny site.


There are some observable differences between Cambodian men and women. In the company of men, women seem shyer. In my classes, pairing up a male and female student for conversation practice always creates a different kind of exchange than pairing up two male students. The conversation will usually turn into a procession of questions, but the girl will rarely counter the boy’s question by asking “and you?” Another peculiarity is that all students regardless of gender rarely pursue the answers deeply in a conversation. For example, if one student says he wants to be a doctor, the other is unlikely to ask about the student’s motivations or interests. I don’t know if this preference for generalities is cultural or simply due to their fear of making mistakes if the subject gets too complicated.

During a practice conversation yesterday it was ascertained that both students were the same age. “Find out which one is older” I suggested. My female student rejected the suggestion, sweetly and shyly announcing that if the boy would tell her his birthday she’ll have to buy him something and that she doesn’t want to.

One of the volunteer’s I live with likes to say that her young students “are starved for romance.” She determined this from all the questions they ask about dating and sexuality, in class and privately.

Access to education is a major disparity between men and women in Cambodia. My informants into Cambodian culture say that it is much more difficult for a girl from the countryside to complete high school or go to university than it is for a boy because her family doesn’t see value in her education. If they have limited finances, they refuse to support her schooling and pressure her to marry.


Entry filed under: travel. Tags: , , , , .

So this is where my donation went to? “Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do.” – Wilde

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. luka  |  February 5, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    i knew that about male mosquitos beforehand! also, only female bees work and sting you, the male’s only job is to mate, after whch he dies!

  • 2. dina  |  February 7, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Luka is so smart!

  • 3. Yelena Shuster  |  February 7, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    isn’t this similar to the way we’re evolving?
    one day perhaps, women will prefer perfect test tube babies and the need for men will be completely obliterated. already, in westernized countries female economic independence coincides with a decreased need for men. so maybe all that aggression that’s attributed to the males of our species is due to their awareness of the frivolity of their usefulness to nature..


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