Friday, August 28, 2009

Deflated monsters

Deep sigh. Still waiting on Cambodia Post to deliver two parcels. One from Canada from my sister, full of goodies I need to start a sweater for Yeng and a sweater for me. The other, full of plastic eyes so Cambodia Knits can finally get on the road to profitability and out of the red. But alas, alack, no. It makes no sense. Some parcels arrive in reasonable time, others sit somewhere for months on end before they are permitted to surface by PO staff. Why do they release some parcels and hang onto others?

The monsters below are all ready to be stuffed and sewn together, but they lack faces. Without a face, they have to wait as they are, dismembered and deflated. There is nothing we can do for them, but reassure them and ask them to wait a little longer. The knitters are knitting more monsters as I write. Soon, the workroom will be full of faceless monsters, suffering quietly, slowly growing impatient. My dreams will one night turn to nightmares of these faceless beasts. Maybe if they are made to wait to long, they'll gather up their various body parts and make their way, bumping into the walls as they go, into the room where Yeng and I sleep. Then, having no mouths and unable to scream or hurl insults, they'll throw their little knit legs and arms at us or worse....

Cambodia Post! Don't let this happen!! Just deliver my package....

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


So our first project in the round was the Bunny Nuggets recipe from Rebecca Danger and below are some photos of the results. We started on 6 mm needles to get a feel for knitting on DPNs (double pointed needles for non-knitters) and I think with a bit more practice, they'll be ready for the stores. I still need to get the plastic safety eyes, so all stuffing and finishing has been put on hold until someone at the Cambodian post ofice gets around to doing their job and putting my parcel of hundreds of safety eyes into the PO Box or I go to Bangkok and find them there. I'm sure the order has safely arrived in Cambodia its just a matter of the package actually being released from the depths of the postoffice basement to the sorting area.

In other news, and this is very sad indeed, Meow the cat is gone again. She was accidently let out last week and limped her way to freedom. She was not fully recovered from her run in with the Big Black Dog next door and we had planned to never let her out again. At least not without injecting her with a GPS tracking device. But she really, really wanted to go outside and do whatever it is that Meows like her do and got out when the opportunity presented itself. It's been almost a week now and Yeng and I have lost hope she'll come back... I hope I'll help better news later on.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The handsome knitter

After a mostly hellish week in the provinces (hellish only because of all the travel, not because of the company, the research or anything else), I'm back in PP and back to knitting. This morning I introduced the knitters to knitting in the round. There was a lot of confusion and laughter but in the end everyone worked it out. Our first pattern is the lovely Bunny Nugget, a free pattern from Rebecca Danger. She has lots of lovely critters on there so have a look!

Since Yeng stole my translator and I haven't found a replacement yet, Yeng himself has had to step in and translate a few times. This morning, he decided after so much translating knitting instructions and observation, that he too could knit and decided to give it a try. I can't say this with certainly, but he is likley the only male knitting Cambodian in the world. But Yeng is so cool and comfortable with himself that even this assault on his masculinity leaves him unscathed. And he did not too bad knitting at all. I'm going to try to get him started on a scarf and hope that his 5 minutes of knitting leads to more... but I someone doubt it will.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Not much here to see this week

I'll be away for most of the week, doing research in "the field" for my MSc project so there won't be any exciting updates here.

I dropped off Mony, the one non-Cham knitter at the village that the other women are from this morning along with lots of yarn, needles, the patterns and half a kilo of tea. The women are going to work there for the week since I can't be here at the apartment to supervise. Their mission is to make as many finger puppets as they can so that we can work out a peice rate that is fair and a good incentive. I met a woman that I want to write about at some point in the near future. She is the mother of one of my current knitters, looks about 75 (although in reality she is more likely in her 50s but has had a hard life), and is still knitting away pretty little sweaters for her grandkids. I'd like to talk to her more and find out where she learned and so on.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The cat came back...

The start of the week was difficult because our beloved cat, Meow, had disappeared and was gone for 4 days and nights. We found out from neighbours that she had been attacked by a dog on Thursday night and disappeared shortly afterwards. I was despondent and spent most of the weekend crying, thinking about the poor little cat hiding somewhere dark and dirty, all alone, nursing her wounds and unable to move. Somehow on Monday night she managed to crawl back home, completely dehydrated, limping and with telltale signs of the dog attack. We even managed some CSI style deductions from the hairs underneath her nails to determine exactly which dog it was.

After nursing, two visits to the vet and lot of loving, the cat is almost back to normal. She'll continue limping for a few more weeks as her dislocated hip heals. Despite this, she still wants to go outside and has been sitting starting at the door for the past twenty minutes, as if willing it to open. No way, little cat. You're never going outside again! Your pitiful, begging eyes have no effect on me!

You may think this is unrelated to the topic of this blog, but that is not the case. Meow plays a big role at Cambodia Knits, whether she's attacking knitting needles, chewing on yarn or entertaining the knitters by falling asleep in a plastic amongst them, she fulfills an important role.

I also managed to finish knitting a bed for Meow a couple days after her return.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A troop of monkeys

Today I read a news story about a man who was caught with a 1000 images of child pornography on his computer. He blamed his cat, claiming that the cat had walked on the keyboard when he left the room and had initiated the download. Yeah right! Now, if you had a well trained monkey, like the ones below, I could see this excuse almost working, but to blame your kitty is just a tad ridiculous.

I digress. We're knitting away and I've been to visit the village where four of the knitters live. It is a very poor village, with most of the houses made of scrap wood and corrugated iron roofs, on stilts at the edge of the Tonle Sap. They had told me that there were 8 women in their village who already knew how to knit who wanted to join CK and another 10-15 younger women who wanted to learn how to knit. I initially thought that we'd first work with the women who already know how to knit and also give them training on how to share their skills with others.

It was not to be.

It turned out that the eight experienced knitters were from a different community, 2 kilometers north of where my current four knitters are from. This shouldn't be an issue except that they are much more well off and, well, were quite snooty towards my knitters. Cambodia is a very hierarchical society and the poorer you are, the lower you are on the ladder. I had planned for the current knitters to act as mentors to the new group, but with the disparity in living standards between the two groups, I could tell that the new group would not be able to tolerate learning from women they consider lower than them. I later confirmed this with my husband, who did the translating with me, and my fifth knitter, who is from a different community altogether and observant and insightful.

Also, the new group of knitters informed us that they would not need any training (we were thinking at least two weeks to learn the techniques correctly) and could start working right away. One of the women told us she could learn everything in 1 hour and refused to participate in the training as she could use the time to do other things. Also, they are already working for someone else knitting hats and earning a fair wage.

Putting it all together, thinking it over, I decided that to work with the 10-15 untrained young women in the poorer village is more in line with the overall goals and vision of Cambodia Knits: to help women in marginalized communities gain flexible and fair employment. Even though it means training knitters from the beginning rather than starting with experienced knitters, it will be more beneficial than working with women who already have a good thing going on.

I later told my current group the plan and they agreed to talk to the women in community and make a list of the women interested in joining the training. They came back the next day and told me that a new factory opened nearby and that all the women in their village had gotten jobs there. No willing knitters in the village.

Back to square one.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Photo time!

Some pictures for you to enjoy (sorry about the poor quality, don't what's going on...). This time of all the knitters and all of the finger puppets. We have elephants and monkeys, dogs and cats, giraffes and lions and pigs too. The knitters also developed their own version of a Cambodian cow. For those not in the know, Cambodian cows are very different from what we call a cow in North America and Europe. Cows aren't of the black and white variety, but a pale grey or white, with very long faces, pointy horns and skin that looks as though it is loosely draped over their thin frames. This morning (and they are almost done), they've been working on a water buffalo which I'll post pictures of tomorrow.

You can see the Cambodian cow finger puppet below. In the picture of Rofi (the lone knitter picture), the cow is the one between the pig and the monkey on her right hand. Its a darker colour of yarn than the actual cow but its quite appropriately Cambodian-cow shaped... don't you think?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

We're getting stuffed!

I finally located some material suitable for stuffing. Well, I always knew about it but was hesitant to use it for our stuffed toys because I'm not sure how 'fluffy' it stays over time or how it will wash. I originally wanted to use polyester toy stuffing, but its impossible to get new here. What we're using now is 100% natural fibre that comes from the seed pod of the majestic kapok tree. Read more about the kapok tree and its uses here. It really is an amazing one!

The kapok (the fluff has the same name as the tree) is called gko in Khmer, another one of those words that if pronounced even slightly incorrectly can have a completely different meaning. In this case, I usually end up saying either throat or cow and everyone has a good laugh. Below is a picture of a bag of the stuff, retailing for 4USD and a close up to give you a better look. I'm amazed at how soft it is even though it comes from a tree.