25 September, 2018

A world away

It's been interesting living on the other side of the world from the place I called home for over 35 years.  With the US (and its current president) constantly in the news, I have chosen to be sort of disconnected for no other reason than, I can.  I can ignore the horrid shit that is spewing from a lesser human's repulsive mouth, ignore the hateful hurtful tweets, ignore the sexism, the racism, and all the other - isms' that have been unleashed like the tornado that ripped through Dorothy's home in 1939.


Like Dorothy, I was removed from my home state of Kansas and found myself somewhere over the rainbow where the skies are indeed blue.  Like Dorothy, when I landed, I found myself surrounded by little munchkins.  Like Dorothy, I encountered friends who helped me find my way.  Like Dorothy, I feel there is "no place like home". (in many ways)



The current political situation makes me think that if Dorothy was alive today, then she may have missed that balloon ride intentionally.  I am happy that I am surrounded by munchkins, happy that days can go by without a thought of the land I flew from many years ago.  Now don't get me wrong, I miss my family so bad sometimes it hurts and I think of them daily, but knowing myself quite well, going home (even if I could click my ruby red slippers) would not be relaxing.  Merely thinking about touching down on US soil makes my heart beat faster, makes my blood turn a few degrees cooler and I have to go find a lollypop kid to hug to make thoughts of 'the wicked orange witch' go away.



But as much as I would like to pretend that I don't care...alas, I do.  I care deeply when I read FaceBook posts from friends or a blog post such as this one from a beautiful human - As Bad As She Says



They bring the US to me, barreling over that fucking rainbow with an evil-clown grin on it's red, white and blue face.  I can run but I cannot hide.  Actually at this moment that isn't true.  I broke my damn toe goofing around so I cannot run...



As long as I love those a world away, I will stay connected to social media and it's informational consequences.  Loathing is almost to tame a word to describe how I feel about those that are governing the US.  At one particularly low evening, I found out that when you are out of tonic, gin can be added to strong decaf. coffee and V-Soy Multi-Grain beverage with surprisingly tasty results.  True story.



So where is all of this going?  I guess I feel the need to add to the frustration by baring my soul.  How as a young woman, I too, was sexually harassed, how I 'allowed' a man with daughters my age to feel empowered by belittling me because he felt he could.



I had a job at a check collection agency in Wichita, KS in 1986-87.  I was 18 years old.  I had been groomed for secretarial work taking all the appropriate classes in high school.  I loved the job.  I spent the days going through these small 'paper check sized' drawers re-organizing.  That wasn't in my job description, but when someone came to the counter to pay for an outstanding (bounced) check their receipt of payment was the actual check that the store they wrote it to sent to us (to collect upon).  If the check was incorrectly filed by someone, I was screwed - no check, no receipt. - if you do not understand any of this, it's because you are too young...



Anyway, my daily activities were filled with keeping things in order along with 2 other young women.  After about a month of working, 'the boss' asked if I would like to change my hours from 8am to 5pm to 11am to 8pm.  I agreed, since my 'morning person' personality had not developed yet.  At first I enjoyed the evening shift, with the collection staff making cold calls and complaining gone, it was quiet and few people came in so I could concentrate on the massive files as I worked my way from A to Z (do you have any idea how many John Smiths wrote bad checks - insane amount).



It didn't take long for the 'the boss' to start hanging out near me, as I was the only other person in the place.  I remember him 'confiding in me' on how he travels a bit and on his travels he 'hooks up' with many women, some my age.  I was young and inexperienced, but I felt something was not right.  In my 18 year old mind, here was a 'fat bald old man' (all of 45 yrs.) who was telling me that he's 'all that'.  I was aware that something was happening or that he was trying to progress to something happening, but at that time, I went along with his stories.  I smiled at the right time, I laughed at his disgusting words -feeling sick knowing the next day his wife and one or two of his daughters would come to work bright and early (Oh, did I forget to mention that it was a family run business?). I tried to concentrate more on the tasks at hand and will his presence away.



I was only a month or so into the new hours when I was offered 'personal secretary' position to 'the boss'.  I knew deep down in my core that I should not (and would not) under any circumstances take that position.  No one had taught me how to spot a pervert.  No one had told me that what 'the boss' was doing to me was wrong.  On the contrary, everyone thought that I should take the new job, that it was a great opportunity for such a young woman.  No one taught me how to listen to that churning feeling in my gut, but I somehow knew I could.  I was also 18 and living with my parents.  I didn't need that job, I was not going to starve if I didn't have it.



As the universe provides, I received a pamphlet in the mail from the Nanny International School and Placement Service which was enrolling for their next semester and I signed up -unbeknownst that my future would soon be set in motion.  I remember feeling a surge of pride as I told 'the boss' that instead of taking him up on his offer I was quitting.  He tried to talk me out of the school, how working for him would open doors, how I was making a big mistake.  I also remember his wife sitting there asking me about the school, telling me that it was an interesting venture and her husband, 'the boss' ignoring her.



There are moments in your life where respect abounds.  Situations that you will remember like they were yesterday.  I drove home that evening knowing I would soon be rid of that dirty feeling, be rid of 'the boss'!  Knowing at some level that if he had indeed had all the women he claimed that he had, it was just a matter of time until he tried to add me to that list.  I walked into my parents home that evening and stated that I had applied to Nanny School and that I had quit my job.  My dad's jaw dropped and he stared at me in disbelief.  He started in on me, telling me that I had blown a good job (pun intended).  With his archaic idea that for a female, a secretarial job is the end all be all of professions, he was upset and was letting me know.



Once I hit my teens, I had open communication with my dad.  I respectfully could say what I  thought and that although I may not get a standing ovation from him, he had to have felt a bit of pride in my assertive actions -sporadic as they were.  Like a strong-willed daughter who frustrates the shit out of you, as you walk away thinking 'that a girl'.  I think that deep down he knew this unmarried daughter of his would be an albatross around his neck, but with a sly grin he was up for the challenge.



Frustrated at his scolding I blurted out "Oh, I guess I could sleep with him also" and an unusual silence entered the room.



He stared at me with a look I had never seen on his face (an expression I can still envision today) then he quietly asked "Did he do something to you?" -and today as an adult with teen children in my care, I understand the impact of that question.  How that sort of a question can change everything in an instant, how it takes an unimaginable amount of courage to ask it.



I answered with "No, but he wanted to."



My father simply said "Okay' and walked away and nothing ever was said about that job.  It was like I never worked there at all.  He never ever brought it up again, which was probably his way of dealing with the humbling possibility, with the idea of what could have happened had I listened to his advice.



At the time I had no idea of what I had escaped.  But over the years, I was able to recognize spiraling degrading situations.  Recognize - yes, but usually not until they reached a intolerable level was I able to stop them. 



I used to stomach the jokes, the snide remarks, the pawing, the gestures. I laughed away the advances and the comments.  It wasn't until my middle 30's that I realized that I had a choice.  Of course leading up to that time, I had been invited to take a personal protection course and I became addicted to the feeling that comes with that kind of mental and physical strength.  I became an instructor and watched women go from a floppy wrist slap, to screaming and lunging (all within a few hours).  



From there I enrolled a karate course and starting teaching children karate/personal protection and how to be aware of the 'tricky big person'.  I watched little girls, who's femaleness had not yet developed,  hit the bag and scream at the top of their lungs. 

I got my concealed handgun license (although I had no desire to carry one) and then started taking Krav Maga classes.  It wasn't until I saw through the power and manipulation that I was able to stop being a nothing surviving in a world of somethings.  The word 'no' held a powerful new meaning and I had the skills to back it up.



In the realm of what's going on in the country of my birth, this is just a blurb.  Another story, another woman who society had molded as a lesser being; taught that it was okay to be treated as such.  But it stops with me.  As the foster mother for many teens, I am raising them to know they have a voice.  They are being raised in a 'developing country' where women's rights are basically theoretical, but as a human being, they have the right to know they have the right to be heard.  I will do anything in my power to try to lessen their chances at becoming a statistic.



On the other side of the world atrocities are happening at an alarming rate, and I don't mean the side I am currently on.  I miss my family and friends, but I do not miss the United States of America.



I also miss Triscuit Crackers. (#carepackage)


13 August, 2018

Look at him Today! (Update)

To read about when Mr. H came to Opot, click HERE

I received so many concerns, words of encouragement and kind compliments regarding this little guy.    I thought an update is in order as he is doing quite well.  With abuse, a child is more likely to overcome the atrocities if at one point in their early life they were loved and cared for by someone with kindness.  Little H did have that with his mother until she gave him to a couple in the village (who offered to take him in) because she feared her abusive husband (H's father) would hurt him as he hurt her.

This was an unfortunate decision (with consequences she could not possibly have imagined or foreseen).  The "foster" parents are the ones that abused him.  For years.  When his mother was finally able rid herself of her husband, she tried to get H back, but the couple demanded $300 or else they would not give him up.  She was stuck, as there was no legality in the transfer of him, his mother was forced to try to come up with the money.

With her impoverished situation (she had 2 broken legs from her husband abuse) there was no way possible for her to pay that kind of money so H had to stay with his abusers.

In the two months H has been here, he is thriving.  He is learning the Khmer alphabet and numbers for the first time.  He is a natural water lover and swims like a fish.  He is also learning how to play with other kids because it doesn't seem he had much interaction with kids before.  He loves the animals here and has made it his job to feed some of the cats and Benji each morning.  He's extremely helpful, but we are guiding him to help out because it's fun and rewarding not because it's a job he has to do.

Here are a few photo glimpses into his life at the moment.

Baby V's last day before going to live with his mother.




Helping out watering our living wall at the preschool playground.



Yummy corn on the cob!



Making (and knocking over) a Jenga tower.


Mr. H will go home to stay with his mother for a month (or longer) during the school break.  She is in a safe place and working.  We will help them build a relationship again and continue to monitor her situation to see if it will be possible for them to be together permanently in the future.  This is one little boy who has another chance at life.  A chance to have a future free from pain and suffering at the hands of abusers.

Thank you again to all of you who allowed Mr. H into your heart.

08 June, 2018

Oh no, not Today

Oh no, not today
was my gut reaction when I saw him.

It's been a very long couple of months, lots of changes, new kids, long and extra long hours, 2 major construction projects going on.  The last couple of days have been even busier with 40 people volunteering their time here on 2 separate missions. 

My stress level was high.
After 2 days of playing games, learning, and overall having a grand time, the kids were high strung.  They had trouble 'coming down' after all the attention and excitement; they're kids, they are happy kids.
Oh no, not today... 

I like to think I'm a big kid at heart, but in reality, I'm too sensible.  I try hard to not think about the consequences, the inevitable clean up that will have to follow, but I can't just jump in a pile of mud without thinking things through.  That's what adults like me lack, the inability to stop forward thinking.  It is not that I never let loose, but I do it consciously.

But what if you are abused.  What if you had the ability to think things through, but were given random and sometimes violent consequences.  What if acting like a kid brought laughter and smiles one day and the same situation the next day brought pain and suffering.
Oh no, not today...

So today was stressful, not in a bad way, but in a busy way.  
Wayne and Dara went to check out the situation social services had informed us about.  So I was left in charge of Wat Opot.  A busy and demanding Wat Opot.  I was pulled in every direction; kind of like every day, but amplified.  

I thought a couple of times, "I'm good, I have things totally under control" as I searched for random requested items such as rope, nails, thin boards, hammer, shovel, smaller shovel, scissors, cotton...and I was spot on.  Not to toot my own horn, but I am on the upper level of organization, the supervisor of my domain and no matter what anyone says about it, it's a necessary compulsion.
But really, today?

Things were going smoothly albeit stressfully, did I mention that?  I was fine, I was in control of my emotions.  Then Wayne brought him in, today.


I looked at this little boy.  The little boy with scars on his body and scalp, swollen face, and fading bruises.  I just looked at him as he came to me and took my hand, somehow sensing (or was it an innocent hoping), that things would be better now.  

But they were not better for me.  All the stress of the day came to a roaring head. I shook my head in disbelief, what the hell?  How in the hell? 

Today. Really? Today?

I am globally alive.  I am aware of the atrocities of what a human can do to another human, even to a small one.  BUT to actually see it live in front of me, to realize it will be (in a large aspect) my responsibility to care for him now.  It is my job to make him feel safe and loved.  To change his image of a caregiver.

Today, of all days, I was not prepared for him.

I blinked back tears as he walked over to me "Oh no, not today" as he choose to sit in my lap, as he laid his small hands on my knees.  His trust in me pushed me to the brink of releasing all the stress from the day.  I had the urge to weep uncontrollably, a primal emotion wanting to escape the depths of my soul.

Yes, it was today.

To counteract the emotions, I went into my safe zone, organization.  I got him some clothes (as he only had the ones on his back) and that brought forth a smile.  Our caregiver and our teacher came to coo over him, to tell him in his mother tongue that everything would be okay now, how he looked so handsome in his new clothes.  I escaped to the storage room to get him a blanket, a pillow, a toothbrush and was taking deep breaths when I heard a commotion at the door.

There they were, a group of beautiful little kids, arms around him, telling him that 'mommy would get him everything he needed'.  They oohed and ahhed at the mundane items I was giving him.  His new 'surrogate  brother', Sophal put his arm around him and led him to the television and requested "Harold and the Purple Crayon".  

They watched Harold draw his imaginary adventures as I briefly touched him again - is he really here?- before I left the room.  I went about the rest of the busy afternoon with the little guy constantly on my mind.



He found me at dinner time and I handed him a hardboiled egg and Wayne offered him some salt in a bowl.  He cautiously picked at it, dipping a piece of the egg in the salt and putting it in his mouth.  He then glanced at us smiling at him and he devored the thing!  It won't take long until he puts more kilos on that small body.

The older kids came around to see their new little brother, giving him more love and encouragement and reassurance.



After dinner, he stayed by my side and we went to meet his night-time super amazing caregiver, Mr. Phal.   Mr. Phal has been with Wat Opot for almost 10 years and he is everyone's sweet grandpa.  At one point, I picked him up and cradled him like a baby (not Mr. Phal ;-) stating  "oh look at the new little one" as I tickled him.  He laughed, but a strange forced laugh.  It was as if he remembered the concept of laughing but was unsure of how to do it.

 It was then time for meditation and I led him to a place sitting amongst all the kids on the floor. Right before we got started, he got up from his seated position and came to me boldly on the stage (in front of everyone), sat by my side and put his hand on my knee.  We have had dozens of children experience their first Wat Opot meditation and no child has ever reacted like this.  Kids usually just go with the flow and maybe wonder what these crazy people are up to, but this little boy felt uncomfortable and changed his situation.

It gives me hope that his ability, his strength, to seek out comfort in a new and quite possibly confusing situation will help him deal with all that has happened to him.  Hopefully his sense of self worth will shine through.

And you know, as I sit here tonight alone in my room, the tears just won't come.  Are they stifled by pure exhaustion, or is it hope for the future and all the wonders it holds?

If not today, then when?




29 March, 2018

$10 shoes


I read to the little girls in the dorm almost every night and they have their favorites, which I end up reading over and over and over and…so much so that I can read most without even looking at the words.  One of them is “The Cat in the Hat Comes Back”.  I have read it so many times to them, I could recite it in my sleep.

There are things that I would have never given a second thought to in regards to content in the books I read, nor would have the American kids I have read to over the years.  But here in Cambodia daily things are different, such as we don’t take baths in a bathtub.  Here’s we take ‘bucket baths’ where you take the water scoop and scoop the water out of the tank and pour it over your head and body, soap up and then repeat.

So…when the Cat in the Hat leaves a pink cat ring in the tub, I always must explain what a dirty tub ring is.  Without ever seeing a bathtub (except for in books) it is kind of hard for them to imagine.  I tried to explain it like the ring in my coffee mug when I have old coffee sit for days…but I think that just screwed up their perception more.

There is one part of the book that has -each and every time- reminded me of my dad. 

“Let me tell you some news.
To take spots off a wall,
All I need is two shoes!”

Whose shoes did he use?
“This is very bad news.
Now the spot is all over
DAD’s $10 SHOES!”

and then:
 'His $10 shoes will have
No spots at all
I will rub them right off
On this rug in the hall.”

Why my dad?  When the book was published in 1958, ten dollars may have bought a very nice pair of shoes, maybe they were quite expensive, but in 2018, a good pair of ten dollar shoes really doesn't exist.  But you know what, Dave Lies would have found a nice pair of $10 shoes and by damn, not only would he have bought them, but he would have told everyone about those amazing shoes and how much he saved on them.  He would have worn them everywhere and boasted of his bargain hunting.


The Christmas before my dad died (a mere month later), he proudly displayed such a bargain.  He wore his -now infamous- pink shirt and informed everyone how damn good he looked!  Not just “I like this shirt”, but an over exuberant “Hey, take my picture, I LOOK DAMN GOOD IN THIS SHIRT!”  and then on to explain just what a bargain that shirt was.  

Maybe that shirt was only $10, maybe it was less, but regardless of the price, my dad’s frugalness lives on in all our memories.  All those wonderful priceless memories.

In many ways, I have inherited my father’s frugalness -it just took a while to rear it's head.  Now this is something he would have never believed!  I don’t think I could have believed it myself, years ago. How could a grown woman survive without earning an income? How could someone truly live off the generosity of others? That is what is great about the unknown…about finally letting go and allowing the universe take hold of your life and guide you in the right direction.  Guide you outside your comfort zone and in my case, to the other side of the world.

Letting go of negativity is my goal for 2018.  To really focus on what is here in front of me at small moments in time.  To allow myself to be truly happy by reveling in the small pieces of joy that are constantly around me.  Not to just nonchalantly open my arms to a child needing a hug, but to see it, to feel it, to hug back consciously, to love back fully.  To allow those small moments of each day heal me and now that I have turned a ½ century, I need all the healing I can get!

When my dad turned 50, my mom had a huge multi-town-wide surprise party for him at the local dance hall.  It’s hard to believe that I just hit that milestone and although my 50th birthday was nothing like that, the surprises big and small trickled in, from a decorated house, 



to a coffee treat prepared just the way I like it and presented to me while I was getting some much needed accounting done.


to a ‘birthday book’ so chock FULL of surprise well-wishes it made me cry! 


Like my dad seeing one friend after another come forth at his party, page after page revealed one unexpected birthday wish after another and I read such wonderful words from friends and family near and far.  Words I truly hope I live up to.

It is a bit uncanny how I got to where I am today, not just physically, but mentally.  When I quit working (after 7 years) for a billionaire family, many people questioned “What is wrong with you?”, “Why would you quit!”, “How could you give up THAT job?” as if a ‘job’ was the end all and be all of happiness.  I have never regretted my decision to quit my luxurious (depending on your taste) surroundings, but you know…looking back, if I had stayed there, 16 years later what would have been written to me on my birthday?  I highly doubt anything would be on my cards except for “Happy Birthday” and something like “congratulations on being surrounded by superficial things and money instead of love”. 


Like my dad receiving hug after greeting after smile that evening, small deeds move me,  but are sometimes received quietly.  Kind words are special, and picturing the smile of a loved one warms my heart.  The world is so scary and complicated and hostile and wonderful, that just being healthy and supported makes it a little less scary and hostile, a little less complicate and a lot more wonderful.


To everyone who has or continues to give me financial, emotional and physical (I am getting old!) support, I thank you from the top of my heart.  Without it, I would not be able to be here!  I would never have known how it feels to splurge on a $3.50 latte, a $25 room and have found out how my feet feel in shoes that were gifted to me.