30 August, 2010

Making do with what you have...

So sweet right?

She’s just precious and a little quiet and camera shy at times. As she walked away from me, I looked again at her and then called her back. Something just wasn’t right…

I learned later that she has been wearing these shoes for about a week. I often see one shoe laying here or there and now I will let them be as sometimes an ingenious (or practical) little girl will find beauty in an unmatched set.

29 August, 2010

To market to market…

Every Sunday the kids get paid for their chores and 10 or so are allowed to go to the market (the children rotate each week). Yesterday, Wayne mentioned that they were going to market and I thought that since he is going, I will tag along. The trusty red truck soon had kids crawling into the back and cab and I went to take my place in the front when I realized that Wayne was walking back to his office. I then had a decision…do I go without him or go it alone (with the driver and kids).

You see, I am actually not an adventurous type, per se. Yes, I travel all over and to places others have never gone, BUT a Lewis and Clark, I am not. I do like to go off the beaten path and I like the thrill of the unknown, but within boundaries. As much as I fight it, fear holds me back sometimes…fear of the ‘what if’. I’m more of a “go where someone has gone before – and see if you can improve upon what they have done” kind of person. I realized that fear was holding me back and I crawled into the front seat. I was met by 5 little ones in the back seat who were super excited to be going to market with Melinda!

We bounced out way down the dirt road for about 10 minutes and then came to the main road, took a right turn and headed down the pavement for another 10 minutes or so. Along the way the driver (still can’t remember his name!) pointed out to fields we were passing. Fields of dirt as far as the eye can see. Fields that should have been planted with rice…fields that are left bare because of the drought. Come November, there won’t be much to harvest and then come February, people will be going hungry. 

I thought of what Kansas would look like in the summer with no fields overflowing with crops…Francis Rupp, my mom’s elderly neighbor across the street mentioned that when he can no longer plant a large garden, then maybe it will be time for him to pass on – the garden is what he looks forward to each year. His way to till the land and give the excess produce to all the neighbors. I thought about these Cambodian farmers who, like Francis religiously plant their crops of rice; although unlike Rupp, it’s not a hobby, it’s their livelihood. Like Francis, their crops are a family affair, but unlike him, they may not have another way to feed their family if they have a bad year.

As I pondered the people’s despair come harvest, we were soon pulling into the village. More of a town bustling with Sunday Market life! The Market reminded me of a very large, very compact flea market. The driver pulled over and everyone crawled out. He looked at me and said “I’ll pick you all up in an hour and a half.” I thought, surely I heard him wrong, so I just kind of looked at him. He then said something to 10 year old Miss Kunthy (Koon-Tee) which I gathered was “Take the foreigner with you and for God’s sakes, take care of her”.

Kunthy took my hand in hers as I got out of the truck and she and I, along with Srey Nou (Sray-New) started weaving our way through the individual stands/booths. The girls drug me along as I tried to take it all in. They bought some shorts, nail polish and looked at some shoes. I have trouble taking pictures of ‘everyday life’. I see tourists snapping photos and pointing at things they that are different than what they know. I have a deeper respect for people than that; which means that I may not photographically document everything like I wish I could (such as the man laying on a cot getting some form of suction cup medical treatment and the woman sitting on a huge pile of clothes that she is selling –Just tell her what you are looking for and she will magically produce pretty much what you asked for.)

We went to a fruit stand so Srey Nou could buy an apple. I asked the ladies working if I could take a photo of their fruit –which in Cambodia is freakishly interesting! They blushed and laughed as I stood there pointing at my camera. Finally one of them nodded yes as she tried to hide her face while she giggled.

Finally the kids started wandering back to where the pickup dropped us off. They found a shaded place to sit out the wait while eating their fruit and playing with their new things. Soon, like clockwork, the truck came pulling up and everyone piled in. On the way back, with the children gleefully bounced in the back of the truck with the wind in their hair, I was happy to have ignored the unnecessary fear of the market. Even happier since I was holding 2 small loaves of bread which I bought for 2000 Riel ($.50) and happier still because the driver had filled the tank which goes to the gas stove in my room. Hot tea and bread for snack today!!

26 August, 2010

medical help!

One of the little boys came into the office (which doubles as a medical facility). He has a big rug burn on the back of his upper leg. Wayne told him to bandage it up. (he prefers their learning self-sufficiency). He brought in another little boy and then a third joined in. They doctored him up and he was on his way…but I would hate to be around when he had to take it off as he was covered in really sticky bandage tape!

The next night I assisted and covered it a little more ‘professionally’ or at least using a little less tape thus ‘economically’.

25 August, 2010

Necessary “hand outs”

The World Food Bank has many programs in Cambodia, one of which directly supports people living with HIV-AIDS. Once a month a large flatbed pulls into Wat Opot containing large white bags of rice, boxes of packages of palm oil and salt. These are monthly rations given to the villagers who have a family member with HIV-AIDS - ½ a bag of rice, some oil and salt given to supplement their monthly food supply.

Different countries finance the monthly rations and this month it was Australia. I have heard that this program will end next year. So next year at this time, people will have to make due without the extra food items. This is very troubling since this area is in a drought. It’s the rainy season with no rain. The rice fields are not being planted because of this. These rice (paddy) fields are cracking dry. With no rice crop, families will not have food next year. Rice is their staple crop and unlike mass farming and a grocery store on every corner, this is a rural land in the true sense. People are farmers, that is their livelihood – not to resale, but to feed their family.

With no rice this season, what will these people do next year when their current stock is gone. There are no jobs to fall back on. No way for these people to make money in order to buy food. There is no government to help them. It’s a poor country through and through.

I am reminded of the “likes” I unfortunately see way to often on FaceBook. One struck me hard the other day. Something about ‘liking’ that people on welfare should be drug tested. Obviously someone can have their own opinion; it’s a free country nonetheless. What makes my skin crawl is the downright thoughtlessness people casually click on these ‘likes’…and to what purpose? Suppose others (like myself) go through an intelligent thought process. A thought process in that case would be something like

“Where will the money come from to pay for said testing?”

“Who will pay for the extra administrative roles to document who has been tested and who hasn’t?”

“Who will pay for the extra manpower it will take to administer the tests monthly…weekly…?”

So I guess Taxpayers will pay for it? - Let’s overburden an already overburdened government shall we…and give people more to bitch about when their taxes are increased to pay for something they supported?

Whose ego shouts ‘victimization’! Are the poor victims the one who have to pay taxes?…taxes, some of which goes to take care of those less fortunate…those whose life may have made a turn for the worse…or those whose life started out bad and then went to worse. Who are those FaceBook likers who concentrate on the negative in everything (Are they really "friends"?  Are they people I would want to hang around?  To have conversation with?). Those who think they can decide who gets what and who doesn’t. THEY of course KNOW that ALL people on welfare are drug addicts. They surely MUST be, right?! Welfare recipients couldn’t possibly be people just like them (just with less money)…As long as those who are different (culturally, religiously, racially, sexually, etc..) are labeled as "the other" people can feel free to discriminate and 'the perfect people' can go on manning their daily drone bombers.

I’m a Realistic Idealist…or an Idealistic Realist…my eyes are not blind to those who take advantage of government handouts. There are greedy people on both ends of the financial spectrum, but there is no doubt in my mind that there are far more genuinely needy people on welfare than there are con-artists and drug addicts. The needy people are who I choose to concentrate my attention on. I also believe in helping those needy in other ways, education, job skills, etc. WHAT!! Use tax money to decrease the cycle of poverty??

I am certain that there are some who take advantage of the World Food Bank's food handouts.  A family member who picks up the rice and then sells it for alcohol.  Big f-ing deal!  Maybe we should use the money given to support the program to follow EVERYONE home to make sure the rice gets eaten by those who need it.  Maybe we should do home visits everyday in every rural community to make sure of it.  Sometimes a massive 'letting go' is needed.  Letting go of Control and adding a little faith, trust and humanity.

The government in an underprivileged country such as Cambodia, cannot take care of their less fortunate people, and I find it disheartening that in a rich country there are those who can but for selfish (lack of compassion?, egotistical?, self-centered?...) reasons don’t want to. But at lease I find some comfort in my ‘hide’ (and sometimes ‘delete’) button and then I run out to give someone less fortunate a hug.

23 August, 2010


Wayne went to Phnom Penh (the city about an hour and a half away) for a couple of days. I felt honored that he trusted me with giving the HIV+ kids their twice daily medication. He has it all set up and a relatively fail proof system so no one is forgotten, but I was still freaking nervous! To put it in perspective, it’s not like forgetting a dose of Tylenol or some antibiotic. This medicine keeps them alive. I don’t know what missing a dose will do in their system and I certainly didn’t want to find out.
The children, even those as young as 3 or 4 know the routine and know which colorful plastic basket is theirs (which was GREAT since I still have yet to remember their names or even how to pronounce them). Paul a Cambodian older fellow sleeps in the boys dorm each night, so he was there also making sure the line was straight and finding those that weren’t there yet and making sure water bottles were filled to help in the ease of swallowing the sometimes large pills.

It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. Something that I take for granted in America…medicine and the ability to purchase it, is not always the case here. The HIV-AIDS medication available in Cambodia is not the stuff that is available in the US. There is something like 5 levels of medication made and here they can only get (or afford to import) up to Level 2. One of the little boys takes 2.5 large pills and then one small one and also this chewable white disk-like pill which I am told tastes utterly awful; and judging by the look on his face and his quick gulping of water the description is accurate.
Although some of the children are HIV+ (from the Wat Opot Website) “…visitors to Wat Opot rarely, if ever, feel the presence of the virus. The children play, eat, go to school, make mischief, do peculiarly moving things – like any children in any community. The only real difference that can be seen most days is at 7 am and at 7 pm, when the children requiring medication line up in front of the infirmary with a bottle of water clutched in their hands. Once they’ve received their medication and a snack, they’re either off to school or off to take advantage of the last moments of play before bedtime.

It is usually not until one sees this daily ritual that one learns which children have AIDS and which ones don’t. One of the primary goals of The Wat Opot Children’s Center is to restore the joy of living to these adults and children – and as evidenced from the many photographs visitors and volunteers have taken, our method works!”

The children do occasionally get sick, the virus causes their immune system to go down, so they are more susceptible to common colds, skin problems, ear infections, etc. Some of the smaller ones have big blister like open sores on their neck and heads. When it gets bad, they have to have their hair cut really short; the only way to apply soothing medication on the sores until they go away.The little girls really hate that part and this little one (the best way I can pronounce her name is "Shrey Neek") was unhappy for days at her new look! 

She found a little red plastic box and it became her 'security blanket'.  She eventually came up later that afternoon and put her hand into mine and we walked around the property...not saying anything, just walking.  An unspoken acceptance on both sides.  She will do that occasionally now.  Crawl into my lap and we sit without playing, teasing, or giggling.  Just a peaceful moment between a me and a child.  A child who has already had an unfathomable life; a life I can't even begin to relate to.

20 August, 2010

waah...poor me?

It’s different here. Different than any place I have known. That in itself is not that surprising as the number of places I have been are relatively few. I have only lived in one other children’s home and this place cannot be compared. The only thing they have in common is that they both are filled with vulnerable children. Wat Opot is a community. A small Cambodian community next to a Buddhist Temple and a small village. Wat Opot has a school for the preschool children (the school age children go to the Village School). It has a medical building (unstaffed), large kitchen/dining area and a little cafe called Chang’s place.

A big difference in this particular Children’s home is that Wat Opot has a crematorium. A place to cremate the bodies, many of which have succummbed to AIDS over the years (500 in the last 8 years). It is my understanding at this time, that Wat Opot has only been an orphanage for the past couple of years. Before that it was a place where people came to die. With all the misunderstandings surrounding the AIDS virus, people could come here for help and to die with loving people around them. Loving people without fear of contacting the disease. Loving People who knew the rumors and misperceptions about how the disease was transported/contacted were false. Rumors spawned out of fear and ignorance. The children of the AIDS victims were kind of left here out of lack of a place to go, especially the ones who had the disease themselves...no one wanted them.

I, myself did not know much about HIV-AIDS until just a few days ago. Even with my minimal knowledge, I knew that I would not “catch it” from the children. What I knew in my heart was confirmed by Wayne shortly after my arrival when I asked him about it. Basically the only way I could become infected in this place is by having sex with one of the children or by injecting their blood into my body. Since neither of those will happen, I am safe to hug, hold and love them to my hearts content.

The children are not always asteticly beautiful. Because of the virus their immunity system is down. With this humid weather it’s common for people to have skin problems. This problem is just a bit worse with the HIV positive children. They may have large open sores, blisters and/or rashes over parts of their body. Their ears may ooze pus occasionally. Because of this (and the fact that many have witnessed the death of parents or other loved ones) they need to be loved and accepted all the more.

Besides the large children’s dorm, the Wat Opot community has families living here in their separate houses as well. They have chickens (soon pigs) and try to garden in the claylike soil. They pitch in to help all the children (68 of them) stay clean, disciplined and healthy. The disease is controlled by medication. Medication that is available in the US is not available here, so they make due with what they can get. If the medication ceases to work, the stronger drugs are not here, so they die. They die because they happened to be born in a poor country.

I don’t pity these children, I love on them. I laugh at (with) them. I have already shed tears for them in the short time I have beenhere. Little faces that have gone through more in their young life than anyone should go through in a lifetime. It’s remarkable how a 3 year old can swallow a large pill twice a day like it’s nothing, like he’s been doing it all his life....then I remember...he has.

Yesterday, I didn’t want to come out of my room. I didn’t know where I fit in here. I’ve always been able to jump into any situation with both feet running. Here it is different. It’s taking a bit longer for me to find my place. Yesterday I wanted to hide, and I did for a bit...until I realized that me sitting alone in my room was doing nothing, it was not helping me feel better. When I emerged from my shell, there was someone waiting for me. A small hand to hold, a tiny butt wanting a lap to sit on, a head looking for a shoulder to rest on. I wipe back a tear and give what is needed. Sometimes the future is of little importance when the here and now is all that matters.

18 August, 2010


Here’s my accomodations for the next 2.5 months. It’s a large room with 2 full-size beds, bathroom and kitchen. There is a separate room attached for someone if they wanted to have a private sleeping area.

my huge bed with an actual mattress!

shot of kitchen area and adjoining room.

the entrance (my bed on the lower right of the photo)

screened in porch!

It is really comfortable and I happily have a fan for sleeping at night. Definitely helps with the heat and humidity that is common this time of year.

16 August, 2010

I'm not in Kansas anymore, but...

But...it kind of looks like it!

As we drove out of the city sometimes dwarfed by the large trucks barreling down the highway.

I saw the buildings and houses replaced by flat lands and greenery.

We passed temples and intricatly designed gates and other sights reminding me where I was.

At one point the driver pulled over and walked behind the cart. A guick glance behind me made me jerk my head back forward. I guess when you gotta go, you gotta go...

After the scenic drive, waalah – Wat Opot!!

15 August, 2010

To Wat Opot Children's Community...

Once I got to Phnom Penh, I followed my instructions to take a cab to the Golden Gate Hotel. Once there, all I wanted to do was take a shower! After that I ventured out and found an internet cafe so mom would know I arrived safe and sound. While at the internet cafe, there was a downpour. Not just rain, but seemingly endless buckets of water falling from the sky. Enough so that just sticking your head in it would drench you. I waited and waited, bored with the internet at that point. It let up a little so I ventured out under the awning. A tuk tuk (motorcycle with a seated cart behind it) driver motioned to me so I dashed across the street and dove into my waiting ride. The cart was well prepared for the rainy season with plastic shields all pulled down to keep the passenger dry inside.

He drove me the couple of blocks to my hotel (for $1) and I rushed inside. By then it was around 7pm and I was starving and exausted. I went into the restaurant and ordered the only vegetarian thing on the menu (vegetables with cashews and rice). I must have looked like death because the waiter asked me if I would like it brought up to my room! I gladly accepted and 10 minutes I was $2.50 poorer but had a steaming pile of goodness in front of me. After eating, I showered again and turned on the TV, but couldn’t even watch it because I was going cross-eyed with lack of sleep. All tucked in, I slept completely undisturbed for 10 hours!

Rising the next morning, I went down to breakfast where I met a nice girl who was leaving the city the next day to head back to the states. She had been in Phnom Penh for a few months on an internship with her university. After eating the only vege thing on the menu for breakfast (veggies, tofu and rice) and some coffee, I walked down to the corner where I was instructed to find Tamap, a tuk tuk driver who will take me to Wat Opot (an hour and half drive). Tuk tuk’s are everwhere and as soon as you take a step out of a hotel, restaurant or anywhere, you hear voices saying “Miss, need a ride?"

I politely said no as I walked to the corner. No large sized driver was seen, so I asked another tuk tuk driver if he knew where Tamap was. He said he didn’t know Tamap, but HE could take me anywhere. I declined and walked across the street and asked another. This guy said Tamap was somewhere and would be back for 3 days. With a questioning look, I said, Hmmmmm...OK. and I proceeded to the next guy. When this guy also said Tamap was at the same place and after counting on his fingers held up 3 and said that was when he would be back, I had my 2nd opinion and realized Tamap was not here. This guy then said that he would take me to Wat Opot for $15, which is the price Wayne said I would have to pay. I told him to pick me up at my hotel at 10am.

At 9:50 there he was waiting for me so me and my backpacks hopped in and we were off!

ON my way...

August 12th. – Left from Wichita, KS to Chicago and then a non stop into Hong Kong. This is all I got to see of Hong Kong –from the airport window... Not much of a layover there, only a couple of hours. I searched all over for a coffee place, to no avail. I finally just settled down on a lounge chair (THAT airport was really nice!) and waited for my flight.

A couple hours later I arrived in Vietnam, EARLY! Just what I needed...an extra 30 minutes tacked on to my 14 hour layover. I arrived at 9:30pm on the 12th and once departing I went to the info desk to let them know that I had a connecting flight. The lady looked at me when she punched up my flight and said in a comical way “You fly out tomorrow at 12pm?” when I replied yes, she motioned to some seats and said. “Stay there until 10am tomorrow morning and then come to the desk and they will get you your flight information.
I glanced at the seats (about 5 rows of 6 seats) and realized that was my bed for the night. There was a TV at the front playing some movie with Nicholas Cage in it, but over the constant loudspeaker, I couldn’t hear anything. I figured it was too early, and way to noisy to try to sleep so I read for awhile then watched the next flights land and the travelers stand in line at customs.

The channel was changed to some Vietnamese sitcom and the guys were laughing so hard at the television that I started watching it. The humor was obviously in the words as the people on the screen were not doing anything funny.

About 1am the last flight came in and by 1:20am the place was shut down. Literally everyone just packed up and went home, everyone but a couple of security guards.

I eventually fell asleep and awoke with the TV blaring some MTV channel with high pitched singers. I dozed off again and this time awoke to the airport announcing flights coming in. I stretched and sat up –it was around 5am. I read for awhile and probably dozed a little again. At 8am someone approached me and informed me that my flight at noon had been cancelled. I sighed and asked when they could get me out. she said at 3:15pm, BUT they would give me a pass to the Business Lounge! I quickly packed up my things and followed her to the counter where I was given a boarding pass and the coveted Business Lounge Pass!

When I walked in, I was met with a steaming pot of coffee, hot tea and a large table of food – JACKPOT! With my frugal dad on my mind, I sat down and helped myself to a cup of coffee and once I finished that, I waited. Waited for someone to come and give me a bill for it... when someone came by and took the cup and did not ask for money, I was really thrilled! I piled a plate with veggies, tofu and rice and another with strange looking fruit...and helped myself to another cup of coffee.

2:45 FINALLY came around and I packed up again to board the plane with my final stop –Phnom Penh, Cambodia!

14 August, 2010

I'm heeeeeerreee!

Made it to Cambodia...a long travel journey, but as much as I complain about airline travel - layovers, it's ALWAYS worth the hassle!

Photo's and info forthcoming!!!