24 September, 2010


Yeah yeah yeah, nature and all that, but...It's still GROSS!!!

23 September, 2010


The class I do enjoy teaching everyday is computers. I only have 2 students at this time since we only have 2 (VERY old) computers for them to use. We started with the basics of Microsoft Office and typing skills and progressed to email and the internet. Longdy and Pesei are my two students; they are both around 17 or 18 and literally two of the most responsible boys here; which makes teaching them pretty darn easy!

We used to study in Wayne’s office which is also the accounting office. Space was tight and the office is in the children’s dorm so our evening class was always VERY noisy with 50+ children running, playing and the TV blaring in the next room. Because Wat Opot is not a hospice any longer, the hospital room is not needed everyday. It’s just for the occasional sick kid or villager who needs stitches (post forthcoming). Wayne is making major changes here as they morph completely into a place for vulnerable children instead of a place for AIDs patients to die.

The hospital room was divided to make a computer/study room on one half and the other half is a smaller medical facility. I set up the 1 desktop and 1 laptop and installed Microsoft software and also a typing program and we were ready to go! The funny thing is that I got Longdy all set up in the room and went to find Pesei to tell him about the change of location for the class. It was around 7pm and dark outside.

As I prepared to leave the room, he said in a shaky voice “Melinda, are you coming back?” I said “Yes, of course”. He then asked me if I knew why he questioned me leaving; then added “ghosts”. I smiled and put my hand on his shoulder and said “Yes, Longdy, I will come back very fast”. As I walked to the dorm, I remembered Wayne telling me that the kids don’t like to be in the hospice since that was the place where the AIDS patients died (hundreds of them). I realized that the room may have bad memories for some if that is where their parents died.

I rushed back with Pesei and we started out class. The boys are really a joy to talk to and tonight being in this room, Pesei opened up a bit more when he explained that his mother died in this room, in the exact bed that is in the corner. He said it was in 2005. He asked me if I would want to sleep in this room and I told him that I probably wouldn’t have a problem since I was not here when anyone died. He said that he isn’t afraid of ghosts, but the room doesn’t have a good memory for him. I hope the positive learning environment slowly pushes the ‘ghosts’ away and someday the kids will feel comfortable being here again.

22 September, 2010

ON my porch…

Some of the younger ones (under 5) don’t get to go to school. Occasionally I bring them into my dwellings to make them feel like one of the ‘big kids’. Today, Virak, Way and Tong had ‘school’ with Melinda.

Cutting for the first time!

Using a straight edge

School tends to get boring for a 3 yr. old.. No, Mr. Way, you CANNOT have my water bottle…

Sigh, how can I resist that face…YES, you and Virak can use it as a drum!

On to my bed to read a book.

Tuh Tuh Tuh, “T”!

Mr. Tong, that is a very lovely picture!!

21 September, 2010

Sand Castle.

OK, maybe it’s not a castle, but it IS made out of sand.

Wonders of simplicity.

The happiness of a job well done.

20 September, 2010

I don’t like…

How to describe the feeling today...

I teach English once a day. This class is not mandatory for the children; I would rather a class of 5 who want to be there than a class of 20 who don’t care. Over the weeks, the class has dwindled down…the newness of “Melinda” is over. I guess they have figured out that they don’t need to come to a specified class to see me be silly or to hear my accent as I try to pronounce their names or other Khmer words which I totally screw up.

 The class regulars are boys; four teenagers, a three year old, a five year old and a six year old. I continue to have this love/hate relationship with teaching. I dread it all day and usually wait until someone finds me and asks “Melinda Anglais today?” Cambodia was a French colony so they still use the French form on English; Anglais (on-glay). I usually sigh and say “Yes Anglais today”.

The crazy thing is that the class is not difficult to prepare for; nor do I. The kids understand spoken English very well. They older ones speak it pretty good. They have never really learned how to read and write it though. After a couple of days of blank stares, I realized they had no idea what I was writing on the white board. They had no idea how to even sound out words- even as simple as CAT or BAT. When I tried to sound it out for them “buh” “buh” while pointing to the “B” they yelled out BALL, BROOM, BROWN. A BUH bit BUH bewildered, I pointed to the “T” and said “tuh” “tuh” and again responses TABLE, TOY, TREE were shouted out!

A total revamping on my teaching idea took place.

I went back to my experience teaching in Belize with a kindergartner. A=ah, B=buh, C=kuh, etc. I had the boys repeat each sound after me. It was quiet hilarious to me and I soon realized it was to them as well! That day we just went over and over the sounds and then I had them tell me a word that starts with each letter. Last week we worked slowly on the basics of beginning reading “The fat cat sat on a rat.” “The fat rat ate a cat.” Throwing in having the ‘fat rat’ sit on one of them; with my artistic version of that vision scribbled on the board!

Today: It’s a Monday and super hot – lack of motivation is rampant. I was happy since my normal ‘hesitation’ of class was there. Then I heard Tuon at my window “Melinda Class today?”. Tuon (too-un)…Tuon is asking for class…Tuon??

Tuon’s story is like most here…he is HIV negative but his mother died of the disease after they both came to Wat Opot. By the time they arrived, Tuon (a small 10 yr. old) had been taking care of her and trying to keep her alive. Typical to AIDS patients (not just here but the world over) the family disowned them. Tuon continued to care for his mother at Wat Opot although they had a very difficult relationship. Tuon was born with one bad eye; so only had sight in his left eye. The mother riddled with guilt at the fact that she has brought a ‘damaged’ child into the world and would soon die leaving him alone; caused her to yell and scream at him and he returned this attitude to her. She was in constant pain and he would massage her to relieve the pain; which at first is even more painful, but in the end helps ease her suffering. Finally the day came and she passed on and Tuon became parent-less.

That was 6 years ago. Tuon has since been given a fake eye, to fit in. He has a big heart, but with such a tumultuous background, one wonders what his future holds. He’s not the best at school and would rather not go, so when he wanted to join English class a week ago, I thought, yeah sure he does. He came for 3 days in a row and I started to change my attitude towards his desire for English education. He has to work harder as he can’t see well. I rolled the white board up to the front of the tables (desks) so he could see better. He tries hard and is advancing nicely. He lacks confidence, but is sticking it out right along with the 6 yr. old next to him.

When it ended up only Tuon and I in the classroom on this lazy Monday, I was thrilled. We worked on putting together sentences and spelling out the simple words. He impressed me with his ability to sound the words out only after a short while. We laughed and had fun with it. While he was writing a sentence with his head a couple of inches from his paper so he could see what he is doing; I was overcome with emotion.

What an amazing experience I am having in my life. Such joy to come from one young man struggling to learn. I know my ‘poor me, I have to teach English’ attitude will still be there tomorrow; but maybe, just maybe it will start to fade in time.

The school house at Wat Opot.

15 September, 2010

Playing House...

It never fails…children will emulate their parents, or in some cases when there is no parents, the children replicate the activities of those who care and love them. As I was walking to lunch one day, I passed 2 little ones having a tea party. Of course little china cups and saucers are not always needed to have a good time pretending. The little girls had water bottle tops and other misc. plastic containers and pieces. I hesitated to continue to the lunch gazebo because I couldn’t believe how utterly cute the sight was… and I didn’t have my camera on me. I decided to not go back for the camera as my stomach was growling!

 Later that afternoon, trusty camera in hand, I came upon a whole herd of the children partaking in the wonderful world of make-believe; and to add to my pleasure there were boys too! (and not only sampling the food, they were involved in the preparation and service of it also).

They had a little kitchen area with a stove, bottles of tea (dirty water from the fish pond) and plenty of extra food (sand).

The serving tray was a broken piece of a blue plastic clip board.

Some of the kids ‘ordered’ directly from the kitchen as Kunthea did her best to serve them!

From the looks of their smiles, I guess the little café was a success!

13 September, 2010

Nurse Kate

Kate is a nurse who is in Cambodia for a while…she actually keeps extending her stay (currently indefinitely :-) another humanitarian who realized that there is so much to experience in life so why wait until tomorrow; when there is always today.

Last week, while she was at Wat Opot, her medical skills were tested and since I can’t describe her experience, she graciously allowed me to take this from her blog:

This week at Wat Opot, I got a chance to practice nursing again. I administered my first pediatric IV (on the first try!!) to a child who had had a fever for 5 days and was incredibly dehydrated. The boy, Sompoa, was so good and did not complain at all. In Cambodia, and most third world countries, they use a strange kind of IV with no catheter, just the needle. When you first take it out of the packaging, its just a needle with a tube attached to it. It was like nothing I had ever seen and I was honestly very nervous, but I did OK. I thought for sure Sompoa would be in pain and discomfort having a long needle just sitting in his arm for 8 hours, but he didn't say a word. While staying in the hospice with the IV drip, I also had another patient, a smaller boy also with a high fever.

Kate is being modest when she said she “did OK”. She was EXCELLENT, caring and genuinely doted on the two boys all day. As the day moved the boys rested and later that day, they were feeling well enough to eat some food while watching Finding Nemo on my computer.

As always there is never a dull moment at Wat Opot, Kate found herself doctoring a sore foot on Sahone as well; and what medical treatment would be complete without some lady walking in with a fish to ask Wayne if she could get a discount (or perhaps free of charge) because it was dead! (Chances are that she had caught the fish out of our pond, killed it and then came in making her request - Honesty is not always a Khmer’s strongest trait…)


12 September, 2010


Just when I decide to lighten my depressing load here, what do I get? Kidney Stones!! YUK! Yesterday, I had a little pain like a cramp and I didn’t think anything of it, but last night I realized it wasn’t going away. I laid in bed timing the sharp bursts of pain like I was in labor. A dull ache and then a shot of pain in my lower gut. I thought it might be a bladder infection as I had the sensation that I needed to pee. Then I envisioned my appendix bursting and wondering what the chances are of getting through that kind of surgery here in Cambodia...

The next morning I asked Carolyn, who’s a nurse, about it. She shot down the bladder infection since I was indeed peeing when I had the feeling I and also the actual peeing process wasn’t a burning pain. A few hours later the pain was getting a little worse and I had the sensation that I have felt that kind of pain before and then it hit me – KIDNEY STONES. It makes sense as I am more susceptible to them, genetically I guess, since I do not eat any of the foods associated with it and some of my family members get them as well. It is super hot here and although I drink tons of water, I guess it just hasn’t been enough. That’s the key with me and the stones; not enough water and they appear like magic. – Isn’t the body an amazing thing!

With me, though, it’s not a lower back pain at all, the stones seem to pass out of my kidneys undetected; travel through my tubes pain free as well. It’s when they get to my urethra (which Carolyn informed me what was happening in my case) they rear their ugly head. When I was young, I used to eat sunflower seeds. I wouldn’t always crack the shell and eat the seed inside, no, I would get lazy and just chew it up all at once and swallow the seed along with the 1/2 chewed up shell. On occasion the shell piece would get stuck in my throat and it would hurt like hell going down…I also remember one time that a shell piece stayed intact until it properly came out another hole in my body, which hurt like hell also. That’s what thought came to mind when I woke up in the middle of last night in pain; that there was a sunflower seed shell lodged in my pee tube (which, thanks to Carolyn, I now know its proper name).

This is the closest I will get to having labor pains; evenly timed bursts of pain which in the end will expel something that I really want to be out of my body. Gazing with such happiness at a tiny ragged stone that my body produced, harbored and then released into the toilet can’t be compared to gazing at a newborn but as they say here all the time – “same, same, but different.”

I have drunk about a gallon of water so far today and my special little stone is not budging and the pain is getting worse. I would love to spend the afternoon on a nice toilet in a comfy bathroom with a stack of magazines or a favorite book and just wait it out, but that’s just not an option here…with 6 other female volunteers at the moment sharing the same room. Carolyn thankfully looked up anything to relieve my pain and then went to the market coming back with lemons, coconut (for their water) and some pain medicine. I’m not one to take medicine for pain, but since I am not in the comfort of the other Carolyn (my Mom!) in my life’s care and comfy home, they may start to look really tempting as the day goes on.

Hopefully by the time this post is read the stone will be a not-so-fond memory to me, a little pothole on the road of life as I continue to keep driving.

11 September, 2010

I know I have not been writing and posting pictures like I did in Nepal, but as I’ve mentioned, it’s different here. Not just geographically, but emotionally. The energy is different and many times when I start to write about the funny happenings -such as when some of the older boys told me there was a black mark on my face and watched in glee as I tried to wipe the non-existent spot off my cheek while asking “Is it still there?” As soon as I get into my room each evening, I want to type all about my day, to post photos of the children…and I end up reading a book thinking that I’ll do it later.

It is hard to write about these things since at the end of the day it all seems so trivial, or pale in comparison to what they have gone through in their short lifetime. Physically, I can show photo’s of their smiles; their laughs –it’s the image I can’t catch; what I can’t take a photo of that occupies my mind. The pre-death image of my father continues to haunt my mothers sleep; do these children witness the same? What do they think about before falling to sleep? Do they continue to see their parent’s death; their sibling’s death; the suffering of those they loved while waiting for the inevitable outcome…or have those images faded with time.

These are the thoughts I struggle with, but to only concentrate on what they may be going through undermines the way they continue to move forward each day. Perhaps, it is I who struggles much more than they. I am humbled at how much I have not witnessed in life. I realize that comparison brings about the ego “Who has suffered more?” “Whose pain is greater?” These are things that can’t be measured. What you can see, though, is the smile of a child, a hearty laugh - and keeping those moments of their daily life hidden away allows the pain to jump ahead to the front of the line. So I will change my attitude and let these children have their day!

06 September, 2010

Excerpt from the Book, Green Parrots by Gino Stratada (a war surgeon)

“Where are the Human Rights for the victims of war? ‘In the last decade alone,’ According to a United Nations agency, ‘more than two million children have died as a direct result of armed conflict, and more than three times that number have been permanently disabled or seriously injured.’ Furthermore: ‘An estimated 20 million children have been forced to flee their homes and more than one million children have been orphaned or separated from their families,’ All this happening before our very eyes. Every year three million children, six children a minute, die or are wounded or mutilated, or they have their lives destroyed or overturned by war, while here we celebrate ‘Children’s Day’ and show off with the ‘Declaration of the Rights of the Child.’
Can the civilized conscience endure all this? I do not think so

Perhaps it was in order to conceal this truth that they coined the most infamous racist expression I know: ‘Collateral damage.’ Now war…when fought by the countries that are militarily strongest and equipped with the most devastating weapons, produces ‘collateral damage.’ And so every year three million children lose their very features, their names, their smiles, to become merely disposable items, human beings with out rights. The same is true, obviously, for women and men who are victims of war: they are no longer human beings; they are ‘the price that has to be paid’.

Even if one human being is excluded, it is no longer legitimate to speak of human rights, which by definition belong to everyone. Rather they are the privilege of the strongest, of the ‘included’, who claim for themselves the rights they deny to others. I have never heard of the 3,000 victims of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers described as ‘collateral damage’ of the Jihad, and I would be equally indignant if I had. On the contrary, as is just and human, those victims have been mourned and remembered for who they were: human beings mowed down by the homicidal madness of war. Their photo’s are there in the place that has become their tomb, and there are flowers and their families grieve.

At least 5,000 Afghan civilians were killed, buried by American bombs a few months after the NY attack, victims of the terrorism of war. The same fate has befallen over 10,000 Iraqi civilians. It is more than double the number of Kurdish civilians who were exterminated with chemical gasses in Halabja in 1998, by Hughes and Bell helicopters supplied to the Iraqi dictator by the USA. Have we seen any of their faces on the free television channels of the rich democratic countries? No. They, too, are collateral damage. This is the racist madness that is dominating the world today: the firm belief that there are some citizens whose rights should be respected, and others, far more numerous, who can instead be excluded from the enjoyment of rights, who can be sacrificed. Accepting---and, prior to that, proposing –the theory of humanitarian war lends moral dignity to murder. In this way killing ceases to be a crime, a tragedy to be avoided at any cost, and becomes a correct choice, even one dictated by ethical motives. ‘Humanitarian intervention.’ And so humanitarian intervention, that is, the work of those who seek to give a hand to the suffering and, if possible, to save human lives, was considered a complement to bombing, an action synergetic with destruction and death. Yet a further outrage."

After reading those words in Strada’s book (a memoir of his time spent trying to save the innocent ‘casualties of war’- millions of them over the course of 10 years), I put the book aside as I experienced an 'aha' moment. Things all of a sudden became clear for me, thoughts about why I am here, why I choose to help ‘the other’ instead of ‘my own countryman’. Why I choose not to stay in the US and use my education, skills and experience to help the needy there? Contrary to popular belief, the US does indeed have an abundance of poor, starving, uneducated, illiterate, etc…. Why not help ‘my fellow Americans”. I have been asked “WHERE is your patriotism??”

I contemplated patriotism…American patriotism. What does that really mean? Proud of my country? Proud to be an American? Proud? Pride? Where has pride ever gotten me in my life? It wasn’t pride that spawned an interest early on in my life in regards to children; pride didn’t urge me to start volunteering when I was 20 years old. It wasn’t pride that drove me to pursue an education in social and humanitarian services. It wasn’t pride that urged me to help those less fortunate. In actuality, pride would have gotten in the way of all that.

Who am I to think that because I happened to be born, from absolutely no will of my own, in an area of the earth named after an Italian merchant; that because my parents had sex on ‘american soil’ and their actions (thankfully so) produced a child; that my birthplace somehow makes me better than someone else whose parents ‘did it’ half way around the world. My birth in the US has allowed me privileges others only can dream of - I am thankful for my passport which allows me freedom of travel to almost every corner of the world; which again was not something I earned. Am I proud of having a US passport? No. Am I thankful that wars, fighting and killing in the name of 'freedom' gave me the right to have it? No, I am not. Am I proud that my freedom was earned by the blood of millions of innocent citizens, millions of 'collateral damage'? No...

If you look up pride in a thesaurus you could substitute it with: satisfaction, pleasure, delight… or you could instead insert the following words in its place: conceit (snobbery, vanity), smugness (self-righteousness), arrogance (egotism, superiority), self-importance (narcissism). The opposite of pride is humility (humbleness, modesty, unassuming nature), the opposite! Over the years I have managed to surround myself with a plethora of humble humans instead of proud ones; and my life has been enriched beyond all imagination! Never once, do I recollect, that I have wished for someone; a friend perhaps to have more pride; to be prouder, so to speak.

There was a frail woman from the village who came to Wat Opot yesterday. This woman came to ask (beg) for some rice to feed her family. Some would say she ‘swallowed her pride”. She swallowed her delight? She swallowed her arrogance? How about superiority? Doesn’t really make sense to me…the whole pride thing; it is a word, henceforward, will try to eliminate from my vocabulary. The hungry woman did what she did so she and her family could have some food. The only thing she swallowed was the rice she cooked which was provided free of charge by those who run on humility and compassion, by Wayne, a disabled American Vietnam Vet trained as a nurse.

Which brings me to why I do what I am doing. I truly believe that the life of a Khmer or Nepali child is no more or less important than the life of an American one; the life of a Muslim or Catholic no more or less important than a Buddhist; one’s pain or death no more or less real than another’s. I can’t be in more than one place at a time, so why not go where I am being led for as long as I can physically/emotionally/mentally do it. Pride (and all of its synonyms) will never ever stand in my way.

04 September, 2010

When you need it most.

Tonight I spent more frustrating hours trying to see if QuickBooks will work for Wat Opot. I am trying to find an easier way for them to keep track of their books. Well, I might have to admit to myself that it just won’t work…but I won’t give up just yet! Anyway, tonight I was getting a headache and decided to call it a night. I went out of the office and into the rec room of sorts. This rec room is between the large girls and boys sleeping area (the dorms). All the kids gather to watch Television or a DVD every night and most end up falling asleep on the floor.
When I stepped out there was little Mr. Chai waiting with his award winning smile! I promptly picked him up and gave him a big hug and kiss and then watched the small disappointment when I motioned that I was going to my room. I then walked out and immediately remembered that I was upset about the QuickBooks program…I only made it a couple steps into the courtyard when I heard a shout “Melinda”. I turned to see a little body running towards me and then he jumped into my arms. It wasn’t Chai, but another child whose name I can’t remember and who I haven’t really spent much time with.

I picked up his smaller than average 8 or 9 year old body and he wrapped his arms around my neck and his legs around my waist in the biggest body hug I’ve ever had. He hugged me so tight that I believe he was trying to squeeze all the frustration out of me, which he succeeded in doing so. After I stood for a minute holding him relishing in the unconditional love flowing back and forth between us in our silent hug, he let up a little letting me know that he could be put down.

After another squeeze and a kiss, I let him slowly to the ground and he scampered off and into the dorms. I was so overwhelmed by the situation, I could have sank to my knees and bawled. It dawned on me that today at lunch some of us were talking about what these kids have been through and how it may have made some of them more intuitive in regards to their world around them. Most of the kids have had to take care of their mother and/or father while watching them slowly die of AIDS. Some have the disease themselves.  All have loved and lost those closest to them and then comforted others who were going through the same thing.

Why did my surprise hugger do what he did? Did he sense my tension when I walked out of the office? Did he know how much his innocent act of love would affect me? As I sit here typing this, I am once again in awe of the vulnerable children that I have been blessed to meet. Little did I know that by trying to ‘enhance’ their life in some way, mine would be the most changed!