18 December, 2011

I am human.



I am now human….well in the eyes of some of the children now.  The other evening, I was sad…and upset, the "why" isn’t important (and doesn’t need to be commented on) but the effect of my said sadness was.  During our nightly meditation, I was visibly upset, my eyes were red and my voice cracked when I tried to talk.

The children had never seen me this way and they just stared at me.  After meditation I walked to my room to chill out and be alone but along the way many of the older kids stopped me to see if I was going to be okay and I assured them that I was.   I slept it off and the next morning I awoke refreshed and ready to start the day.  

I was not prepared for how the kids looked at me that day.

The little ones used their English skills to remind me of the night before by saying “Melinda Cry”, or “Melinda Cry in Meditation”.  I just answered, “Yes, Melinda cried, I was sad, but now I am happy”.  They seemed to accept that fine and we started our preschool class.  There were a couple of times one of them commented “Melinda cry – Today Melinda Happy”.  When the older kids came home from school, they ran to me and asked over and over “Are you okay”.  I assured them I was and added that sometimes I am sad, but then I think about it and because I can’t change the past, I have to be happy again. 

I thought that would be it…that life would resume as usual…I was wrong.

I noticed a subtle change in many of the kid’s attitude towards me, not a negative change, but more of a realization that I am just like them, that I have feelings and yes, sometimes "Melinda cry".  After a year of being silly and serious, funny and firm, a sister figure, a mother figure, a friend, and occasionally -momentarily perhaps- a foe, I was now someone who needs their sympathy.  I was now the one who needed a hug and some love. 

One young boy and I have a tentative relationship.  He probably has one of the most depressing stories (if you can really judge)…being abandoned again and again by those who were supposed to love him; his family, those that were supposed to care for him; his family.  His temper goes from 0 to boiling in a matter of seconds.  He explodes, but with tears in his eyes.  He gets frustrated so easily and I make a conscious effort to not set him off…but, occasionally when I can’t ignore his behavior I have to reprimand him.  I know the consequences of my actions…he will pretend I don't exist for days on end while I hurt inside and wish I could help him somehow.  This same little guy has the most fantastic smile when he allows himself to have some fun.  A smile that lights up his whole face.

Well, my emotional state just threw him for a loop!  He has made advances towards me more in the last couple of days than he has in months.  He walked by me and said something in Khmer with my name in the phrase and then cracked up at himself (at my expense, I’m sure) but then poked me in the side and I had to laugh along with him.  Tonight, he asked me for some more shampoo and when he went into his room to get his refillable bottle, he couldn’t find it.  Waiting for the explosion; I held my breath and didn’t enter his room….but, instead, he looked at me and said, “wait”.  He found a small plastic container that really wouldn't work, but I didn’t have the heart to say no.  As we walked to the office to refill it, he pointed to the full moon and said “moon big”.  Because, he rarely if ever tries to communicate in English, I stopped in my tracks and said in a sweet sarcastic voice “Why, Mr. Ya, you speak English?” and he just giggled.  When we got to the office, I handed him his plastic thing back and gave him a new little bottle of shampoo and we wrote his name on it – in English and in Khmer.

It was such a wonderful moment, just he and I walking back to the dorms in the light of the full moon.  I felt a little apprehensive and hoped the moment would not be interrupted.  My hopes came true as when we reached the dorm he told me again “thank you” before going into his room.  I wanted to grab him and hug him, but I didn't press my luck and was content in knowing things between me and him may have changed, if not forever...at least for awhile.  Patience is one of my strong points and since neither of us are going anywhere, there is time.  My relationship with Ya would not have such a nice turnabout had “Melinda not cry”.  I would not have received the more than usual hugs, arms around my waist and sniffs (the Khmer version of a kiss!)  had “Melinda not cried”.

Yes, Melinda was sad and she cried at meditation, but now I am happy and is thankful for all the wonderful gifts being sad inadvertently brought about.  I have once again learned a lesson in letting go and is reminded of a card received by my parents many years ago that stated “Every Challenge is an Opportunity.”  Neither they nor I could have imagined how true those words would become in my life.


29 November, 2011

Boats and Beauty.


Many times a picture doesn't do reality justice…well, at Wat Opot, it seems to be quite the opposite.  Wayne and I chat about how some of the photos we take, just don’t seem real.  When you live in beautiful surroundings you take things for granted.  Although there is plenty of time to stop and smell the flowers here, I have to consciously take a look at the beauty that surrounds me.  Be it the face of a child, our spectacular sunsets, or a lotus flower blooming; being aware of what’s going around directly in front of me, at that moment is what I have to remind myself.

Once when I posted a photo of some of the kids playing with a cart, my sister commented about the bougainvillea bush and it’s gorgeous fuchsia colored flowers in the background; something  I didn’t even ‘see’ in the photo.  I remember that photo when I look at things now.  What do I really ‘see’?  We watched the movie, "Avatar" again the other evening and their saying “I see you” which is kind of like “Namaste” in a way; refers to really SEEING what’s in front of you, not just with your eyes but with your heart– made me think about that photo.

 The process of not ‘seeing’ works to our advantage occasionally - when we have unexpected visitors to Wat Opot and didn’t have time for the kids to do a quick clean up.  I notice every small snack wrapper on the ground; whereas I am sure no one else even notices them.  Wayne and I (and whichever volunteer is up early) enjoy many quiet mornings drinking coffee with our breakfast at Channgs Café.  The other morning we just sat and had a contemplation (of sorts) about our life at Wat Opot – how we enjoy such beauty (and quietness - when the kids are in school) each morning   I used to drive to cafés with outdoor seating in various cities I have lived in to get a small portion of the life I now lead.  I never thought about why I drove miles to sit at Austin Java Ca or walked a mile to sit at Le Pain Quotidien.  I guess I found quiet solitude even if the café was noisy and crowded…

Earlier this year we had some young German volunteers and they helped the kids build boats from water bottles, bamboo, string and material.  The boats have been proudly displayed in the craft room for months and finally I gave in to the youngster’s constant urging and let them set the boats afloat on the small pool near Channgs café. 

Our photographs sometimes seem surreal; the photograph below is such a one. 


When I download the photos of that day a week later, I just stared at them.  Is life at Wat Opot really this idyllic?  Such simplistic momentary beauty (which consciously passed me by) was captured forever through the lens of my camera.

Here are other photos taken as the youngest Watopotians enjoyed their long awaited morning.







After a while the kids felt the serenity and, subconsciously or not, placed themselves a short distance from each other as they watched the boats float aimlessly about.  



Can life really be that simplistic?  The answer is yes, at least for moments in time – if you do not become aware; to strive to be in the here and now, they pass you by.  It’s never too late to stop and smell the flowers...to watch the boats float...or Wayne mow the grass...


24 November, 2011

It’s dress-up time!



Amongst all the goodies that Diane Bernowski gathered, packed up and sent with US volunteers coming to Cambodia, were dress-up clothes!  WHAT FUN!!  It didn’t take long for them to be put to good use…


Especially the rockin’ sun glasses.


The glamorous skirts are seemingly not gender specific; as Mr. SaOun wears his proudly while playing with his truck and high schooler Mengthy, dons one as well. Who says real men don’t wear pink and lace and see through tule!



And Ms. Venot, our infamous shirtless wild child, displays her lovely attire.


Oops – got to remember those undies next time!!


Super-Cool-Princess Srey Nak wishes all her "Amerik" viewers a very very happy Thanksgiving day all the way from Cambodia!



18 November, 2011

Sugar cane drink


Before school started I drove the high school kids to their school many times (pre-bicycles) so they could get registered, check on their classes and teachers and sometimes (which I found out later) they didn’t necessarily need to go, but just wanted to ride in the truck.  On one of those trips, we cooled off in the heat with sugar cane drinks.  It is such a refreshing natural thirst quencher on hot days –which are sneaking up on us again.

For a mere 500 reil or US $.13 you can trot across the street and watch while the sugar cane stalks are put through the grinder machine over and over again while the extracted juice runs slowly out.  Add a little ice and a straw and instant refreshment and smiles!




Here’s the machine in action at Wat Opot.


12 November, 2011

One Day on Earth 11-11-11



What did Wat Opot do for One Day on Earth, 11-11-11?

We loaded up both vehicles and took the crew to Phnom Chisor Mountain!




Once there, a quick roll call.



Then it’s up the 250 steps (not sure of the accuracy of that count but the kids seems intent on that number...although websites say 400 steps which seems more like it!).



And up…



And up!  Those that ran ahead got to rest waiting for us to catch up.




Yeah, we made it to the top!



















Quick snacks and a quicker rest on the hammocks.




A greeting from the resident monkey – who is not quite fond of the children, but seems to have taken a liking to Wayne.




Wow, what a view!




Our first attempt at organizing them all for a photo shoot.



Then we moved to a nicer place – one where no one could fall off the edge!





Our youngest Watopotian was able to come too – even after the ruckus of the video's and photo's and missing her nap, she was a trooper.



More photo’s.





Then back to Wat Opot.



Singing a song outside at dusk.













and then a break before nightly meditation – I was honored with my periodic lice check (negative!) by Srey Po and nightly short massage by Venot and yes…more photo ops.








Wayne started meditation and it didn’t take long for Rortana to pass out with exhaustion!




And then others followed suit…



A full moon and Lord of the Rings part 3 ended our productive day!