26 March, 2011


Volunteer dorm – for those of you who have been here, you won’t recognize the place!  Well, of course if you view the below photo’s you will, but I’m just saying…

Volunteer Dorm room porch before the conversion into 2 private bedrooms.

  Wall going up...

and up...

and UP!

With the inside wall up they can start on the outside renovation closing the screened area in.

DONE, and looking in from the inside of bedroom #1.

Inside looking at Bedroom #2 (through the window)

and wahlah!  The window is now a door!

Here's a before/after shot before the main door was put in (these guys can make a window a door in no time flat!)

Change is good!!

23 March, 2011

The underdog.

People who know me are aware that I’m a sucker for the underdog; those who have the pleasure/pain of observing me soon realize this as well. I also relate to little ones much more easily than those….say…above the age of 5. I do have a place for those older as in Peace Studies, I tended to take the side of the underdog in the debate or conversation. I didn’t realize this tendency until a fellow Peace Friend mentioned it to me. I thought for a moment and then had to agree with her.

With children I am a sucker for a little guy/gal with a smile or a frown. I am strict with them, but also they melt my heart like no other. The one who flashes time and again in my mind is Mr. Way or “waa waa waa Way”. You see I believe Way is just misunderstood! He’s a 3 (or 4) year old who has 50+ older siblings. How does a little guy bear that? I mean, I tortured my little brother (who was 6 years younger than me). And for home-land security clarification…I mean “tortured” in the good ole’ American sense - a justified means when necessary. Even though I agree with Judge Collins, who in 2006 stated that “America's idea of what is torture is not the same as ours and does not appear to coincide with that of most civilised nations." For the purpose of what I did to make my brother cry was justified by me at the time…and doesn’t appear to have had any lasting effect on him…I think!

Anyway, my little Way is picked on a lot; but he is often the instigator and then his only defense is to cry when someone fights back. With me he knows when he has ‘broken the rules’ and after 2 times of pushing my buttons, he has learned that what I say goes (mainly in regards to the desk/computer/DVD’s etc…). Today for example I left the playroom to help Chinrun with some money issue and was only gone for a minute - Famous last words, aye? – and when I walked in, he was inserting another DVD into the computer. Caught in the act, there was no mistake as to “who did it”. But he did try to blame it all on his usual "partner in crime", Virek, who was not an innocent bystander by any means since he was holding 5 DVD’s taken out of their case. Boy do I wish I had them on film to see how it conspired!

Well, I didn’t have to do much more than take the DVD’s from them and say in a firm voice “Way, Virek, DO NOT TOUCH!” and then point at the computer and DVD’s. They both stood there pointing at each other and I said, “Yes, both of you” and then pointed to the door and said “You may go, lay lan sah-eye, play cars tomorrow.” They both kind of looked at me and after I didn’t return their little grins, Way played the ‘good boy' and said something to Virek and they both walked out, and shut the doors behind them. (they did climb up on the windowsill outside to peer in at me but soon tired of that and wandered off).

About 30 minutes later Way came running into my arms when he saw me walking to lunch, saying “Melinda lay lan sah-eye”. I gave him a strong hug right back and said “Yes, Mr. Way, play cars tomorrow.” Firm but loving is my motto!!

Seriously now, is there anything cuter??? He makes me weak in my knees; sometimes when he comes running towards me, I want to drop to my knees and thank God for putting little souls like him in my life!

20 March, 2011


Well, Wayne left for the US to see his ailing mother…for 3 weeks! After he left on Friday morning, I spent the day (and I must admit into Saturday as well) moping about feeling sorry for myself. I was in a bit of a ‘poor me’ state or even some ‘I can’t do this’ attitude. I hadn’t realized how much I depend on Wayne to keep things going and I am just kind of his sidekick. Like, Wayne does this or that and I offer a change or two and then follow his lead. Once he left, I started to realize that it’s up to me now all by myself. I thought of how nice it was being in my mom’s house a few weeks earlier…lazing until 10am…casually making veggie meals and hanging with my family, then casually going to sleep in perfect comfort and luxury. I was thinking, fine! I am just going to ‘run home to mama’, I don’t need this responsibility, this stress! “What was I thinking coming here and trying to do whatever it is I’m trying to do!”

Now really, the place does run by itself, there are numerous staff to cook, clean, and watch the kids. Basically the children’s primary needs are met with or without us…but it’s the other things that I have realized are a big part of Wat Opot as well. Such as the Saturday cleaning of the adjacent Wat (Buddhist temple) grounds and then prayer/meditation which follows, there’s yoga and art class on Sunday and the new nightly meditation before snack every evening (not to mention the twice daily med’s for the HIV+ kids). So again, beyond their basic needs (food/shelter/clothing) there is really so much more happing here. Things that take Wayne’s supervision and guidance to make sure it runs as smoothly as possible.

I started to dread my first official duty on Friday which was meditation then snack. It was finally after 6 and I walked to the office/dorm. I turned on the computer to find the nice soothing music Wayne uses, but the music playlist only had ‘untitled’ music so I hit play on one of them. It turned out to be some kind of rap/rock stuff, which was of course blaring out of the speakers! I started to laugh and over the music, said, OK, now everyone close your eyes, and then I laughed at their reaction. I did find a Josh Grobin song and figured that was a bit more meditative like. I looked around the room and realized that there were only about 12 kids there. I immediately thought “oh my gosh, they do not take me for an authority figure at all!” and started to panic and I turned to Srey Lak and said “Where is everyone” and she answered “Wedding”. OH YEAH, I thought, Sokley, the daily child-care lady was getting married that day and most everyone was there.

The Wedding was a blessing in disguise since the few kids left at WOCC were perfect little eyes-closed, hands-in-lap angels. it went smoothly and they got their snack in a calm fashion. I then took a handful of kids and we went into the playroom to watch a movie until bedtime. I thought…wow, I made it through this day, but tomorrow is going to suck…how will I manage ALL day with none of them in school! (not nice thoughts to fall asleep by).

Saturday is the Wat cleanup. Like clockwork, the kids came to the office around 2:00 to get the brooms and barrel (for trash) and headed on over with the Sat. child-care help, Sitah. I followed with a paper list of all of their names. I wanted the list partly because there are still some of the boys who I just can’t get their names straight but also I wanted to jot down who actually worked and who just walked over and lazed around. Once the kids saw that I had the list (Wayne must have brought it in the past) then they all started being little “Eddie Haskel’s” (or for those of you under the age of 25, little “Malfoy’s”) and over emphasizing their cleaning ability all the while saying “Melinda! Melinda! I clean”.

Having a bit of fun with them now that they have down pat “Melinda, may I come in?”. I had them say, “Melinda may I work?”, to which I replied “Yes, Yes, work!” and then chuckled at my little joke. Anyway, we got through the cleaning up and then Channa (a Khmer guy who works in the office) spoke to the kids once everyone was seated in the Wat. Not sure what he said, but one of the boys later told me that he talked about their behavior and that they need to go to school every day and don’t goof off just because Wayne is gone…or something like that.

Well after the meditation, I felt a little better, and worked a bit on the computers with some of the older boys. I then went into my room and suddenly began to sulk some more. It was weird for me to feel that way, but I guess a normal reaction to a sudden change. I stayed in my room (house) for a few hours and then went to give medicine, meditation and snack. This evening was much louder and the kids more rowdy, but they settled down once the music started. You know it’s probably only been a week or so since we changed the snack thing and it didn’t take them long to catch on to the new routine. We still have a few coughers and/or snorters during the ‘quiet time’ but that too will fade over time.

After another movie and then shooing them off to the dorms and I was able to retire to my room once again. Before falling asleep, I contemplated the last day and a half and admitted to myself that Yes, I was not really prepared for this and Yes, it’s not exactly easy, but I also went to sleep with the concurrent realization that I’m exactly where I am supposed to be and life is really like a box of chocolates and I really would not want it any other way. Tomorrow? BRING IT ON!!

15 March, 2011

Who does that??

My phone rang this evening as I was getting cozy in my room. When I answered the unfamiliar number, a woman spoke. It sounded like she was speaking Khmer, so I answered “this phone is in Anglais (French for English). The thick accented voice said, “Yes, it is your dentist”.

She was calling to see how my tooth was; if I was feeling any pain. Seriously! She then proceeded to tell me that I could eat dinner and to remember to take my antibiotic. She ended by wishing me a good evening and that she would see me at 1:00 on Wednesday.  
As I hung up the phone in a state of disbelief, I reflected upon the events that led up to the call…

A few days after arriving at Wat Opot, I started to have a terrible tooth ache. One evening the pain was unbearable and I was up all night. The gums were swollen and the tooth was pushed out so every time I inadvertently closed my teeth together I would jerk awake and sit up in pain! I ended up taking the pain medication I had left over from when I had kidney stones. It made my headache go away, but not the tooth pain…

The next morning Wayne told me to take some Amoxicillin to ward off infection (which is what was probably going on). At that point I knew it was not something that was going away and that I would have to go to the dreaded dentist…luckily Wayne had a referral in the city; one who he had gone to before, so on Sunday evening I caught the bus to Phnom Penh with Caroline who was heading back after visiting WOCC for the day.
Monday I went to the Suor Sdey Dental Clinic and was led right in (without an appointment!) The female dentist, Cheng Leakhena, asked me what was wrong and after failing to tell her which tooth hurt, I tried to point to the one. When you figure the size of a finger in comparison to a tooth, it was not easy to exactly pinpoint the right one. I gave her a blank look when she asked me if it was my pre-molar or my first molar, so she then handed me a mirror and put her little pointy pointer thingy on my (newly discovered to me) first molar, I said yes, that one.

After getting an ex-ray; which was shown and explained to me, it was determined that I needed a root canal, but not in the tooth I thought was the problem one. As the pain was kind of between two teeth, I figured it was my first molar, but she informed me that nope it was my second pre-molar. (or the fifth tooth on the top) She proceeded to drill away telling me to let her know if I have pain, which thankfully I didn’t. I continually had to remind myself to relax after realizing time and time again that my arms and hands were clenched. It wasn’t painful, it’s the unremitting whining of the drill – which by the way, sounds the same regardless of the country you are in.

After a while she pulled out this long pin thing and showed it to me with the comment “your tooth die”.

You know at that moment, I had a weird feeling…like I was floating over an operating room as the doctors who tried in vain to save a soul did not succeed and commented “I am sorry, we did all we could, but he did not make it”. I blinked a couple times to come back to reality and (since I couldn’t speak with my mouth open and a saliva sucker going) I just had to nod and contemplate whether she really said ‘die’?. She then showed me the long pin thing which had some brown gunk on it and again said “the tooth die”.

I wasn’t sure, but what I came up with was that the tooth was pretty bad and the hole in the root was producing some pretty gross stuff! As she jammed the pin thing in the tooth over and over (wiping it on a cloth each time) I practiced my ignorance is bliss meditation…basically imagining that the pin had soft little bristles on it and she was just cleaning the hole much like one would clean a baby bottle. I unclenched my fists and felt myself relaxing and soon she was putting the temporary filling into the tooth. Temporary because I have to come back 2 more times (seemingly a 3 step process) before it is; provided it doesn’t take 4 steps. When I was checking out and telling them that I could stay in the city for another day and come back on Wed. she showed me the cost chart…the financial damages…$35.00 for a root canal plus $3 for the ex-ray.. I said “$35 per visit?” which she answered, “no, $35 for the whole thing”. She then added that she doesn’t charge extra for foreigners (which is the norm here).

I was dreading the whole procedure and wondering if I should have gotten a second opinion, but then she did show me the ex-rays which blatantly showed the hole hitting a nerve or something. The call tonight solidified my decision and I think I am actually looking forward to Wednesday – and maybe another tear jerker Indian meal, which will be waiting for me right around the corner… 

After making it back to my room; curisoty got the better of me and I had to look up exactly what a root canal is...now I know more than I wanted to, but this photo made sense into what happened to me today!

14 March, 2011

What makes you cry?

Suffering children? A sad movie? Humane Society commericials? Well those are a given.

What makes me cry? Apparently it is food. Yes, food. Tonight after spending about an hour in a book store, then getting a little dizzy, I realized that I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. Heading back to the hotel, I found myself passing by the infamous “Flavors of India – Authentic Indian & Nepalese Cuisine”. Stopping in my tracks, I turned around walked back a couple of paces and entered with a big smile on my face.

After ordering Thali Vegetarian, I opened up my Nook to read a little before my meal arrived; and arrive it did in all its spicy glory. It was kindly placed in front of me as I gently closed my reader. It was at that moment that I started to get choked up.  With a serious lump in my throat I just sat there and looked at the food. I quietly bowed my head and gave thanks for the meal in front of me. 

I have had many many things in the past few years that made me want to cry, but I never recall one of those being food. Perhaps there was the occasional emotional cry of delight a time or two when I sat down to enjoy one of the delicious dal bhat meals at the Peace Home, but to really want to cry?

Sigh…I do believe I am a bit on the weird side. 

13 March, 2011

New Meditation

Wayne and I are trying something new. Wayne wanted the kids to do a little meditation before their evening snack and I was trying to organize some kind of efficient way for them to do so.

The result?  For almost a week now, they are sitting quietly with their hands in their laps, eyes closed and listening to a soothing song (usually around 3 minutes or less) - Enya is currently the voice of choice. During this time they are encouraged to think about what the song means/meant to the singer and also to them. To just sit and contemplate in an orderly quiet fashion.
So far the meditation part is working great; but the snack thing is coming along at a much slower pace. It’s really just going to take time as change usually does. The idea to have ‘row 1’ stand up and get their snacks, then ‘row 2’ seems like such a simple process…but I guess when the end result is food combined with the fact that they have gotten used to pushing and shoving, an orderly fashion is not high on their list.

But as the ants found out as they continued day after day to make a trail through my house; I do not give up easily. The little multi-legged creatures eventually realized that I meant business and they finally redirected their route and subsequently moved the entrance of their underground lair away from the brick path just outside my doorway. And likewise, the little two-legged creatures who now have overtaken my life can be taught as well and instead of sprinkling pepper sauce to get my point across, love, compassion and a boatful of patience will be my method of choice.

11 March, 2011

Arm wrestling

What’s better than jumping all over the volunteers? Trying to show your strength arm wrestling with them! Anna (from Japan) was accosted after lunch one day. What started out as a friendly arm wrestling match turned into a back-hand slamming free for all!

I joined in the fun, but was quickly disqualified because I kept winning! (not a big pat on the back considering the oldest contestant was around 12). I did learn the Khmer way of crossing wrists instead of grasping hands.

The boys finally tired of the game (and perhaps loosing!) and moved on to the next best thing…knocking unripe mangos out of the tree tops and munching on the sour things until they can’t eat any more!

10 March, 2011

Absence only makes the heart grow fonder…

Or is it “out of sight, out of mind”…either way, I am deeply sorry for my blogger absence, Kate (or Cat as it’s pronounced here)! It’s amazing how time flies here. I guess the problem lies in that fact that everything I do here would be cool to write about. There are numerous times during the day that I go over in my head “how I will blog” about a certain event or happening…the trouble lies in actually logging onto my computer and putting the thoughts/events into words. I think the other problem is that I haven’t found My Place or I should say My Inspirational Place yet… wherever I have lived, I have always found that certain location or that certain spot where it just feels right.
I am hopeful that My Place here at WOCC will be in my new room! It should be finished in a week (fingers crossed). But enough with the excuses and on to the sincere apology and the vow that I will be more diligent in my blogging and if nothing else I will post photo’s when the words just don’t come!

So for your viewing pleasure, here is my homey, Mr. Virek in all his facial glory coming to you from his now favorite place to be “in front of my camera!”.

How about Socheat with his lovely snack of fried chicken foot!

or the older boys posing nicely?

Or the horseless cart (are Davit and Srey Po scratching their heads wondering why they aren't going anywhere...or is it nits??)

Well, for now I will leave you with a remarkably and I may add unusually quiet Saon deep in thought and actually sitting still.

See you soon Nurse Cat!

04 March, 2011

“It’s GOOD to be home!”

“It’s GOOD to be home!” says Lisa from Girl Interrupted…grant it, Lisa was being brought back to the nut house after she tried to escape, but nonetheless, whenever I return to a place regardless where it is or how long I had previously been there, those words flash upon my mind.

I think this time, it will truly feel a little more like home, since I am committed to staying here for awhile. I can unpack my things and get comfortable…well, once my room is finished.

How can I not love this place, right now as I type away, I can hear through my open window, a little voice singing his heart out…while he’s bathing next door…I do believe it’s a Celine Dion song!

Upon my arrival, I firstly had the pleasure of meeting Sok Ny (introduced to me by Steve). Sok Ny and his 6 yr. old son met me at the airport each holding a sign with my name on it! I was overcome with emotion at the sight of them! They took me to my hotel and I was again blessed as they helped with my very heavy luggage.  The small stature hotel guy gave me a strange glance as he picked it up.  All I could mutter was "Sorry", then I added "You are very strong" for good measure. 

For those of you who don't know me, I travel light, extremely light.  I still remember the look on a office mates face (yes, you Diane!) when she saw what I was bringing to Europe for a 2 week trip.  She commented "That's all your taking...I bring more than that to the office everyday!" So this trip to Cambodia from the US was rather mortifying for me. You see, I had not 1, not 2, but THREE suitcases (totalling over 62 kg (136.69 lbs) according to the scale in the Singapore airport), plus my backpack! My luggage was full of toys, puzzles, games, kitchen toys, blocks, FINGER PAINTS!, card games, little cars, modeling clay, FINGER PAINTS!, and other fun and educational stuff and also FINGER PAINTS!

The supplies were bought with the money I raised having a fundraising dinner at my mom’s house. I prepared Nepali food (sorry, but Cambodian food is less than appetizing for me, so I resorted to what I love best). My awesome and generous family and friends joined together to eat, watch video’s of the Wat Opot kids and ask me whatever was on their mind. Over $500.00 was raised that evening but the contributions didn’t end there, I received a $40 gift card from  the customer service dept. at Walmart – yes, I actually went into one of those! and $20 from a stranger (now a facebook friend!) at the Lexus service center when Mom and I went in to get her car serviced. More money came in from more friends who I met up with and even checks in the mail from friends of friends! A final $2 donation was inadvertently received from my Grandmother who passed away on Feb. 5th. While going through her many wonderful things, the money was found in an old purse she no longer had used and was given to me by my aunts and mom for the children; as she would have wanted it.

Mrs. Carolyn Leona Lies, my ever supportive continuous mother of the year was of course the biggest donor of all; giving her money, time, energy and taste buds for my cause. She kept giving me money all the time; probably to see if I would continue to get tears in my eyes every time I received some...and yes, I did!

I will be posting photos of all the toys and the new Play Place/Creative Learning Center in which all the goodies will be put to use. As of now, they are all still safely in my suitcases awaiting the grand opening…although it is getting harder and harder every day NOT to bring them out!

My life (and the people who are in it) rock!