19 April, 2011

Communicating in a foreign land..

After hearing about my travels and countries I have lived in, the listener often follows with “Oh so you speak (insert certain language).” To which I usually reply “No, but I get by”.  

Now in certain situations, “I get by” is a huge understatement…like the time I was going into the city and hired a tuktuk driver who spoke not a word of English. I thought I explained perfectly well (with motions) that I was not going to the airport (shaking head no while making an airplane gesture with my arm when he motioned with the same gesture), but that I was going to a hotel to sleep (both hands in prayer position with my head resting on them, eyes closed) and then the next day (finger making an arching motion) I will go to airport (airplane gesture again). The driver chatted with someone next to him then smilled and said “ok” and promptly took me to the airport.

One language I certainly can not say I speak is the language of Cambodia, Khmer…outside the most basic of words needed in a children’s home such as; “Eat”, “NO!”, “No electricity”, “I don’t have (money, snacks)”, and “Play cars”. Wayne on the other hand understands much of what they say, or can at least figure it out. Today at breakfast one such “I get by” conversation (in Khmer and English interchangeable) took place.
Some kids came to Wayne and said something about someone loosing keys. Since Chamroeun just pulled up on her motorbike it was assumed that she needed her keys. (background – Chamroeun’s set of keys does not leave WOCC. She turns them over to our care every evening and the next morning she retrieves them…most mornings the keys are handed over to some adult who will give them to her when she arrives).

After much back and forth something like “Lost keys”= who lost keys, “Chay lost keys” =Chay lost who’s keys, “Chay lost chamroeun’s keys”, the obvious question regarding why 5 year old Chay had her keys in the first place didn’t get revealed (or as least not to me). But it was deduced that Chay somehow had the keys and when he threw some trash away, he inadvertently tossed her keys into the garbage bin as well as his trash. The bin was then dumped by someone who into the rubbish pile (a stinking mess that gets burned regularly). As a few of the kids began to tentatively pick through the garbage, Wayne and I started poking around around as well.
It was hard for me to understand the situation; which would have had to take place in the span of about 20 minutes. How did Chay get the keys, how did he happen to throw them away and why all of a sudden did someone throw out that particular trash bin and if all the above did indeed happen, then wouldn’t they be lying on top of the trash pile, not buried underneath? I finally walked away from the situation because…well, it just didn’t make sense.

I kind of left it to "lost in translation" and went about my day.  About an hour later I was in the play room with a handful of kids and Channey who isn’t feeling well had squeezed her little bottom onto the chair I was sitting on and was quietly watching me read from my Nook. I switched over to one of the children’s books I had downloaded and she listened to a story a couple of times before moving off the chair to roam about the room. I went back to my reading and she soon came up to me and said something in Khmer.

A simple one word sentence that (by the look of her face) I was too daft to understand. She said it again slowly and then made a miming motion over my shoulder and around my neck. When I apologized for not understanding; she let out a sigh and went over to a bin searching through some flash cards. She pulled out a large flash card with the number 5 on it along with pictures of 5 purses. A lightbulb went off in my head as I glanced at the desk next to me. In a bewildered tone said “Channey, where is my backpack?” Channey giggled and pointed to a pile of toys under which my backpack had been buried. I giggled back as I uncovered it.

I repeat, “I get by”.
By the way, I was told later that the keys were found in a tree near Chamroeun’s office. In contradiction to the late Paul Harvey, sometimes it’s better to not know “the rest of the story”…

13 April, 2011

Tonle Bati Lake

What a day! Carolyn and Kate treated the kids (and adults!) to a day at Tonle Bati Lake, which is less than 30 minutes from Wat Opot. It was such an adventure! The kids were ready by 7:30 AM; although the bus wasn’t coming until 9. I think no less that 20 of them kept asking “Bati?”, to which I replied, YES, We will go to Bati LATER!.”

Finally, which I’m sure to them seemed like days had passed, the bus arrived and 37 children and 11 adults (4 ladies who work at WOCC, Me, Kate, our Aussie volunteers Clair and Monica, Carolyn and her daughter Alice and Alice's friend Chiara) scrambled on to find their special seat.

Once everyone was settled the journey began with anticipation and smiles.

Once we arrived negotiations were made and we settled on 2 little huts and quickly a couple of boards were laid across to adjoin them. It wasn’t long before the kids stripped off their clothes and dove in and I soon followed, although I preferred to swim a bit more modestly!

We swam…

And jumped…

And tubed…

Then the inevitable TUBE BATTLES began! Little ones, step aside - you will loose!

Alliances were formed…

Then they set off to explore.

Rice was brought from home, but lunch was bought and served by the tray-full by skilled women who obviously have walked this path many times and have learned the art of balancing full trays of food on their head.

It wasn’t but a mere 5 minutes after the children finished their meal that our little area of the lake was once more rowdy with splashes and tubes.  I am not sure when it happened exactly, being from the middle of the continental US, but I became a water person sometime in my early youth and have never outgrown it.  The water, not to mention the children, beckoned me in.  And in I went!  I am paying for it today though with sore muscles - but I wouldn't have it any other way...tossing, chasing, swimming the whole day was sheer bliss!

But by mid afternoon things became much more quiet and serene both on and off the water.  As I watched some of them quietly floating or gazing off in a distance; I couldn't help but wonder what goes through their little minds.  Do some of them have memories of a time when they enjoyed a day on the lake with their families before HIV/AIDS changed their lives?  Are memories like that fading away; being replaced with joyful times in their new home and with their new caregivers?  Can some never forget?

Delicious coconut water for 50 cents and enjoying the luxury of childhood (or for me re-living it!); a day when all troubles can be forgotten even if for only an afternoon.


08 April, 2011

CLC is one step closer!

The Creative Learning Center (CLC) has officially begun to take shape. Wat Opot had the wonderful luxury to have a couple of Kiwi’s/Canadian’s and a couple of Aussie’s join us for a spell. I had been putting off the huge task of cleaning up the unused building because…well, it just seemed so daunting!

Nonetheless, the volunteers did what all good volunteers do best; they volunteered to clean it up!!! We gathered the kids into the room and explained just what we were going to turn this space into and they were totally gungho! WAHOO, let the cleaning begin!!

This is what we were up against; cobwebs, dust, dirt, grime, you name it, we had it.

Once we got started, I snapped this photo.

and then adjusted my camera using the flash! Whoa, that’s a lot of dust!!!

Quickly changing the flash setting (some things are better off unknown) I captured the little ones working away. Who knew cleaning could be this much fun!

Did I mention the formerly unused room was dirty! Look at that water – and yes those rags will soon be used to clean the windows!


The wall of windows seemed to be the greatest attraction; nothing like grimey dirty washcloths on glass (figured they could wash to their hearts content and not to disappoint their hard labor, later we could sneak in and clean them properly).

Even the smallest Watopotian, Ratana, was earning her right to play in the room once it’s finished.


Actually, I take it back, by far the greatest attraction was the rafters. Once one little agile form climbed up, there was no stopping the brave or daring at heart. I don’t believe there is a cleaner rafter in all of Cambodia! Once the stick thing didn’t clean thoroughly, the climbing commenced! They had formed a team of sorts with the cleaners at the top tossing down their dirty rags and runners on the floor catching, rinsing and tossing back up. I kind of quit watching as I shoved away the thoughts of ‘they will fall’ or ‘that’s dangerous’ or ‘BE CAREFUL’ which at first ran amuck in my mind. I have seen them climb trees and that metal is much stronger than some of the branches they scamper across.


Afterwards some gathered to help me wash out the dirty rags. Look how carefully Rit is watching Claire ring the cloth. He’s a little bruiser and was quickly deemed the strongest ringer!


An hour later or so, I went back in to clean some more and it wasn’t long before Virek, Chay, Rit and Chaney found their way in and, yep, wanted to clean some more.

After I shooed the little ones out, the adults got back in there to scrub the walls one last time (kind of removing the smeared dirt left by the little ones!)  We also worked hard on the cement floor getting it as clean as we could!  This could never had been finished in one day without the help of Claire, Monica, Gabrielle and Dan!  I feel blessed to have the opportunity to meet such giving caring people!

Wherever I go I meet people of amazing aptitude.  Along with the new acquaintences, I keep family and friends close at heart because in reality, I wouldn’t be the person I am today without having had (and continue to have) them in my life. Many things remind me of home and of those I hold dear. Be it the embroidered pillow case from my mother that I sleep on each night, the tiny little Buddha statue from a DC friend, or my nephew’s used shorts I wear, physical items have followed me from place to place and country to country.

One such item, or should I say items, that were packed in my case this trip came from my Grandmother who recently left her physical body and our world at the age of 94. She was an indescribable force and inspiration in my life. While going through her home after her death, I was given a box of wash cloths which I had a feeling I could use in Cambodia…not sure why I needed to bring them all the way from Kansas, since they could probably be cheaply bought here, but regardless of the ‘why?’, I brought them. When I started preparing for the clean, I remembered them still packed amongst the toys that will soon grace the room.

Those little cloth rags were put to good use! I could feel Grandma’s spirit all around me as little hands grasped her cloths and scrubbed. I imagined little hands under hers as she helped them clean. Soft aged hands cupping small young hands. Even as the children washed them later, I was sure she was watching me, watching me as her lips slowly curled into a smile, a smile that brightened up her whole face as only hers could. Grandma, I love you forever. This photo’s for you!