31 October, 2011

RIP dear Pompous

RIP dear Pompous, how you brought joy and laughter to so many lives.  You are missed!

Pompous had not been seen for a couple of days when I got worried.  I offered the kids a pack of noodles to whomever brings him to me.  Usually I can get one of them to produce the feline with just a piece of candy, or marble or even a sticker.  When no one could find him (in exchange for noodles!), I knew he probably was dead.  There is no way that he would have chosen to go even a day without being tossed about by one of the kids.

Well when a week had passed, I continued to ask if anyone had seen him…even though my glimmer of hope was pretty much faded when three of the little girls came to me and said they saw Pompous and he was sleeping.  When I asked “Where?” they pointed off the property.  Not knowing the Khmer word for dead, I mimicked “Is he sleeping?” (hands together, cheek resting on them with my eyes closed).  And they said “yes!”  but then I said, “Wait is he sleeping or is he dead?” (eyes rolled back head cocked and tongue hanging out.  That got  few giggles but they said, “No Melinda, Pompous sleeping). 

It was time for lunch so they couldn’t show him to me and I didn’t remember the conversation until later and I asked Kate the word for dead and we asked them again, “Is Pompous ngoab?”and they said together “Yes”.  I had known it was true all along I guess, but hearing it from the children made it finally hit home.  I guess he didn't look like the way I described death... The one thing I realize is that death is much more accepted here; especially with animals.  It’s more of a matter of fact circumstance.  Such that death is perfectly normal; which in reality, it is.  Every living being on this earth will die.  Although some certainly sooner than others; some certainly way too soon. 

His previous life must have been great for him to have found such a loved life at Wat Opot.  Pompous gave such joy to everyone in the short time he was alive - changed a few hardened (I don’t like cats) hearts - that I am sure he has been reborn into an even more appreciated life!  If he's still a cat, I hope he is in Texas in the home of Polly, Ed, or Dar and Martin!

Photo’s taken the first day he arrived on my doorstep and one of the last photo’s I have of him - both with the animal lover Mr. Wey.

29 October, 2011

Holiday food

During the end of September the Cambodia Holiday, Bonn Pchum Ben was celebrated.  Bonn Pchum Ben is a Cambodian festival held for commemoration of the spirits of the dead ancestors, relatives and friends.  For 15 days people take turns, offering food to the monks of their local pagodas. During the first 14 days, people take turns offering food to the monks of their local pagoda in the hope that their offering will reach the souls of their ancestors by virtue of the monks’ sermons.  On the final day of Bonn Pchum Ben at every pagoda around the country, the offerings are dedicated en masse to the souls of the ancestors. If a family fails to carry out this important duty, a soul is cursed and will haunt the family until the end of the year.

PchumBen photo courtesy of this website

At Wat Opot we were blessed (or was it cursed?) with the continuous sounds coming from the Wat (temple) next door.  There was music, chanting, and a continuous flow of visitors pouring into and out of the Wat.  Some families had a private session with the monks and two of our teens (brother and sister) invited whoever wanted to come to the Wat for a special ceremony honoring their deceased mother. (who died of AIDS related illness years ago.)  Once we were seated in front of a row of monks the teens made their offering of yummy iced coffee to each person and monk there.  It was an unusual offering and a couple of the monks were probably wired the rest of the evening because I helped make the coffee and anyone who knows me knows I like my coffee STRONG!  Everyone became quiet as the monks began to chant.  The ceremony didn’t last long, but it was a very special time for the siblings and they were happy to have us join them.

As with any holiday in any country the days are filled with food and Bonn Pchum Ben was no exception.  There was a continuous stream of food brought over to us as the monks couldn’t possibly eat everything offered to them.  I didn’t partake in consuming most items as I was never sure whether it contained some sneaky little fish or other animal product, but there was one sweet treat, I didn’t resist.  Not because it looked so appetizing -on the contrary, it wouldn’t even make the list of my favorite foreign treats- but because it was intriguing. 

Nom cheil (spelling?) is like a huge chunk of cookie dough…but doesn’t really taste like it; it was sweet, but more gummy.  I was talking to two of the boys about it because I kept seeing small children chewing on blocks of dough bigger than their face…and Doar mentioned that Vandy was cooking some.  When I replied “Wha?” they said, “Yes, on the roof”.  I have learned to believe most things the kids say no matter how bizarre it sounds, so I said, “Please show me”.  Vandy promptly climbed up on the boys dorm room and retrieved the dough from the hot tin roof and then climbed down with the hot treat in hand.

As with many treats here, they are shared; so I didn’t indulge in Vandy’s hot treat as it had about 50 bite marks in it and loving the kids is one thing, but gnawing on a large chunk of food that many mouths had gnawed on previously…well, let’s say I passed on that particular opportunity.

Later that day, I walked past the cafĂ© and I was offered some of the sweet treat that had been fried!  Putting the earlier version out of my mind (figuring the hot oil will kill anything) I tasted it prepared this way.  It was much better than its rooftop version!

Usually this time of year many of the kids go home to extended family for the long holiday, but this year many choose to stay at Wat Opot or their family didn’t come for them.  This is also the one time of the year where many family members (aunts/uncles/siblings without HIV who did not get kicked out of the home/etc.) show up to pay homage to the child of their dead relative.  They show up assumedly only because of superstition (they don’t want the ‘ghost’ of the deceased to haunt them), not because they actually want to see the child.  This year we had a very low turnout of family visiting.  On the outside, the kids go on and you don’t notice a difference, but deep down, there must be hurt. 

I loved the holiday not only because of the festivities, but because the staff were off for a week and many times it was just a couple of us with the kids day and night and with some of them gone there was a bit more one on one opportunities.  A week filled with food and fun…what more could you ask for!!

08 October, 2011

Rice Planting.

A month or so ago Wat Opot made use of the rains that finally came and planted rice in a small field on the property.  Now we don’t need to plant rice; one of the perks of having amazing donors, but Wayne wants the children to experience what everyone in the rural countryside does yearly.  

The night before he informed the kids that everyone who eats rice must put in at least 2 hours of work the next day…as that was translated around the room, some giggled, some looked on in horror and some sighed with resignation.  The next day bright and early every child I walked past said “Melinda eat rice?” and when I answered "Yes", they happily informed me “Melinda eat rice, Melinda work!”

By the time I arrived at the scene the second cartload of rice was being unloaded and the first load planting was well under way.

For a little background on rice planting you can click here but for the cliff-notes version:

Earlier in the season, rice seed is tossed into small field plots by the handfuls.  This produces densely packed rice plants.  These plants are then harvested and tied into bundles.

These bundles are delivered to the fields where they are then planted by hand.  This involves taking a couple stalks and plunging them into the water and then shoving them into the mud on the bottom.  (as Kate and Srey Oun demonstrate so nicely)

This is back breaking work when fields upon fields have to be planted.

But the finished field (and continued rain) assures rice on your plate the next year.

Back at Wat Opot,it seemed to be more fun than work for most.  I gathered a group of the little ones and went to work…after some serious persuading prissy Srey-I don’t like water-Nich to get in with me. 

As the time wore on the planting...

Looked more like playing...

 After all was planted, everyone gathered on the side to rest a bit.

But for only a bit as someone got the idea to go ‘wash off’ in the nearby creek, although by the looks of the water, it wasn’t really any cleaner than the rice field.  But it was ‘new’ water and watching them run and jump around it was questionable if they really worked hard enough in the rice field.

Just another example of the day to day happenings at the most awesome Vulnerable Children's Home in the World!

05 October, 2011

Lighter post!

With the last post on the heavy side, I thought I would lighten the mood a little and what better way to do it than with Cambodia’s most accommodating and photographed cat; Master Pompous!  Look how creative volunteer Sabrina was in the Creative Learning Center!

Pompous is a CLC favorite and loves to pounce on unsuspecting toys or children; but he may have to step up his cuteness a notch because the girls have adopted 5 kittens ( originally  6, but the smallest one didn’t make it).  Four had come from Pompous’ old stomping grounds, the Wat next door and 2 were born here (originally 3 were born on the property, but we don’t talk about what happened to one of them; do we Pompous – bad kitty! – on second thought, the tiny little tabby in the below shot is the one who died; the one who looked like Pompous..hmm..)  He really was just too small and they were taken from their mother and dumped at the Wat way to soon.

Well the newest arrivals are now thriving and get plenty of play time with the kids especially the little girls who never seem to put them down. 

They now come into the CLC and roam about until exhaustion.  It was then that Pompous finally took a closer look:

Instead of cowering in the corner like a big baby!

But don’t worry Pompus, it will be a little while before the little ones are healthy enough to run and play like you do so in the meantime, you’re still everyone’s favorite!

And the King of your Domain.

But don’t get completely comfortable as the little ones are moving in and getting comfortable…

04 October, 2011

Never a dull moment...

I think I love Sunday’s at Wat Opot most of all.  The mornings start off with 8am Art class for our kids and some village kids as well, a quick clean up of the property, time for a little play time before lunch, then of course comes sleep time! 

At 2ish the kids all settle down for Yoga classes taught by 3 of our high school kids.  Longdy with the older kids and Srey Oun and Srey Lak with the little ones.  Today, when I looked in it was one of the most beautiful and peaceful sights to behold my eyes.  I would challenge anyplace on the planet to be as calm at that exact moment!

Seriously how many yoga classes can draw in the rambunctious feline, we call Pompous!

I walked into Wayne’s office which had soothing music pouring from his speakers, and no sooner had I commented that this is my favorite part of Sundays, so relaxing, when a motorbike pulled up with a woman bleeding profusely from her head.  Her formerly white shirt was now a shade of red as was her skirt.  Wayne had them take her to the clinic while I had the kids finish their yoga; although no one could really relax after they had run to the windows to get a glimpse.

I knew I couldn’t be of much medical use; but I went to the clinic to see if I could offer some moral support to Wayne.  

I was not prepared for what I saw.  

Laid out on the clinic table, the lady was laying in a pool of her blood as Wayne tried to find the source of the bleeding which was difficult as her hair was all matted.  To make matters worse, the lady was drunk therefore not content to lay still and let Wayne work on her.

After a bit, Wayne made the decision to have her transported to the local clinic because her wound was large and with her mental condition he wasn’t sure if she had a concussion.  This definitely wasn’t our usual in and out stitch-up cases.  Since the men who brought her had left; (stating they knew her but she wasn’t family therefore they weren’t going to stick around), I was the only one able to drive her. 

I brought the truck out and one of the Wat Opot men offered to go with her to the clinic and two of our teenagers, Longdy and Srey Oun jumped in too.  Wayne had put a small blanket on her head and secured it with gauze and they got her loaded up which wasn’t easy as she was covered in blood and everyone was cautious about getting it on them.  She had to ride in the back of the truck so she could lay down and right before leaving two little girls came running up.  Word had gotten out and her granddaughters had come to go with us.

The Bati Clinic is about 3 miles away once you get to the main road.  The problem is that it is the rainy season so the quarter mile of dirt road leading to the main road is horribly pitted.  As I drove I was so conscious of every little bump as I knew her head was laying on the bed of the truck.  I went super slow but it doesn’t really help when the pits are huge and the whole truck dips and bounces.

Longdy was in the front with me and any other time we would have carried on conversation; this trip though was silent which I was thankful for since I was getting emotional.  You see, when the lady got in the truck and was told that I would be driving her to the clinic she put her hands in Namaste (prayer position) and thanked me up and down.  Drunk or not, she was able to give thanks for people caring enough to help.  It was this offer of thanks that started my emotions rolling.

Once we got to the clinic she was laid on the outside covered walkway on a wooden plank bed while the staff looked at her and took their sweet time determining her condition and who would work on her.  The lady was in a daze at that point; just kind of lethargic.  Her granddaughters (who were probably 6 and 8 yrs) handed her a clean shirt they had brought with them.  She was able to take off her bloody one and put on a clean one.  That shirt didn’t stay clean long because when she took off the bloody one, she pulled off her head wrap with it and her head promptly started gushing again.  Finally, which seemed like 10 minutes had passed; the staff prepared to investigate the wound. Since I had taken a couple photo’s of the yoga session, I still had my camera in my pocket so I snapped a quick photo as discreetly as possible.

I will not get too descriptive here as it was not a pretty sight; but the doctor had to cut away her matted hair and then shave the area to be stitched.  I was able to watch the whole process (as did about 25 other people/patients who wandered over).  All was going fine until the lady started saying Ow-eee over and over and trying to sit up.  Either she was delirious from loss of blood or the consumption of alcohol, it was hard to tell, but they had to keep yelling at her to lay down.  I then noticed that her granddaughters were watching with strained faces.  At that moment I suddenly got nauseous and felt dizzy.  I motioned for the little girls to follow me as Srey Oun and I led them to a snack hut so they could pick out something and I needed some cold water or I was going to pass out.

The little girls were so cute as they cautiously looked at all the choices of chips, candy and such.  They finally made their decision and pointed to the little cartons of soy milk.  With drinks and water in hand we headed back.  After downing half of my water, I felt better and watched the end of the stitching process; watched how Longdy helped hold her down since she was thrashing about.  The lady finally lay still with a content look on her face.  I honestly thought she was dead, but instead I guess she passed out mid stitch.  If you recall from my post regarding Wey, there is no anesthesia here – you get stitched cold turkey. 

We had planned to drop the lady off at the hospital and then head back to WOCC since her family was notified and on their way, but the doctor told Longdy that we could not leave because we were responsible for her since we brought her.  They were not going to treat her unless they knew they would get payment, so we waited.  She had an IV in and head stitched up when her daughter and son-in-law showed up.  There is no ‘care’ here to speak of in a Rural Clinic so it was up to the daughter and granddaughters to clean her up; which again Longdy helped.  I really couldn’t have been more proud of this young man than at that moment - his learned sense of compassion shown through.  Compassion that was rare in this incidence; as depicted by the men who dumped her off with us.  Longdy told me that he wanted to walk away because he was feeling sick watching but he couldn’t because he knew that he could help. 

Srey Oun watched the whole process too and when I asked her if she still wanted to be a nurse, she answered "maybe" and I told her she was much stronger than me since I would not choose that profession because I get too nauseous and want to cry all the time.  Especially when the lady calmed down a bit, she just kept staring at me…maybe she wasn’t really seeing me but I couldn’t break the eye contact until all of a sudden my eyes filled with tears and I realized people were looking at me.  Then I had Longdy relay to the daughter and son-in-law that Wayne had said Wat Opot will take care of the medical expenses (since she may have to be there a couple days).  The daughter thanked me in the same Namaste way; I returned the nod and then turned and took a big swig of water and tried to compose myself. 

I wasn’t able to control my emotions so I motioned for the little girls to follow me and I took them away from the commotion. At the truck I offered to open their milk but they motioned only to one.  The smallest girl held on to hers and motioned that she would keep it with her and then I watched them share one.  Does a child have to live in poverty to have that kind of thought process?  To save this possibly rare treat so they can have some later…or maybe there were more kids at home they would give it to?  Maybe the one girl didn’t like it and I was just looking at the situation with rose colored glasses?  In any sense, they took pleasure in looking at the photo’s of themselves in my camera.

We left the lady in the care of the hospital and daughter and drove back with the little girls.  Once again, I was emotionally drained and realized that it is a great thing that Wat Opot has a no-alcohol policy…not because you could get drunk and cut your head open, but that the only thing I craved at that moment was a drink!