26 January, 2012

Brains at work!

The kids continue to call the Creative Learning Center the lay lahn (play cars) but the glory of this room is not necessarily the name, nor is it the numerous toy cars that are housed inside…it’s the educational capability of the space. 

More often than not, a child will come into the room and walk straight towards the book shelf or puzzle cabinet.  They will opt for crayons and colored pencils instead of a doll or truck.  It’s days like those that I can sit back and just smile as I watch their brains at work.

The large rectangular open room is divided into 3 areas, the first is the ‘school area’, next is an open play space where they can spread out for a game of chess, domino's, or the large alphabet floor puzzle.  

They also use the middle space to get comfortable for educational DVDs...or the Zuma game on the computer (Five year old Wey, showing the big kids how it's done!)


The far end space is where all the toys are and some days it's packed!

But sometimes it's very quiet there.  Here is Chanthol looking very lonely in the toy area.

Then as I pan to the other 2 areas you can see that is where the action is.

Look out Cambodia, the Wat Opot children are growing up educated and ready for change!!

21 January, 2012

Kñom Ot Mien Papa

I do not have a papa is what I said to 9 year old Srey Po.  Her eyes lit up and she looked at me and said “You no papa?”  I replied “Melinda, no papa, Melinda ot mien (don't have).”  She then said “You have mama?”  With thoughts of my mother so far away, I kept up the Khmerlish conversation with “Yes, mien mama, but she sleeps in America”.  Srey Po gave me one of her extra large hugs and then thought for a moment and said “Kñom ot mien mama, ot mien papa” (I don't have a mom, don't have a dad) and then turned to face all the other little girls who joined us and remarked, “Melinda ot mien papa, mien mama.”  Exchanges of who had a mother (one of them besides me) and who had a father (none of us) were discussed matter-of-factly.  Most did not remember (or know) their father and many only have vague memories of a mother.

On the 3rd anniversary of my father’s death, I was surrounded by fatherless children.  The day before, Miss Srey Po and I did not share this commonality, you see, her father, her only surviving parent, had died that morning.  We had just come from the crematorium where the death ceremony had been performed a mere 7 hours after his body had been transported from the hospital to Wat Opot. 

Srey Po, along with her older brother and sister lived at Wat Opot with their father.  Mr. Sabon had been up and down for years.  A super-thin man who walked around slowly but deliberately feeding the fish in our ponds every morning.  He always had a good morning smile for me (with hands up in prayer position) when I would pass him while going to the kitchen for breakfast.  Sabon had throat problems and spoke in a gruff whisper.  He seemed as though he was carrying a large burden on his small frame…and in a sense he was.  Because of his promiscuity, he was the one who brought HIV home to his wife and it had killed her years earlier. 

This was my first death experience at Wat Opot and it was painful to watch.  The beautiful aspect was that the children took part in the ceremony from beginning to end.  From lighting the fire under their father’s body to cleaning the few bone fragments after his ashes had cooled.  Everyone there (children and adults alike) had been through this process many times before, but for me it was new. My heart broke as I watched his children.  I remembered the experience at my father’s funeral.  How life seemed to stop and you go through the motions as if you are not really a part of all of it.  During those days It was as if I was watching myself on a television,  It was me but not really me…a remote controlled version of me.

Srey Po, Srey Hong and Heang seemed like that to me.  They lit the incense, they bowed, they took their place in front of the ashes.  They picked through the ash and found bones, they washed them etc, etc.  It was sad to watch, but so healthy for them to experience.  There is no uncertainty about death here.  It’s final.  Unlike a casket burial where the person is made up to look their best; during a cremation, there can be no mistake about what is to happen to the body.  There can be no misunderstandings for the little ones about the body looking like it’s asleep and will wake up. Cremation is ‘in your face’ final.

Srey Hong the oldest of the three living at Wat Opot (there are   3 more children older than her who do not live here) was visibly upset.  She was with her father in the hospital when he died.  Usually Heang, her younger brother went with Sabon to care for him in the hospital when he was sick.  (note: in Cambodia there is no nursing care in the hospital, a patient must have a family member join them (or hire someone else) to get them food and take care of them during their stay).  To my knowledge Srey Hong has never gone.  Maybe it was an unsaid thought that he would not make it back this time, or maybe he asked her to come as not to put the possibility of his death on his young son who was the closest to him?

Wat Opot is a little quieter today and Wayne says it usually is after a death.  Srey Po gives longer harder hugs, Heang’s smile is absent for the moment, and Srey Hong is even quieter than normal.  They are now ‘true orphans’.  It will hit them time and again as two of them will now wake up in a dorm room instead of in their father’s house; they will be reminded of their loss as time slowly moves on.  Their father will be with them as thoughts of him diminish our time...until one day they wake up and 3 years will have passed. 

Wayne wrote a short poem using a photo taken at the cremation which can be viewed by clicking here.

13 January, 2012

She who Walks With Purpose...

It's possible that if I had been born in my native country hundreds of years ago, my name might have been She who walks with purpose.

One morning the 9 volunteers, Wayne and I were talking at breakfast about the events of the night before.  The volunteer dorm was full with 1, 2 or 3 people in each room.  During the night there were the usual snores coming from 2 rooms, but additionally one volunteer had a cold and was coughing off and on and another had a stomach bug and was vomiting.  I was awoken by a chorus of sounds…. gastronomic retching, nasal inhalation and deep hacking.  Tossing and turning and finally falling to sleep only to be awoken once again by another noise coming from our connecting rooms.

It was these sounds that spawned the amusing conversation the next morning as the volunteers were called-out trying to decide which sound came from which room (or mouth!)  As it was determined that my room was quiet that night…the conversation turned to "What is Melinda's “annoyance?”  After much deliberation, Gail finally said that the pounding of my feet on the tile as I walk from my room (on the very end of the dorm) to the other end is quite loud (I walk quickly) thump thump thump thump one way and then thump thump thump thump back the way I came…like I walk with a purpose….not really an annoyance, per se, but something that I could join the rest of the group in.

Joking aside, I did notice over the next few days how quickly I seem to walk when I am alone and have a purpose.  Usually I have a child or often many hanging on me or just holding my hand and I am forced to keep a slow pace with them.  I try to live in the moment and to the best of my ability, I do, but perhaps my moments just go by quicker than most?  I have tried for years to ‘relax’, but I have finally given up and I decided there will be a time in my life when I either need to, or am physically forced to do so…but that time is not now. – I actually tried to tippy-toe past Gail’s room a few times, but then laughed at myself and continued on...thump thump thump.

For the time being, I’ll just have to be content with having the children slow my stride.