10 April, 2012

New Form of Executive Thievery?

Welcome to Cambodia - specifically Wat Opot; the home of the famous $.38 iced coffee.  My niece loved them when I whipped them up in my mom's kitchen while in KS last month.  They can be very addictive, especially on a lazy hot afternoon.  Just the right mix of coldness and caffeine!   

When I go into Phnom Penh, I cannot resist hanging out in one of the expatriate (ex-pat) cafes.  Going inside, ordering an overpriced soy latte and settling down in the typical setup, I could be anywhere in the world.  I think that's what I love about the cafes - latte aside - you can sit in comfort and read a book or magazine while sipping slowly as the hours tick by and when you walk out the doors, you are suddenly arriving in your adopted country again.  

So many have popped up all over the ex-pat area of the city which is great for me because I can change up my routine monthly.  While sitting in one such cafe upon my return to Cambodia from the US, I thought about my experience when I visited DC... 

While enjoying my old working stomping grounds; I stepped into Caribou Coffee which is next to the building where I used to work.  These people are the happiest people on the planet!  The mornings I walked to work; thus saving money I would have spent on the bus or metro, I allowed myself to splurge on a speciality coffee, instead of my normal brewed one.  Every single morning that I went into the coffee shop, I was greeted by awesome smells, laughter and many times a "What can I get you, sugah or darlin or hon", etc."   Even when a male worker said it, it didn't sound creepy, more of like they were greeting their aunt or daughter. Those employees knew how to give their customers a great start to an otherwise normal day; even when the line was out the door.

When I walked in after 2 years of being away; I was not to be disappointed.  The happy man behind the counter gladly took my order (small double shot soy latte) and then commented "Money is so dirty"; which I replied "Mine specifically, or all money?"  He assured me that he meant money in general as I moved along the counter to the pick up area.  While waiting, I went to the bathroom and arrived back at the counter in time to see a woman pick up the only cup sitting on the counter.  Knowing I had ordered first, I startled her by casually asked if that was possibly my coffee?  She laughed and said, "Oh I don't know"…she had at that time, opened the lid and was going to pour cream into it.  The barista looked at us and said that the lady had my coffee, but to go ahead and drink it and she will make me another one.  I had a weird feeling from the lady as she asked what she was drinking and when I told her she commented "Wow, that's a good coffee for only 1 dollar fifty (the price she paid for the small brewed coffee that she had ordered - in contrast to my $4.00 over-priced-but-worth-it drink).

She quickly left the shop and I mentioned to the barista that I had a feeling that she did it on purpose.  For the first time, I saw one of the staff at this coffee shop stop smiling!  She became angry and said that she thought that as well!  The guy who took her order was not happy either since he had poured the woman a coffee and had sat it on the counter (in full view) when she paid for it.  (To those of you who do not know the ins and outs of coffee shops…the barista makes your speciality coffee - basically any coffee with more than 2 words - and the cashier gives you regular no-frills brewed coffee).  The woman who stole my coffee was a mature woman in full business dress, a woman who looked like she has been around a coffee shop or two, if you know what I mean.  Plus, she didn't seemed shocked when she opened her "brewed coffee" and saw it's tan creamy color instead of the black coffee she supposedly ordered.  As the 2 people behind the counter continue to discuss what happened, I sat down to enjoy my freshly prepared coffee and started to chuckle at the absurdity of what had happened.

Here's a woman who by all means, appears to be able to afford an expensive coffee.  Was this her way of 'living on the edge'? One step closer to getting caught with her hands in the…er…coffee pot?  How must it feel for her to get away with her white collar caper?  The rush of excitement combined with the cold DC air as she takes her first sip of MY hot speciality coffee.  Did she secretly add another notch to her briefcase?  Maybe she stacks the cups in her office (under the desk or in a file cabinet) in homage to her sneakiness or does she desperately fall to her knees and rip the cup to shreds in the fancy office bathroom as she quietly vows to never steal again?

I for one will never know.

06 April, 2012

Toe Troubles


While helping the kids clean up the CLC, I turned to put some books back on the shelf, and in my usual clumsy way, I slammed my foot into the leg of one of the preschool tables.  More specifically, as my foot proceeded to move forward at alarming speed, my little toe abruptly stopped the momentum...by wedging itself around the table leg.  With nowhere for the poor appendage to go upon impact, it un-naturally moved to the left emitting within it a definite cracking sound.

I turned and yelled OW WEE OH WEE OW WEE OH WEE!! Most of the kids turned to look at me and laughed and went on about their playing, but a few came over to where I was laying on my back on the small tables rolling about.  More curiosity than compassion, Srey Nak and Virak looked at me and then started to laugh.  I was laughing through my pain at them laughing at me.  

"Melinda Skoit (Crazy)" was said a couple times, but I said, "No, I am not Skoit! I have chue (pain)".  I guess because I act really silly many times they just didn't believe me.  So I grabbed Virak's toe and pretended to break it off and said, "Same Same Melinda" as I showed them my toe which was turned alarmingly to the outside of my foot.  

I hobbled over to the desk and grabbed the packing tape and jerked my toe back to it's proper place and taped it in place.

By that time the word was spread throughout the play room and everyone came to look at the poor injured soul laying on the floor.  

Growing up in a very sarcastic family, getting hurt usually meant everyone would laugh at you or poke the injured place.  We learned to laugh at our pain.  Once while scuba diving with my friend Kimberly on the Big Island (Hawaii), I got a vana (sea urchin) stuck in my hand…or better to say, I stuck my hand in a vana and by the time we got out of the ocean and to the rental car I was in horrendous pain while my hand continued to swell with red streaks moving down my fingers and hand.  There's a longer story to this - basically for this kind of injury, something acidic should be applied, such as vinegar…or ahem, urine…  Needless to say when we finally located a hospital, Kimberly and I both had tears in our eyes, hers from laughter, mine from laughter and PAIN.

The nurses at the reception desk were not paying us much attention because we were not able to control our laughter while checking in.  Finally when no one seemed to care, I shouted; "PLEASE HELP ME, IF I DON'T LAUGH I WILL CRY!  I AM IN PAIN!!"  That got their attention and I promptly saw a doctor and he had to open up my fingers and scrape out all the fragile vana shells out from under my skin and fingernails.  I did cry at that point, but hearing Kimberly in the next room giggling, I managed to cry and smile at the same time.

Similarly, when I broke my arm, and Toni was my she-night in shining armor, I tried to be serious when the ER doctor was looking at it, but having had the giggles the whole way from the soccer field to the Emergency Room, didn't help, nor did the glass window in the room which allowed me to see Toni compassionately making fun of me.  God I love my friends!!

Oh but I have digressed…the kids sensed that I was laughing through my pain.  Srey Moav, said "Look Melinda Cry!" and I said "I am not crying, I am laughing", but she pointed at my wet eyes and said "Oh, Melinda cry".  I again denied crying, but inside I wanted to!  The playroom was cleaned up in record time as Vandy went to get a bicycle to transport me to the Cafe to wait for Wayne.

After consulting with Wayne and getting a crutch, I hopped on my right leg over to the central play area and sat down.  Soon, our little compassionate kids surrounded me and my makeshift crutch.

Srey Po seemed to think blowing on it would help…which it did, it helped me laugh harder.  The ever helpful Channey and her sister Rortana slowly massaged my leg and she ever so gently massaged my foot and four good toes.

As I hobbled over to the clinic to get a wrap from Wayne, Saoun demonstrated to everyone what happened.

and then hopped around making fun of me!

Wayne taped my toe properly, wrapped it and gave me some Ibuprofin.  Waiting outside before meditation, I again received sympathy (genuine sympathy!) as my leg was massaged again, this time by Srey Moav.

Srey Nou carted me on her bicycle all the way to my room - thankfully it wasn't DVD night - where I put my foot up and relaxed.  I picked up my Khmer Phrase Book and looked up how to say the words Toe and Broke.  I couldn't find either, although I thought "I think I broke my toe" could be classified under the chapter of Useful Everyday Phrases; maybe right between "Is there wheelchair access?" and "Are there facilities for the disabled?" 

I then looked in the Health Chapter and I found translations for bladder, blister, blood donor and burn but no Broke. I found tip, tissues, toast and toilet but no Toe.   Digging deeper in the chapter; after vomit and whooping cough, there were health related useful phrases.  No broken anything, but I did learn how to say "That's painful, please take it easy" and my new all-time favorites, "It hurts all the time" and "I can not stand the pain" - not sure what they would do in a local clinic for those…maybe take you out back and put you out of your misery?

While waiting for the Ibuprofen to kick in I fell asleep mumbling "chue na!s, som tveu tab-norm tab-norm."

For the next couple of days, my toe and upper foot proceeded to turn black and blue, but the pain was reserved to my toe and as long as I kept Virak (who has absolutely no knowledge of, or interest in, personal space) outside a 2 foot radius from me at all times, my toe was safe and relatively pain free.  I no longer needed the crutch, but that didn't stop the kids from mimicking me randomly throughout the days.

While using whatever they found laying around the property they yelled my name and hobbled, hopped and jumped their way further into my heart.

01 April, 2012

Pink Floyd and Wat Opot

When I was in the third or forth grade, Colwich Elementary School, was putting on their annual Christmas Program.  Being a rather small scrawny child, I dutifully walked onto the stage and took my place in the front row amongst my fellow short statured classmates.  As we faced the rest of the student body seated on the floor before us and our families in the audience seated behind them, we began to belt out the songs we had rehearsed for months prior to the event.  Somewhere mid verse, as I scanned the crowded gymnasium, I spotted my neighbor, Rick, sitting next to my parents.  Rick's son, Jeff was in my class and our families were not just neighbors, but good friends.  Well, Rick made a face at me and I returned the favor (or maybe I started it), but as the story goes, Rick, sitting anonymously in the crowd was cracking up as he egged me on as we continued to make faces at each other, much to my parents horror as they watched helplessly!  

You see, I have the ability to focus deeply and at times everything around me fades away.  At that moment in my life, it was just silly Rick and I in that gym having a good ole' time as we had done so many times in the comfort of our homes.  I was oblivious that half of the town was facing the stage I was on.  I guess my teacher finally got my attention and motioned for me to stop, or maybe my parents got Rick's attention and put a stop to it at their end.  Whatever the case, I promptly walked off the stage like nothing happened and it wasn't until after the program that the incident (and the idea that EVERYONE could see me) was brought to my attention.

I believe the ability to tune out the world has kept me sane at times and has also brought a sort of balance to my sometimes complicated life.  A poker player I am not; it takes a conscious effort to keep my face from expressing what I am feeling at times; be it boredom, excitement or disgust.  I have sort of 'come back into consciousness' on an airplane or other crowded place and looked round hoping that I hadn't inadvertently said something out loud or made a physical gesture outside of whatever was going through my mind.  Had it been my calling, I probably would have made a good actress. 

Although my Christmas Program memory is brought up occasionally in family gatherings, I haven't thought about it by myself for a very long time…that was until last night.

Around 6:30pm we had gathered together for our nightly meditation and while waiting for the last few stragglers to make their way to the room, Wayne had chosen Pink Floyd for our pre-meditation sensory enjoyment.  Three of the little girls, Kunthea, Srey Moav and Venot, were directly in the row before me as I faced them on the low stage.  I started mouthing the words to Comfortably Numb as they giggled at me and encouraged me with "Oh Melinda, skoit (crazy)".  Getting into the silliness, I threw in a bit of air guitar and before I knew what was happening, Wayne had turned up the music and as it roared through the speakers and my mind, I went into full air guitar and lip sync while sitting there.  (photo of Venot with her teddy and snack)

It was only a minute or so, until the song ended and I stopped and laughed along with the little girls.  But I suddenly had that same -deer in the headlights- feeling as when my parents talked to me on the way home from the program 35 years ago.  I sheepishly looked up as I scanned the other 50some faces looking back at me as the kids burst into laughter and clapping.  I hid my embarrassment and took a seated bow as I silently willed the meditation to start so the lights would go dim and I could close my eyes and let my thoughts disappear for a few minutes.

My performance was a hit with Venot (our local wild child) as well as a couple of the older boys; today I was again reminded through laughter that "Melinda play guitar, Melinda skoit".  I laughed along with them as my embarrassment lessened every time it was brought up. 

How awesome can a Children's Home be?  Wat Opot may just well be the only one that jams to Pink Floyd on a regular basis!  Please come and join the fun (air guitar optional)!