20 December, 2012

Hillbilly hand fishing ain't got nothin' on us!

When I was young, I used to go fishing at my grandfather’s pond.  Because fishing can be a bit boring, I usually busied myself chasing frogs, digging up worms, and making mud pies. I would glance up occasionally, albeit hopefully and then seeing the slack line, I would shrug and continue playing.

As I grew, fishing became less and less exciting, it was no longer fun to pierce a worm over and over with a hook watching it squirm, and gutting a fish was just plain disgusting.  

At Wat Opot, the kids occasionally fish with a stick, line and hook, but the quickest way to clear a pond of fish (especially large catfish) is to drain it and quickly gather them up.  In theory it is a clean easy process, but in reality it is a bit more difficult and much dirtier!

The pond outside the boys dorm had some very large catfish in it that needed to be eaten or sold.  The kids love to earn extra money doing random chores around the property, so once Wayne had it almost drained (the water going into another pond close by), most stripped down to their undies -or their birthday suit- and jumped right in.

Catfish like to burrow in the mud, which is one reason we drain out the water as well as use nets and baskets, but the preferred method is by hand.

Srey Moav used to be scared of live fish, but this time she jumped in with the others, although she preferred to not actually touch the fish with her bare hands.

When a fish was found, it was tossed up on the shore and someone would grab it from there and put it in a bucket.   The flopping squirming thing mesmerized little Srey Nite!

Once the bucket had 2 or 3 fish in it, it was transported by Nak on his bicycle to the newly built holding tank (which makes it much easier to have fresh fish on call).

As Nak became tired from his many trips back and forth with the heavy bucket, the kids started hand carrying them.  Some opted for a small fish and easily journeyed from point A to point B, such as Mr. Wey, the impossibly clean Davit and Touri (who conveniently  and strategically placed his fish for a candid portrait after running with his catch).


Somnang, on the other hand, was determined to carry a fish almost as large as himself.  He was doing fine until halfway there, when the fish squirmed out of his hands.  He struggled to pick it up and with muscles bulging; he eventually ‘hauled’ the thing back up.

There were a few (such as myself) who chose not to partake in the fun.  Mak Phan did a little hunting of his own and caught a large frog, posing like Huckleberry Fin. 

You would never know that Rortana wasn't involved since she became just as dirty in the end.  She wouldn't touch the fish, but preferred to have her own little shoe race on the sidelines.

The fish holding tank is now teeming with large fish ready to be sold to our staff or local villagers, or destined to end up in little bellies!

12 December, 2012

Dorm life...

The girls dorm is one of the oldest building's on the property.  It was a small building and more rooms were added on over the years.  It is nice, but definitely had that “bad renovation” feel to it.  It never was really a cohesive house.  After the hospice was moved into a new building, it became the volunteer house.  With only a few rooms, volunteers were forced to live and breathe together –not always a good thing.

When I decided to make Wat Opot my home, I used some left over grant money to renovate the screened-in porch into 2 bedrooms so I could have a bit of privacy.  Once the volunteer dorm was built in 2011, our girls moved into the building. Six teenage girls moved in together with 9 more ranging in age from 2 to 12 yrs.  The mis-mached house was quickly turned into 2 separate sides (a.k.a. war zone - you know how teen girls can be!) and a door that linked the two sides of the house was shut; never to open.  As the rift grew and the little girls started to take sides, something had to change.  The girls need more guidance than each other and the little ones certainly were not learning good communication or conflict resolution skills from their teen role models.

Because this is now my home and the children are in effect ‘my kids’ it was time I started acting like a parent and not a volunteer.  But before I could even fathom moving back into that dorm, some major changes were in order. Wat Opot was blessed with large donations coming in over the past few months, so we have money to renovate some buildings that have been in need.  My vision for the girls dorm was to make the building more open to bring together the quarreling parties.  Basically I told the teen girls that they didn’t have to love each other but they did have to live together. I certainly remember my ‘hateful’ teen-years and the loveless relationship with my own sister - which is thankfully amended - funny how age and maturity can do that to you!  In the girls dorm, the  adage “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all” was to be applied immediately.

First on the renovation list was to add on a long enclosed porch with the current small windows made into doors so the bedrooms would open out onto the porch.

Former toilets (as demonstrated by two of the girls - who would be appalled to know this photo is on the internet!) were filled in to make room for 4 new toilets.  Two on the end and 2 in the middle. (during and after shots). 

Then the construction moved inside.  The infamous ‘closed door’ was removed and the doorway widened to combine the two rooms (to be used for a living/play room and a kitchen).

Seven of the little girls used to share one small room.  That side of the house had a porch that was enclosed last year and by closing in the outside doorway and opening up the wall between the two rooms the little girls now have a large very PINK room.

The building had 2 inside bathrooms which were removed and turned into another bedroom.

I moved back into my former bedroom a few weeks ago.  Luckily I have my live-in nanny training to keep me sane.  To ensure I have some form of privacy, I have brought back rules such as “If my door is closed do not knock, do not talk to me, do not even look at it – unless you are bleeding”.  I must say, it was the easiest move I have ever made.  I remember when it took a large U-Haul and strong friends to move all my belongings, now it's 2 cart fulls and a couple of kids!

My new presence in the girls dorm is starting to wear off a little.  I don’t have little girls giggling outside my bathroom door EVERY time enter; now it's EVERY OTHER time.  The first time I walked out of my room in my robe to take a shower, Rortana screamed “Melinda MUY TUK! And they all came running to see the exhibition.  I heard whispering outside the door and when the first bucket of water splashed loudly as I poured it on my head they squealed with joy.  I figured I was again a bit more human in their eyes; as they watch (or hear) me do normal things.

I’m getting into a routine and have started reading the girls a story before bed.  It feels completely normal and comfortable in the girl’s dorm, so obviously it was meant to be; plus it’s a lot closer to everything here then in the volunteer dorm (which is on the far end of the property) and in my current forgetful state, I was putting in a couple of miles walking back and forth.

The one thing the girls miss though, is sleeping in the Creative Learning Center every night during the renovation...maybe we'll have to do it again one night for old times sake.

07 December, 2012

I am my Mother's Daughter!

I remember hiding behind the front door day after day ready to jump out at my mom when she walked into the house.  Whether it was me or one of my siblings, Mom never failed to scream and jump back.  Literally day after day this would occur.  Child jumps out from behind the door and yells, Mother screams.  Most days it was funny and after the shock, she would scold with hints of laughter in her smiling eyes, but occasionally (possibly after a hard day) she would not think it was funny and an uncomfortable silence would settle after she walked out of the room.

The day she jumped and the bag of groceries fell out of her arms –breaking the dozen or so eggs that fell from the carton- was when it ceased to be funny for anyone.  I don’t think we dared after that; unless one of us peeked out the window (assuring the other, that her hands were free) before she approached the door.

I have joyfully become my mother in so many ways, and sometimes a minute experience from my childhood…what is the phrase…”Comes back to bite me in the a--.” This is one of them.

Wat Opot is large and we have many buildings, corners, doors and other areas where a small devious little boy can hide while awaiting his prey. That unfortunate victim would be me.  Nine-year-old Nak-To (a.k.a. Little Nak), has taken to replicating my former actions although with the pre-meditation I lacked.  My mother’s shock was usually an afterthought when someone would yell “Mom’s home” and one of us would race to the door while the others would look nonchalantly back at the TV. 

Nak-To has upped the game, so to speak.  He takes pleasure in the hunt and has changed the rules.  He has taken my game to a new level, one without consistency.  Nak-To jumps out randomly, yells and takes the utmost pleasure in my response.  What’s my response you ask? Why it’s the jump and scream my mother perfected years ago. 

And just as my siblings and I received great joy, so does Nak-To and anyone else who witnesses it.  There will come the day when I have an armful of something which may go flying like those unforgettable eggs…but until then, I try to be on my guard!

Here’s Mr. Nak To playing so sweetly with the dogs…but there’s a devious side of him, I promise!

Mr. Saoun was with me one day when I jumped and yelled and he (who was completely unaffected by Nak jumping out) laughed so hard.  

Saoun has trouble sitting still and gets in trouble most days.  He’s a child who will annoy the heck out of you one minute and then crack you up the next.  Somedays I waver between anger and laughter in the course of seconds.  Saoun loves lists; especially our printed roster (which we use to mark off who’s where).  He is the only one who can identify every child’s written English name – quite a feat since he has never had any kind of formal English teaching and he's only 8.

Like his obsession with the roster, once Saoun got it in his head that he would scare me and day after day there was no stopping him.  He would jump out and try to make me yell.  The problem is that whereas Nak-To is sly, Saoun is totally and utterly predictable.  He will run ahead of me giggling and dash behind something.  I say “Saoun, I know you are there!”, but he will still jump out and yell unfazed whether I am startled or not.  He just enjoys playing the game.

For over a week every morning Saoun would see me coming and yell “GOOD MORNING MELINDA!” and then quickly run behind the laundry room; before I passed. I could hear him giggling as I got closer.  

Saoun...totally predictable and totally loveable.