25 January, 2017

Nature or Nurture; that is the question.

I’m more than a bit moved by the response I had when I posted this photo of me and Srey Kah, our newest watopotian on Facebook. 

This has been such an emotional start to 2017.  January has not always produced the best start to a new year.  This wisp of a child put the icing on the cake for me.  A beautiful child whose biological family didn't want.  I am so tired of neglected kids, babies!  Children that get thrown away, when there are those who are begging to have the opportunity to have one more hug from their own. One more hug, one more kiss, and one more conversation, one more laugh…before they left this world.

One more laugh with my father, sigh, how amazing would that be?  He was extremely sarcastic.  It’s no wonder that my whole family has the same sense of humor.  The stories we have!  Laughter is the best medicine.  I smile freely.  Just a facial movement that happens so naturally that I didn’t realize how much a smile can mean when you are given a child that doesn’t.  

Srey Kah didn’t smile for 4 days.  FOUR days without a grin, a smirk, a laugh.  When she finally did, it was like, “yeah, everything will be okay now.”  How many many people cannot smile because of the situation they are in?  How many children cannot or have never known what that means.  For someone who was raised with laughter, it is almost inconceivable that there are those who do not. 

Depending on what era you were born in, or what news channel you subscribe to, you can believe you are a product of nature or nurture or a mixture of both.  I have meet Srey Kah’s father and paternal grandmother.  Both smiled (as they were giving up their flesh and blood).  When Srey Kah smiled, it wasn't only with her mouth, she laughed out loud.  Other than a grunt and a cry, that was the first sound she had made.  And it was our much loved animals who were responsible.  Ben the dog and Tido the cat got extra treats that day!

My genes were infused with an innate sense of humor, which was made stronger by the environment my parents created.  My genetics also gave me gangly long arms which I finally grew into and thin fine hair, which I still battle.  My genetics gave me a pretty good mixture of both sides of my family.  I was told time and again while growing up “oh you look just like your dad” (not necessarily something an insecure teen wants to hear), but then “oh you look so much like your mom” as I got older (and love to hear).

The children in my care look like their biological parents but many act like me.  For many, I have enhanced their already predisposed level of sarcasm, and for others, I have respected their need to have a more subdued caregiver (which is hard for me).  I am constantly amazed by the love most do not hold inside.  For the hugs that come out of nowhere and sometimes hold on for a bit longer than I am comfortable with.  That is something I  did not have growing up.  I knew I was loved, that wasn’t ever even a thought in my mind, but the actual physical aspect of it, was not nurtured in me.

It wasn’t until I attended my Masters in Peace program in Austria that I first encountered unconditional hugging and realized I felt really uncomfortable with it.  I wrote a paper on it, (you can’t bring about peace, until you find it within yourself), about how it felt to be hugged by everyone all the time.  Seriously, sometimes I wanted to say “Shit, I will see you in an hour, no need to hug me!”.   After contemplation, I realize I associated hugs with a physical relationship.  Many times a prelude to sex.  So to be hugged by men, was awkward.  I didn’t want to have sex with my classmates! 

I had to learn to hug, to enjoy the platonic feeling of another human being in my arms.  To overcome the feeling of it being wrong, until I could give a hug back without feeling like I was ‘leading someone on’.  I hugged a naked man and a naked woman in one night and only felt slightly uncomfortable.  That is true growth – European style! 

As I emerged in life, there were and continue to be so many opportunities to leave my comfort zone; to be a part of something that either challenges or enhances my natural or nurtural instincts. 

When my dad died, a certain ‘standoffishness’ went away.  I was all of a sudden thrown into a situation where life slapped me square in the face.  A f-ing hard defibrillating life-lesson right to the heart that I can still feel today.  My dad’s sudden death jolted my heart and ripped out a chunk that will never fully grow back.  As my heart slowly started beat again, that innate ability to say goodbye to my family without so much as a glance, seemed a bit uncaring even though it never had before.   In Europe, I grew to respect the physical closeness of my friends, and now I was able to become closer to my family by a natural –albeit painful- life experience.   I lost the ability to walk away without showing that I care.  And a further process allows me to freely say “I love you” without feeling awkward. I can give and receive firms hug without feeling like I’m intruding on personal space (most of the time).

I have the utmost respect for Miss Srey Kah and am okay with the fact that it took her 2 weeks to the day to smile at me.  I still am a bit too loud and a bit too physical for her taste.  She doesn’t know when I grin and poke her, I am showing love.  She was born with the ability to be loved, but because of her circumstance, she doesn’t know it.  She has been through more in her 2 years of life than many will experience in a lifetime. I was in my late teens when I first experienced the death of a loved one, she was 12 months.  She also has overcome every odd life has thrown at her in the 2 weeks she has been with us.  It took me 35 years…

It’s not only my unconditional love for the kids in my care; it is my indescribable respect for them.  I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without the nurturing from my parents, the chance to grow up with siblings (for better or worse) and the closeness of extended family.  And I would not have continued to grow as a person without the support of family and friends, whom I have known along my path.

That is what the children have here an unconventional large family complete with parents, siblings, friends and extended family.  A big (and at times messy) multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious family!

This is what all humans deserve, a reason to smile, regardless of where in the world they so happened to be born. 

Can it really be made any more clear?  

Photo courtesy of my friend Scott http://www.scottrotzoll.com/ (who got Srey Kah to smile at him first!)

15 January, 2017

Tangy Butt Nuts and other pieces of sh#*.

My life now is extremely demanding.  Most days I am exhausted.  Emotionally, mentally and physically, but mostly emotionally.  And then there’s all the shit.  Literally, I mean shit.  The (usually) brown substance that emerges from the bowels of sweet toddlers; beautiful –full of shit- toddlers.  It’s all the time,  “Mommy, Likha is stinky”….”Mommy, Somnang pooped on the floor.” Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, poop, poop, poop.

We have 3 little ones who are not able to control their posterior and out from those sweet little cheeks come the rectum warriors.  I (along with Sophia) have to deal with it all day every day.  Body boulders in the morning, sewer serpents in the afternoon, fudge babies at dusk and tushy tots before bed.  Our toddling poopers have a sense of humor as well.  It seems they hold it in until just when I sit down to eat.  Absolutely nothing doing 30 minutes before or after, no, there’s something symbolically synonymous about my butt finding the comfort of the kitchen chair and their butt exuding fanny fudge.

It's not just the ones in diapers, though.  Take today for example, I had to help another small child release his stinkers into the toilet.  And when it was about to happen, it's not like the child sends me a memo ahead of time, I sprinted into the nearest bathroom with the child hanging mid-air arms length away and just made it in time.  A big sigh of relief, but then I glance down and notice my skirt had graced the calm vortex of the diaper soaker, the crapsters dungeon, a place where no woman's clothing should ever ever touch down.

I now have worn shit.

It has gotten so bad that I have taken to paying a child to change a diaper.  In a country where the poorest of the poor make less than $1.00 a day, I will pay up to .75 cents (depending on the stench) for someone, ANYONE to get rid of the lovely lumps which having traveled so far and finally liberated themselves from the confines of a little colon, have emerged and begun to settle into their new padded home.

“It can’t be that bad” some of you will say.  “You could not be more wrong”, say I.   “It really doesn’t affect your life and the lives around you” others will say.  “I am willing to bet a days worth of smelly pebbles that you could not be more wrong” said the others around me.  There is now a fine of 500 Khmer Riel (12 and a half cents) that I must pay for every time I bring up anything remotely sounding like poop.  One thousand riel (.25 cents) if it’s a blatant description of a screaming mimi.  I have lost so much money, I no longer count.  Sophia has lost her fair share, but I’m definitely in the lead.  Some meals I find myself unable to talk for fear of spilling the beans (so to speak).

You can ask Josh, our regular weekend volunteer.  One day I butt (no pun intended) called him.  As he responded with “are you there?”, “hello”, he then heard kids at play and then loud and clear, my voice talking about someone’s dumper crying brown tears and realized the call was not meant for him and he quietly hung up.  When I noticed I had inadvertently called him and the call had lasted 23 seconds, I just sighed knowing he had overhead bits of about how we could convert a waterbottle into a portable toilet for Somnang (our infamous anywhere-pooper). I promise, Josh, we were joking!

You think this little patootie is cute…come walk a mile in my shoes, friend, a mile in my shoes.

03 January, 2017

so long it's been good to know you...

Good bye 2016.  It's no wonder why I haven't posted since July...I went in and out of a sterilized funk, in and out of a mild depression, in and out of a "why am I here, phase" and probably a couple of other's that I cannot name.

The whole US election made me want to crawl under a rock or jump off a cliff. (I chose the rock as it seemed like the safer of the two).  I had open talks with the kids during meditation about what is going on in the country of my birth.  Not political, but ethical and moral characteristics, about how one of the most powerful countries in the world had the option to put a horrible man in power.  A man who will put more powerful and horrible men (and a couple of women for good measure) in power and collectively they will have the power to destroy an insurmountable number of lives.

My nightmare came true. Humanity will leave the white house in 2017.

I told them that they can kiss their chances of visiting the US goodbye (although I would not have encouraged it regardless who was the president).  I talked to the kids about, not only the US, but how many many bad things are happening in the world.  Things that will really not affect their lives whatsoever, but happenings they should know about in order to be global citizens.

I couldn't talk too much to the older kids about the massive death and destruction going on even as I type.  About the fear in the lives of children who at one time had a life like theirs.  How I fear that 2017 may bring much more of the same.  I didn't want my kids to see my cry.

It's not that I've given up hope.  I'm an idealist and a peace worker, but I am a realistic idealist...or an idealistic realist.  I have not been given the choice to have a quiet life only thinking of myself and my loved ones.  Somewhere in my DNA is a driving force to not turn a blind eye, even if there is absolutely nothing earthly I can do about it.

I went off of social media for over a month.  A month where the only negativity I felt was here in my physical presence, and it was few and far between.  I felt free, a bit disconnected, but free.  So this is what life could be!  Concentrating on those issues and people in my physical presence.  Forgetting there is a wide world outside our gates.  Outside of the confines of Cambodia.  If only I could have made it last...

It wasn't possible for me.  Not only did I miss what was going on in my family and with my close friends, I missed being a part of something bigger, a part of the wide world.  How could I turn my back on the world?  I am no longer that innocent little Midwest girl I used to be.  Dammit.

With little to no internet, a month or so ago I bought a refurbished iPhone. I needed to be able to use the phone as a hotspot to get online on the office computer.  With this new toy, I unfortunately  became used to having news at my fingertips.  Posts I deemed having negative content (anything that made my blood rise) started showing up regularly.  It didn't take long to notice a change in my attitude.  I was not as forgiving with the kids, I was not as tolerant of noise, I desperately wanted a drink some nights.

It wasn't because of reading what was going on in global news, it was reading the thoughts and opinions of the global news from the mouths of people I knew.  People who I found out all of a sudden had extreme differences in opinion from my own.  Hearing hatred and sexism and how people were regarding someone with any kind of a different ideology with such a forcefully negative attitude was something that took me by surprise.

I'm not new to someone close to me not understanding my point of view, and not even trying to think outside their own little box..  Quite a few years ago, it was remarked to me by (at the time) a good friend,-when I had traveled home to visit my family-  "Oh, one of these days, you are going to come home with a black baby."  she said.  Not wanting to rock the boat because we were in (of all places) a catholic church, "God loves all babies, " was my reply.

I think that's the first time I really felt like an outsider in my own town.  Amongst "my people".  The remark was dumbfounding to say the least.  I didn't get it, "like what the hell". I started to question what she actually meant by it.  Why did she say it?  What did she mean by it? What does she think of me?  and on and on.  Then it occurred to me that there was probably not much thought put into the comment at all.  It was a remark from someone who thought that having a baby with darker skin than my own would be an atrocity.  It stemmed from pure ignorance, racism and fear of  'the other'.  From a lack of understanding, from a lack of realizing that a 'good Catholic woman' such as herself has forgotten the teachings of her savior.

The year 2016 brought people into my life, people with beautiful souls who carried their pain and suffering with dignity and with a strength that many will never be able to achieve.  Resilient children who have embraced the new life (at Wat Opot) that they have been given, adult's who are learning to live without their only child, and others who are just beginning their journey to find peace.

With many new faces joining our large family, it's easy to get swallowed up in daily life, but each evening in the quiet sanctity of my bedroom, I am aware of what is going on outside my home, aware of those whose lives are not going as planned, and those that are overcoming odds. Aware of the pain, the suffering but also the joy and living.

It feels like a delicate balance to live a sane productive life.