Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A big yet little girl

Betty and her classmates are singing to me.

They're singing "Thank you, teacher. Thank you for teaching us today. We will see you again tomorrow." They hold their hands up toward me prayerfully,  as a sign of respect.

 But Betty, 14, doesn't say she will see me tomorrow. Instead, she sings she will see me five days later, on Monday.

I ask her why.

"It's the 100-day celebration,"  she smiles. All the children smile when talking to me, a volunteer teacher at their school, ABCs & Rice (a place for less-privileged kids to learn English on a full belly.) Every last one of them is polite. Kind toward me.

I ask, "Celebration of what?"

"My father. He died 100 days ago," she says, adding, "so we honor him with prayers and food."

And then she burst into tears. And she falls into my arms, sobbing. I met her two days ago and already my heart hurts for her.

It's so hard for me to see her so broken.

Because she's my superstar Cambodian.

Of all of the children in my class, Betty has what it takes to excel.

During my first day on the job, she asked me why I was in Cambodia. Why I came to her school to teach.

I told her I wanted to learn about the Cambodian people and culture, something best learned by living it, not just looking in.

"OH!" she exclaimed, then jumped up and sprinted away, only to return pronto with two 8-by-10-inch booklets, one about Khmer food and the other about the culture.

She and her classmates wrote both booklets, she said, as a way to make money to finance a school trip to the beach.

One costs $10. The other $15.

"But if you buy both, it's $20."

I'd say she's a born leader. Intuitive. Self-starting. Brave.

So having her cry on my shoulder reminds me she's still a child, but one with great potential.

(If anyone reading this wants to help Betty and her classmates go to the beach, email me. The booklets are in English, mostly. I think they need $800 more for their trip.)

Monday, February 16, 2015

Beautiful Cambodia

Life is familiar yet different here in Cambodia.  In this tourist town of Siem Reap, the people  speak English and spend US dollars. However,  they also speak Khmer and accept Reil, traditional Cambodian currency.

People love their dogs, but not as pets. They guard their homes. Not from other people, but from ghosts.

These are  a very superstitious people.

The town percolates with cars, buses, motorbikes and tuk-tuks scramble shoulder to shoulder, four across on a two-lane road. With no road rage.

Most of the people are young, 35 and younger. And they hold their elders, what few there are, in high regard. In a place of honor.

Beautiful Cambodia's people smile a lot at me. And bow. They engage with me as a person of importance. They lost an entire generation -- the one that would be the grandparents --to genocide, starvation, revolution and war.

So they honor the aged. At 60, I am old to these people. And the show me much love and respect.

I am so honored. Thank you, beautiful Cambodia.

Monday, February 9, 2015

The lap of Cambodian luxury


've been waiting for months for this journey.

I've been preparing for the poverty. For the less than stellar accommodations I'd be living in for 2 weeks. For the fish and rice I'd eat each day.

For two months before I left, i went to the Y to improve my stamina because I would be biking 20 miles daily to a school/farm to volunteer with the kids.  I'd be living in an dormitory, where my room would be 40 steps up from the road and the Internet access  another 40 steps up.

Well, here is my reality.

I am living at the Bou Savy Guesthouse,  in the lap of Cambodian luxury.

I'm sitting here writing on a well appointed veranda a few steps from my simple yet lovely room, 15 steps up from the road.

The morning breeze plays on the surrounding palm leaves like a piano. I hear roosters and a combination of bells and woodwinds faintly entertaining from a distance temple.

My veranda overlooks a palm-lined swimming pool (pictured) surrounded by green, two-tiered umbrellas and maroon cushions atop wooden lounges. To my left, workers wearing crisply laundered  uniforms prepare for our morning meal.

Which is not fish and rice. Unless I order fish and rice.

I will order from an extensive menu designed to attract tourists coming to visit Anger Wat.

Poverty surrounds me. But it does not devour me. Where I live, anyway.

In a few hours,  I will enter poverty where I work. But there is no bicycle. Saven, my own chauffer, awaits to drive me  to work for the next two weeks in an open-air taxi called a  Tuk Tuk.

As I said, I sit in the lap of Cambodian luxury.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Dining in Bangkok

I came halfway around the world because I love Thai food.


The mission projects I serve on take me to Cambodia and Vietnam. I chose to begin and end my journey in Thailand solely to eat sumptuously of the most  authentic Thai food in the world.

So,  here I am, sitting on  the hotel veranda, awaiting my first taste of Thailand.

Here it comes.

Andi I  am shocked.

My authentic Thai breakfast is, well, unlike any food I have ever eaten. My courteous innkeeper (he calls me Mrs. Madame) serves up his best impression  of an American breakfast: two fried-to-the-death eggs, a slice of lunch meat (ham?), toasted Wonderbread and two uncooked mystery-meat hot dogs.

And instant coffee. And Tang. Remember Tang?

My innkeeper and two friends  dine two tables away. I glance at their plates. And salivate. Rice. Peas and either fish or potatoes swimming in a green gavy-thick sauce. Probably curry.

Envy colors my moment.

I get a second cup of instant coffee (better than the first). And realize my innkeeper served his best impression of  authentic American food to satisfy his American guest.

His authentic kindness and courtesy replace my need for the food. And I feel blessed. And then plan to eat elsewhere tomorrow.