A Travellerspoint blog

All is well!

Some routine sets in


Another week went by very fast. Life is getting more routinized, although I do not yet have a fixed schedule. There were a lot of meetings with individual faculty and meetings of committees and team teachers. Nancy Hooyman from the University of Washington is here to meet with faculty about courses and does workshops on how to put a syllabus together and course planning. It is all a great support to the faculty here and great for me to have another person here as well to do things with in Phnom Penh.
We continue to eat in great places, yesterday we had a dinner in a Vietnamese restaurant and had a thin pancake filled with bean sprouts, it was served with all kinds of greens that the pieces of pancake or wrapped in! We shared and had different kinds of tofu, and fried spring rolls. Delicious and always cheap. Glass of wine and dinner $6.00.

Saturday night we went to a fundraiser for orphaned youth at one of the private Universities, called Pannasastra, organized by the Center for Community Service Learning and Internships. It was clear that there was a lot of student involvement in the running of the evening. We saw some beautiful dances: the Wishing Dance, just girls with their gracious movements, especially hand movements, and then the coconut dance, with older students, men and women. A gracious and fun dance where women sit in a circle, the men behind them and they have coconut shells, which they bang together, between the men and the women in a varying rhythmic pattern. Quite nice to watch. Then there was a skid about a grandmother selling her grandchildren into trafficking, and who in the end was arrested by the police. The skid got a great applause from the mainly student audience. The moral was that she acknowledged that she did something wrong, and the audience heard not to do this. (All was in Khmer, this was the explanation we were given). Purpose is educational and from the reaction of the audience (mostly students) it was well received, with big applause]. The evening was like most meetings in the refugee community that I used to attend, start late, and it is quite normal to walk in and out, talk on the phone, talk to each other, all kinds of things we would find very disruptive if it were a performance in our culture. I was glad we went.

Today Bora, one of our faculty members invited his students for a day at his house outside of town, Nancy Hooyman, and I were invited as well. Bora picked us up at 9.30 a.m. and when we got there (about 30 minutes drive) the students were already there. The men were starting to get some firewood, and making a fire to roast corn, the women were cutting mango’s, (for mango salad), getting a different fire going in clay fire pots, to cook fish in foil. They prepared a lot of lettuce, carrots, cucumbers and other greens that we do not know. They also made some great little sauces and bowls with condiments. Rice was already cooking. All happens in great harmony and with ease.

HIs place was a big garden we would say, with a lot of varieties of banana trees, and jackfruit, -milk fruit,- lime and some other (all fruit) trees. We tried many of them. A little house on stilts stood in the back of the garden and in the middle on the side, a raised level sitting area with a thatched roof. (Many houses have those arrangements). That ‘s where a lot of the food preparation takes place and also where we all gathered to eat. Mats were already there, and when the lunch was ready, we all sat in a circle (cross-legged, or sitting with legs stretched back) and ate a great meal. Men sat all on one side of the circle, women at the other side.
The students are a lively bunch and asked a lot of questions: how much it costs to study in the US, how many poor there are in the United States and why they are poor, what we were doing, etc. They themselves often choose to study social work as their third choice,(they have 3 choices for college when they apply for a scholarship) just because they did not know what it is, or because they received a scholarship in that field, but now they all seem to love it and have the same aspirations of social work students in the US. Most of them come from rural areas, and their parents are farmers or have a small business,( likely to mean a little store on the side of the road.) One student told us that she was the only high school student in her school, all the other girls had to work, but she did not want to end up like her mother and she had always dreamed to study at the University! They themselves are poor as well, I just gave my bike away to one student who could not come to some classes because she had no transportation. Others have no money for food or other essentials. But they all look happy and are very cheery. The women remind me of the refugee women, they all touch my arms and some my stomach! I know now again why I wanted to come to Cambodia, the people are very wonderful and relational. I had a great time! (pictures on the blog).

After getting home, I did some work and then Nancy and I went to the large ‘park’, next to the one where I always walk, where at 5.00 p.m. there are many groups (mainly women, but also men) that do aerobics. There is one teacher with a boom box in front of the groups, and 30-50 or sometimes 100 people in rows who participate. There are 3-5 of these groups in various places of the park and sometimes the music of the various instructors compete so that the volume of the various boom boxes is turned up! Imagine my red face after an hour!! It was a great workout!

Tonight I will see the movie: Oliver Stone meets Bush!

I am sleeping through the night -fall asleep and wake up at 5.30! great time! with the help of half an ambien pill, it is an over the counter drug and I had to do something to beat the incredible noise!!
Also, after making believe that visits were not the right thing, I again got visits from the rat!! Well, it is a sentient being and perhaps we have to live in harmony!! I planted basil seeds in pots on my balcony and it is up in 3 days!
Weather is steadily getting hotter and I am sitting here in the internet place next door and sweat is dripping from my face! I got my hair cut about an inch around and it looks 'naked', but it feels good.

Hope this gets to you!
Take care and this will be continues!

Having a great learning experience in Phnom Penh!

Love to all,


Posted by golieda 02:00 Comments (0)

The going gets tough

Realities of some people's lives ( and mine) in Phnom Penh.

Greetings all!

Another week of mainly work related activities and not many adventures as one would define them. This week two visiting professors from the UW and I visited three development/social work agencies and got a glimpse of their work. I will shortly describe these, as to get an idea what approaches are taken by different organizations to alleviate suffering of the poorest of the poor, may they be women, people with disabilities, or destitute and HIV/AIDS affected individuals and families. Government aid is not present and poor people have to fend for themselves, they live on the streets, if somewhat more lucky in horrible living quarters and are often sick, underfed and visibley hopeless, while many do try to sell or make something!!

The first group gave us hope. It is a group called WORTH, a program of PACT Cambodia. PACT works in 8 countries "building capacity world wide" . The WORTH program is one of their programs here, it is a Women's Empowerment Program, and builds poor women's capacities. The group is trained -through an appreciative inquiry planning process, which reinforces success,- and elects their own officers. The model was taken from PACT Nepal, where it is wildly successful ! Literacy training is offered. (Women's literacy rate is lower than that of men. In the year 2000 women's illiteracy rate was 45% as compared to 25% among men). They also form savings/loan groups, where women save money, create literally a box, from which they loan money to each other. It is all women run, the box has three boxes with different keys and not one woman can open the box by herself. There have to be 4 women, with different keys present! (prevents corruption, like rampant by the big guys here!). Women can not loan more than 3x their savings. Some women move on to the village level politics and learn to advocate for themselves and/or speak out about injustice. They gain a voice! Very inspiring and I am certainly planning to go back and learn more about this. Our social work program is working to place students for their service learning and field placements in this organization. Would be so great!!

Then we visited an organization Watthan Artisans Cambodia (WAC), an organization initially set up by the Maryknoll in 1991 as a Training Center for Landmine and polio disabled people in Phnom Penh. Since 2004 it is now running as an independent worker-run cooperative of Cambodian artisans with disabilities. One of our faculty members, Nika, works here. The goal is to improve livings standards of people with disabilities through training. Training is still the core, but upon finishing the training, fair wages are paid. Now they also train blind people and people with developmental disabilities. Also very inspiring, naturally a drop in the bucket for this population, but it gives hope to those who are involved! They run a great gift shop with silk, scarves, purses and handbags,clothing, and wood carvings and much more. It is heart warming to see the people who get to work there and the products they make. High quality, high intricacy of weavings and wood work, and very affordable. You might see some of them upon my return!!

The next organization we visited was Enfants Developpement, a social work organization that promotes family self-sufficiency, awareness of resources and referral to resources. They work with 'social workers' (often psychology students) and fieldworkers/paraprofessionals. They also call what they do capacity building as a development approach, help families to identify their strengths, help them develop strategies for change, but they do not give resources, that is up to other agencies. Average time with families is 6 months of home visiting, the families are identified through outreach. They also offer classes for families, to work on parent child-relationships, but in practice the parents sent their children according to the educator. We observed such a class, in a very very poor neighborhood, houses and shacks build along side a canal, with open sewers, just dragged, and the children walking and playing around! Again lots of garbage around, skinny dogs and cats, chickens and sure rats! A very enthusiastic young Khmer men worked with a group of about 10 children and 2 mothers. He did "head-shoulders-knees and toes" with them, and they performed happily for us. One girl, dirty and maybe sick, immediate clung to us, holding our legs and sitting close. I think she also was developmentally delayed and looked sad and alone. The leader tried to sing "twinkle, twinkle little star", but forgot the song somewhat and asked Mara, the Australian volunteer (experienced social worker) and field advisor in our program and me, to sing the song, which we did. It was fun. Then we all got separated and left each with a social worker to do home visits. Here is where I got really affected by the living conditions, First visit: one concrete room, probably as big as Anneke's bedroom in our house, it had a bed and some cooking stuff on the floor, I did not see a tap for water or anything. It housed a widow and her three children -21-17 and 13. The 21 year old just had a baby 4 days ago. The mother smiled and looked happy on the bed, the baby was on the floor, on a new little pillow with a pile of rags around her. Darling tiny little baby! The rent was $50 a month. I wonder how they all slept, some in the bed, some on the floor I am sure. All was well with everyone, and we only stayed for five minutes. Then I went with a social worker, on her motobike to another visit, parked the bike, walked through rubble through an alleyway, another smaller alleyway and got to another tiny room, on a little tiny concrete and dirt courtyard where some men were working on a bike. An 18 yr old mother with a nine month old baby was home alone, a gorgeous looking young women, HIV/AIDS infected, but not the baby. The social worker talked with her for a long time and her face lifted up some. Very good interactional skills and eye contact and the conversation seemed to flow with the mother doing most of the talking. I of course could not understand a word, but could therefore observe even better. Very skilled interviewer and she sounded very supportive. The conversation lasted over 20 minutes. We left and the social worker pulled out a genogram and showed me the whole family situation in a picture, mother married a 33 year old men, (also HIV/AIDS) who had already three wives, and now she found out he has a fourth one. Her mother is "crazy in the head" from years of abuse, which made this client run away. Husband does not give much support and food, and the time for the baby to get milk from an organization ran out. She wants a job but has no one to take care of the baby! I asked the social worker whether they would give food, she said no. Sounded very sad to me. I only could see hopelessness in the woman's face, only 18 and no future!! At least she had a listening ear and some genuine support and care from another human being, but hope?
The whole situation reminded me about the friendly visitors in the US around the turn of the last century, or the conditions of poor immigrant women in Chicago, where Jane Addams was confronted with. I have often thought lately that we need a Jane Addams here, someone who would become the champion garbage collector, cleaning up the disease causing culprits on the streets!! (Jane Addams only paid job in her life was when she became the garbage inspector of one of the wards in Chicago, where the garbage was as bad or worse than here in her times!!) Needless to say, that all of us who were exposed to this experience and the homevisits, where less than cheerful when we went and had our supper that night!

I also went to visit the organization called RISC (Returnee Integration Services Cambodia), where Cambodian deportees from the United States, (victims of the anti-immigration sentiments of Homeland Security) are helped with making a new beginning in Cambodia. (There are an estimated 200.000 ethnic Cambodians living in the US). These people, mainly men, were either born in refugee camps, or in Cambodia and left as kids with parents who fled the Khmer Rouge regime. There lives, as I know from my refugee work and doing research in Chicago, was struggling under hard conditions in the US. Many were raised by traumatized parents who often reconstituted families in refugee camps, victims of poor schooling in bad schools, and became trapped in lives of gangs, crimes and drugs. After they do longer or shorter prison times, because of criminal convictions, they are, upon their release, deported. Many of them have families, wives and children in the United States. They do not speak Khmer, have no relationship to this country, and might not know what happened to get their parents to become refugees, and might not have family here. For all practical purposes they are Americans, except that they never changed their green cards into citizenship status. To date about 260 of these men (and a couple of women) were deported, mainly out of Tacoma!
RISC was funded initially by USAID in 2005, but this funding ran out and now this organization is operating on a shoe string, offering immediate support when returnees are released by the immigration services in Cambodia, housing and support to perhaps 10 returnees, of which some are mentally ill. The men have nothing to do all day, and are waiting for their residence papers, wishing they could go somewhere else, but who knows where! There used to be a Khmer teacher, and other programs for integration. No more. The organization runs the risk of closing down in August because of lack of funding. Tracy, the professor from the UW, who started the Social Work program and single handedly raises the money to support that, is also the main support to the staff of this organization and tries to work with them in any way she can, not in the least to raise funds!! Our visit was to discuss case management with the two men who work with the returnees in this way and give support to their work. Great that there is at least something for these men, who are bewildered upon arrival and not in the least depressed. The alternative is unthinkable, but what is, is not even starting to give hope to condemned lives in a strange land, forever!!
The legal issues started in 1996, when new laws targeted hundred of thousands of illegal immigrants involved in the US criminal justice system, when appeals were removed, as well as hearings and reconsiderations, for faster deportations. Any foreign national in jail for a felony, or convicted of one, could be deported quickly. El Salvador knows about this as well, where criminal gangs, often reconstituted from LA, now terrorize the highways in the whole of Central America. They were/are deported by the plane loads back to El Salvador, where the criminal justice system is not equipped to deal with them, or reintegration is not happening.
Should this happen in Cambodia? Could Cantwell and Murray be talked to? It is a Washington issue, since most of these returnees are deported out of Tacoma. Any compassion left? After all, the US has blood on its hands, put Lon Nol into office..causing the Khmer Rouge to gain support..and bombing this country as no other!! Any thoughts?? Needless to say, this experience did not put me in a great mood either!

Well, let's turn back to my life. I now, as of today, have a bike, for $35, with a bell, a basket, a lock and a stand. After getting pretty hot midday today, biking back from the bike store (30 minutes), Mara and I took a lunch, and upon returning my front tire was flat. Ok, to a street bike fixer, who got me a new tire and intertube, for $7.00. I got a cover over my basket, because some like to rip off bags from the baskets while you bike!! I feel free to go and come when I please, and will save about $40/week for tuktuks!
And finally, I also can report, that I too have rats in my apartment, as being evidenced by droppings in my bathroom, kitchen and living area when I return at night. O.k. that freaked me out as well, just like my neighbor downstairs who saw one this week in her apartment and came screeming out of her room!! I spent Friday with Ka, to get a bookshelf, and a reading light over my bed, and some more food that I cannot pick because of labels, and she talked me into getting some rat killing stuff. Not sure what it was I bought it. Unpacking the package, it is a folded piece of paper, with horrible, extra-strong darkbrown glue on it. You put some food on it (in my case cooked shrimp) and then it is hoped, the rat will come and get stuck on the glue!! I got "chided" by my friends when I talked to them about having done this, not even my defense that I didn't liked it either, helped. "How, as a vegetarian, Buddhist leaning person could you do this"? I offered the idea that the rats in Phnom Pehn probably are smarter than walking on these sheets of glue; by now they must know what is up! That defense did not help either. When I got home that night, I had to laugh. I found more droppings in my room and right next to the hoped for deadly device!! Phnom Penh rats are indeed smarter than to get tricked! I threw it all out today, and filled some potential rat holes with metal scouring pads. Might help!! My food, even ripe fruit is now out of sight and I just sweep the floor. What can you do?? It could be worse!!

If it does not get worse, I still have a pretty good time! Looking forward to more understandings and practicing accepting the present moment, as it is!!

Be well my friends, and let me hear from you!

Let me leave you with a quote from Helen Keller,

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing,
To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits
in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable"

I hold on to those thoughts!

Love, Golie

Posted by golieda 01:24 Comments (1)

Never a dull moment!

A day in the life of Golie in Phnom Penh.


Greetings to all!

Thanks for all the reactions to my second blog. I am glad that you think it is informative and that you enjoy the descriptions of life in Cambodia. I posted some pictures today, and viewed them myself. It is only a selection and does not represent all I see, both the beautiful and the not so pretty parts. If you put the cursor on pictures that seem incomplete, they will enlarge and be complete. I do not know how to fix that yet, but at least I managed to post pictures! Bit by bit I learn, now with the help of a Cambodian men in the internet store. He asks me a lot of questions as well: he wants to start a travel agency, and wants to know about how he can set up tours: would I like breakfast, lunch or dinner? Where would I want to go. I have to tell him: "It depends"...... Then he goes and comes back with another set of questions. Friendly man, just like almost everybody here.

My week here has been busy with trips to the University, including Saturday for a half day faculty meeting. The faculty reviewed their progress in the last half year, and discussed logistics in the office and communications! The former was quite impressive and informative for me, the latter sounded very familiar!! I presented on what my role could be (coaching/mentoring, technical assistance in course preparation, curriculum development, class room issues, responding to students' questions, work with committees, etc. whatever they would like to use me for. In the afternoon, a faculty member did a presentation for some faculty and students before she presents to a large audience of doctors and NGO workers in a trauma conference about the psychological consequences of childhood abuse (trauma) in children. I helped her with it some, and will help some more on Monday. I also did my first coaching session with one faculty member, and followed the Appreciative Coaching guidelines. Thanks to Theresa ( a real coach!) I got some good preparation and advice. More faculty members are interested and I hope that my support will be helpful. The program is new, the faculty is new, students are in their second year of their bachelor's program in social work, thus their is a lot of developmental work to do. Very exciting and the faculty team is working hard and conscientious in their coursework, committee work and teamwork. I am so glad that I have the opportunity to be part of this work for a while.

The trip to the University is about 30 minutes in a tuktuk, all through town on the road to the airport. A tuktuk is a means of transportation, a 4 person carriage, with a roof and even curtains for sun protection, drawn by a motorbike. (I will post a picture soon)! The driver will also come and pick me up, because some in that area would not know where I live. I will certainly buy a bike and try to be more independent! Back and forth with the tuktuk is $10.00! Some days I get a ride from a faculty member, which helps.

Thursday, January 7, was a national holiday to commemorate the Vietnamese take over of Phnom Penh and the defeat of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. It is controversial for some political groups and people, they do not call it liberation but invasion. The civil war raged on for 10 more years, and some like to celebrate Oct (24?), the date the Paris Peace accord was signed. I went to a movie evening, where three films were shown. One was filmed by a Yugoslav film team in 1978, with an interview of Pol Pot, ( a very kind and friendly looking man!!) and lot of footing of the forced labor camps with people, men, women and children working, young Khmer Rouge soldiers (15 year olds!) and deserted Phnom Penh. Probably 3 minutes of footing of a car ride with the film crew through complete empty streets, viewing empty houses, the only 'life' was that of flowers on trees and two doves flying away.
Only the Khmer administration lived in Phnom Penh and could be seen driving three cars to the airport. Very eery site, and the starkest contrast with what the city now looks like. The second film was about the daughter of a murdered rector of the University, who was a witness in the Extraordinary Chambers of the Court of Cambodia (ECCC), this is how the Tribunal is called here. She wants justice! The last film was an East German movie about the time after the Vietnamese entered the country. I saw only half of it. I had enough! What was reinforced in my thinking was the role the US played before the Khmer Rouge came to power, the CIA supported the Lon Nol coup and the bombings during the Vietnam war were truly outrageous, with daily reminders and consequences even now! U.S Senators were here and discussed debts, made during Lon Nol's reign!! and hope to propose in the US to cancel those debts in the benefit of development aid! Sounds only reasonable to me, and I was surprised that those debts were still on the book!

This week I have explored many eating places, a Khmer place "Boat noodle" where I ate Khmer food: green mango salad and amok fish over rice. Both are somewhat spicy, but just good for me. Friday, I ate with my neighbor Sara below and one of her friends John, who both work as volunteers in peace and conflict resolution groups. Very interesting work. I was very frustrated, and was glad to go out, because I wanted to book a trip to Kuala Lumpur and after hours of online search for the cheapest ticket, and trying to book, Asia Air would not take my phone number. I tried everything, deleting zero's, putting in my American number etc.etc. I did not work. Prices change everyday. I have to get out of the country to get a business visa when I get back, so that it can be extended for 3 months. I was told to get a tourist visa, when I arrived in December, but that does not get extended! Too bad. Luckily I had an invitation to visit from my Malay friend I met in Siem Reap, and she was excited that I am coming so soon! Other places I ate were more western, but good and also relatively cheap! I am finding my way around! I now also have evacuation insurance. Will be flown to Bangkok or Singapore for a medical emergency. Flights cost $25.000 for that purpose, so $420.00 is well spent in case I need it!!

This morning (Sunday) I woke up at 5.30 to go for a walk. Tracy and Suzanne (a faculty member from the UW in the school of Nursing, who is here to teach research) picked me up in front of my house. Still pitch dark. I walk on a "strip", also called a park, with sidewalks around a rectangular grass field, surrounded by roads, right by the Indepence Monument. It takes me about half an hour to walk 5 times around. It is already very busy at that time with walkers and runners, groups of people doing Tai Chi with a boom box and great kind of Chinese music, somewhat later other people join who play hackysack, or badminton, or just do stretching exercises. Many people just sit and watch, little kids ride their bikes and this scene goes on for a couple of hours. At six o'clock it is light and about half an hour later the sun rises. I walked to the river and saw that last bit of a rising sun before it disappeared behind a cloud. Reflections in the water, beautiful site! I passed many street people, many sleep in a kind of parking lot, also a strip between roads with temples on one side, and the river walk on the other. I gave $1 to a mother with 4 children, barely and poorly dressed, one was a tiny baby. Men who were just waking up wanted money too, but I had only 1 dollar and one much bigger ($20) bill . Made me feel bad, I should always have more 1 dollar bills.
Had my first omelet for breakfast and good coffee in the FCC, (Foreign Correspondence Club) where foreigners hang out on the third floor, balcony seats and club furniture. I had a view over the river and watched all the hustle and bustle of people walking, exercising and making a living of selling all kinds of food and trinkets. I was the first customer at 7.00 and was reminded of my early Sunday morning walks in Amsterdam, when I would stop in for coffee somewhere, also often the first customer.
I took a different (new) road back home, found a bakery to buy some whole wheat bread and was back at 8.00. Talked to Fred on the phone. Everything seems to fine at the home front! Cannot wait for Fred, Anneke and Vincent to see the world I live in.
I did my laundry, with cold water, on the bathroom floor in a plastic tub and bucket, squatting on the floor, like all the women do, who wash their clothes in rivers, on the street, or in their homes all over the world. How thankful we can be for washing machines in the western world!! I hang it out on a rack and hangers, like you see everywhere on the streets and balconies, with nifty hangers with clothes pegs already attached for socks and underwear. My landlord will wash my sheets and towels tomorrow, also on the floor of my bathroom with the same equipment! I thought he had a washing machine when I heard that he would do that! Anyway I am grateful for his help!
Now I have been in the internet store for about 2 hours, figuring out how to post pictures, answering email and writing this blog.
I will have some lunch: a mango, banana and a mandarin orange with yoghurt and granola, Later this afternoon I will go to the Lucky store, need more supplies and food for in my house. I have no plans for the rest of the day, and will cook tonight for myself, read and get ready for another early day. It is quite a walk to the store, and I will take a tuktuk, just to please the guys who want to give me rides on my block. I often disappoint them, because I just walk.

I am happy with my life here. A quiet Sunday is good to get back to myself. Being alone makes one more aware of many things, and it seems that life is more precious and has to be decided on, from moment to moment!! I am planning to check out meditation sessions in the Wat Lanka, close to me, and also get a Khmer tutor, so I at least can say some phrases! Even yoga is very close and I might check that out as well1

Be well, all my good friends,

Love, Golie

(Ps. Writing an email rather than respond on the blog, makes it easier to respond for me. Email address: golieda@gmail.com!)

Posted by golieda 22:19 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

A great trip!

Travels in contrasts.


New Years Eve 2009, January 2, 2010


Thanks to all who commented on my blog and who are waiting for the next installment! Here it is.

What a two weeks it has been! I have seen a lot and have experienced many feelings and thoughts about how many people live, often under conditions most of us would find extremely difficult. Many impressions were almost painful at first, such a contrast with how most of us take simple things like an income, clean water and a comfortable shelter, garbage pick up etc. for granted! Now I seem to have gotten somewhat used to the street views and people. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in South East Asia and a great deal of the population lives on less than 1 $/a day. The economic crisis has put 450.000 people, mostly women out of work in the garment industries alone, and this of course has a snowball effect on the rest of the economy. Especially in the cities, there are also wealthy people and the rich sure can entertain themselves, shop in fashion, and live luxurious lives.
I have also seen amazing beauty, the mighty rivers, enhancing the lives of many in river cities; the rice fields with scattered palms,(although few fields are of a fresh green this season), beautiful and intricate patterned silk weavings produced under houses on household looms, charming children, colorful markets with bounties of delicious fruits and vegetables and everything someone will want, beautiful temples with old paintings and sculptures, scenes of life of resilient people, and now in Siem Reap the incredible cultural heritage of the Angkor Wat kingdoms from the 8th -13th centuries, where ancient kings -considered god-like- created the most incredible beauty by building temples to honor the Hindu gods: Shiva, Vishnu and numerous other deities, as well as the Buddha and Avalokiteshvara, the god of compassion and mercy. I am staying in Siem Reap now, in a local hotel where I am lodging for $12/night. I will try to let you in on some of my experiences. I am full of gratitude for the opportunities given to me.

I arrived in Phnom Penh with my friend Trudi, whom I met in Seoul, only two weeks ago. We were welcomed in the airport by the Cambodian friends of Trudi who we stayed with: Samorn, Ka and Davi, their 13 year old daughter. Other family members were there too! Warm reunion with Trudi who has been here 5x before. Samorn is a friend of 20 years with whom Trudi worked in Chicago in Refugee work. I met him there once. He now works as a translator for the UN at the Tribunal to try the leaders of the Pol Pot period atrocities. (more about that later).
At their house I had the first experience with home cooked food, delicious soups with fish, (chicken/meat) many different greens, with a variety of tastes, such as curry, coriander, cardamon, ginger, lots of garlic, onions, lemon grass, coconut milk, lime leafs, sprouts, and other spices we do not know, added in different combinations to make distinct different and delicious soups. Often fried fish on the side and great salads from green mangoes, tomatoes, garlic and onion. (We did not eat many of those on the road, since we were not clear about the water in which these veggies were washed, too bad!) Soy sauce and fish oil are basic ingredients. Always rice, lots of rice! I will take some cooking lessons and can't wait to cook these soups with great subtleties! And then, always the fruit, delicious pineapples, papaya's, jackfruit, enormous grapefruits and juicy mandarin oranges, little sweet finger banana's. My kind of food! Also many fruits are eaten which we don't know, hidden in rough, some with spikes, colorful, outsides, some nutlike outsides, but many are quite tasty. Samorn and Ka took good care of us, and helped me with getting to my new apartment, get a phone etc. All great convenient help!

Then we traveled in a van, accompanied by always other relatives, and first spend a weekend in Takmao, a rivertown, with a great boulevard and grass strip, where people come to exercise, stroll or sit with their lovers to see the river stream by. Spent time with Samorn's mother and walked around the town, through the backroads and really saw rural life. We slept upstairs under musquito nets and enjoyed the breeze, coming through the open windows. We were waken up by dog fights, monks starting to say prayers over the loudspeaker at 5.00 a.m and the sounds of motobikes of people going to work the early shift in the factory. Always much sounds around! We visited a small community in Takeo province, and had a great walk through beautiful ricefields. Trying to cross a backyard, we startled a cow, who fought itself to freedom and disappeared. It got us scared too! We never found out its fate, but the loose cow was on our minds for days!

Then we took a long trip to Ratanakiri province, to visit Banlung 585 km (abot 360 miles) away, close to the Vietnamese border in the NE of Cambodia. Mostly on paved two lane roads, but the last 75 miles on a trecherous bumpy dirt road, red soil, which took us at least 3 hours, over many bridges and detours or around bridges under construction. Hat off to the driver who drove this in the dark! The scenery changed a lot, outside Phnom Penh rice fields, or the stubbles of harvested rice, well fed buffaloes and cows, villages with many brick houses and well built wooden houses on stilts, storefronts and relative good looking people. The further north the poorer it gets and the huts are now often thatched roofs and siding, with mainly forest and undefined fields along the highway. Poorly dressed people, skinny to very skinny farm animals and dogs, lots of children in various appearances of dress and undress. Not many clay water containers as everywhere else, not many cars or fancy motorbikes, although most of those are means of transportation. Everything goes on the back of motor bikes. Sometimes up to four people, including babies, mattrasses, enormous numbers of sacks/straw, cans of oils/gas, and I even saw a motor bike with a platform with three dead, nicely pink, upside down pigs. Legs in the air, and covered with branches of green leaves. Quite a site! Many people ride old bikes, and the school children in white and dark blue uniforms all ride bikes to school! Many of them. I read somewhere that 46% of the population is under the age of 14!
This province is also subject to much deforestation in the benefit of rubber plantations and cashew nut production. Many stories in the newspaper about land grabbing and kicking poor farmers of their ancestral lands to benefit Chinese industry or other foreign investers. Lives are hard! Hardest of all was to see how local families in the Ratanakiri Province dig for gems, by digging a whole of about 1,5 ft by 1.5 ft, about 40 feet deep, one person in the whole digs earth in the dark and sends it up in a bucket that is trollied by a rope up and down by a person next to the whole. The bucket with dirt gets dropped in a big sand (red) pile, and then the people above dig with their hands through the dirt to find a morsel, or a real piece of gem. Incredible hard lives and dangerous. Their luck is when they sell a piece to a middle person who stops by at the digs, and we saw one person selling a rough gem for $25.00. Guess what the end price will be after polishing the gem!
We also visited local ethnic villages, where women weave for a living, and an incredibly impoverished Jarai village, an ethnic minority, where the women smoke tabacco and produce beautiful baskets that they carry on their backs to harvest and to go to the market with. The men were forging iron from bombs into steel blades for tools and knives.

The poverty in the rural areas in this province was painfully visible and the scenes reminded me of Papua New Guinea in 1975.
We stayed in fairly nice local hotels, mostly with flush toilets and hot water and some in great sites, on a lake, with beautiful sights and gardens, others in river towns, like We visited relatives of relatives and were welcomed with many meals and hospitality. Our relative-guide, who lives in the area and who makes a living on a farm with sugarcane and other crops, an older educated gentleman, who spoke fluent French and survived the Pol Pot era, hosted us in his house and his other sons houses. One son farms his land, one son makes heavy wood furniture behind his house and one son, has a shop/eating stand across the High school in town. They all make a living.

We saw great waterfalls and walked along millions of year old vulcanic lake Yeah Lom, with beautiful varieties of bamboo on its shores and other great trees. A welcome nature walk! On the way back we stopped in a rivertown, Kompong Cham, where Samorn and a volleyball buddy of his, who travelled with us, joined a local 2 on 2 volleyball game! They won and lost a game, under the watchful eyes of many locals. Volleyball is very popular here and we saw many people playing in many communities.

The last visit we made was to a floating Vietnamese fishing village, close to Kampong Luong, on lake Tonle Sap, about 4 hours drive North of Phnom Penh. This was another fascinating experience, taking a boat ride with a local 'company' through the waterways of the 'village' where all life happens on and in boats. Women having a canoe full of vegetables, selling 'door to door', and other merchants populate the waterways. Plenty of phone shops on the water! We had lunch on a floating restaurant and negotiated toilets, either in the outdoors in the mud, before going in the boats, or "indoors" (two planks to stand on) over the water! This trip was not for those who seek comfort!

Siem Reap is a comfortable city. Many foreigners, hotels and dining places, and I have walked by myself everywhere, meeting all kinds of people and discovering places to eat and see. The first two days I joined the group from the UW and we visited many temples, started with Tha Prohm, a Buddhist Temple, build in 1186, for the mother of the Jayavarman VII, the King who was a Buddhist. This is the temple where silk cotton trees and 'strangler figs' have overgrown the ruins with vast roots. This is also the temple where Angelina Jolie filmed 'Tomb Raider'. I have never seen it, but all the students knew about it. Beautiful carvings of many apsara's, (heavenly nymphs).
The biggest, most impressive temple is Angkor Wat, built to honor Vishnu. Angkar Wat is famous for all its apsara's, all of them unique and one can count more than 30 different hairstyles on these nymphs. One can also see many other characters, like asura's, devils, devas, 'good gods' and many more symbols and signs. Around the outside of the temple are epic Hindu events depicted in stone carvings on large panels from the 12th century: Heaven and Hell, depicting rewards and punishments in 37 heavens and 32 hells!! Another impressive depiction is the Churning of the Ocean of Milk with Vishnu. Lakshmi, goddess of beauty, figuring prominently. All incredible carvings. The inner temple is Buddhist and houses large Buddha's, many damaged. The construction of Angkor Wat involved 300.000 workers and 6000 elephants and took years to complete. I was impressive to see all this work and beauty.
One of the most beautiful Temples I saw so far, was the much smaller, but very rich temple, called Bantey Srei, dedicated to Shiva. It is cut from pinkish stone and has the most intricate carvings and statutes. It dates from 967, and includes epic Hindu stories. We were there just when the sun was fully up and the colors were breathtaking! Outside the temple we watched a group of landmine survivors, many blind and missing limbs, playing in an 'orchestra'. Beautiful music and I should have bought a cd, but offered money as all did.

The days here on my own were wonderful. One day I strolled through town, bought an adapter, wanted to buy a phone card and asked in a phone shop. A lady looked at my phone and said she did not have that particular provider. Summoned someone, asked me how much I wanted to put in my phone, I gave her $10, and the guy with the money disappeared on his moto. I got set down, got a candy and waited. Nobody spoke English. After a while he returned, scratched the number of the card, called on my phone and showed me that $10 more dollars were on the phone. The kindness of strangers!!

I also had some Buddhist instruction and how to worship. Walked by a temple where many people entered with bunches of lotus flowers and banana's etc. for offerings. Many police men around. I watched the scene for a while and asked two young women who came out what was going on. They told me that an important person was making an offering, and I should do the same. I was reluctant, the only white person there. They offered to go with me, and so I took off my shoes, burned incense, bowed to the Buddha, said my prayer of thanks and gratitude, put the incense in a large bowl with sand. Then we returned, because we could/should touch the hand of the gold Buddha and make another offering. By then a Cambodian men wanted to take pictures, and so took one with me touching the hand of the Buddha like everyone else. The rest of the day I spent with these two women, Shirley from Malaysia, KL, and Dewi from Jakarta, Indonesia. They went to the Museum with me, where my instructions continued. The museum has a room with Thousand Buddha's, but before entering, one can pray. They again did the incense ritual, and picked up a large round container with sticks, and two big red wooden blocks. The blocks have to be thrown, one has to land upside down, and one downside up. If they fall differently, you have to do it again. Then you hold the container with the sticks to your forehead in a bowing position, make a prayer with a wish, and shake the container at a 45 degree angle, until one stick drops. The stick has a number, and on the wall are the papers with the number and a particular advice. When I followed this ritual, I threw the number 2, and was advised to be patient in my future dealings of work, compromise and negotiate! For the rest I would have a lot of luck!! Theirs was one of caution for their future! Then we entered the room of the thousand Buddha's, undescribable! Golden, wooden, sandstone, other stones, copper etc Buddha's, with great equinimity and smiles, all great reminders of the Buddha as a great example of how we can live peaceful lives. The rest of the museum is a big explanation of the Hindu and Buddhist histories, depicted in all the Temples. It is a must to go there, preferably before visiting the Temples. We took a lunch break in between and I learned a lot about how in households children get a Buddhist education. I parted with my new friends, after having received invitations to sure come and visit them!

I spent New Year's eve with Karen, a Canadian woman from Edmonton, Canada, we ate in the light of the full moon in a Thai Restaurant and had an enjoyable evening.

New Year's day was quiet, I walked through an other area of town, went to the market, had lunch wit Tracy, faculty from the UW in a great organic Khmer vegetarian restaurant, and were invited to buy books, postcards, bracelets, etc from children, and adults alike who need to make a living, by begging or selling, rather aggressively items for a living. Kim, one big smiling boy, managed to sell me a book, he is an amputee and gets around on crutches, quite proficient in English with lots of wit! Sad mothers begging, with sick and deformed children, get money too and it is a very prevalent street scene. How much to give and to whom is the question. In a country with few social services and support it is one way to survive, so I give, intermittently and have pangs of so much suffering and injustice in my heart. Sometimes I am moved to tears.
Then, I got a foot massage. Wonderful and relaxing after trodding aournd for days. Walking back I entered a beautiful temple, Wat Preah Prohm Rath, where one young monk and three women were reciting monotonous prayers. I have come to like listening to these. I walked around the temple, admiring the beautifully painted panels with the life story of the Buddha, when the monk started to teach walking meditation. When I watched them, one of the keepers, a student who spoke English, summoned me to join them, so before long, myself, one other Cambodian men and another woman joined in. The monk started to give instructions in English and told us the purpose of walking meditation, to keep our wandering and chaotic mind in check and calm. We walked slowly and quietly together, back and forth in front of two golden Buddha's, and indeed it gave a sense of serenity and peace. It brought me back to the woods behind my mother's house where I used to take breaks and did walking meditation. All this touched my soul deeply. The monk, venerable Maha Sangwian, and I talked for a long time afterward. He studied in Pali in a Thai monastery, and will soon join the new Buddhist University here is Siem Reap. He gave me his telephone number, to contact him when I will be back. We discussed why Cambodians by and large do not seek revenge for the Pol Pot killers. Forgiveness is not a concept in Buddhism, he told me, people believe that people "who do the bad things" will suffer the consequences in their lifetime or next lives, the law of Karma. By punishing others, or do harm to them, will bring bad karma to them!

These are some of my impressions and experiences. I am not bored!
I tried to include pictures, but some reason am not able to download. Next time!

Tomorrow I will return to Phnom Penh and start my working life!!

Love to all, Golie

Posted by golieda 16:55 Archived in Cambodia Comments (5)


Getting ready to go!

overcast 32 °F

Today is the beginning of hopefully a great adventure in my life and also with this blog. I have never done this before and still have to learn a lot to make it fun and meaningful for all who want to share and know about my work and adventures in Cambodia.

Since January of 2009 I knew that my professional leave application was approved! It is quite exciting to get a year to renew and redirect one's career, while getting part of my regular salary! The academic year 2009/2010 is my sabbatical year. In the fall I was supposed to finish an article for publication, and the Winter and Spring quarters I will spend in Cambodia, working at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, mentoring and coaching a newly Cambodian faculty, who all received their MSW's from the University of Washington, and now teach at the one year old School of Social Work.

This fall quarter I did make a start with writing an article on 'Dignity: Core value in social work and human rights', which I hoped to have finished, but I discovered that the concept is very contested and it is much more complicated to write about then I thought. I came a long way studying the topic and making notes, but the more I thought I understood it, the more questions were raised. I will continue to work on it, and if anyone has good sources or points of view, let me know.

In the beginning of November, I realized that it is work to get ready to go on a trip! All who have done this before know! One has to make choices about which immunizations to get, consult with travel nurses and doctors about malaria prevention, choose/ buy summer clothes that are appropriate both to the culture and the climate, sublet an apartment in Phnom Penh, study and consult about how to be a helpful mentor and coach, put all my teaching documents on thumb drives, get a new computer and camera, learn how to use all that new equipment, including learning to blog etc!

Of course then there are social events, visits and coffee/tea/wine with friends to start saying my good-bye's.
It is hard to believe that I will be leaving in 6 days!


This photo is the winter view from our new cabin, Chateau Blue Duck, with co-owners Sheila, John and Janet.


This was taken at Starvation Lake in WA, outside of Colville, when Andy, Anneke and Vincent were home for Thanksgiving.

Posted by golieda 14:19 Comments (12)

(Entries 6 - 10 of 10) « Page 1 [2]