Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Off to Siem Reap, Cambodia - Angkor Wat!

2/19/09-2/21/09 - Thursday, Friday and Saturday

About 11 of us are off to Siem Reap while the others prepare to leave to go back home and a few to travel on. We visited a few temples in Siem Reap, of course Angkor Wat which was quite amazing. Each temple was beautiful and stunning in it's own way. One had trees intertwined with the temple, the next had 196 Buddha faces, and one after climbing to the top was the best place to watch the sunset. We went to dinner and a show one night where we watched the beautiful Cambodian dancers. I laughed when the Coconut Dance was performed knowing I didn't move as beautiful as each of them. My time in Siem Reap was too short but again I knew I would be back to share this with Ed. I left Saturday morning from Siem Reap to Luang Prabang, Laos. I sit and looked out the window waiting for the plane and felt a heaviness in my heart. Tears filled my eyes once again leaving a country, people and children I fell in love with. But happiness lifted me knowing I will return and I'm on my way to be with Ed.

National Museum, Dance Performance and The Best Ever Dance Party!

2/18/09 - Wednesday

Unbelievable to say this is the last day. This morning we began with a detox yoga practice consisting of lots of twists, heart openers and forward bends. We close in a circle each sharing the experience for the past 2 weeks. "I am thankful and blessed to be part of all of this. I take home with me a huge bag of awakenings and learnings both good and bad. I'm so grateful to Suzanne and Seane for sharing this magical time with all of us." The afternoon is free to pack and do whatever your heart desires. Karen and I go to the National Museum. It's very interesting with many different old pieces of art and sculptures. Early evening we all go to CCF6 where all the children from the various CCF are there. We gather there for a Dance Performance by many of the children. As the curtain opens and there is a huge banner "Thanking all of the SEVA Challenge Participants", with the CCF and the Off the Mat Into the World logos creatively done, I smile. I'm sitting with a few children as one child takes my camera and begins to snap away. I turn behind me and with such surprise and joy I see Srey Ny. I call her name the best way I could pronounce it. She looks at me, dressed in her beautiful outfit she received a few days ago, a twinkle in her eyes and a smile on her lips. I pick her up and place her on my lap as we watch the show together. It is so beautiful to watch each dance and how gracefully each child moves. The music is lovely and my heart is just singing. I watch Srey Ny as she is so attentive to the dance and children on stage. Her hands clap on mine and after every dance her hands join together clapping with excitement. At one point, I wonder if she and many of the children have ever experienced anything like this before - it saddens me and makes me wonder if children/people in the US or other parts of the world appreciate life as these children do. The amazing show ends and Srey Ny is off my lap to play with some friends. Scott offers a few grateful words to us and the PARTY begins. The music gets louder and the dancing starts. A few girls grab my hand and we dance the night away. Song after song we laugh, smile and move. These children have rythm. It's the best dance party I have ever been too. As my little dancers and myself move around the dance floor, we dance with so many different people, staff members and children. Covered in sweat, we all didn't stop. Scott singing away in Khmer with his body moving and happiness all over his face - I asked him if he knew what he was singing and he sure did. The music continued and our feet didn't stop moving. Before I knew it, it was the last song. But like every last song, there were a couple of last songs. It was time to say "Goodbye". Not sure how many hours it will take but I'll do my best. I hug the staff, and as many of the children I could possible wrap my arms around as I slowly make it towards the exit. I looked for Srey Ny but she was gone - a little pain beated in my heart, not being able to give here a huge hug goodbye. But knowing myself, tears would have flown out of my eyes to say goodbye to her. Even though in my heart I know I will be back there someday. The group of us slowly released those arms and hands tightly around us and one by one we made it onto the bus. Scott joins us for our last dinner together at a nice restaurant. At the end of the dinner, one more hug and goodbye to Scott, an amazing, amazing soul.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Another Day at the Village!

2/17/09 - Tuesday

We all go back the second day to the Village to help fertilize the rice paddies and herd the water buffaloes not sure what that all means. Definitely something I never did in Brooklyn or Rhode Island. The rice paddies were bought by Scott located not too far from the village itself. It's a big field, appearing to be broken up in patches of squares. The flip flops come off, I pick up a basket of fertilizer venture out to the fields. My foot hesitates in mid-air going into the unknown. What the hell, when will I ever experience anything like this again.? As my foot touches the wet soil in a couple of inches of water, I laugh feeling the dirt and water squish between my toes. I begin to fling the "shit" around as I was showed - laughing. I surprise myself constantly with the things I do. It wasn't just a one time experience, I constantly went back and forth filling up my basket with fertilizer and heading out into the field. Thankfully even though it was hot, the sky was covered with clouds creating shade well needed to work in the fields. This work continued until all the sections of the rice paddies were covered with "shit". It was a beautiful countryside as we walked the water buffaloes back to the village. The people walked along with us as a young boy "Mok" (definitely not sure of the spelling) and his Mom hold my hands. We smile, laugh and somehow communicate with each other. All of us arrive at the village and "all of us" - Seva Challenge Participants and the "Village People" pile onto the bus. I sit with my buddy, Mok and his mom. We are off the the Pagoda Temple. Beautiful and a monk generously offers a chant for us. Sweet music to my ears. The photo session starts after the chanting with smiles and laughs. These people are so warm and loving. We were standing outside the temple preparing to go back on the bus and one woman communicates to me that she likes my white shirt. A shirt I worn over my tank top to cover my shoulders in respect for the temple. I immediately took it off and give it to her. She smiles from ear to ear and says something I just can't understand. I look at her confused and she hooks my finger in hers and manages to say "sisters". Another magical moment and another heart warming experience. Goodbyes and hugs follow as I look each of them in their eyes never forgetting how they each touched my soul.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Village!

2/16/09 - Monday

The whole group is off to a village located about a 90 minute bus ride from Phnom Penh. It's truly a blessing to escape the city and drive through the beautiful countryside filled with fields of lotus flowers. The village was created by guess who - of course, Scott. There are 2 acres of land and housed about 10 families. Again these families as Scott puts it were "Good Families" from the garbage dump. For them, it's like hitting the lottery. There are beautiful homes, community and fresh air. What a blessing to be away from the city - hopefully to give my lungs a rest. I've had a hacking cough since I've been here from the smog and the toxic air. Scott never doing any of this before put stakes in the ground for a swimming pool - not realizing it "the world's largest swimming pool" is created. His hope is to have the children come from the CC and CCF to swim and camp out. The people again are so welcoming and we are there to help them plant vegetables. They graciously show us how to "hoe" the dirt and create rows where the seeds will be planted for some a very familiar activity for me being from Brooklyn - a whole new skill. We all begin, some hoeing, others pulling out weeds, while others smoothed out the dirt. It's extremely hot, with the sun scorching down on us. I feel light headed and dizzy and step into the shade. I laugh as I look at our crooked rows. The people are watching, talking and laughing. We were convinced they were laughing at our work but still very appreciative. We break for lunch and I walk around the village somehow communicating with the people. A smile is universal. After lunch, back out to the fields to plant seeds of bok choy, kale and parsnips. I would love to go back in a year and witness our planting. Would there be huge patches of bok choy while other spots have only 1 parsnip? (lol) We all head back to the hotel for a shower and dinner after a long, hot day in the fields. Unbelievably, a very special person comes to speak with us. It wasn't planned, she ended up being in Cambodia, recognized Sean Corn - they spoke and what more can I say then the Universe always provides when you are open to it. Loung Ung - the author of First They Killed My Father joins us. For those of you not aware of this book, I would strongly suggest a must read. It's her story of her and her families' struggle and survival throughout the Khmer Rouge. She is a wonderful, strong, loving person. It is such an honor to be in her presence. As she begins speaking my ears are wide open listening to every single word. She is funny, strong, sensitive, powerful in a very small, petite frame. I could tell it's the same young girl who ran from the Pol Pot Regime 30 years ago to survive. She shares about her love for her husband with his "juicy ass". (lol) And her love for her parents, siblings, and Cambodia pour out of her heart. She lives in Ohio but has visited Cambodia approximately 30 times since she escaped. Her visits include seeing a couple of siblings who never left Cambodia. But this time besides that she was here for the Tribunal - the trial for Duch, the math teacher turn leader of the S21 Prison. This is the very first trial for the Pol Pot Regime which happened from 1975-1979 - 34 years ago. It was a very special gift to have her share her life with us.

A Day Off!

2/15/09 - Sunday

It's wonderful to have a day off. Karen and I go to Seeing Hands Massage for massages given by blind people. An hour turned into 2 hours - full body massage and a foot massage for a total of $12.00 USD. The sense of their touch is unbelievable. The foot massage though painful at times felt wonderful upon completion. We strolled back to the hotel, a young man approached us and said he saw me yesterday at the river. I told him it wasn't me. He preceeded to tell me that many men were giving woman flowers. He turned around and picked a small bunch of flowers and handed them to me - Happy Valentine's Day. We hugged and he gently kissed me on my cheek. His friends laughed as though they were H.S. boys. I smiled and continued to the hotel. I took a dip in the pool, read and journaled before venturing out to dinner. We went to a restaurant where the food was good but spicy. The best thing about this restaurant were the workers who were rescued from the streets. Every night we gather together for Leadership Training and Processing. Tonight we spoke mainly how we could continue to help the children/people in Cambodia.

Happy Valentine's Day - Community Center

2/14/09 - Saturday

As we arrive at the CC, there is a long line of people waiting for a bag of rice. Scott continuously hands out rice vouchers to many families around the garbage dump. So my hands are needed to bag 10kg of rice. A few of us join a couple of the staff and begin to fill and weigh bags of rice. The line is long and the process is slow. Instead of signatures, they use finger prints, realizing these people don't know how to sign their name. I have no idea how long I'm in there sweating and bagging rice but all is good. These people are starving and I'm grateful I could help in some small way. The line dwindles and we come back outside. The children all have name tags today. Sure enough the little one from the first day sees me again and comes running over with a twinkle in her eyes. I reach down and scoop her up and once again our hearts and smiles connect. I say Ben Srey Ny doing my best to pronounce her name. Her sweet little voice corrects me on the pronunciation of Ben, Scott even gives it a try and Srey Ny (as I learned is her first name) attempts once again to teach us her last name, Ben as her voice gets stronger. Scott and I give it another shot - he smiles and says it's a sound us westerners never could say. Today is an extra special day because I find out Srey Ny doesn't have a sponsor and I decide to sponsor her. My heart is filled with a huge amount of joy and love. The sponsorship program is $100 a month. CCF will keep me updated monthly on her health and school until she is able to read and write. I then will communicate with her directly. I could come visit her at anytime. That sounds somewhat funny - Cambodia being halfway around the world but my love for SE Asia and Srey Ny will definitely bring me back here. A tiny, tiny portion the money we raised bought new outfits and shoes for each of the children at the CC. The distribution of these outfits was absolutely crazy but so well worth it. I helped a few children get dressed - many couldn't take their clothes off fast enough. The excitement and joy was truly a blessing to witness. The smiles they shared (amongst each other) as they checked each other out was priceless. I doubt if these children ever had new clothes before and many probably never wore shoes. A couple of children were waiting to be interviewed and watched with such sadness in their eyes. My heart broke but also filled with hope knowing if they are accepted into the CC their daily life can change. There was a huge pizza party. I'm not sure if the children ate being filled with such excitement over their new outfits. The afternoon ended with the children and staff singing to us. It were the best melodies I have ever heard. I had a couple of hours free before dinner and Leadership Training and took a dip in the pool to cool me off slightly from the hot and steamy weather here.

Monday, February 23, 2009

CCF 6, CC & Satellite School

2/13- Friday

My group heads to CCF6 . Again the facility is clean as the staff is so welcoming. The children are smiling and as I began to read with them - I'm amazed how well many of them read English. both boys and girls are so sweet and gentle. I notice how willingly each of them want to learn. Again, they love their picture taken, some children would take my camera and later in the day I get to enjoy many pictures. I assist the staff in dishing out the soup and again these deep brown eyes and the sweetest voices would look at me and say "Thank You" It's playtime again - FUN, FUN, FUN. The legos come out and I sit with a bunch of girls and help them build. I notice how well we communicate with each other not being able to speak the same language. Smiles, laughs, hugs and love are so universal. I hear the only words I hate to hear " It's time to go." In the evening, I'm fortunate enough to go back to the Community Center (CC) and the Satellite School. We begin to play with the children outside and once again the little girl who I met the very first day is there. She comes running over to me (our eyes and heart connect) and I sweep her into my arms. A few of us begin to play with a bunch of children under a big parachute. It doesn't take much for these children to have fun. Remember this is a safe place not far from the dump, toxic smell still in the air but a joyful place to get food, care and love. Much different living and working on /around the garbage dump. They create various games with no props. Slowly, Laurel and I understand the instructions. There is so much laughter! Off to the Satellite School which is located on the garbage dump. It's set up very simply - a big tarp serves as the roof, a simple board to write on and a bunch of chairs filled with attentive and eager to learn children. Take a moment, sit and realize what Scott has done, he even thought of educating the children still on the dump- The more I witness here, the more I admire this man. A young girl covered in filth came over to me while I joyfully watched these children learn. I reached down and gently lifted her in my arms. She looked directly into my eyes and we both smiled. Before I knew it she was fast asleep. I was so touched and saddened feeling a young child truly surrender and feel safe in a completely stranger's arm. The power of touch - more than words can express. What a magical moment!