Cambodia, Personal

September 24, 2012.

If I had a dime for every time someone has told me I’m difficult to read, I would be independently wealthy.
Pulling from my previous post regarding emotional walls, that would be easy to gather.

Tonight is not one of those nights.

If we were in the same room you would feel the currents of profound indignation and righteous anger emanating from me, see the tears pooling into my clavicle. I AM LIVID. Never have I so savagely (and pathetically) destroyed an egg sandwich and this lightning and thunder enveloping the city is only fitting for this battle between sadness and rage.

As young adults (not so young in my father’s case) my parents hosted and helped to resettle a group of Cambodian refugees in Seattle, Washington as part of their ministry work. From this group of refugees, one Cambodian girl and one American boy happened to fall in love and begin a life together.
Thirty or so years later, the American man died here in Cambodia due to asphyxiation through drowning.

The natural sadness of death and shock of loss came and my mother, being nurturing, hardy and strong went to be with the family of the deceased. As a widow herself she was well equipped to step into this role; she questioned and consoled and listened and…listened. And through this listening, details came to light and the whole situation felt seamy, to say the least.

The circumstances of the death led several to question what in the world this man was doing spending the afternoon swimming in a pond with Khmer boys.  Which then led to a deepening conviction that more information and an full investigation was needed. This is a person who had been placed in a ministry setting to guide and protect youth of all ages.  It was discovered that the organization that placed this man for his role has a history of bad decisions: two individuals under their watch actually participated in a sex trafficking ring from their post, fled the country, and were never pursued. Injustice barely touches the realm of these situations. For the sake of personal protection and to stay above legal reproof, I will end the story here.

But God, I hope the story doesn’t really end there. I so hope that should it be found that crimes of any nature were committed, anyone and everyone involved in this are brought to their knees and cast hard from their positions.
If these are the individuals placed in positions to protect and save, then who is safe? Where is shelter?

Who will be held accountable?

These questions cannot be answered unless crimes like these are brought to the surface and faced head on. Until then, I will have to rest with the thought that this man has found his way to the place where all justice is served perfectly..

Cambodia, Personal, Phnom Penh, Travel, United States

Week Two

The hours are fleeting.

I have miraculously managed to make it into my second week here in Phnom Penh, and I would say successfully so.

Five days after my arrival and the day we came home from Mondolkiri, my mom and I viewed a house 100 meters from the apartment she lived in, signed the broken English lease and moved in. We each have our own bedrooms and bathrooms, a dining room for spaghetti, a living room crafted for discussion, and a patio with a tree full of bats perfectly in view.

Settling is something I generally take great pleasure in; picking out high thread count sheets to eat potato chips on and roll about, stocking the fridge full of cheap champagne and American cheese, finding places to hide my favorite dog-eared books and display disgusting amounts of taxidermy. I take pleasure in the errands, luxuriant naps when I get tired of hanging things, and frequent trips to IKEA (for vases but more so for meatballs). This move, however, has proven to be a very different creature.

Now, the feeling of a home comes in the form of the familiarity of an electrical socket, a can of pizza flavored Pringles, my softest vintage tee that I like to think I only know the feel of, and possibly falsely, the feeling of security one feels in the form of walls.

Since living here, the mention of precaution and safety has made it’s way into conversation countless times. Cambodia is a place where purse snatching, moto theft, and break-ins are remarked upon and/or experienced more than sports games. I’ve slept with a night guard outside my home for the first time in my life and more padlocks adorn the house than I have the patience to count. We reside in a “safe” neighborhood from what everyone tells me and the most noise I’ve heard past seven at night are the fat, healthy cats in heat that traipse along our razor blade fenced wall; I have not yet felt truly, physically, unsafe. On a night out, I still check that my baby can of Mace is on the outside of my purse or if I’m running out the door after dusk for a quick snack I’ll squirrel away my trusty Smith and Wesson pocket knife or slip on a double knuckled pyramid ring, but only because old habits die hard.

The fear that rests on my shoulders more than having my throat slit on a sleazy side street in Southeast Asia is a bit trickier. I wrestle nightly with having left my closest friends back home and the deafening silence between each iMessage being sent and received from Mills or Nikki or Moko or any other individual I adore. And with a fourteen hour time difference a deeper appreciation for my fellow insomniac friends has also increased. This is not to say I wish I were living back home because I truly, honestly don’t miss the United States (yet?). I simply, selfishly, would appreciate everyone I love to be here to do stupid things like take trips to the grocery, lazily kick over mosquito coils and drink martinis on a balmy patio.

It is completely disorienting, mentally, emotionally and even physically, to relocate to a place where you have no real social connections or friends who have seen you past braces (metaphorically, these canines came naturally) and training bras (again metaphorically, I never actually made it out of the training stage). With this, the internal walls I had built around the broken, secret and vulnerable parts of myself were abruptly forced to come down as soon as I stepped onto foreign ground. I would think it would be the opposite, that those psychotic screens and guards would fly up into place as soon as I set down in a strange environment but I was thrown head first into such a fury of complicated relationships between man and country that I simply did not have the time to tread carefully.

Now I face the decision of how high I want to rebuild those walls, and when I do, where to leave the gaps so once in a while someone may get a glimpse into the deepest and strangest parts. Possibly even leave a crack thin enough to fully break through.

Then I get a creeping suspicion that I just may be severely mistaken and incredibly stupid to think that I am the architect of these things.

I’d like to think that’s the case.

Cambodia, Personal, Phnom Penh, Travel

Week One

It has now been exactly one week since I have physically been in the country of Cambodia.

I feel slightly pathetic for not having taken the time to compose an entry until now and it’s a personal shame as I’m sure I’ve lost key details that would so interest a reader from abroad (or even near in proximity) through a glorious haze of sleeping pills, indulgent foods, a riotous assortment of human beings-some in particular proving to be intricate and special, and every rogue insect in between.

I’ve read through various blogs, pings, tweets, notes, forums, and the like that emotional pain last only 12 minutes and that anything further has been self inflicted. This theory (entirely unproven by scientific fact) has in many cases been tested wrong after crying jags lasting 6 months or longer but not proven actually correct personally until my departure from Washington. I chose to allow myself to mourn the loss of a domestic and wonderful life in Tacoma with the comfort of friends, cats, and loved ones for a week or so before my leaving knowing that it would ease my emotions as the actual date of my leaving came. I don’t regret that one bit. I spent full, rich times with co-workers turned best friends and best friends turned family that will nourish me for months to come and I hope that my gratefulness for this crosses oceans.

It came down to this: I had the choice of spending the entirety of the 21 hour flight to Cambodia wetted with tears and to check my melancholia along with two fifty pound suitcases or shedding my fears and sadness of detachment along with my zippered boots at security. I chose the latter.

The goodbyes were ritual, sticky and necessary, and on several occasions was told that “I hope you find what you’re searching for”, but nothing proved to render me incapable of placing one foot in front of the other until I arrived at Gate S11. The heaviest thing on my shoulders was the gigantic Poler Duffalafugus that I so smartly purchased before leaving.

A whirlwind is what best describes what I arrived to when my plane touched down in The Charming City, Phnom Penh. Five hours after landing, I boarded a chartered bus along with twenty four other people for a retreat as the staff of Beyond Interiors to the Mondolkiri Province, roughly eight hours from the capital.

To attempt to accurately recreate the experience everyone shared in Mondolkiri would be an insult to one’s senses, but I’ll go ahead and butcher it anyway. Our first day we visited our first waterfall, although lovely in it’s own murky, slippery way it left some to be desired after witnessing some of the most fantastic during a recent Summer trip to The Rolling Huts in Eastern Washington (“WATERFALL BITCHES!”-J.M.) I got the first taste of the unrivaled passion that Cambodians (Asians?) have for taking pictures, posing for pictures, and taking pictures of people taking pictures of people posing for pictures and realized that in fact, the peace sign is still avidly used in photos around the world. I did also receive a suitor of the leech variety and unknowingly brought the slimy character onto the bus all while being fed on. We were lucky enough to stay at a resort-ish place called “The Nature Lodge”, whose name fully describes the experience. The cabins were open enough to the elements that you really did feel as if you were sleeping under the stars and on the grass, but with a mosquito net dividing you from the elements. Families of long-lashed cows, velociraptor-like chickens, and roaming horses greeted our group as we ascended to the Lodge’s restaurant, perched unceremoniously in a gigantic tree and a symphony of cicadas and frogs rose up as the sun set.

Over the following 2 days, our group visited the much grander Bousra Waterfall further into the province, felt the velvety rough skin of rescued elephants at a reserve, and tried to understand a little better the effect that illegal lumber trafficking causes on the natural world and it’s inhabitants. Pot bellied jugs of rice wine were drunk through long stemmed straws, (unknowingly Freudian) teamwork building games were played, and a bond between humans and the outdoors was forged that can only happen in the deep wilderness and open arms.

So far, I’ve found myself feeling unexplainably ecstatic. During glittering, fleeting moments with legs slick with soft, warm rain while riding a tuk-tuk driving on the “wrong” side of the street or hearing a familiar and favorite song in an Andy Warhol inspired bar or looking up over a baguette and seeing your mother’s all knowing face or realizing that you recognize the street you were sure you could never find on your own or being woken up in the middle of the countryside by deafening lightning or getting drunk on Frangipani (aka Plumeria aka a species of flower) in a bathtub like breeze.

Someone wise told me I’m in the honeymoon phase of my travel. But if this is what I came searching for,

then why would I ever look back?