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Because my field is  mathematics, some might believe that I am a fairly logical person. I believe this to be true as well and people generally describe me as a logical thinker.

Why then, do I find myself, on a beautiful July evening in Asheville, North Carolina, standing just one inch shy of what seems like the world’s largest hot bed of coals and why, oh why, am I seriously thinking about walking across it?

Bed of coals

 

Let’s back up a little and review a past event. Just 2 short years ago, not quite to the day, I learned a lesson about fire that I thought I already knew. Never, ever, ever…(did I say never, ever ever?)….try to start a fire with gasoline. I wrote about that post on this blog: The Zen of Fire . Since that time, my relationship with fire has been guarded and hesitant at best with avoidance being my primary strategy. I figure, if I don’t mess with it in any form, then I will not get burned.

Well, not messing with fire ever again isn’t very reasonable. I mean, everyone has to at least strike a match now and then and I am no exception. But walking across a bed of hot coals goes WAY beyond even crazy definitions of reasonable.

So what am I doing standing so close to a hot bed of coals, next in line for walking across???

This summer of 2014 has been one of real transition for me in many ways. I am approaching 50, a hallmark age in any woman’s life, and going through some other challenging life changes and events. So, instead of doing my usual, “summer in Idaho” thing, I decided to spend the summer driving across country and visiting friends and family. One of those visits and lengthy, wonderful stops has been in Black Mountain, NC with my mom and stepdad, Charlie.

This past Sunday, I went to church with Charlie and listened to an announcement about a Firewalking workshop. My interest became piqued as I thought about attending and before you know it I was all signed up and sitting (the next day) in a hall full of potential firewalkers. I say, “potential” because one of the things made clear to us in the workshop was that walking would be entirely optional and actually not really encouraged. I mean, it was FIRE after all and fire is HOT you know.

So, there I was, in a room full of 100 anxious folks waiting to see what the night would bring. After a welcome by Dr. John Waterhouse, our host and one of the church ministers, we exited the room and headed to the fire-building area. Once there, we each took a log from a nearby truck and placed it into the fire area in a very precise manner. The goal was to build the fire so it would generate a long and narrow bed of coals. Once all the logs were in place, we sang a song of community and the assigned match-holders lit the fire (I did not volunteer for this role).

Start of Fire

The fire needed time to burn and assemble itself properly so the crowd headed back into the social hall to spend a few hours discussing the different types of fear (in preparation for the upcoming walk). I won’t go into all the details of the workshop portion but there were some interesting nuggets that I wrote down and thought important enough to remember:

  • Fear is connected only to things that could happen in the future. We are not afraid of things that have already happened (unless we think they might happen again). But fear is a future state.
  • When we are in a state of fear, we cannot think and often cannot move (if our fear is extreme).
  • Fear is a state that is created by our mind and very often, in fact most of the time, what actually happens is much less worse than what we imagined or thought about.

Once the discussion was over and the fire was ready (and the waivers and consent forms signed), we went back out into the night and surrounded the fire. By this time, the logs had burned down and a bed of hot coals lined the walking area.  Those who thought they might walk made their way slowly to the west end of the pit. Those who were unsure or just wanted to be supportive stayed on the other sides.

The first person across was Minister John. He walked first to lead by example and did not seem to have any trouble. He then stayed on the end of the pit to catch the walkers. Another minister sprayed their feet with water from a hose.

Up until we got to the pit, I was not sure I was going to walk. The organizers were pretty adamant that you needed to walk for the right reasons one of those being a real desire to do so. Once I got to the pit and everyone was singing and cheering and being so supportive of those walking, I really got into the idea of it and began to have the desire. It helped to watch a lot of others do it and to know that both Charlie and my mom had both walked before.

So, as I watched person after person make their way through the coals and into the arms of the waiting pastor, I diligently made my way to the walking end of the circle. When I saw a chance, I slowly walked out into the ready position. My mind was strangely calm. As I approached the fire, I tried to remember the things Dr. John had taught us about what to do. All I could remember was…don’t look at the fire…look across to where you will end up, pay attention to what you are doing, and when you are ready go for it!

As I looked across the bed of radiating heat, all I could see was Dr. John standing there, all in white, arms open wide to catch me. I took a deep breath, focused my mind, and calmly took the 3 or 4 steps onto and through and out of the 1250F coals and into his big bear hug.

Just like that it was over. To be honest, I didn’t really feel a thing while I was walking. My feet did not feel hot at all. I think my mind was just focused on the destination and not on my feet so the heat did not really hit me. After the water treatment, I did feel a tiny bit of tingling but my feet were not red nor were they hot or sore the next day.

So, that’s it…poof…less than  4 seconds of placing my feet on hot coals and it was all over. Am I glad I did it? Yes!!!! Do I recommend it? Depends on the motivation and desire of the individual.

Now, let me be very clear that I did and still do believe that a) fire is HOT and b) that if I had stood in one place on those coals my feet would have been blistered beyond recognition. This experience for me was not about some supernatural circumstance or miracle or anything like that. I don’t believe that is what walking on fire is all about. If you move quickly and deliberately through the coals, do not remain in contact with them for long, and your flesh is cooled down at the end, the chances of blistering are very small. That to me is physics not metaphysics or supernatural.

But, what was really going on here for me and for others? The walk was about facing our fears and overcoming them. I mean, what normal, logical, sane, rational person isn’t deeply fearful of walking across a pit of hot coals? I certainly was.  The victory for me and for others was taking that first step out onto the bed of burning coals and doing something that did not seem possible.

So yes, I am glad I walked and had the experience. I feel that I have healed my dysfunctional relationship with fire and that I boosted my confidence for the many changes that are approaching in my life. If you have walked through fire then you can generate the confidence to do most anything else in your life.

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** I do want to provide a disclaimer here of sorts that if someone reading this thinks they might want to try firewalking, do NOT try it on your own! Take a class only from a certified instructor (there are such things and Pastor John is one) and be sure you are working with an experienced and knowledgeable and supportive group of folks. Firewalking is not an adrenaline junkie kind of thing. People that did not sit through the evening’s class were not allowed to walk. You have to be prepared and know what you are getting into and you have to walk for the right reasons and not because you feel pressured or forced. The reality is that if you choose to walk you will be walking on HOT COALS and they are hot…there is no doubt…so there is the possibility for injury that you just accept. So, please do not undertake this lightly if you decide to do so.

 

 

 

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Bali Touring

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I did not get to see much of Bali until the second night of the conference. All the conference participants were invited to visit one one of the palaces of Raja Majapahit Bali XIX, the current king of Bali, and to have dinner with he and other dignitaries afterwards. We drove what appeared on the map to be a short distance north and east of the conference site but that actually took over 2 hours in driving. I had boarded the “slow bus” which not only traveled last in our caravan but actually broke down (out of gas?) along the way. But we finally arrived and entered the palace grounds and walked around the spacious area.

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photo(16)The palace was located in a very lush and hilly area of the country. One section of the grounds contained a bathing area where locals could come and wash away their sins in the local water. Although we did tour that area, I declined to take part in the bathing ritual. :-0)

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A short drive away from the palace took us to our location for diner. The evening was filled with local dancing and speeches by the current king of Bali as well as other dignitaries. We were seated in a couple of rooms filled with history displays about Bali.

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Friday was a full conference day but we hired a great driver for Saturday and made our way from the hotel North and East to the area called Ubud. Our goal was the monkey forest. Along the way, we stopped (and shopped) and toured at a place where batik fabric designs were made. We bought lots of gifts…clothes, purses, scarves, etc… to find a place for in our checked baggage!

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Places in Bali are not that far apart but they might as well be due to traffic and road construction. A trip of 30 km, which in Phoenix might take 30 minutes even with traffic, can take well over 2 hours and such was the case today. However, traveling at a slow rate of speed allows one to enjoy the local sights AND work up an appetite! As we arrived in Ubud around lunchtime, we stopped at a fabulous cafe for lunch and refreshments. The name of our wonderful driver was also Wayan (no relation to the owners) so he posed for a photo outside.

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Interestingly, Wayan ordered pizza for lunch.

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The rest of us ordered Asian food. My selection: Nasi goreng met krupuk udang  (fried rice with seafood).

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We made it to the monkey forest after lunch and enjoyed some fun times with the local monkeys especially the little ones. Can you see ALL the monkeys in the photos below???? :-0)

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Our last stop for the day was the local rice terraces just north of Ubud. A quick stop here, more shopping, then we made our way back to the hotel and called it a day.

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Bali Bound

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Monday, May 4 I left Phoenix, Arizona at 6:39 pm headed, via LA and Hong Kong, to Bali, Indonesia. The purpose of this trip is to attend and present at an international conference (the Open CourseWare Consortium Conference). I will be posting more information about the conference on my professional blog, but wanted to get something started here just for the first part of the trip. I will pick up again here with more trip info when I head to Cambodia on May 12th.

Checking in at Sky Harbor was a breeze and took all of 5 minutes ( as opposed to the hours and hours wait at LAX that I have gone through previously). Not only that, my luggage was checked all the way to Bali! Quick flight on Delta to LA, nice dinner at the Encounters restaurant, and then off to my 15 hour flight to Hong Kong. I did try and upgrade to “premium economy” seating but alas…only coach was available. Fifteen hours, three movies. one meal (I slept through dinner), and hours of sleeping later, I arrived in Hong Kong for a 5 hour layover.

Arrival in Hong Kong was at about 6 am so not much was open except the food court. I immediately helped myself to a bowl of shrimp dumplings soup (yum!) and settled in to wait. Amazingly, a colleague from California was on the same flight from Hong Kong so we connected and spent some airport time together before the flight.

About 30 minutes before we boarded, I dosed up on my usual dramamine pill but also thought I should take my decongestant as well. BAD IDEA!!!! No sooner had I boarded the plane and sat down (thankfully only two rows from the toilet) than I knew I was in trouble of the worst kind to have on an airplane. My seatmate must have thought I was part jack-in-the-box as I kept jumping up and down to squeeze in line between the other passengers as the flight progressed. Finally, I resorted to just standing in the corner by the flight attendant station and alternating between the other passengers as they took care of their needs. What a flying nightmare. Of the 4 hour flight, I think I spent 3 hours and 30 minutes of that time out of my seat. The flight attendants were so sweet and caring and they did their best to make me feel better. Thankfully, symptoms subsided just before we landed and I was able to navigate the landing, terminal navigation, visa and immigration and customs requirements without any trouble.

Upon arrival in Bali, I was amazed at all the familiar looking restaurants, etc.. that I saw. Starbucks (of course…there was one in Hong Kong as well), Burger King, and (biggest shock of all) Cold Stone Creamery! Go figure. If I had felt better, I probably would have tried it just to compare.

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A short ride through Denpasar and we arrived at our hotel (pictured at the top of the page). This is indeed a lavish place and I am thankful for a very reasonable conference rate for my room! The grounds are immense as they are for all the hotels in this area. We are in Nusa Dua which is really a segregated tourist area. There are security checkpoints for every entrance/exit to this part of the island (south eastern cost of Bali). The streets are very clean and the area lush and lavish with vegetation. I did something this morning that I have not done in Asia yet…I went out for a 2 mile run. I felt very safe and even saw others (tourists and locals) exercising in the area.

In different parts of the grounds there are these signs that I could not immediately figure out (having no personal frame of reference for them). What do you think they mean??? My colleague suggested that they tell where high ground is in case of tsunami. Now THAT makes total sense.

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I saw another sign near the hotel lagoon and thought it too interesting not to share. I had not seen any alligators in the pond as of yet. However, when I went down to breakfast they literally had a fenced off area with a feeding station so people could grab some food and throw it to the exotic birds and the two very small gators I saw. The reptiles looked like babies. I wonder where mama was???

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A trip to this part of Bali would not be complete without access to the beach which is indeed just outside of the hotel. The surf is pretty strong and I know there are some fierce tides so I have not yet ventured out very far. I am thinking I might just stick to swimming laps in the hotel pool and not take a chance on meeting any of the local sea life. :-0)

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Today is time to recover from jet lag, orient myself to the conference, review my notes for my presentation tomorrow, and connect with colleagues that are attending. I am excited at the list of attendees and sessions being presented in an area that I am very excited and passionate about: OER (Open Educational Resources).

 

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Thailand Long Road Taxi

Getting from Koh Chang Island in Thailand to Siem Reap Cambodia is no easy task. Well, I shouldn’t say it’s not easy. There are many ways to do it. The trick is to pick the way that fits your preferred style of travel AND results in the least amount of $ leaving your pocket unwillingly along the way. Your options include any and all of the following individually or in combination with each other:

  • Minivan
  • Bus
  • Private Taxi
  • Plane

Minivan and bus options can include lots of scams along the way. Most of these involve trying to get the foreign tourists to pay hefty visa fees at the border or sell them things they don’t need. Given all that we had heard and how far we had to travel (around 280 km total), we opted for the private taxi option. We also had very good help per navigating the border in Aranyaprathet (Thailand)/Poipet (Cambodia) and a driver meeting us there. So, all we had to do was to safely navigate the 150ish kilometers from our bungalow in Koh Chang to the Thai border.

I knew we were in for a time when we walked out of our lodge and our taxi was there with its hood up. Record disconcerting item #1. But, we felt (no choice really) that we were in good hands so proceeded to the car. The driver’s door opened and out spilled a spiky-haired, earphone trailing kid of about 20 (or less) that did not speak a word of English. Record disconcerting item #2. Luckily, our lodge host spoke Thai and could facilitate the placement of our bags in the back and our butts in the seats of the small car. Close the hood, close the doors, and we were off.

Our driver (never did get his name) drove very carefully down the 1-mile off-road section from Baan Rim Nam Guesthouse to the main road. Our first task was to stop at an ATM and procure the requisite payment for our trip as we had run out of Baht (Thai cash) the day before. Don’t let the commercials fool you…Visa is NOT everywhere you want it to be…at least not in Thailand! But, I digress. Back to the drive. Given that our driver did not speak English and I was not convinced he understood we needed to stop and I could not simply say to him, “please pull over at the nearest teller machine”, I resorted to shouting over and over the letters “ATM, ATM” and gesticulating wildly at every one that we passed. He did get the message, we stopped, withdrew, and proceeded onward.

As we made our way around the island, I noticed that our driver (ok, I’ll call him Thim which is kind of Thai for Tim since I don’t know his name) was driving very slowly. Koh Chang has a lot of steep hills and I was wondering if we would make it up some of them. Near the top of the first hill and as he made a slight left, a decent amount of water disgorged itself onto my feet in the front seat of the car. “Ohhh”, I heard from Thim. “It’s ok!” I replied shaking off my shoes. “No problem”.

Thim had picked us up early to make the earlier ferry but I knew at this speed we would not make it. Sure enough, as we pulled into the ferry station, the boat was just leaving. Thim pulled the car into line and we waited for the next boat.

It was about this time that I really began to look at the car. I could not see the odometer, but I could see that every single indicator was on…the check engine light, the gas light, the oil light…everything. The dashboard was a veritable control panel of bright and flashing lights none of which seemed to phase Thim in the least. As we sat there with our engine running and the gas gauge moving closer to empty, I mistakenly tried to initiate a conversation. “It’s ok to turn off the car and save gas”, I said. He looked at me and I repeated myself. He looked at me again and said, “Where you go?” Thinking he was asking where we would end up, I said, “Siem Reap”. Oh, I had said wayyy too much and now had called into question not just my sanity but the location of our destination with him. He quickly pulled out his phone, dialed a number, and handed to me.

I proceeded to engage in a conversation, even though it was in English,  in which neither I nor the person on the other end knew why we were talking to each other. After returning the phone to Thim, he called someone else and again handed me the phone. This time, the person asked if we were going to Aranyaprathet to which I responded yes. He laughed and I gave the phone back to Thim.

Now that our destination was understood by all parties, I stopped trying to talk to Thim and we waited patiently for the ferry. I might mention that during this whole exchange my wing-man, Sian, was happily ensconced in the back seat listening to her book on tape…oblivious to the scene that had unfolded before her.

The ferry ride proceeded without a hitch. We disembarked and headed on our way…BUT, we made a quick stop just on the mainland to interact with an English speaking guy who instructed me to pay our driver the arranged amount. Hesitant to pay before arrival, I reluctantly withdrew the 2800 Baht from my pocket. We had paid a 700 Baht deposit already in advance for a total of 3500 Baht.

Money in hand, I thought that Thim would proceed directly to the first gas station. Alas, this was not the case. As we headed out onto the road I realized we were headed for Chantiburi (the next town) and would probably not stop for gas until we got there (30 Km). Seemed like a “fur piece” as we used to say in Arkansas as I was sure our gas would be gone way before then.

Once on the two lane road, Thim’s Indy 500 driving ambitions came roaring to front and center. Gone was the gentle boy that drove carefully up and down hills and around corners on Koh Chang. In his place…some Thai version of Mario Andretti headed toward the finish line. As his speed zoomed up toward 140 kilometers per hour, I could only hang on for dear life as my body swayed back and forth and the air conditioner spewed water all over my feet at every turn. I was actually afraid to go to sleep but I might mention that my wing-man, Sian, slept soundly through the entire race and when she wasn’t laying down snoring she was up looking around sleepily and listening to her book on tape.

I must say that given an average speed of nearly 100 kph, the distance we had to cover passed very quickly. We made a few stops…gas (thank goodness) …toilet …coffee…and one vendor selling little flower wreaths to hang on the rearview mirror. Thim bought one of these in a town we passed through then proceeded to fold his hands in front of his chest and say a little chant and prayer. Hopefully he was praying for long life and no traffic accidents given his driving behavior.

At one point, I recognized that Thim was falling asleep. Even if you don’t speak the same language, the signs of sleepy driving are impossible to miss. Funny…here I was afraid to sleep and the crazy driver was falling asleep! Not a good thing when you are traveling at break neck speeds, tailgating, and passing on blind corners.

We eventually made it to the Thai border. Unfortunately, Thim felt obligated to drop us at an office of his friends that sold those fake, expensive Visas we were warned about. They met us at the car and tried to explain that we had to go inside this office and buy special visas. Luckily, we were aware of this scam and proceeded to ignore them and be on our way. No tip for a driver that delivers us into the hands of visa fakers!!

At any rate, we made it and hooked up with our connection on the Cambodia side with no trouble. A nice, pleasant, slow taxi ride from Poipet (the Cambodia side of the border) to Siem Reap was followed by a long nap at the hotel. Glad to make it in one piece, we began to plan our time in Siem Reap.

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Cambodia Bound…2011

Cambodia…the Land of Amazement…home to 14 million people most of whom are under thirty years of age..country whose people can expect to live 62 years and whose infant mortality rate is 5.5%.  Some other things you may not know about Cambodia? See answers at the end of this post…

  • How many monks are in Cambodia?
  • How many psychiatrists make their home in Cambodia?
  • How many bombs were dropped on Cambodia in the Vietnam War?

Today, with my friend Sian, I make another trek to this most interesting locale. It is hard to describe in words a place that is so different from what one is used to, however I will try. Last year I blogged about the Aogaah Foundation school and about Pol Pot and the Killing Fields. You may have read my stories about eating bugs (my friends did this, I did not) and about Angkor Wat and about a family in Phnom Pen that I adopted.

This year, some of the themes will continue and some will be new. With a traveling companion along like Dr. Proctor, you never know what kind of stories and images will emerge.

We will start in Phnom Penh then head west to the Cardamom Mountains and then to Thailand. From there we reenter Cambodia and head for Angkor Wat then back to Phnom Penh. Three weeks with a busy schedule will fly by and we have scheduled many adventures along the way.

Our bags are packed and they are huge. Mine weighs in at about 60 pounds and Sian’s at about 50. Filled to the rim with donated school supplies for Aogaah and gifts for the teachers and for my adopted family there, we are crossing our fingers that both bags arrive safely with all items in one piece.

Our travel itinerary is not bad. We fly out of LAX at 1 am tomorrow morning and make our way to Taipei, Taiwan. Our choice to upgrade to Business class will make this leg of the trip more enjoyable. From Taiwan, we fly directly to Phnom Penh, Cambodia and arrive on their Saturday around noon.

Answers to the questions above:

  • 60,000 monks
  • 26 psychiatrists (maybe because of all the monks?)
  • 539,000 tons (Funny…since we weren’t at war with Cambodia)

Stats gleaned from Lonely Planet Guide to Cambodia, 2010, pg. 12.

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Cambodia…19 days…1000 stories

Written: Tuesday, June 29, 2010 at 4:10 pm Arizona time

This post marks the final installment in the Cambodia series and will serve as a kind of overall summary and reflection on the trip.

Trip Dates: June 7 – departed USA and June 25 – returned USA
Travel Route: From Phoenix to L.A. to Taipei, Taiwan then to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Total Flying Time: 18 hours each way between the three legs

Total Distance: 8900 flying miles each way

Time Difference: T + 14 hours from Phoenix to Phnom Penh, CambodiaPopulation: about 15 million people
Size: roughly 70,000 square miles (about the size of the state of Oklahoma)

Sites visited within and around Phnom Penh:

  • Aogaah Village 15/16 school
  • Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
  • Wat (Temple) Oulanam
  • Wat Phnom
  • Killing Fields/Genocide Museum
  • National Museum
  • Russian market, Night market
  • Riverfront (Tonle Sap)
  • Independence Monument
  • Dinner and visit to home of Aogaah teacher Naryla Pok
  • Lunch and visit to home of tuk tuk driver, Mr. Darith

Other trips in the area:

  • Siem Reap and the temples of Angor Wat
  • Siem Reap Cultural Center

Technologies Utilized

  • MacBook Pro laptop (using both wired and wireless access) for blog writing and posting, photo editing and uploading, and responding to and writing emails
  • Apple ipod with Skype and an Unlimited World Monthly account ($13.99) along with headphones/microphone ($40) for calling home every day and for checking email (when I had wireless access)
  • Sony DSC-H5 lightweight digital camera along with AA rechargeable batteries

REFLECTIONS

Distinct memories of the trip’s specific days are already starting to fade. I am so glad that I decided to blog and write during the trip so that feelings and memories could be preserved.

When people ask me how the trip was, I am a little unsure how to respond. Was it fun? Well, I wouldn’t really classify it as fun per se. There were moments of fun for sure. I guess I would mostly say that the trip was “interesting and intense”. Specific areas of recollection include:

  • The Aogaah Village 15/16 school: Visiting and learning more about the school was the main focus of my trip. I went to the school three separate times and observed students and portions of class sessions. In addition, I spent quite a bit of time with the two local teachers, Naryla Pok and Navy Leang, as well as with the founder, Rick Meyer.I came away from those visits with a very positive impression of the teachers, curriculum, schedule, and the Aogaah Foundation in general. The teachers seem passionate and committed and the students seem excited and eager to learn. Rick has mapped out the progress and history of the school in intimate detail and he familiarized me with the budget and structure as well as with future plans and goals for the school. I left Cambodia on Friday knowing that the money contributed by my donors was well spent and thinking of ways to raise more money for next year as well.

Aogaah Kids

  • The People: Rick always says that if you visit him in Cambodia, you don’t get the luxury tour. You get the people tour and that was certainly the case. I met many different people including tuk-tuk drivers, motorcycles drivers, beggars, teachers, fruit salesmen, land-mine victims, monks, tourists, working girls, and house cleaners. I met people of all ages from babies and young children to old men and women. One of my most astounding realizations is one that should be obvious and that is that people are people not matter where they are. The tendency is to think that people from a vastly different culture are different from “us”. Well, in a sense they are but that sense is only superficial (i.e. language, skin-color, occupation, living location, etc…). The stuff that really matters is the same. People everywhere are just doing the best they can with what they have in order to live each day and make their lives as good as they can. Perhaps in Cambodia for most people, a good life is merely surviving but whatever the metric, the goals for all people really are the same.

Cambodian Lady

  • The Traffic and Driving: I don’t care how bad driving gets in the U.S.A., it will never come close to being as bad as it is in Cambodia. Rick says that one truly amazing thing about Cambodia is that only 5 people a day are killed in traffic accidents. I never did quite get used to being out on the streets and since coming back have flinched at the site of a couple of mopeds. The lack of adherence to ANY traffic rules or guidelines results in a “normal” operational state of pure chaos. People in cars share the roads with pedestrians, bicycles, cyclos, motorcycles, tuk-tuks, and even huge trucks and buses. At busy intersections, everyone just goes the way they need to go and a big blob of traffic ends up in the middle with people zigging and zagging to make their way. At any rate, the people there seem to be ok with it. I just wonder what will happen in a few years when the traffic surpasses the carrying capacity of the streets. Major gridlock will probably occur.

Tuk Tuk Drive

  • A Kingdom of Extremes: As I stated in an earlier blog post, “middle-ground” does not seem to exist much in Cambodia. People either have money or they don’t; the weather is either pouring down rain or blistering hot; the government either leaves you alone completely or puts stumbling blocks in your way; people live on the street right next to Cambodian mansions. I am sure this feeling was exacerbated but it being my first trip and absolutely everything being foreign to me from the food to the language to the weather to the customs. Maybe this view would be softened with future visits and more understanding of the people and the culture.

Government Building

Storing Clothes Outside

  • Hospitality and Giving: I have to go back to more examples about the people. My heart will forever be touched by the generous nature of Mr. Darith (my tuk-tuk driver) in offering and sharing lunch on my visit to his humble abode. I am also touched by his daily efforts at working and providing for his family. During my time in Angor Wat, I noticed that Naryla and Navy both made regular donations to beggars and offering sites throughout the temple areas. Their monthly wages are not great by our standards yet they felt compelled to give to those in need.

Me and Mr. Darith

  • Faith: Buddhism runs strong in this little country. Every house has at least one shrine where the family can offer incense and make prayers on a daily basis. Buddhism is a gentle philosophy (or religion…depending on your viewpoint) and is a very important part of the daily lives of almost all Cambodians. I am not sure how much they focus on the “eightfold path” or the “middle way” and would like to do more research on this in perhaps a future trip.

Pay for Prayer

  • Technology: The country may be poor but everyone has a cell phone and coverage in the entire country is excellent. Considering almost 15 million people live spread out over an area the size Oklahoma, I would say their cell companies are doing pretty well. Internet is big as well and almost every block as an Internet shop or café. I was able to find fairly reliable connections in all three hotels I stayed in. In fact, my big joke is that my connection speed halfway around the world was better than it will be in North Idaho here in the U.S.
  • Elephant Driver on Cell Phone

  • Things I did not do that I wanted to: Next time, I would love to visit the beaches on the southwest side of Cambodia as they are supposed to be very nice. I also did not eat crickets or other insects (although I did have a chance). The zoo and some of the (very few) local mountain temples are supposed to be cool, too.

Cricket Snack

FINAL THOUGHTS

Am I glad I went? Yes. I am glad to have visited a country that is so very different from ours. I have a new perspective on the U.S. and most of the things we do here. I am glad to know more about the Aogaah schools and have made connections with a nice group of locals.

Will I go back? Perhaps. Tickets are not cheap and if I go, I do not want to go by myself again. Next time…have to talk Greg or someone else into coming along. Any takers????

I would like to thank all who have been reading and commenting on this blog especially my friend Lynn in North Idaho and Marlene in Phoenix. I wrote primarily for myself so I would not forget the trip details. However, knowing I had an audience keeping up made me stick to a schedule of regular posts and updates.

Thank you to Rick and Navy and Naryla for hosting me in Cambodia. And thank you to all the wonderful Cambodian people I met and for sharing your time and your home.

Teacher Rick

Navy (left) and Naryla (right)

And of course, thank you to everyone that donated to the Aogaah Foundation! Your dollars are being put to good use. If you did not donate and still want to, the foundation website has all the info: http://www.aogaah.org

Orkun! (Thank you!)

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A Lesson in Happiness

Written: Thursday, June 24th around 1 pm concerning events Wednesday morning and afternoon, June 23rd

Around 10:00 on Wednesday morning, I find myself once again cruising the streets of Cambodia with my trusty tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Darith. Working with him the past few weeks has been not just enjoyable but a means of tourist survival. The best way to get comfortable and feel safe in a big, new city is to find someone you trust to drive you around. Mr. Darith has been this driver for me since the day I arrived and today we are not sight seeing. Today I am visiting his home to meet his wife and children and see where they live.

Mr. Darith and his Tuk-Tuk

On the way, I ask to stop at a local bakery and we pop inside. I grab 5 pastries of various kinds (for about $4 total) and head back out to the vehicle. As we continue on our way, we pass shops and stores and vendors and beggars and markets and people selling all manner of things. We pass new city buildings and old businesses. We pass a large park and the Olympic Stadium. We make our way slowly through the heavily trafficked and noisy streets finally arriving at the American Kindergarten private school.

Inside the gates of the school, students are soon to be released for the morning as the first session (7:30 – 10:30) is almost over. About 100 kids stand in neat rows and, following instructions from the head teacher, clap and sing songs for about 10 minutes. As they are ready to go, they repeat after their teacher, “Goodbye! See you tomorrow!”

Mr. Darith has located his older son, Borin, and directs him to the tuk-tuk. Borin is an adorable 5-year old with spikey hair, big eyes, and a fabulous smile. When he sees me, he puts his hands together, bows, and says, “How do you do?” Surprised, I return with, “Fine! How do YOU do?”

Borin

We ride the short 5 blocks to his home in respectful silence as we have run out of common language words with which to communicate. As Mr. Darith pulls the tuk-tuk onto the sidewalk, he points to the top of a two-story structure and points to the top floor. Carefully navigating to cross the street, we enter a dingy shop and head for a very narrow set of stairs in the back corner.

Side note: Cambodia has the narrowest stairs I have ever seen. In fact, these were just slightly bigger than the width of my hips. In addition, the slope of the stairs here is usually VERY steep. I think in America we must have codes for the standard height between steps or at least max height. Here, it is just about as high as you can step.

After climbing the narrow stairs, we make a sharp left turn past a community bathroom (one shower and toilet room) and find our way to the home of my friend. This home consists of a single room (approx 20 ft x 10 ft) with concrete walls, tin roof above a one-foot open gap, two doors, one window and one light bulb in the middle of the room.  They have two bed platforms (one for mom and dad and one for the kids) that double as tables and work areas during the day, two chairs and one very small TV. The cooking area is in one corner of the room with pots and pans and dishes stored in a plastic container. The stove is a propane tank connected to one burner. The preparation area is the bed (after the mattress is rolled up). Two shrines are in the room (remember, Buddha is everywhere) and some pictures of Buddha are on the walls along with a calendar and some other odds and ends.

In this room, the number or household items would fit easily into the trunk of a car with room to spare. The sum total of toys for the two children is one small set of barnyard animals and the 6 small trucks I bought them last week.  Other toys in the room that day, including a battery-powered guitar, belonged to a neighbor boy from downstairs. The family owned two kindergarten books for learning English and one other book I did not see the name of. There were no other books in the room.

Borin and Rach with Alphabet

This room and its neighbor, that houses another family, are situated higher than others in the vicinity. Therefore, the living spaces receive the radiant heat from neighboring tin roofs during the day. With little ventilation, a tin roof of its own, and only one very small fan for cooling, the room gets extremely hot during the afternoons. In this environment live Mr. Darith (26 yr old), his wife of 6 years (Leng – not sure how old), and their two sons (Borin, 5 yr and Rach, 4 yr).

Side Note: As a tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Darith’s wages vary. He told me on a good day he might earn $20 and on a very good day $40. Medium days are $10 – $15 and normal are more like $5. The going rate for a tuk-tuk is $3 an hour or so but there are many, many tuks-tuks in the city and finding good, regular business is very difficult. Very good days occur maybe once a month. Medium are more often and normal days are, of course, the norm. Mr. Darith drives his tuk-tuk seven days a week at all hours. Some days he can return home around 6 pm, but if a customer wants to visit the discos or bars (which are open all hours here) then he could be out all night. I believe his wife works doing some cleaning and odds jobs. Working in Cambodia, especially for poor people, falls heavily along gender lines so primarily men do the driving and heavy lifting and primarily women do the cleaning and cooking.

There are no free schools for K – 12 kids (except Rick’s Aogaah schools), so the families must pay at least $15 a month per child. Another issue for children here is nutrition. There is no milk here and I am not sure where kids get their calcium. Most poor Cambodian children probably have some kind of nutritional deficiency. Mr. Darith tries to buy PediaSure powdered formula for his kids to give them the nutritional boost they need. The powder costs $18 per can and they use about a can a week.

I present all this information to help myself remember and help others understand just how hard the poor and lower income people work here to try and make ends meet. By American standards, these people are poorer than poor. They are not even on our income scale. Things that we take for granted are not even fantasies for the poor people here.

Back to the visit: After introductions, I sit in one of the two chairs and chat with Mr. Darith and interact with the boys. Leng disappears to the market downstairs then comes back and works very hard in the corner kitchen to make lunch. I am initially apprehensive given my experience earlier in the week, but I watch her cook (out of the corner of my eye) and things “seem” fairly sanitary. The rice, vegetable, and fried fish are wonderful. I do draw the line at soup left over from the day before with no refrigeration.

At one point during the meal, I look at Mr. Darith and ask if he is happy. Our conversation goes like this:

Me: Mr. Darith…are you happy?

Mr. Darith: Yes…I am so happy to meet you…

Me: No, I mean before you meet me…are you happy?

Mr. Darith: Oh, yes, I understand. Yes…I am happy. Make little money one day, very happy. Make lot money one day, very happy. I have my health, my family, they are healthy…very happy.

He understands perfectly my question and I understand perfectly his response. I explain to him that in America, many people have health, family, and enough money to live (or even more) and they still are not happy. He understands my words but asks why people with all these things would not be happy. I cannot find words to help him understand for any explanation sounds foolish.

After lunch, I say goodbye. As we pull away, the kids are jumping up and down and waving and yelling “bye!” from the balcony near their house.

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