A Travellerspoint blog

Day 3 (Part 2) A nightmare, but only in my sleep....

sunny 31 °C

A nightmare, but only in my sleep....a reality for too many.

It is now Tuesday evening around 5 pm and we have arrived in the village of Pursat, located in Pursat Province. Cambodia has 24 provinces in total.

We arrived from Phnom Penh after about a three hour ride in an air-conditioned van. Along the way we saw a great deal. A large truck piled high with goods of some sort. On the top of the canvas covered goods lay several men sleeping. They were not attached to the load in any way and it looked like a sudden lurch of the truck would send them flying off in all directions.

A van passed us with a few people sitting on the roof of the van while the van was filled with about 30 people, likely 4 times more than what is safe. The person in the driver's seat was not even driving. It was the man next to her doing the steering. Everybody was smiling and happy as they whipped down the road. There is constant honking in traffic as drivers make other drivers aware of their presence. The flow of traffic is quite something. Cars, trucks, cyclists and motorcycles weave in and out and what looks like near misses are just part of everyday life.

We saw numerous motorcycles ridden by a driver and most had at least one passenger. Quite a few carried a Buddhist monk dressed in bright orange. Others had a young child sitting in the front and parent behind them. Ironically I saw one father wearing a helmet yet his son in front of him had no helmet and no protection at all.

All around us was farmland, rice fields and interspersed where small towns. The road was bumpy and dusty. We saw a lot of farm animals. Many a time a cow or several cows would be crossing the road. Ducks, chickens, roosters and goats all dotted the many farms we saw.

School was letting out at one point and we saw many school children riding bicycles on their way home. Other children would be on the farm just walking around and some were playing. We have seen a lot of happy, laughing children which lightens our hearts. Water buffalo sit in the rice fields.

After arriving at our Pursat hotel we were given our rooms and our suitcases were brought to our rooms with amazing efficiency. The fully loaded van was emptied in minutes. Many hands belonging to slender and not very tall Cambodians moved with swift efficiency in helping us to get settled quickly.

Viola and I were to be roomies again. We were given room 102 and here, like in Havana, Cuba your key was inserted into a plate on the wall by the door. This activated the electricity in your room. Such a smart idea and really one that should be implemented in North America where lights in empty offices are left on throughout the night. What a waste.

Our room is very nice, far nicer than you would expect in a smaller town. Solid heavy wood beds, a LG tv, small fridge, bathtub and shower. This would be our last bit of luxury before moving on to the village where we would be working on the school.

We met with Lee, the director of the local HOPE organization in Pursat. HOPE operates in 20 villages in Pursat Province and they do not operate in any other Cambodian provinces. She is Cambodian and survived the Khmer Rouge by hiding in the jungle and outrunning the Khmer Rouge. Much of her and her husband's family fled as refugees to the United States and Canada.

After getting our things stowed away we went back to the lobby to get ready to go for a tuk tuk ride. As Pursat is not very big it would take the whole of 15 minutes. The tuk tuk ride was enjoyable. Another new experience. Roads were dusty and we saw the elementary school, secondary school and then high school. The secondary school here is like a middle school back in Canada. We passed the HOPE office, post office, government buildings as well as the local market.

As our tuk tuk was going down the road a large group of men and women held banners in English and Khmer. They were shouting in protest. Demanding human rights. A not uncommon occurrence in Cambodia is that people go into the jungle and take land. Someone had done this and the government put this person or persons in jail. The protesters were angry and very vocal in demanding the prisoner or prisoners be released. This was very scary. We had been told not to take pictures of any such protests. I forgot and started to take one and someone shouted and I quickly put my camera away. The protesters were walking on the road alongside of our tuk tuk and the protesters took up about 2 city blocks. Nothing like what we have around the Vancouver Art Gallery in Vancouver. Those protests have always been very civilized. This was an angry group that could explode at any moment.

After our ride we got back to our hotel and went to the restaurant to have a seat and Lee was going to talk to us. She told us to make sure we drink water, keep hydrated, use our bug spray liberally and to use sunscreen. We do not want to get Dengue Fever. The concern in her voice was real as she wants us to be safe. We were also told not to drink the square bottles of water as those bottled waters are less well known. She said to only drink water in round bottles as they are the well known companies. Who would have thought. She also reminded us that while we are here we are representatives of HOPE. Most importantly to stay away from the protestors. We also all put the HOPE office phone numbers in our wallets. Should we get lost we could get someone to call the office.

Then it was time for dinner. Simple and really tasty. Rice, of course, and no I didn't ask for brown rice. I think that might have been insulting to ask for. Ha ha. A very nice flavoured vegetable dish with ginger and basil, two of my very favourite spices and a pad thai noodle dish. We ate this all together and for dessert we had dragon fruit, pineapple, and mangosteen.

After dinner we went to our rooms pretty early as everyone was tired. I enjoyed a shower and hairwash as we would be leaving the comforts of our hotel to go to the village where bathing would be by bucket.

I fell asleep pretty quickly around 10:30 pm as I hadn't slept much the night before and today I really needed my sleep. Sometime in the night I had a nightmare. I am guessing it was around 4:00 am as that was when I awoke. I felt like I slept well.

In my dream I had a young male child with me and it wasn't a young Andrew or Jeremy but he was my child. We were riding in a wooden cart going somewhere. I also saw Spyder the cat eat what appeared to be a giant dragonfly that looked like it was made of origami. It was quite large and Spyder swallowed it in chunks.

I know that there was an explosion of a building that had a lot of people in it and I know in my dream that they died.

I am sure I had this dream as I had been thinking about the Killing Fields. I can still see in my mind's eye the stupa and I think about all those that died. I still remember listening to the audio tape and hearing what they said about how the babies were killed. I had to turn it off after hearing the first bit. It was simply too hard to bear. All I could think of were the victims and those that survived the Khmer Rouge. Truly hell on earth.

Posted by Sydney324 08:47 Archived in Cambodia Tagged people children fields cambodia roads transportation killing Comments (0)

Day 5 - First Work Day in Prahos Kbal

Thursday, July 11, 2013

sunny 30 °C

Today is Thursday, July 11th.

Last night we went to bed quite early, 9 pm and we were all in bed with lights out. Seven women and one lucky man. Everyone was tired and we hadn't even started working yet. Around 3:45 in the morning I couldn't take it anymore and I had to go to the bathroom. It was like camping but different. We didn't know this before the trip but we were told earlier in the day that four policemen would be posted outside our room through the night. Two on each side of the door. They were in hammocks that were completely closed in with mosquito netting. This was definitely reassuring to have the security. We even had the village Chief of Police guarding us. Later we learned that this is standard on the HOPE Union team trips.

Some of the dogs who live in the village resemble dingos and some have German Shepherd in them. They were mostly quiet during the day and often quite lethargic. They would be sprawled on the dirt or ground asleep. They also spent time in an open thatched hut and it was their place. But at night things were quite different. They howled and often times you could hear what sounded like vicious fighting. During the day the dogs almost never barked and often sounded like a horse neighing when they did make a sound.

So lying in bed, everyone was asleep or so I thought and I had to go pee. Too much water during the day but you had to in order to stay hydrated. A real catch 22. The scary sounds of the dogs, the security of knowing the policemen were posted should anything come up and the bathroom was so far away, but not really, it was only because it was dark. I didn't dare lay on my stomach. No way did I want to pee my bed but I really really had to go. Although we had all made deals to wake each other up if we had to go in the night I didn't want to disturb anyone. So I did the next best thing. Turned on my headlamp and if someone was awake they would be sure to speak up. Linda, I, Vi and Kailey went to the facilities.

Back to bed and I fell back asleep and didn't wake again until shortly after 6 am. We had been in Cambodia now for 4 days and I finally had a really good sleep.

We all woke up around this time and started to get moving. The villagers awoke very early as you could already hear the staff talking about an hour or more before we woke up. Children were in the playground playing.

We had breakfast of baguettes, scrambled eggs, peanut butter and nutella. We also had a variety of tropical fruits as well. A great start to our day.

After breakfast we rested for a short time and then the real work began. We started off with carrying baskets loaded with sand to fill the sidewalk surrounding the school. As there were others helping this didn't take too long. After the sand was all poured, we went to get buckets of water to pour onto the sand. This was when something spectacular happened. The children came to help. No one had to ask or show them. They took charge, filled the buckets with water and two little ones would carry one bucket. Sometimes there would be a child helping to carry two buckets, one on each side. Prior to this we were using well water and then it was decided that we should just use the water from the stream that ran to the side of the schoolhouse. One child walked right into the water and the other children started to hand him buckets. I ended up helping a very little boy carry a bucket and the happiness of doing this task was evident in his face. Another little boy left on his bicycle to go home to fetch a bucket as he saw that we did not have enough buckets.

The children worked with an eagnerness to please and help. Smiles on their faces. The sense of community here is amazing. This is what we are so missing in the developed world. I don't feel sorry for these children in Cambodia. I actually feel sorry for the children in Canada. The children here in Cambodia are currently living the childhood that I had when I was young, some forty years ago. How sad that children do not play outside as much and how sad that the simple games, of jump rope, tag, playing with rocks and sticks are all but forgotten. There is nothing but joy in the children's faces here. They don't know anything else and they have each other, their families and life is good.

After we finished with getting water poured on the sand, the really tough job began. We started to break up cement and rock which was in the middle of the ground. We needed to break this up into pieces as it would eventually become smaller rocks and would be fill for the foundation. We worked on all of this for about 3 hours or so.

Lunch was two vegetable dishes, one vegetarian and the other was green pepper with beef. White rice and dessert was a nice assortment of fruit. After lunch we decided that we would rest for at least 1/2 an hour before going back to work. I went to lay down as I actually felt sleepy. I slept for about an hour and felt better. All the energy I used from breaking up the rock with the mallet and axe made me tired.

We continued breaking up more rock and by this time the sun was really really hot. I felt like I was in a hot yoga class for 2 hours. The sweat poured off my face and this was with me wearing a bandana and a hat with flaps on the side and back with a large brim to keep out the sun.

Earlier in the day we took most of the school supplies that I obtained from my cousin Elaine and brought them to the Khmer teacher in her classroom. It was a real treat for us to do this. Lee's husband acted as translator. We showed the teacher and the children some of the things that we had brought and I had the pleasure of teaching the children how to read Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and then do Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes. This was like a kindergarten class. I could have cried I was so very happy. Didn't want to scare the children by crying but it was definitely one of the many highlights to an amazing day.

Sometime mid-afternoon when the temperature was just under 30 degrees it was time to do laundry. Linda, my surrogate daughter and I went to do laundry by the well. To do laundry, we would pump water from the well into a large round metal bowl and then carry the bowl a short distance from the well to a brick platform on which we did our laundry. Add soap and it was washing time. I don't know about the others but it wasn't as much of a shock for me as I still do hand washing and have for many years. This was just on a larger scale as I had two loads of laundry. With the heat, slathering of sunscreen, spraying of bug spray and working in dirt, you end up changing clothes daily.

A storm was coming as we could hear thunder off in the distance for some time. The sky was getting darker and eventually there was a downpour. During this time we were happily walking around in the rain and went to play with the children. Chain tag and lots of giggling, running and laughing. Lots of fun. We did London Bridge, a limbo with a skipping rope and then the kids jump rope with a longer skipping rope. We had a row of three children at the start. The children were also playing with the soccer balls earlier in the day as well as volleyball and with the frisbees from yesterday.

We spoke to a lot of the children and all had Khmer names. Only one little boy wearing a soccer t shirt with Beckham on the back told us his name was David. Made you smile. We know who he likes.

A little girl gave me a drawing and I was most touched by this. Too sweet.

Also I was about 5 feet from a couple of water buffalo and happily took their photos. How cool is that. Interesting fact we were told is that it costs $600 to purchase one water buffalo and an additional $400 for vaccinations. Without a water buffalo you could plow your fields. It is a lot of money for a family.

The children soon went home and we just hung out talking, all taking turns to go get our bucket shower and wait for dinner.

Dinner was a stir fry of cauliflower and beef and fried fish. Dessert was yummy tropical fruit again.

After dinner we played a fun game called Celebrities that Kailey introduced us to. We all had a great time with lots of laughing and then it was off to our communal sleeping room just after 7 pm. Life in the village is pretty much rise with the sun and go to bed not too long after it sets.

Tonite after dinner we saw a firefly and in the dark you can hear frogs amongst the howling of the dogs. We are practically in the jungle I guess.

So I have just finished typing this blog as well as trying to finish my others from prior days. There was a bug of some sort on my computer screen. It was cleaning its antenae and it wasn't bothering me. I was actually enjoying checking out this bug. It was now time to log off though and I gently flicked the bug off my screen. His butt lit up. It was a firefly. How amazingly cool is this that I get to see a firefly up close. The firefly later landed on my finger and his butt lit up again before he flew of. Too special. I am a very content woman today. Life doesn't get more perfect than this.

Posted by Sydney324 07:57 Archived in Cambodia Tagged children cambodia storm hope Comments (0)

Buddhist Monks

5:23 am


I had been up since about 4 am as I was unable to sleep. I felt like I had slept well so far but awoke after having had a nightmare about the Killing Fields. I tried to get back to sleep but after 40 minutes or so I gave in and decided it would be a good time to blog.

While typing with only the sound of my thoughts in my head and the odd vehicle rolling past the hotel, I was startled to hear loud chanting which sounded like it was coming out of a loudspeaker. They were right in front of the hotel. I could not see anything but we could hear them well. I figured it must be the Buddhist Monks doing their morning chant. They chanted for 10 minutes and then they moved on down the road.

It has now been 20 minutes and I can still hear the Buddhist Monks chanting off in the distance.

We saw many monks in Phnom Penh. Always dressed in orange and many carried matching umbrellas. They to me, are the like the male counterparts to Japan's Geishas as they would just glide along as they walked. They exude a peaceful serenity. I had read somewhere that they do not like to have their pictures taken and so I did so cautiously. The last thing I want to do is to offend or upset a monk. I think it would be bad karma.

The birds are also awake and I hear them chirping. Breakfast is cooking somewhere as I smell eggs and I think even bacon. The sun has risen and the day has started in earnest whether we like it or not.

By the way, Buddhist Monks, chanting...now fainter and in the distance but 46 minutes and still going strong.


Namaste Cynda

Posted by Sydney324 15:24 Archived in Cambodia Tagged rain cambodia storm thunder lightening buddhist_monks chanting Comments (0)

The Night Before Leaving for Cambodia

All week I have been counting down the days before I leave for Cambodia and before I knew it I am here. Just one last sleep if I can get myself off to bed. It is 1:48 am and I need to get to bed very soon.

I just finished re-arranging the contents of my suitcases and backpack and everything is ready to go. Up early tomorrow am to finish off the last bits and clean a few things in the apartment.

I took today off from work and slept in as I knew it would be a busy day. Sorting, organizing, thinking about what items didn't need to go and what had to go. I went off to Yyoga for a last hot yoga class. Longer one this time, 1 hour and 15 mins. Practising yoga in 40 degrees will hopefully no doubt really help to prepare me to be travelling in 30 plus degrees in Cambodia.

I am wishing I was a little more prepared as I have not had a chance to really do any reading and so the long flight will help.

I am so lucky to be going off to an amazing adventure that I expect will turn my world upside down and inside out. I expect to return a changed person. The new life experiences will no doubt affect me profoundly. All the little things that we take so for granted here. We have no clue just how lucky we really are.

I recently read this and it's how I believe I live, as it's the only way to live.

"To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist." - Oscar Wilde.

Anyways going to bed now. I am going to Cambodia today!

Cambodia Barbie is ready to go!


Posted by Sydney324 01:47 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia Comments (0)

Fundraising to go to Cambodia with UNION

Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Before May 1st I was freaking, literally freaking out, but frozen and unable to get my fundraising started. I was scared that I wouldn't be able to raise the money. A careless negative comment here and there from a family member or a co-worker made me doubt that I would be successful in raising the money from the people around me. I worried that they wouldn't care about this cause that means so much to me. Thank Goddess, I was wrong, most cared and even more importantly, many were unbelievably generous.

I have always wanted to do a volunteer trip and I have always wanted to go to Cambodia. It is a place on my bucket list for as long as I can remember.

In the end this fear was unreasonable and unfounded. I had fundraised in the past but not to this extent. I had raised $800 for Cancer once with my cookies between three lawyers from where I used to work. I also raised nearly $800 for the Ride to Conquer Cancer last year and also about that amount for Breast Cancer, yet this fundraising was different. It wasn't for a disease and it was for something out of the country. I had no idea whether it would work or not. I told myself that it was okay if I couldn't fundraise it all, then I would foot the bill, but being of an age where retirement isn't so far off I have to be careful with money. I had to remind myself that I was also giving of my time, three weeks of vacation plus vaccines and medication that have totalled over $500.00.

I had a lot of ideas. Bake sales of course, as baking is my forte and another passion. Solicit co-workers, family and friends. Partner with others that are fundraising, and in the end this didn't materialize as I didn't need to, although it is a good idea. Utilize all the contacts I can think of. In the end I was pleasantly surprised at just how many people I do know.

A co-worker who had ridden in the Ride to Conquer Fundraiser went for lunch with me and helped me to brainstorm and made suggestions about a fundraiser event. It made me feel better but I still didn't get anything started and by now it was mid-March.

Rainbow had mentioned inviting a group of people to a home, serve some Cambodian food and raise funds. As I thought more and more about this I wanted to have a fundraiser at a restaurant and a Cambodian restaurant at that. There were only three in Vancouver that I knew of and I knew nothing about them other than what I could find on the internet. Phnom Penh, Angkor Restaurant and another one on Robson that was Cambodian/Vietnamese. Not many choices and Phnom Penh was the best sounding choice but parking would be better at Angkor Restaurant. Still couldn't decide what to do and I was once again frozen with fear of contacting the restaurants.

Then things started to move and boy did they move at lightening speed. On the last Saturday in April HOPE had their largest fundraising event of the year. It was a dinner at the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre. All the local Cambodian team members were in attendance. After meeting face to face I felt like I had been given a double dose of adrenaline. Knowing I would be working alongside these caring women spured me on and gave me the boost that I needed.

So here are the facts:

March 3, 2013 I created my fundraising page on the HOPE website. It was important to me that I wrote something meaningful. It had to be me speaking. What I wrote is contained in the first entry of this blog.

Shortly after, Rainbow donated to me and that made me so happy but I was still frozen about what to do and how to get started.

April 26, 2013 I had dinner at the HOPE International Development Agency's main fundraiser and got to meet the team. Wow, what an amazing and inspiring group of women. I no longer felt like one, but a team, a group that would work together and get the task done.

After the fundraiser dinner my mind kept spewing out ideas and thoughts. Have to start the bake sale and get the fundraising off the ground as it was only two months before we leave for Cambodia.

May 3, 2013. Fundraising for Cambodia in the past two days. On Thursday I had a bake sale at my office...you guys who know me have had my baking, especially the chocolate chip cookies. They are pretty amazing.

Anyways bake sale at work on Thurs raised $839.00. Can you spell WOW. Another at the gym today (ironic I know, but they have eaten my cookies. I told people to be a hero, donate and get cookies for their co-workers, family and friends). Raised another $524 today and $224 from the gym. I have now raised 47% of my goal!!

May 19, 2013 I had raised $2,783.00 so far with another $300 promised for a total of $3,083.00.

May 26, 2013 Fundraiser at Indochine Kitchen in Vancouver. Raised just under $1,200.00. Some excess funds went to a team member that needed a hand.


June 3, 2013 To date I have raised $4,387.50. Still possibly more donations to trickle in as some have promised and haven't as yet so we will see.

July 2, 2013 Fundraising total is at $5,032.50 (this includes $60 US from a generous cousin that I will take to use in Cambodia in the village where we are going.

This fundraising venture has been an amazing experience. My incredible success at raising so much money tells me that there are many people in this world that really do care and want to make life better for others. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to my dear family and friends for all your amazing support, financially and emotionally. Couldn't have gotten here without you all. Love Cynda.


Posted by Sydney324 16:30 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia fundraising volunteer Comments (0)

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