A Travellerspoint blog

Day 17 - Last Day in Prahos Kbal

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Today was a very early start as we got up at 4:30 am. It wasn't a particularly good sleep for me and I had already been up since about 2 am and was dozing on and off. No one had a really good sleep as there was a lot on our minds.

It would be our last day in Prahos Kbal and we would have to say goodbye to all the people that had carved a place in our hearts. We all knew that in coming to Cambodia, living and working in a village, meeting families and playing with children, our hearts would inevitably become attached. We just didn't know to what degree. We didn't know how much we could come to care in just a short time, not just for the people of Cambodia but for each other, our team. We also knew deep down that chances are that we will never come back to this village again. The hope is that we do return one day, but life happens and you just never know.

It wouldn't be an easy day...but as Buddha says, life is always changing. Change isn't easy and the sooner one accepts that change is inevitable, the easier it is to deal with. I am still working on this and continue to struggle with change. I generally love change and thrive when the changes are my idea.

"Impermanence and Change

The seemingly fixed and solid world you see around you actually is in a state of flux. Our senses may not be able to detect moment-to-moment change, but everything is always changing. When we fully appreciate this, we can fully appreciate our experiences without clinging to them. We can also learn to let go of old fears, disappointments, regrets. Nothing is real but this moment.

Because nothing is permanent, everything is possible. Liberation is possible. Enlightenment is possible.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote,

'We have to nourish our insight into impermanence every day. If we do, we will live more deeply, suffer less, and enjoy life much more. Living deeply, we will touch the foundation of reality, nirvana, the world of no-birth and no-death. Touching impermanence deeply, we touch the world beyond permanence and impermanence. We touch the ground of being and see that which we have called being and nonbeing are just notions. Nothing is ever lost. Nothing is ever gained. [The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching (Parallax Press 1998), p. 124]"

(Excerpt from http://buddhism.about.com/od/basicbuddhistteachings/a/Impermanence.htm)

We crawled out of bed, brushed teeth, and shook ourselves awake. We had to prepare for a lunch for the village. We were expecting about 250 guests. It was the Union team's parting gift to the village.

We sat at a table that Ron usually used and where the workers, Pang, Tia, Kom and others hung out. Here there were bags and bags of vegetables covering the table. We got to the task of peeling carrots, eggplants, potatoes, garlic, chopping up green beans and onions.

While we did this, each team member took a turn packing up all their belongings as we would be heading to Pursat sometime after lunch.

Clark, "I don't cook" was assigned the important task of roasting the peanuts in a wok. The peanuts were later crushed and added to the curry.

The guys, Pang, Tia and Kom were helping out as usual. Pang was helping out with the curry preparation, Tia went off to go pick up more supplies and Kom went to pick up two large cans which were used as bases for the two large metal bowls in which the curry was cooked.

And just in case you have the urge to cook for 250 people, here is the list of the Ingredients you will need:

35 chickens
16 kg (35 lbs) carrots
20 kg (44 lbs) potatoes
10 kg (22 lbs) eggplants
6 kg (13 lbs) green beans
35 coconuts
8 kg (17 lbs) onions
3 kg (6 lbs) garlic
3 kg (6 lbs) mixed spices
2 kg (4 lbs) shrimp paste
3 kg (6 lbs) palm sugar
3 litres oil
4 bottles fish sauce
1/4 Kg MSG

Instead of serving rice with the curry, 500 baguettes were purchased which meant 500 baguettes had to be cut up.

Before long, large numbers of children began to arrive. Children that we had not even seen before. They were everywhere. There must have been well over a hundred kids or more and lunch was still hours away.

All our food prep duties were done and now some of the women from the village would be arriving to help our cook Ron to prepare the curry.

We got to the tough task of packing up our room, our home at the village for the past three weeks. Down came the mosquito nets, bedding was rolled up, suitcases packed, garbage dumped, floors were swept and before long it looked almost like we had not ever been there.

We did our best to keep the children entertained. I handed out stickers and also got the children into one of the classrooms where we had a bit of school lesson with numbers. Pang and Tia helped to translate for me as my command of Khmer is limited. The children decided that they would sticker us as well as themselves. Managing that many children was kind of exhausting but it made them so happy.

Before lunch all the children were gathered in the playground neatly lined up in rows. The village heads were also in attendance along with a policeman and a few others. Leah read from our card to the village in which we all wrote something to them. We were also invited to say something more if we wanted to. Once again Leah translated. I got to let everyone know how it has been a dream of mine for over 15 years to come to Cambodia and that I am so grateful to have been able to come here. My memory is now so clouded by emotions that I no longer remember all of what I said. I did add that I really enjoyed teaching yoga to the children. That part of the trip will remain very special to me. Leah also translated everything the others had to say to us. We were thanked many times over for giving up our time and coming to help them.

One of the ladies that spoke was from another village. She wanted to thank us for coming.

We also learned that the children had never received toys before, they just didn't have them. So thanks again to my cousin Elaine for all the generous school supplies and toys...you really made a difference in the lives of these children. I was so glad I lugged an extra suitcase full of things for the children. Their smiles and genuine happiness were priceless.

Being in Cambodia meant so much because our coming made a real impact, we improved the lives of people here. How often can that be said back home. It is just not the same. Some of the team pitched in and bought a fishing net for a man for $30. Now he has a way to catch fish, eat, sell his excess and can be self sufficient. For $30, he has a chance. The net he was using was borrowed and was not very good. He wasn't catching fish.

$200 bought a sugar cane machine for Ron. The Union team did this for her. It would have taken her years to save up for it. This gave her and her family a future. She could have an income.

$50 got a young boy out of debt bondage. He is back with his family.

There are thousands of people that need help and it is not always possible to help every single one of them but to know that we have helped make a difference for some is a wonderful feeling. It is a start. It is something. You no longer feel so helpless.

Two of the classrooms had desks set up and this is where the children and adults would be having their lunch.

Later we found out that the children rarely if ever get to eat meat. Soft drinks had been purchased and I have no idea how many bottles but there was a lot. Pop is a once a year treat for children, generally only for New Years. One little boy kept saying thank you, thank you to me. It was written all over his face just how happy this one meal meant to him, a meal that children back home get all the time and take for granted.

We served all the children their lunches, the teachers and the workers were gathered in another room where they were enjoying their lunch and this is when we sat down to eat in our room.

After cleaning up after lunch we hung out with the children some more. A few more pictures and a few more hugs. Words whispered to the children, telling them how much we care for them. Handing out more cookies.

It was now just before noon and it was time to get going. Rainbow and I were with Tia and he was getting emotional. The van had been packed up with all our belongings. It was hard to believe that we were nearly at the end of our three weeks.

We started our goodbyes, our cook Ron was crying. I don't think any of us expected the always smiling Ron to cry. Her tears made us even more emotional. We had already spent much of the morning taking pictures, hugging and hanging out with the children especially the ones that really made a dent in our hearts.

It was so very hard to leave the children and the adults that we had all come to care for in the three weeks that we were here. Some of the children were clearly emotional. I was crying a lot and it was so very tough to go and to know that we will likely never see any of them ever again.

It was a tough ride back to Pursat. Everyone was feeling emotional, there were lots of hugs and then we just had to get out there. It was overwhelming.

Before long we arrived in Pursat at our hotel. This is the same hotel that we had stayed in previously and would be here for three nights and then head to Phnom Penh Friday am. I was again sharing a room with my surrogate daughter, Linda.

Later that evening when I had my two suitcases from the hotel, I was able to confirm my fear that I had really lost my other camera. The one Michael had bought for me. I should have been more careful as I was sure I had left it in the safe at the hotel in Siem Reap. I would need to get help to follow up with the hotel to see if it was in the safe where I thought I had left it.

This was definitely a tough day, not as tough as Day 19 but tough nevertheless or our day at the Killing Fields.

Posted by Sydney324 23:48 Archived in Cambodia Tagged children cambodia village hope pursat prahos kbal Comments (0)

Day 19 - A Son in Debt Bondage is Returned Home

Making a Difference - A son in debt bondage gets to come home

A follow up from my Day 19 blog. It is August 2, 2013 and upon checking my email tonite I got the one that I have been hoping for. News on the son that had been in debt bondage. He is now back with his family. The sad thing is that he is just one of many children in the same situation in many Asian countries.

Here is an excerpt of th email:

"By the way, I have heard from Ly that Huot's son is back with his family. The HOPE staff have not yet visited yet, but Ly heard from the Village Chief that he is home. Nari or Leng will go to visit within the next 1-2 weeks. When I get a photo of the family together, I will of course pass it on as soon as I get it! :)"

It is said that money cannot buy happiness, but in this case, $50.00 US, brought happiness to a family reunited.

See my Day 19 blog entry for the story.

Thank you.

Posted by Sydney324 20:09 Archived in Cambodia Tagged children cambodia poverty debt bondage Comments (0)

HOPE - Union Cambodia 2013 - A Poem

Written by Union team member Vivian Davidson

While we were at the Guangzhou airport waiting for our flight to Vancouver, Vivian told us that she had written a poem that she would like to share with us. Our flight had been delayed and we were happy to sit and hear her recite her poem. She has aptly captured all the emotions, nuances, and our new experience of coming to Cambodia for the first time and for a cause we all are passionate about.

Here is the link to a blog written by our team leader Rainbow. http://rainbow-in-cambodia.blogspot.com/2013/08/crazy-stupid-loved.html

Here is the link to HOPE International Development Agency http://www.hope-international.com/index.php.

Link from the HOPE website specific to Cambodia http://www.hope-international.com/ways-you-can-give/help-for-cambodians.html

Volunteer with HOPE http://www.hope-international.com/volunteer-overseas-with-union.html. Change someone's life and more importantly make your life really count! It has been the best life experience of my life thus far and I am so grateful to have been part of this most amazing group of people. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Rainbow, Clark, Kailey, Lily, Linda, Viola and Vivian for sharing this experience with me.

Thank you to Vivian for allowing me to share her heartfelt and beautiful poem on my blog.

By way of explanation for the word "barang", this is what the foreigners are called in Cambodia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barang (Khmer word)

Here is Vivian's poem:


We the Barangs

Coat by coat we pain the wood,
Watch us go, the barangs are in the hood.
Early risers at the crack of day,
Off to run we pave the way.

Rice by day and rice by night,
Dirty and sweaty we’re quite the sight.
Exotic fruits and Asian Pho,
The grateful kids their faces glow.

Mosquito spray from head to toe,
Buckets of water and cement to and fro.
Roaming hens and wild dogs,
Men and women on rice farm bogs.

Mosquito nets and lamps on head,
We worked our butts off, early to bed.
Red dirt paths and dung galore,
This is reality, no Jersey Shore.

People here have so little,
Yet their spirits are all but brittle.
Their shinning faces, their beaming smiles,
Mopeds everywhere, they’re seen for miles.

Geckos and spiders, bugs a plenty,
Spray not once or twice but twenty.
We come with hope to work and do,
From us they learn but we grow too.

Eight people who were once strangers,
Together we’ve faced work and dangers.
From blisters and cuts to muscle aches,
They could use more tools like hammers and rakes.

We sing, we laugh, we moan and groan,
It’s all great work, a well or micro-loan.
Seven ladies and one guy,
Bu he surely isn’t asking why.

We tease and joke yet work so hard,
The kind police come keep us guard.
The elders point the children hide,
We come with arms and hearts open wide.

Rare to see we are so strange,
First impressions quickly change.
People here a painful past,
Their wounds and scars forever last.
Yet resilience is strong not one more tear,
No complaints from them you’ll hear.

We pray for rain so we get to shower,
All together our mighty power.
A bucket to flush a bucket to rinse,
We’ve made it strong ever since.

We pave the well we plant the seeds,
Food and shelter so little needs.
Barking dogs such a pest,
Please shut up and let us rest.

Sore and tired we end the day,
Tomorrow again we’ll find the way.
The Indas go shopping, so many bags,
Our clothes and shoes end up in rags.

Lily and Rainbow take photographs,
Kailey and Clark bring up the laughs.
Viola tall as she is brave,
Vivian work she seems to crave.
Don’t forget your malaria pills,
Bumpy rides and other thrills.

The children played, they helped and drew,
We’re all the better for knowing you.
We leave you now but fear you not,
As forever in our hearts whoever thought."

-Vivian Davidson (July, 2013)


Posted by Sydney324 13:13 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia hope union Comments (0)

Day 3 - Phnom Penh to Pursat

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

sunny 31 °C

We woke up at 6:30 am and took our time getting organized, got sorted out and met again at the Indochine 2 restaurant for breakfast. Today we asked our server what her name was and she told us Sammy. She was a happy, engaging person who laughed often and loved to play small practical jokes. Her grin beamed across her face from ear to ear. How nice to meet someone so very happy. The sad part is when she told you about her boyfriend, an older Australian man who she pointed out to someone in our group and she explained that she only got to see him twice a year. I guess this is the darker side of life in a third world country where people are vulnerable.

Breakfast was at a table outside on the sidewalk. I like hot countries as you get to eat outside year round. Of course with the heat does come the downside...a lot more bugs and they also seem to come in larger sizes in hot places. We had a western breakfast and then we went to the Phnom Penh Central Market. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Market,_Phnom_Penh Oh what a market. Shopping bliss. Bargaining bliss until I got lost. When we arrived I went to the jewellry section and bought some bracelets and earrings. Good deals. What can I say, shiny and sparkly and it was great but also quite overwhelming. We will be going back to the market in Phnom Penh before we leave Cambodia. There are still so many things that I want to buy for gifts and myself. What can I say, my surrogate daughter and Linda and I are most excited to go shopping. We have been nicknamed the Indochines. Anyways I did eventually meet up with the group outside the market, a bit late but I found them. I had gotten turned around inside the market and came out the wrong way.

We had lunch back at the hotel and after lunch we would head off to Pursat. A van and driver had been hired to take us to Pursat as it made more sense than to take two vehicles. The driver, Sing would be our driver for the entire length of our trip. We piled into the van and loaded up everything that we wanted to take to Pursat. Anything that we didn't need could be left at the hotel in Phnom Penh.

About half way towards Pursat we stopped at a roadside restaurant to get ice cream. Unfortunately, they didn't have any and so some of us had a beverage and then back into the van to continue our trip to Pursat. When we arrived at the hotel in Pursat we met Leah who is the director of HOPE in Cambodia.

We had dinner and then we went to our rooms to settle in and get to sleep as tomorrow we would be going to the HOPE office and then head to the village of Prahos Kbal.

It was a light hearted day with laughter. We all really needed it after yesterday's trip to the Killing Fields and S21, the prison.

Posted by Sydney324 21:20 Archived in Cambodia Tagged market cambodia central phnom penh pursat Comments (0)

Day 22 - Last Day - Phnom Penh to Vancouver

Sunday, July 28, 2013

We had to be up before dawn and got up at 4:30 am. I heard Lily's voice in the pitch black telling me it was time to get up. It was a struggle to force myself to wake up and get ready even though part of me was looking forward to going home. I miss my sons, my pets, family and friends.

All the hotels that we have stayed at have been around three storeys and none of them have elevators. I expect that that is due to cost but am not certain. It is not easy to lug suitcases (yes, especially mine as they are heavy) up or down the stairs. The staff at all the hotels have been amazing with helping to get our luggage to and from our rooms. There are always several hands to help and the job is completed quickly. Most of the Cambodians are of small builds and not very tall, are slender and incredibly strong. I have met more than a few women that are shorter than me which is much more rare in Canada. They are a very physically fit people.

Sing, our driver would be arriving with Leah at 5:00 am to take us to the Phnom Penh airport for our flight back to Vancouver. Fortunately there was little traffic and the city seemed to be mostly asleep except for a few people doing tai chi on a street corner. It is the calm before the polls open for the election at 7:00 am.

When we arrived at the airport our airline China Southern Airlines was not even open for check in. We had to wait until 6:00 am and then we started to get checked in. Last time my suitcases were weighed together, this time it was done separately, and I was told the limit was 23 kg each going home, not the 32 kg that it was coming to Cambodia, at least that is what it said in their website. Anyways lucky for me Rainbow had room and took my heavier items, books and some products into her bag and all was good again. Minor glitch as I managed to misplace one of my suitcase keys, likely dropped by me inside a suitcase as I was rummaging around to lighten the load.

I had a lot of stuff and almost the entire team was carrying a bag for me. I had my carry on which was a large backpack, a day pack which was my purse, a large wooden piece of art, a bag of snacks, a bag of duty free and a bag of beer. So lucky to have such nice people on the team to help. Thanks guys! You are all so very helpful.

There was one other minor glitch as Linda's booking said she could only bring back one suitcase and so chivalrous Clark (you like that name Clark?) checked in Lin Lin's second bag for her.

We got through security quickly and went to sit down to wait. Did some shopping at the duty free and was happy to be able to buy some spices which was the one item I had not had time to get before leaving for home. The duty free in Phnom Penh is quite expensive for a lot of their items such as chocolate. Spices were reasonable but likely higher which was to be expected. I didn't look at hard liquor prices but I am assuming that it is decent.

Some of us had breakfast and we also enjoyed our last bit of the wonderfully tasty Cambodian bananas. I had a ham and cheese croissant at a "French bakery". Otherwise nothing that really caught my eye. Methinks I am actually shopped out. I did my utmost to stimulate the economy in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

Before we knew it it was time to board our flight at 7:30 am and then off to our only stop in Guangzhou (known historically as Canton which is where my mom was born), China. Checked out a few stores and I did buy a birthday gift.

We were treated to a super wonderful poem that Vivian wrote. She captured all the nuances and the true essence of this trip and it was perfect. Thanks so much Vivian! It was awesome! Will post that later in the blog.

Our layover here would be short, about an hour and a half. While we were there it started raining and it turned to very heavy rain. An announcement was made and our flight would be delayed by 45 minutes and wouldn't leave until 3:00 pm. We were further delayed as we sat on the tarmac for a bit.

I fell asleep before the plane even took off. Getting only five hours of sleep was catching up to me. Had a meal and watched a movie, Snitch, and then went to the task of blogging.

This flight has had a lot of turbulence and it has been neverending, going on for a couple of hours. The plane was really rocking from side to side and up and down. The stewardesses had us close all the blinds. Kailey guessed that there was likely quite the storm outside which the stewardesses preferred us not to see. People might get scared.

It is now nearly 8 pm China time and so we have been travelling for under five hours. We have I think, about seven and a half hours to go. I may have to stop blogging and will sleep again if the turbulence doesn't settle down.

Kailey and I decided to go visit the others. Our seats were scattered throughout the plane. Clark was on the left side of the plane, Rainbow in the middle close to him. Vivian was in a middle row, aisle seat a row behind us. Lily was in a window seat on the opposite side of the plane and I think Viola was on the right side of the plane as was Lin Lin who had an aisle seat. We visited Clark who had his eyes closed and then we went to visit Lin Lin. Clark had come to visit earlier. I think he really misses his harem. Life is just going to be quieter for Clark. We then went to visit Lin Lin. It is now just under six hours before we arrive in Vancouver. We are all kind of bored. I took a gravol but haven't dozed off. I couldn't get comfortable and the plane is stuffy. I just had half a beer hoping to be able to relax some and fall asleep. Maybe blogging will help me doze off as well.

Also half watching Snitch again as the movie was interrupted several times due to announcements by the stewardess for people to please sit down. After the third announcment a woman finally sat down and nope she was not Chinois. They have mostly been behaving well. When I went to the back of the plane to the kitchen there were a bunch of older Chinese guys chatting it up with the stewardesses.

Getting drowsy finally. Beer/gravol combo working. Didn't like to mix booze with medication but I gotta get some shut eye. The combo kicked in and I got to sleep for three hours. Total bliss to get a real rest. Back to blogging.

I did fall asleep again and slept until a short time before we finally touched down in Vancouver at about 1:40 or so.

Jeremy was inside to meet me and Andrew was outside in the car. Nancy, Joe and Michael surprised me and it was sure nice to get a big hug from Nancy.

Got all my luggage, thankfully nothing was lost or delayed and it was back to reality.

Posted by Sydney324 21:25 Archived in Cambodia Tagged flight cambodia vancouver Comments (0)

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