Cambodia

A look back at Cambodia.

wowThe first time I was in Cambodia, in 2005, I disliked it intensely. It was the end of the dry season and the land was parched and brown, as if nothing had ever lived there. My friend Martha and I stayed in a fancy tourist hotel and went outside the resort only to visit the famous temples of Angkor Wat. The heat was so intense, and the beggars & cripples in the streets so aggressive, it sapped my interest in seeing the countryside or meeting the people. Despite the wonders of the temples, it was an unpleasant experience overall, and I never wanted to go back.

Pretty much my tourista view of Cambodia, the first time.

Pretty much my tourista view of Cambodia, the first time.

However, when I went to Cambodia with Heifer last year, it was an entirely different experience. (And this is why you should never hold on to prejudices about countries you’ve only visited briefly — or in an utterly touristy fashion.)

For starters, I met the people I really wanted to get to know.mother & childAnd then there was the fact that everything – and I mean EVERY single living thing– in the countryside was bathed in green. And water. greenCambodia is geographically shaped like a bowl, so in the rainy season, water collects in the center and seeps out everywhere. The rice paddies were swollen with their watery harvest…rice field

…and children everywhere along the road were splashing happily and joyfully in the ubiquitous ponds.picking lotusI got to really talk to the people I met in the villages, and understand some of their tragic history on a deeply personal level.

Pream Sui, survivor of a forced marriage to a Khmer Rouge soldier - and beautiful grandmother.

Pream Sui, survivor of a forced marriage to a Khmer Rouge soldier – and beautiful grandmother.

I saw the work Heifer was doing to mend communities, bring people together to work alongside each other, and heal ancient rivalries with the amazing gift of animals . water buffalo

mom & chickies

pigs

A brood of guinea fowls.

A flock of guinea fowl.

And I came to adore Heifer’s country director, Keo Keang, who traveled with me every day to the villages and towns where Heifer works – and had her own horrific tale of tragedy from the Khmer Rouge days, when her father and sister were murdered. Keo Keang

Despite the severe difficulties this country faces in overcoming its genocidal past, poverty-ridden present, and dubious future, I met so many people filled with a gorgeous spirit of optimism and hope.fisherman

Kuhl Samon, mother of 11, and wife of Chin Chhil, an amputee in the war.

Kuhl Samon, mother of 11, and wife of Chin Chhil, an amputee in the Khmer Rouge civil war.

girls in temple

sweet namasteAnd believe me when I tell you, nothing can make you love a country more than that.lotusFor a look back at my Cambodia posts (and they’re really GOOD!) ..

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/10/16/haunting-cambodia/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/10/22/a-song-of-reconciliation/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/10/25/under-water-but-not-overcome/

http://heifer12x12.com/2012/10/29/i-was-married-to-the-khmer-rouge/

watery road

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Cambodia, Heifer International, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

It’s My Blog’s Day!

Last October, I proposed to Heifer International that I visit 12 countries in 12 months in 2012 to visit their projects around the world…. and they said yes!

Heifer 12 x 12 was born in January 2012, and today— 12/12/12 — I’m celebrating this journey of discovery & inspiration that is almost coming to an end. Thanks for coming along on this wild, joyful ride!!

Categories: Appalachia, Armenia, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Heifer International, Malawi, Nepal, Peru, Photography, Romania, Rwanda, Travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , | 59 Comments

Thanks4giving!

Guatemala, January 2012.

The following faces have been brought to you by … you.

Haiti, February 2012.

You see, in 100,000 miles of travel to Heifer projects around the world this year, one thing has been utterly consistent.

Peru, March 2012.

People will take my hands, look in my eyes, and tell me to thank you.

China, April 2012.

Thank you for helping them to feed their children.

Nepal, April 2012.

…and send them to school…

Cameroon, May 2012.

….and stand with dignity…

Romania, June 2012.

…and have the chance to create a better life.

Appalachia, July 2012.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m bringing you their thanks.

Rwanda, August 2012.

Thanks for being so compassionate…

Armenia, September 2012

…for being so generous…

Cambodia, October 2012.

… and for your willingness to share your good fortune.

Vietnam, October 2012.

Look at the beautiful things you’ve done!

Malawi, November 2012.

Have a spectacular Thanksgiving weekend!

(And if you haven’t given to Heifer yet, I still love you ( : )

Categories: Appalachia, Armenia, Cambodia, China, Guatemala, Haiti, Hunger, Malawi, Mothers, Nepal, Peru, Photography, Romania, Rwanda, Travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , | 45 Comments

What I ate in Cambodia & Vietnam.

Just a little something they whipped up for dinner…

If you’re a fake vegetarian like me, there’s no better place to eat than Southeast Asia.

Because the people of Cambodia & Vietnam are primarily Buddhist, they’ve developed a rich cuisine around the freshest of vegetables and rice. 

And because they are poor, they eat what’s readily abundant in the fields and waters that surround them.

Pumpkin blossoms, meant for a hot pot extravaganza….

….Meaning fish is nearly always on the menu.

Red tilapia and rice noodles, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes.

Now that’s fresh fish…like about 20 minutes from the water.

Plus lotus root, morning glory stems — and all kinds of gorgeous greens.

Shrimp & delicious lotus root.

Pumpkin and cassava leaves … so SO good!

I’m sure I’ll insult both countries by conflating their cuisines (this is my graceful segue between writing about Cambodia and Vietnam, if you haven’t guessed) but they DO have a lot of the same dishes. It’s just that the Vietnamese have an overlay of Frenchified luxe –

The sticky rice ball was just … amazing!

Simple & simply delicious pork (perfect for a fake vegetarian)!

… and their fish sauces, dipping sauces and accoutrements are really… oooh, la la.

Even something as elemental as lime and seasoned salt is beyond delicious.

Needless to say, I was delighted in BOTH countries with every single meal — from soup….

…to nuts…

Fresh cooked cassava (tastes just like potatoes!) and peanuts.

and everything in between.

A typical breakfast….

A fancy Cambodian  lunch…

And beautiful dinner!

And guess what?

What’s life without a little fruit dessert of longon & the crazy sexy rambutan?

They even said I was awesome with my chopsticks!

When you can eat banana flower salad with chopsticks, you’re IN.

Score!!!

Categories: Cambodia, Food, Heifer International, Photography, Travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

“I was married to the Khmer Rouge.”

A rare shot of Pream allowing her sorrow to show.

In 1976, Pream Sui was 19 years old, living in Anlong Sar, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Because she was one of the “old people” –uneducated rural villagers who weren’t a threat—she wasn’t killed but placed in a youth group working in the fields. One of the guards noticed her, decided he wanted her for his own, and married her.

The “wedding” took place at the end of a workday with 12 other couples composed of guards and the village girls they’d chosen. The girls had no idea whom they were marrying but dared not refuse their captors. The ceremony lasted less than 5 minutes.

After her marriage, Sui continued to work in the fields, under the gun of her husband, but like all the other “wives,” she went to his cabin at night. In short order, she had 2 children but when Vietnam invaded Cambodia to drive out Pol Pot, her husband disappeared into the resistance and moved away. He came back a few times to visit Sui and the children, but by then he had another wife and when Sui got pregnant with her third baby, he left for good.

Now a happy grandmother, Sui’s bad memories are in the past.

To be a woman in Cambodia in the countryside raising three children alone was shameful and indescribably hard. “It’s difficult to tell you how I felt because I cried every day,” Sui says with an incongruous big smile. Somehow, she managed to farm her 3 hectares of land, raise her three children, marry off two daughters (and pay for the weddings) and is now a happy grandmother living with her eldest daughter, Chen Soueb.

“Now I appreciate all my mother’s hard work and the strength it took to raise us,” Soueb says.

Caught between poverty & family.

Soueb, 30, has four children—12, 11, 10 and 7 –and a story of abandonment of her own. About 4 years ago, her husband Heng Ha began illegally immigrating to nearby Thailand, like 75% of all the men in Anlong Sar village, Banteay Meanchey province. Disastrous floods had ruined the rice crop and drowned most of the animals, and the village men were desperate for an income. Ha decided to risk illegally going over the border to earn money working construction.

It takes 1 ½ days to make the trip into Thailand from Banteay, working through an underground network to avoid capture and getting thrown into a detention center. Once in Thailand, Ha had no way to contact his family and could only send money home through a money train that skimmed off 25%. Ha made his way home just twice a year, and every trip was laden with the risk of  being thrown in jail. Soueb gave birth to her fourth child while Ha was in Thailand, and she feared that he would never come home – much like her own dad.

So when Soeub encountered Heifer’s “Community Empowerment Program” in her village – and attended the Family Focus cornerstone training with Ha– the couple figured that if they worked very hard at home, maybe they could make it together as a family.

Together at last – Ha & Soueb & their children.

For two years now, Ha has stayed home with the family and they’ve managed to make the same amount of money as when he worked in Thailand. Despite the devastating floods of last year, the 2 pigs they received from Heifer in 2011 have reproduced and provided them with income. They attended all Heifer’s animal husbandry courses and are also raising ducks and chickens, growing rice and grasses for income and feed, eating from their home garden, and most importantly, staying together.

Heifer’s impact in the whole village of Anlong Sar has been profound: increasing the number of home latrines from 10% to over 90%; boosting family income by 30%; improving food security with animals and home gardens; decreasing the incidence of malaria by 80%; and building solidarity among these women who are so warm and affectionate, they competed to hold my hand the entire time I was there (how much did I love that??)

Women from one of the four Self-Help Groups in Anlong Sar village with KK, Heifer’s country director.

Devoted teacher Eath Korm.

I saw more evidence of the strength of the community when we met Eath Korm, a disabled 21-year old who loved school but was denied entrance past middle school because his parents couldn’t manage the transportation (Korm can’t walk). However, a member of Anlong Sar’s Self-Help Group knew of Korm’s desire to teach and encouraged him to set up a tutorial service – and with the help of Heifer’s curriculum guides, literacy packets and Teaching Technology courses (the town has no books for the children to read, so they practice with the literacy handbooks), Korm is now tutoring an after-school class of 20 enthusiastic kids.

It’s a tiny village, Anlong Sar. There’s a long way to go before there is real literacy or decent education here, and the government hasn’t made much headway in meeting its responsibilities to these poor provinces. And yet … when you see darling Soueb and her family, or Korm on crutches before his eager students in the classroom, it’s hard not to see this as a leap forward in hope.

I’m feeling it. Are you?

Categories: Cambodia, Education, Heifer International, Photography, Poverty, Travel, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 45 Comments

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