Displaced Yankee Productions | Chopsticks, Tuk Tuk drivers And The Search For Chanting Monks

Theresa thinks I need to write a little about some of the more light hearted events to counter balance the bleakness of yesterday. After the dumps, we wound up at lunch with Kulikar at a place on the river. This requires a little set up: Before we came here we received lots of horror stories about the things we would have to avoid. One of the sketchiest stories was related to us by our friend Liam. He regaled Theresa with images of restaurants that reused chopsticks and silverware, simply dropping them back after use into a glass of warm water and then handed off to the next customer. This was nasty enough to inspire Theresa to pack 40 pairs of disposable chopsticks with us, which we have carted around this past week. However, the said warning never materialized, so Theresa got sick of carrying them around. Murphy’s Law. It even works here. We sat down to eat and suddenly a glass of brackish water and chopsticks was plunked down in front of us. Theresa and I looked at each other, she looked down at her backpack where the stupid chopsticks have been for four days and then back at me with a look of horror. Then it happened, we just could not stop laughing. Weeping with tears in our eyes, unable to explain to Kulikar what was so funny. I’m sure it would have been highly insulting anyway. With some hesitation, we slowly took chopsticks and furiously rubbed them down with tissues. Remember the game Operation? Then you can picture us eating – carefully picking up the food and trying to eat it off the chopsticks without our mouths actually touching them.
Later that evening, the riverfront is jammed packed. It is Women’s Day in Cambodia, which is a national holiday. This is separate from Mother’s Day, which is also celebrated. Sounds like something we Americans could take a page from. Everyone celebrates and parties and Tuk Tuks and motorbikes cram the roads. We briefly checked out the Fun Fair (basically a permanent carnival) at Kulikar’s suggestion, but decided we’d really rather have frozen daiquiris and some dinner. Our Tuk Tuk driver was no where to be found, so we engaged another, told him to take us to the National Museum, which is only one of the biggest tourist and local attractions in the whole city, and set off. He had cheerfully agreed with us that he could get us there. It was only about two miles away. Twenty wrong turns, five really dark, scary alleys, two stops for directions, one uncertain trek down the middle of a market where we briefly got stuck on a pile of garbage and forty five minutes later, we finally arrive. All Tuk Tuk drivers are NOT created equal.
The one thing Theresa has wanted to do here (besides ride the elephant) is listen to the monks chanting. Kulikar let us know if we got up at 5 am (already I was groaning inside) we could go to a temple and hear them chant. But we could not go alone; we would have to be escorted by a man (a real one this time, not Kulikar.) She told us she would have a driver waiting for us at dawn to take us. Five a.m. came way to soon for me. Theresa, of course, was up and cheerful and ready to go. I made it halfway up, groaned, and sprawled back on the foot of my bed – highly disgruntled. Theresa came breezing out of the bathroom. “You are a dramatic ‘waker upper’” she informed me, in no uncertain terms.
It doesn’t take me long to wake up when we walk outdoors. Kulikar has indeed sent a driver – with a motorbike. Theresa and I look at each other. We’ve seen up to five Cambodians on the back of these death traps, but they are a fraction of our size. Well, if you can’t beat them…. We climb on. I am hanging so far on the back, I am actually sitting on my hand that is clutching the back bar. I wrap my arm around Theresa’s shoulder and whisper in her ear “Don’t you dare let me fall off this thing” She holds onto my right knee, which is comforting, but unless she’s the bionic woman, there’s not a chance she’s gonna save my neck if we hit a bump, the brakes, a Tuk Tuk, or a cow.
We wind up at a temple, but the monks are not chanting. It turns out someone has died. Our driver takes us to another temple. He insists we go inside and sit down. Here there are monks chanting, but we notice other people as well and a large picture of a man. The driver lets us know this is also for the man who died. Basically, we’ve wandered into a funeral at five thirty in the morning. Only with Theresa can I possibly wind up doing this. We sit silently listening and paying our respects. Then it is back to the motorbike. Our driver wants to takes us on a ride around the river. We look at each other and shrug. Why not? You only live once.

Thursday – Hope Among The Ruins – A Day At The CCF
At nine a.m. a petite, twenty-something, blond, young woman named Allie pops into the lobby. After months of emails it is nice to meet her in person. Allie works for the CCF or Cambodian Children’s Fund, the non profit partner on our project. She’s come to bring us over to the shelter because we cannot possibly manage to carry all the wonderful supplies our friends and families have sent with us by Tuk Tuk. As we haul out the two full suitcases, large plastic bag and backpack full of stuff, she is very grateful. And so am I to everyone who sent the supplies with us. I am here to tell you they are desperately needed and appreciated. I cannot wait to get to the shelter and meet the kids. Theresa and I are in dire need of some success stories after the horrors we have seen this last week. I am anxious in particular to meet a little six year old named Navie, who I have fallen in love with on the CCF website. (You can see Navie’s “before” picture at the dump and “after” picture at the shelter by going to their website at www.cambodianchildrensfund.com and clicking on the children’s stories.) I found myself drawn to her awful story and wondered how she was doing.
We arrived at the shelter, a wonderful large old four story building that schools, feeds, treats and provides a safe haven for 147 children, 100 of whom sleep there every night. Beaming little faces excited to see us pull up and crowd around the truck. Shy smiles and waves – many are learning English and are happy to practice it on us. “Hello my name is…. and I am ‘X’ years old” was our common greeting the whole day. Allie introduces us to Scott Neeson, CCF’s founder, with whom I have been corresponding with for the last year. He is even more amazing, warm and selfless in person. A red haired Scotsman with a heart of gold. He gives us a tour of the facility, telling us stories here and there about the children and the backgrounds they come from. Garbage pickers, street kids, abandoned, abused…the list goes on. There is one girl with a badly scarred face from a kerosene explosion. She giggles at me and waves. A young boy with stage-four Aids is watching Peter Pan in his English class. A girl that Scott found out in the providences, when he was there on a visit, climbed in his lap. When everyone went home that day, no one took her and simply left her there with him. A little girl who is a humpback. She is progressively getting worse and there is no surgeon in the country capable of dealing with the problem. Her name is Leyda. And there is Navie in class. Sound asleep with her head on the desk. She is no bigger than a three year old. Scott tells us she was feral when they first found her and that she’s quite the little mischievous imp now. We are impressed with the organization and setup he has accomplished in just a few short years. The children clearly love him and he clearly loves them. When he interacts with each child, he makes them feel as if they were the most special kid in the room. I watch as he moves through the classroom – a touch on the back here, a pat on the head there. Smiles for everyone. It isn’t long before the children warm up to us. I’m in the main lobby when little Navie, fresh from her nap in school, staggers into the room. She clearly wakes up like me. I say her name and she turns toward me. Without any words or hesitation, she simply walks over and climbs into my arms. She tucks her head on my shoulder. I am in love. J A worker comes by and takes her from me after about fifteen minutes explaining that she is sick. Good to know.
Little Leyda approaches me shyly with a book that we have just bought. I see a little boy make off with a flashcard game from our stash. I sit on the floor and Leyda leans into my side. I open the book to read her a story and suddenly I am surrounded by about seven kids. I read four stories, several twice. At one point Navie makes her way back into the room and beelines for my lap. I’ve already been exposed to the germs anyway.
We spend some time pointing to pictures in the book and naming objects, numbers and letters. Scott comes by pulling on boots. He is heading to the dumps with mosquito nets and wants us to come. Thankfully, he has rubber boots for us as we were not expecting to go back to that horror so soon. Scott is heading for a village of shacks at the dumps where the families are. There are several CCF kids that have been MIA for a few days and Scott suspects their families have them back at the dump. He also wants to hand out supplies and check on the health of a sick three year old he saw there last week. While the dump was just as horrible today, there was a sense of hope as we walked around with Scott – seeing in action the power of one and the power to make a difference.
We head back to the shelter feeling more positive than we have in days. Leyda glues herself to my side for most of the afternoon. Navie is napping again. Theresa and I spend a great deal of time filming and interacting with the children and hearing their stories from Scott. It is an overload of information and I cannot wait to really get started filtering it all for the project. The doctor arrives around five to give shots and check on certain children and then it is time for arts and music classes. There are several different classes going on at once and Theresa and I sample them all. In the drama class, the students are all going through their lessons. We take a seat to watch them. They are all so happy and joyous it is hard to imagine where they came from. Little Navie sees me across the room and decides she’s had enough class. She breaks from the group and beelines over, climbing into my lap and cuddling. Theresa gives me the eye.. “Yeah, I can see you’re just hating this”… I grin.
Too soon the day is done and we are headed back to our hotel. For the first time, our exhaustion is mixed with excitement and a sense of hope. We are leaving tomorrow for a few days to travel to the ruined temples at Angkor and will be out of internet range for a few days. But what better images to leave you with than this day. We’ll send the photos from CCF when we return. Until then, peace and love.

 
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