Hello All and thanks for following me. Today’s topic is Schools.

There are both private and public schools in Cambodia. I’ve got friends who teach in the international schools but they are mostly in the larger towns like Phnom Penh or Siem Reap and are expensive. The villages have public schools. This is the high school in my village. The educational structure in Cambodia is primary school which is grades 1-6 and secondary schools which is 7-12. Universities are located in the provincial towns and Phnom Penh. The school week goes from Monday through Saturday, however, the days are shorter.  As you can see from the pictures, the classrooms are very basic and don’t have electricity. These rooms can get punishingly hot during the heat of the day without fans so students leave around 10:00 in the morning then have afternoon classes that begin at 2:00. I live across the street from this school. My host father is a math teacher. The neighbor on one side teaches physics and the other neighbor teaches Khmer and I know several of the English teachers.

The students all wear uniforms. Female students wear long black skirts that extend below the knees and white blouses. It would not be considered proper for knees and shoulders to be exposed and should be covered when out in public. Male students wear long black pants and white shirts.

Also pictured here is a wooden structure with a corrugated metal roof. This would be considered the cafeteria where students are able to purchase breakfast, drinks and snacks here. The bathroom is the small yellow building. Without electricity there is no running water but a cistern that is filled for the hand washing station.

There is no formal sports or physical education classes. Diabetes is a leading cause of death in Cambodia and kidney disease, a complication of diabetes and hypertension, is reaching epidemic levels. Making matters worse is the fact that Cambodia only has 5 dialysis centers in the entire country and there is no such thing as health insurance to pay for it. Therefore, dialysis is not an option for most of the population even if they could afford it. Education is the key to addressing this health crisis in Cambodia. Peace Corps is actively trying to promote exercise and healthy living habits in the schools. I’ve been to other developing countries such as Haiti and Guyana that raise sugar cane as does Cambodia. Sources and the damaging effects of sugar are often misunderstood and when sugar cane is cheap and easily accessible the result is elevated incidence of deadly chronic disease.

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Disclaimer: The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Cambodian Government.
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This is a short description of one of my books called Azaleas Beyond the Prison Walls. This is my favorite book filled with twists and turns to keep the reader guessing.

It’s 1930 and Carson Jones is a prison guard at the notorious Eastern States Penitentiary in Philadelphia where some of America’s most violent inmates and gangsters are serving time. Amidst the desperation of the Depression and a crowd of hostile convicts, Carson finds solace in an azalea garden behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art and in helping an inmate he believes has been wrongfully accused of murder and sentenced to death. Carson’s life begins to take a turn when he meets a beautiful young woman through a coworker. Her father is a judge and agrees to help him, but at a price. Carson is forced to choose between a life of meaning and purpose and leaving his friend at the mercy of a threatening warden who is becoming increasingly more unhinged. Though the life he has always dreamed of is finally within reach, is it worth it? In a novel chock-full of history and suspense, James Rizzo crafts a suspenseful narrative full of real-life history and page-turning intrigue.

This is the book trailer for my novel Azaleas Beyond the Prison Walls. Book sales are increasing so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those that have supported me by purchasing my books. Although I’m no longer with Smart Cat Publishing, all my books are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Links are on this website. Hope you will take a moment to listen and enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

Hello All, and thanks for following me. Todays topic is The Khmer New Year

Cambodians like to celebrate and the New Year is no exception. In fact, they celebrate it twice a year. The International New Year on January 1 and Khmer New Year for three days in April. The Khmer New Year has a mythical component. I was given the following in regards to the symbolism of the Khmer New Year. The celebration is connected to the signs of the zodiac. As the story goes there was a young man, Thoamabal, who was a layman in charge of religious ceremonies for everyone. One day a religious leader, Kabel Maha Prohm, decided to challenge Thiamabal with three riddles. If he could not answer them correctly, he would be beheaded. If he did then Kabel Maha Prohm would be beheaded. He had seven days to solve the three riddles. With the assistance of an eagle. Thoamabal was able to answer the riddles. Kabel, realizing his failure, called his seven daughters to share his fate. They are now seven angels that represent the seven days of the week and the New Year is named after the angel of the day on which the first day of the holiday falls.

The first day of the New Year celebration is called Maha Songkran or Great Almanac Day. This day marks the ending of the previous year and the beginning of a new year. People will dress nicely to light candles and incense sticks at shrines. Members of families pay homage and give thanks to Buddha for his teachings.

The second day, called Virak Wanabat or Worshiping Day, is the day that people contribute to charity by helping the poor and less fortunate. They will also attend a dedication ceremony to their ancestors at the Wat.

The third day is called Virak loeurng Sak or Promotion Day. This is the day that the statues of Buddha are cleaned. Bathing the statues of Buddha  is symbolic that all living things need water. It is thought to be a kind deed that will bring longevity, good luck, happiness and prosperity to life.

There is a custom that people erect mounds of sand at the Wat. There is a large mound in the center that represents the stupa at Tavatimsa. This is the stupa where the hair and diadem of Buddha is said to have been buried. The large center stupa is surrounded by 4 smaller ones which represent the stupas of the Buddha’s favorite disciples: Sariputta, Moggallana, Ananda, and Maha Kassapa. I participated in the ceremony at the Wat and was given incense sticks that were placed in each of these mounds. As you can see in the pictures, the Wat is decorated for the occasion with colored flags and banners.

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Disclaimer: The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Cambodian Government.
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This is a book review I had received from my one of my young adult novels “The Gift of Phineas Lake”. Kirkus is well known for their high standards in regards to book reviews since the 1930’s. Needless to say, I was very pleased with their review. Please take a moment and read this review. All ordering information is on this website. http://www.jimrizzo.com

A quick, compelling historical novel with a magical touch.

Rizzo uses historical figures and facts as the foundation for this suspenseful story within a story about the Underground Railroad and racial tension in antebellum industrial Pennsylvania. The book begins in 1897, when Jake and Gordy, two boys, get curious about an abandoned house in town—the former home of the titular Phineas Lake, who disappeared 50 years ago under mysterious circumstances. Though most adults discourage the boys from inquiring further, Gordy’s grandfather Cooper reveals that he was Phineas’ childhood best friend, and he’s just the first of many who begin to tell the boys about Phineas as they piece together the true story of what happened. Phineas had been blessed with a miraculous healing touch—able to cure any wound or illness with his hands alone—but he did his best to keep his gift a secret, since Rev. Davis, the village preacher, was quick to condemn such a thing as witchcraft. During the night,

however, Phineas would heal the freed slaves—the closest doctor refused to treat them—who worked at the iron furnace in town. After a nearby Underground Railroad conductor realized how Phineas’ skills could be used to help the exhausted and sick fugitives, Phineas (along with young Cooper) became a fugitive himself, only returning to town after a terrible storm brings on a deadly fever among the locals. The racist, magic-fearing Rev. Davis, however, hardly gives

him a warm homecoming; it isn’t long before he’s calling for Phineas to be killed. Rizzo’s story has plenty of momentum, and the boys’ eagerness to listen to each of Cooper’s tales works well, keeping the reader as enthralled as Jake and Gordy are. Though there’s not much historical nuance here, the book has an unassailable moral message that would be a great choice for YA readers with an interest in the history of American slavery.

A well-paced, engaging reimagining of antebellum Pennsylvania.

 

 

Hello All, and thanks for following me. Todays topic is The Khmer  Funeral Ceremony

Hello All, Todays topic is Khmer Funerals. Last weekend I was traveling back to the village from a weekend in Phnom Penh. I travel in vans called turihs. These vans are unregulated and the drivers want to make as much money as they can so they pack them with as many people as possible. The vans have bench seating so if you have an issue with maintaining personal space then riding turihs may be problematic for you. As you might imagine, they aren’t the safest either. Most Cambodians  ride motos, small motorcycles, that they use without any type of head protection. There are no hard and fast rules for driving safety. Red lights are often ignored. On a 2-lane road you might see a moto passing a car that is passing a bus all at the same time. Needless to say, traffic fatalities are a common occurrence.  So, as we were leaving Phnom Penh the traffic stopped and was backed up for a very long way. When we finally passed the accident scene, I could see that it had involved an elderly woman who was most likely traveling on the back of a moto without a helmet.

All cultures have a way of dealing with the death of a loved one. Cambodians view death differently than Westerners. In Buddhism, there is the belief that death is the end of a life cycle. Buddhists believe in reincarnation so the end of a life cycle evolves into another of birth, sickness, old age, death and rebirth. In the event of death, there are certain rituals that must be performed to ensure the person is able to move from one cycle to the next. The Buddhist monk plays a key role in many rituals including death. If at all possible, the monk will be in attendance as a person is dying because this is the time when the soul leaves the body but is still present. It is believed that the soul is in a state of confusion after leaving the body and the monk provides needed comfort to the soul.

Following the death of a person, they are placed in a coffin. The body is not dissected or embalmed but kept at the house of the family for up to 7 days, in the structure that is pictured, before cremation. The funeral procession to the crematorium consists of the monks, family followed by friends.  Mourning loved ones may shave their heads. White is the traditional color for mourning as opposed to wearing black in Western culture. The coffin is carried to the temple crematorium. Cambodians are cremated because it is believed that cremation allows the soul to part ways from the body. The crematorium that I have pictured here is at Wat Opot Childrens Community. The ashes and bones are placed in a stupa that is usually on temple grounds. Each stupa is designated by family. I have pictured some of the stupas at Wat Opot.

============
Disclaimer: The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Cambodian Government.
=============

This is a book review I had received from my one of my young adult novels “The Gift of Phineas Lake”. Kirkus is well known for their high standards in regards to book reviews since the 1930’s. Needless to say, I was very pleased with their review. Please take a moment and read this review. All ordering information is on this website. http://www.jimrizzo.com

A quick, compelling historical novel with a magical touch.

Rizzo uses historical figures and facts as the foundation for this suspenseful story within a story about the Underground Railroad and racial tension in antebellum industrial Pennsylvania. The book begins in 1897, when Jake and Gordy, two boys, get curious about an abandoned house in town—the former home of the titular Phineas Lake, who disappeared 50 years ago under mysterious circumstances. Though most adults discourage the boys from inquiring further, Gordy’s grandfather Cooper reveals that he was Phineas’ childhood best friend, and he’s just the first of many who begin to tell the boys about Phineas as they piece together the true story of what happened. Phineas had been blessed with a miraculous healing touch—able to cure any wound or illness with his hands alone—but he did his best to keep his gift a secret, since Rev. Davis, the village preacher, was quick to condemn such a thing as witchcraft. During the night,

however, Phineas would heal the freed slaves—the closest doctor refused to treat them—who worked at the iron furnace in town. After a nearby Underground Railroad conductor realized how Phineas’ skills could be used to help the exhausted and sick fugitives, Phineas (along with young Cooper) became a fugitive himself, only returning to town after a terrible storm brings on a deadly fever among the locals. The racist, magic-fearing Rev. Davis, however, hardly gives

him a warm homecoming; it isn’t long before he’s calling for Phineas to be killed. Rizzo’s story has plenty of momentum, and the boys’ eagerness to listen to each of Cooper’s tales works well, keeping the reader as enthralled as Jake and Gordy are. Though there’s not much historical nuance here, the book has an unassailable moral message that would be a great choice for YA readers with an interest in the history of American slavery.

A well-paced, engaging reimagining of antebellum Pennsylvania.

 

 

Hello All, and thanks for following me. This weeks blog post is about Wat Opot Childrens Community.  I know ther e is a lot of bad press out there about orphanages. People like JK Rowling are pushing an agenda to have them all shut down. I suggest that you make an informed decision before taking a position. I’ve spent time at Wat Opot. I’ve spent time at orphanages in Haiti and Guyana. I’ve heard the arguments. Yes, there are places that are unregulated and should be shut down. But not all of them. I can say this without hesitation. There are places like Wat Opot and this is their story:

Wayne Matthysse was a medic during the Vietnam War. He was one of only two that survived the war out of his entire company.  The company was out on a mission one day when they realized they were surrounded. They called in for help and that’s when they found out that they were on a suicide mission. There would be no help. Nobody was coming to save them. A shell went off close to them and hit one of the men. Wayne ran out to help him when another went off. Shrapnel shattered the left side of his glasses, blinding Wayne. They tried to call for help and this time a rogue helicopter pilot responded. He flew in and the company got Wayne and the other soldier on the helicopter but this, however, gave away their position to the North Vietnamese. Seconds after to chopper was in the air the rest of the company was slaughtered.  Wayne had only been in Vietnam for 2 months and now back in the US he found work on the Navajo Reservation for the next 12 years. Eventually he made his way to Honduras where he worked with a missionary and built a medical clinic for a remote village. He spent another 12 years in Honduras but due to the violence he was forced to leave. He decided to return to Cambodia. Without money, connections or even knowing how to speak Khmer he opened an AIDS hospice with a Cambodian friend he had met. Back then the medications for treatment were not yet available and little was understood on how AIDS was contracted. Therefore, people diagnosed with AIDS were often completely abandoned by their family and community. They were left to die on their own even if they contracted the virus through no fault of their own. Wayne offered these people a place to die with dignity and care. As more people died at Wat Opot they often left children behind that were now homeless and also carrying the virus. Wat Opot is no longer a hospice but an orphanage for these children. There are about 50 children here, many of which are HIV positive. Many of them have family but for one reason or another are unable to live there. Wat Opot offers them a safe and secure alternative. Wat Opot is about 10 K from where I live and I get up there when I can. Volunteers are welcome to come here and stay. Find out for yourself the facts about orphanages. http://www.watopot.org

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Disclaimer: The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Cambodian Government.
=============

Hello All, and thanks for following me. Todays topic is Cashews

There are so many agricultural commodities that are available here in Cambodia that are not available in the US. I could go on and on about the fruits that grow here that people in the US will probably never get to experience. There are so many different types but I suspect that would get boring if it hasn’t already. So, I wanted to do one more about cashews because I find them really interesting and relatable since we commonly eat them in the US. Cashews grow all around Cambodia in trees. This was a tree next to the bungalow where I was staying on Koh Rong Island. The fruit looks like apples and are edible, however, I’ve been told are an acquired taste. The thick stem growing out of the top of the ‘apple’ is the cashew nut. The stem is cut off the top and then the hard shell is split to get to the meaty nut on the inside. A traditional Khmer dish is cashew chicken. Chicken, cashews and vegetables stir-fried over rice make for a super tasty dish.

============
Disclaimer: The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the Cambodian Government.
=============

This is a short description of one of my books called Azaleas Beyond the Prison Walls. This is my favorite book filled with twists and turns to keep the reader guessing.

It’s 1930 and Carson Jones is a prison guard at the notorious Eastern States Penitentiary in Philadelphia where some of America’s most violent inmates and gangsters are serving time. Amidst the desperation of the Depression and a crowd of hostile convicts, Carson finds solace in an azalea garden behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art and in helping an inmate he believes has been wrongfully accused of murder and sentenced to death. Carson’s life begins to take a turn when he meets a beautiful young woman through a coworker. Her father is a judge and agrees to help him, but at a price. Carson is forced to choose between a life of meaning and purpose and leaving his friend at the mercy of a threatening warden who is becoming increasingly more unhinged. Though the life he has always dreamed of is finally within reach, is it worth it? In a novel chock-full of history and suspense, James Rizzo crafts a suspenseful narrative full of real-life history and page-turning intrigue.

This is the book trailer for my novel Azaleas Beyond the Prison Walls. Book sales are increasing so I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those that have supported me by purchasing my books. Although I’m no longer with Smart Cat Publishing, all my books are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Links are on this website. Hope you will take a moment to listen and enjoy.