Hello All, and thanks for following me. Cambodia is flat in and around Takeo Province. And I mean really flat. Rice fields as far as you can see. This makes for easy bike riding. About 10K from where I live there is a ‘mountain’ with a temple at the summit called Phnom Chistor. I have mountain in quotations because it is only 130 m high. It rises seemingly out of nowhere from the rice fields. When you ride into the parking area there are food venders with open shelters for you to eat. The shelters have hammocks or rice pads for sitting. There are over 500 steps built into the side of this mountain as you can see in the picture. At the top is a Buddhist Wat where the monks live but if you continue along the path you come to the ruins. It was built in the 11th century by a Hindu king and from what I can tell much of it still remains. From the summit, I can see far into the distance. I could even see Phnom Penh from where we were standing. Anyone is free to walk among the carved stone ruins and there is even a Buddhist shrine where you can enter and meditate inside this ancient temple.

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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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Hello All, and thanks for following me. This week I’m going to begin a series about daily life in Cambodia. So far my life in Cambodia surrounds my work at the health center. I live in a small village that is literally a cross road. There is a market and some shops but that is basically all there is to it. However, it sits on a major route between Phnom Penh and Takeo which goes on to Vietnam. When I say major route, I mean a 2-lane road that is paved. This is rural Cambodia. The health center is about 2 k from that intersection down a dirt road. These are the pictures of the health center. Although it is a small building, there is a pharmacy, consultation room, antenatal care room, delivery room and vaccination room. The clinic is staffed with nurses and midwives among others for support staff. We see patients in the front of the building. The separate building has cots in case a patient has to stay over-night or a mother who is expecting. There is no food service, running water or indoor bathroom at the center but family and friends make sure their loved ones are taken care of. This facility also has ambulance service which is not common among these rural health centers. This health center covers 22 villages, 10 of which are remote so we do smalls clinics by riding motos, which are small motorcycles, to some of these very rural villages. You may be wondering what there is to do around here when not at work. Check in next time and find out. hint- it’s a thousand years old. Until next time.

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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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Hello All, and thank you for following me. This week is more on Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. I visited Tuol Sleng which was the prison that Pol Pot used to torture those suspected of anything that would be a threat to the Khmer Rouge. It is now a genocide museum dedicated to all those that suffered there. I have no pictures because it was requested that none be taken. However, you can google them but be aware they are graphic and hard to look at. People who were taken there were tortured in extreme and inhumane ways until they admitted to doing whatever they were accused of doing. Then they were taken to the killing fields and executed. The pictures here are of the Khmer Rouge killing fields. People were taken away from their families but the families were not given any information as to where they were taken. The mother of my host family, while I was in training, had three cousins taken away by the Khmer Rouge. It wasn’t till she toured Tuol Sleng did she find out what happened to at least one of them. There were walls filled with the mugshots of the prisoners. He was one of them. I use the word mugshot for lack of a better term. These people were not given any trial or opportunity to prove their innocence. They were forced into confession then executed and buried in mass graves. Of the 12,000 to 20,000 that were imprisoned at Toul Sleng there were only twelve confirmed survivors. Tuol Sleng was one of 200 of Pol Pots torture prisons. So many, including myself, want to know how a person this evil and deranged could gain so much power. He came to power, at least partially, due to the US bombing raids in Cambodia during the Vietnam war. Cambodia chose to stay neutral in regards to the war. Due to the neutrality, North Vietnam was able to set up camps within Cambodia along the South Vietnam border. Nixon and Kissinger decided unilaterally and in secret to bomb Cambodia. These bombing raids were illegal and without authorization from Congress. We were not at war with Cambodia. Worse yet these raids didn’t just bomb the camps. They carpet bombed Cambodia killing innocent people. The Cambodians sought to overthrow the government to stop the bombing. Pol Pot claimed he could put a stop to the bombing raids. There is more about Pol Pot to come in future posts. My intention is to keep this blog accurate and informative. If there is an inaccuracy, please let me know and I will make the correction.

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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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P’chum Ben Festival

September 23, 2017

Hello All, and thank you for following me. This week was the week of the P’Chum Ben Festival

also known as “Ancestors’ Day” is one of Cambodia’s most important Buddhist festivals. The festival is dedicated to blessing the spirits of the dead. It is a 15-day celebration and these 15 days are called Pchum season. The festival is based on the principles of Karma and reincarnation. While most people are believed to be reincarnated after death, those with bad karma can be trapped in the spirit world or hell and that they are unable to be reincarnated. It is also believed that some of the dead receive punishments for their sins and burn in hell. They suffer a lot and are tortured there. Hell is far from us and those souls and spirits cannot see the sun; they have no clothes to wear and no food to eat. According to Buddhist beliefs, what we experience after death is determined by the actions that we took when we were living. The punishment for minor infractions may include being an unattractive ghost or having a small mouth. With a small mouth, it is hard to eat. But with more severe sins, a punishment could include being crippled or having no mouth at all. It is also believed that being greedy, envious or jealous in one’s life can lead to one becoming a hungry ghost after death.

This is believed to be the time that the guardians of hell release all hungry ghosts to come to earth so that their living relatives can bring them food, fruits, cakes as an offering to the monks at the pagoda and dedicate merit to them. Many Cambodian people believe that preparing food for the Buddhist monks is an act that transfers merit to the hungry ghosts while many believe that the food itself is transferred from the monks to their ancestors. The souls and spirits would come to the pagoda as they hope to receive offerings from their relatives through the prayers recited by the Buddhist monks. When the living relatives offer food to the spirits, the spirits will bless them with happiness and success.

This was the information I had received during my training in regards to the festival.

The festival takes place at the Wat. I celebrated the event with my host family at the local pagoda followed by an amazing meal. If I understood correctly, the Wat that is pictured was built during the 15th century. During the 1970’s, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge systematically destroyed many of these ancient Wats. Anything or anybody that he considered a threat was destroyed. People with educational degrees including doctors and teachers were killed. Even those who wore glasses were considered a threat because it was a sign of intelligence. There is much more to come on Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in future posts. The Wats were a center of education and culture and therefore were a threat to Pol Pot. This Wat happened to have been spared.

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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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Rice, rice and rice

September 17, 2017

Hello All, and thank you for following me. It has been while since my last post because a lot has been happening. I completed training and begin working tomorrow at a small health clinic outside the provincial town of Takeo. I’m living with a Cambodian family that speaks very little English. The town is really small but I’ve been welcomed and already feeling right at home. The topic today is rice. In Cambodia, the diet consists of rice and rice and then more rice. A meal will usually include some meat and vegetable that is either fried or stir fried and placed on top of the bowl of rice. The sweet treats are even made of rice. The diet is all about rice. I can’t tell you how much rice is produced in this country but I would suspect it is a lot and the largest agricultural commodity. We eat rice at breakfast, lunch and dinner. They even refer to this meals as rice. Have you eaten your rice breakfast? Would you like your rice lunch now? I get these types of questions daily. And as you might guess, it can wreak havoc on a gastrointestinal tract not accustomed to this type of diet. The main topic of conversation among staff is bowel movements. This may sound like a rather unappetizing diet but trust me the food is amazing. It is a mystery to me how the mothers of my host family prepares these meals in such a small kitchen. My favorite is pineapple and beef over rice. These pictures show the various stages from planting to harvest to drying. The first picture shows water being pumped from a well to a rice field. The second is a wagon loaded with rice plants to be planted. The third are rice farmers planting rice. The fourth are large fields close to where I live. And the final one is rice drying on large tarps in the sun.

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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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Hello all, yes it has taken me 3 weeks to get a $10 part that would have taken one day get in the US. But I’m back online and have a lot to tell you about including spending the day at the killing fields and the torture prison, Tuol Sleng. So I’ll try and get you all caught up in the next couple weeks. Anyway this post is about perceptions due to an interesting experience I had with some locals. My language teacher had us go into the community and speak with someone in Khmer and then report back as to how it went. So I went to to the cafe that is pictured. I said the phrase that we were instructed the way we were instructed and got nothing but a blank stare. I repeated the phrase. Again blank stares. Tried a few more times and gave up. Upon my return, my instructor asked me how it went. I told her and so we went over the phrase and she sent me back. I approached them and again I gave up after multiple attempts to be understood. So this time she accompanied me. I said the phrase while she listened. Blank stares. She spoke to them and then turned to me and told me to repeat. I did. Blank stares. This went back and forth numerous times and she told to say it one more time. This time their eyes went20170802_000542 wide open and they excitedly began talking to each other. They turned to me and answered the question. On the way back I asked her what I was doing wrong. She told me I was doing nothing wrong and that my Khmer was fine. The problem was that I was a white man from America. They assumed I was speaking English and they couldn’t understand me even though I was speaking to them in perfect Khmer. Perceptions are everything. I can’t help but wonder what I’m not seeing or hearing simply based on my perceptions.

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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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Hello All, and thank you for following me. This weeks post is about the Wat. There are Buddhist Wats all over Cambodia. The most famous being Angkor Wat which is a long way from where I am currently located. When we first arrived here we were taken to the local Wat and led to the open building that is pictured. We were seated on the wooden floor covered with brightly colored mats while the monks sat on a raised section in front of us wearing bright orange robes and their heads shaved. We were asked to sit with both legs bent and to one side. Although I see women commonly sit this way it was extraordinarily uncomfortable for me. After one of the monks had finished speaking- in Khmer of course- they walked among us sprinkling water on us from a bowl using what appeared to be a wooden implement. I felt truly honored. There are many rituals in Cambodia including weddings and funerals. I will share with you first hand each event as they occur. The Wat itself is an amazing place. The pictures here don’t do it justice. I was overwhelmed by the serenity and beauty of the buildings and the flora.  I will be visiting many Wats over the next two years so I’ll continue to share with you these amazing places as I experience each of them. When I was in my twenties and living in center city Philadelphia I had the incredibly fortunate opportunity to shake hands with the Dalai Lama. We were told when we arrived at the Wat to never look a monk in the face but when I was in my twenties I was ignorant of this and unaware that this is something that is asked not to be done. So I looked into the eyes of the Dalai Lama as I held his hands in mine. I was engulfed by a sense of peace that is hard to put into words. I realize these posts may raise many questions and I encourage you to search for the answers. Thanks again for following. Next weeks post I’ll be covering my daily life, Where and how live with a Cambodian family that does not speak English.

Cambodia

July 22, 2017

The wait is over

July 11, 2017

Tomorrow I leave for San Fransisco. It is there that I will meet with the others that I will be working with in Cambodia. There has been a tremendous amount of preparation I’ve had to go through. Imagine taking an entire home and all your belongings, determining what not to keep and what is going into a 10 by 20 locker for the next two years. And then whittling that down to 2 duffle bags. That is all I’m taking with me for the next 2 years. Most likely my next post will be coming to you from Cambodia