It is easy to quickly acclimate to the chaos of the city; vehicles of all sorts, open store fronts, men squatting on the sidewalk fixing, carving, welding, eating, watching, and the like are all common sites. There are millions of motorbikes in
Eleven million people live in
We change hotels three times while in
After a nice breakfast at the Hotel Anise where they make a great quasi-western breakfast of an omelet of sorts with a grilled tomato half garnishing the plate served with great French baguette, we take a big Mercedes van to the Wat Opot orphanage an hour and a half south of
I worry about the kids contracting the illness from each other and of the danger of getting sick myself as some of the children pointed out to me having AIDs have open sores on their arms and legs while others HIV positive look completely healthy. It is a sad situation to witness.
Some of the children eventually join us in our tour of the grounds as we walk towards the Wat being led by a very interesting woman from
Upon arriving at the Project, she found the Wat to be filled with garbage and the floors filthy. The monks didn’t clean up and it was not a peaceful place to mediate. She cleaned it right away and started a program with the kids to help every week there. The monks have appreciated their efforts and started to take better care of the overall grounds as well. In the main temple the kids cling to a few of us and run around yelling, listening with muffled giggles as their voices echo in the tall empty brightly painted room. They play a game with me where they try to sneak up on me, only to run away when I ‘happen’ to notice them. They are adorable.
art therapy and scotch tape
We have time with a few kids who are not in school and we start the first session of Art Therapy using ‘story people’ to talk about what's important in their lives and how we are all different so to praise our individuality. We talk about expressions and how we each react to various situations. The kids draw their own faces in various moods, one child so intent on being accurate that he stood in front of a small mirror hanging in the classroom his sheet of paper held to the wall adjacent. The kids are so loving, interested, and focused on education. Many spoke –via translators, and wrote about how they want to go to university to study and to travel or be doctors. Education is what
After the lesson we sit on the cement fence in front of the dorm and talk with the kids. Most just want to hold our hands. One of the older woman helpers – who are nicked-named, ‘Grandmas’, walks out of the dorm with a five year old crying boy whose legs are covered in sores. Closer, she pushes him towards me to hold and comfort. I am completely petrified as he is likely HIV positive and I am scared to touch him avoiding personal contact with the children all day. I pat his back and pull him a little closer to my side. The Grandma puts his hand in mine and I work hard not to show alarm on my face. Still he cries. I’m not about to pick him up. I walk him over to another from our visiting group is lifting boys up to sit in a tree hoping he’ll take over for me. I walk slowly with this little child until I see that his feet are starting to bleed as they are dry and swollen, the dirt and gravel trail being too much for them. I turn him around and get him back to the Grandma pointing to his feet. Of course he’s crying.
I’m never so thrilled to get on our mini-bus and douse my hands and arms with anti-bacterial gel, though I wait ‘till after we have waved our goodbyes and the bus has turned away from the kids.
At breakfast in a new neighborhood we sit on a sunny veranda overlooking a street. There become fewer and fewer cars and suddenly there are monks in the street marching and carrying gold boxes, some with umbrellas shielding them from the sun, others an umbrella being held for them by a helper aside or behind them. There are many people now and the street has suddenly turned into a parade. Behind the monks are women of all ages and mostly older who are dressed in white carrying these same boxes. Then come women in white tops and matching maroon sarongs carrying one or two gold boxes, some carrying gifts on their heads.
I get myself to the curb narrowly missing an old shabbily dressed woman walking on the street parallel with the parade carrying a large bamboo cage filled with small wren like birds. I take pictures of the women who oblige by smiling at my camera. The parade now turns to young people dressed in white shirts and navy pants –typical school uniforms, carrying these same boxes. I’ve got to find out what this is all about, so I start walking in the parade much to the chagrin of my traveling companions and make my way to the middle to spy. I find a young boy smiling in greeting to me and say hello the Kmer way, “Sou-sdie!”. He says “hello” in response and I ask him what is in the box and why they are marching. Unfortunately his English only extends to greeting though and he can’t answer. The gold boxes have clear lids and I look inside only to see various toiletries and toys. They all seem to be carrying the same box filled with similar items. It reminds me of the Samaritan Christmas shoe box initiative.
another orphanage A
After breakfast, we drive a short way into the province to visit a smaller orphanage of about thirty kids run by Baptist Philippines. I choose to do a coping exercise where we can discuss what is important in our days and in our hearts to help the children look within themselves to draw comfort in their faith and for the dreams and memories they hold most dear.
It is a very successful lesson day and gives Frida and I the most warmth that maybe we helped them.
I draw on the sheets of large paper a heart and hand them out to each child who eagerly starts drawing understanding the exercise completely to record what is important to them inside the heart. Afterward we have a few kids explain to everyone why they drew what they did. It is so incredibly precious. I explain with Romaleen that they are to remember these future dreams, faith, friends, and ideas always. I remind them that they are the future of
As we loaded in the van to head back to the city, it was especially precious to hear one young child singing to himself, "God is so good.."