Getting Cupped in Cambodia

So it has been a few Egyptian moons since I posted last but Jade and I are still living in Cairo and doing well. Not just well…really well. In fact, yesterday she told me that this year in Egypt has been her favourite year ever. Words to make a mom smile when deciding to alter the “normal” course for a high school Canadian teen.

Since my last post (November?!!) we spent Christmas in Cambodia. For those who know me, I used to live in Cambodia many many Cambodian moons ago. I was beyond excited to be able to explore the country this time through the eyes of a tourist who had the time to see and do things that my work existence hadn’t allowed so long ago.

While exploring, we came across a traditional form of medicine that I recalled from years ago. There was no way I could have forgotten the circle marks on my colleagues’ bodies as they came to work. The idea of cupping to relieve different ailments had never been on my bucket list nor was it this time!

However, as it was described as a relaxing form of treatment, something akin to massage, my husband was eager to give it a try. After reporting positively, Jade was eager to give it a try as well. The cups are attached to the back using a little heat and the resulting suction leaves a round circle for a couple of days. I must say that it looks much worse than it is! In fact, they both announced that it was a very enjoyable and relaxing experience. As to whether it works or not to help certain ailments, I will leave that for others to decide. In any case, it was an experience that none of us will forget!

Living in Cambodia: The Watermelon Way

When I lived in the Cambodian jungle, there was no store. Not. one. single. one.

There was no “I have a craving for (insert junk food) and I think I will hop in my car and go get some.”

Once our maid departed for the day, any late night craving meant boiling water and eating ramen soup. So when a fruit season would hit, I was the first one at the source, scrounging.

I could independently feed myself with le fruit du jour and imbibe all day long! This was exciting stuff. Breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks. Never got boring, ever.

On the odd day that we crossed the mighty Mekong River and went shopping, I would find more of the same fruit. Like lots more (see photograph above). Thankfully some Australian chocolate (which the mouse in my house would eat) and french fries could also be mustered up.

Fruit became my saving grace… all of it… except for one.

Papaya.

Just say no to papaya!

(Eating watermelon today reminded me how much it used to mean to me. And how cheap it used to cost! It also sparked a creative way to use watermelon leftovers on a hot day. Yes, this is he who is a goofball, of the best kind. However, I hope he refrains from such watermelon use in Cambodia when we go this year. He may feel cool, but he doesn’t look it!)

What food saved your day when you were travelling or living elsewhere? Is there any kind of fruit you dislike?

W is for Wary

What had the latest higher up in some office, far away from reality, dreamed up this time?

Wary, I took a look at the freshly arrived load off the boat from the Mekong.

Radios, used radios from God knows what era. As I sifted through them, I found one reminiscent from my teen years, a yellow banana shaped radio that you could carry on your wrist on the way to the beach. I had used it for a summer or two and then discarded it along the way. Still useful but no longer cool, it met its demise. Or so I had thought.

Where had the United Nations found all these old radios? Had they gone from thrift store to thrift store or put out some UN announcement that Cambodia was in desperate need for radios?

Wary, but not worried, I told the workers to store them in my house until we decided what we were going to do with them. Swamped with our work as we prepared the local population for the imminent election, we returned to our office. The radios, out of sight, out of mind, or so we mistakenly thought.

Later that evening, resting at home sweet home, I heard loud pounding at my door. No way to check who it was, I opened it up to find two men in military gear (very common in my Cambodian district – soldiers? police? renegades?) with AK-47s. Sensibly, I let them in. As an objective party in the midst of an election, this wasn’t too unusual. However, I was alone and unable to communicate with them. And then it began…

Whipping their guns around and yelling at me in Khmer, I went to get my cook who looked terrified. Through sign and gun language, I deciphered that they wanted the radios in my living room. Now the fun starts. In Khmer, I try to get my point across (please leave and come back later…much later) but they see this as a sign to start opening boxes and check out the radios. I call for back up on my radio and thankfully, one of my interpreters comes.

Deciding that correct protocol is not worth our lives, I cave and hand over 2 radios. Within minutes, I have a hoard of anxious radio protesters on our porch. Word is out and we are being bombarded. My interpreter tries to negotiate but fails. The porch frenzy quickly turns into a living room frenzy and officially, Radio Hell, has begun. Radios are flying as people push and shove to get into the boxes. More back up arrives, this time armed, and we finally succeed in quashing the thirst for radios… temporarily.

A quick solution is needed. In a Buddhist country such as Cambodia, monks are revered so off to the Wat we go. Radios in hand (well… actually under cover) we happily pass them over for them to decide their fate. Seeing the prized merchandise, the monks decide to keep all the radios for themselves. We then knew that the monks would be well-informed of the upcoming election and our district would, at least, have a good monk/voter turn out rate!

NO, it wasn’t the Khmer Rouge death threat letters, NO, it wasn’t malaria, it was those frigging old radios that almost killed me!

Cheryl from the Family C travelling from A to Z.

Have you ever felt fearful when you were living or travelling somewhere?

K is for Kind

For some, India is an acronym for I will never do it again.

For others, India is an acronym for I need to do it again.

Despite a few rough moments (here and here and here) I loved being in India and have been planning my return forever.

Why? Because despite the bad press India receives sometimes, the country is full of incredibly kind people who will go out of their way to help you, even if the “help” looks and feels a lot different than you are used to 🙂

Expect the unexpected. No where is this more true than India.

Want to feel like a star? Hand out some autographs? Become pen pals with the world? Go to India.

Me, the glamorous tourist (NOT) handing out autographs.

Me, the glamorous tourist (NOT) handing out autographs.

Want to be kindly told what to do? Go to India.

Want to kindly help put out a fire? Good luck and go to India.

2015-04-02 11.42.19However, if India feels like too much too soon, then I highly recommend Cambodia, which for me, has some of the kindest people in the world.

For example, are you married? Did you invite a heap of strangers to your wedding? Didn’t think so.

However, Cambodians are so kind that they do invited strangers to their wedding; this time, being me, over and over. I even had to have a wedding wardrobe sewn to keep up!

At one of many Cambodian weddings. The bride is in the background!

At one of many Cambodian weddings. The bride is in the background!

And what about The Netherlands? A kind Dutch family wrote on their bench.  Please Take A Seat …but don’t smoke any weed or other funny stuff. Our kids are a bit too young to get stoned… Enjoy the best bench in Town!

1238710_10151856460972390_1854675771_nThe kindness of strangers.

Just like you who stop by to read, yet, we haven’t officially met.

Thank you for being so K for kind from the Family C on their path to A to Z.

Who are some of the kindest people you have met on your travels?

C is for Cranky

In the months of January, February and March, I am a cranky Canadian. My family would probably disagree and add a couple more months to that list.

What starts off wonderful as a Canadian kid “Oh look. It’s snowing!” turns into evil as a Canadian adult “if I see one more snowflake, I am going to...(you can fill in the rest)”

So, it is no surprise to the Family C that my OTD (obsessive travel disorder) goes into full-blown crisis mode each and every winter. And for the record, it’s not a pretty sight. More ranting can be viewed here.

This is how it goes down.

I go onto one travel blog. Then another. Then another. And soon I have them all memorized. I can actually tell you where each backpacker is at any given time. Yup, I have become a full-time travel stalker.

So to throw me a bone this winter, Chris informed me that my big birthday (when I turn ??) is coming up and we should plan something extra special for it this year.

No problem, I say. I already have about 5 trips planned out. Which one do you want to do?

Well, he, who is rarely indecisive, immediately chooses the location.

I think. I agree in my head. But what about this place? and this place? and this place? They are all great and we need to see all of them.

And so my OTD resumes.

Until we get there that is.

Christmas in Cambodia. Music to my ears.

Only 8 months and 3 weeks away.

Tick… tick…tick…as I watch the clock.

2015-04-02 11.40.49

First Christmas in Cambodia involved dancing and partying. Doubtful that second Christmas in Cambodia will be the same now that I am older and maybe, wiser 🙂

Thanks for dropping by. Happy A to Zs from the Family C.

Sucking It Up To Ask A Question

I used to be really good at this.

When I was 18 and backpacking through Europe, we asked questions all the time. I remember an entire day spent looking for contact solution in some Italian city; desperately pointing to my contacts and using hand gestures for cleaning said contacts. Finally we hit the contact bonus and found some. A scary moment for an 18-year-old who might have to resort to wearing glasses which in the old days, were pretty sad affairs. Think 2 big thick coke bottle lenses in some kind of unattractive accompanying frame. So yes, I was motivated to ask the questions.

Gradually this changed. Somehow I became “cooler” or “wiser” or “more experienced” and I thought less of asking questions and more of finding it on my own. Do people actually get more stubborn and determined as they get older? Well… a glance at my mom and that might suggest some truth in that statement. 🙂 Anyway, I remember when this came back to bite me in the butt for the first time.

Chris and I were taking some alone time for a romantic holiday to San Francisco. My dad had sworn by San Francisco and said we MUST go there. So here we are on our first day out and I have the guidebook in hand and we are off to explore. Note to couples: before dating, ensure one of you is good at reading maps; NOT both of you think you are good at reading maps but maybe neither is. The latter doesn’t paint quite as pretty of picture. So we head towards China Town and this is where it begins.

“Ah, Chris, do you know where we are going?”

“Yes.”

“Oh, okay. Should we just double-check on the map of our guidebook just to be sure?”

“Well, fine.”

I “read” map, set the direction, off we go, to NOT find China Town anytime soon.

“Do you want to take a look at the map? Just to know if we are definitely going the right way.”

“Sure.”

Looks at it and off we go; still lost and wandering in maybe San Francisco circles; looking for a way out to find China Town.

This continued for some time. You know that deathly silence that occurs between couples when things aren’t quite working out? Yup. We had that going on pretty well.

Somehow by a miracle, we ended up in China Town but by that time, we were no longer “happily exploring” as much as “frustratingly enduring”. I remember entering the fortune cookie factory (our sole goal), looking around quickly and thinking, that wasn’t worth the fight.

So I have learned that sucking it up to ask the question a tad earlier can save you some grief later on.

Despite experience backpacking, you still end up in places where the guidebook is useless, or its maps are useless, or you are useless and you have to move beyond that pride. I once would have known how to manage and get on these Cambodian boats; knowing exactly which one, how much to pay, where to sit but upon returning to Cambodia, I would now have zero clue. Yes, Cheryl, despite having lived there, you will now have to ask some questions.

Special Gifts Come In All Sizes

It can get lonely being the only foreign female living in a village in the jungle of Cambodia.

I had no phone, I had no mail, I had no computer with email; I was pretty isolated except for the UN soldiers and police officers that lived in my village. And although they could speak English, they were men and yes, I missed that female connection. Oh there were many Khmer women around me, in fact all day long, but without the language skills to communicate with each other, this does limit how much a relationship can truly develop.

So this little girl in my village begins to follow me around. She wants a friend and I need one 🙂 She also wants to learn English and I need to learn Khmer – we make a perfect team. She becomes my sidekick and through words and gestures, we develop a special bond. She is like my Cambodian “daughter” without all the hard stuff that goes along with true parenting.

I often wonder where she is now and how her life has turned out. I think about returning to Cambodia and to my district, photo in hand, looking to see if I can find her. That would be a great ending… or another special beginning.

A Barn Reincarnated into an Office Brings Hope

Yes, this was a barn that then became my office in Prek Presap, Cambodia.

It takes a bit of interior design to transform a barn full of pigs, chickens and who knows what else… into a fine proud UN institution (which we didn’t quite accomplish) worthy of bringing hope for a democratic future.

Being 22 years old and with only the limited summer work experience of most Canadian university grads, it was no shock that I had zero clue what I was getting into. It was most definitely, a tiny one step at a time kind of year.

The photo shows our opening day.

Word had got out that we would be arriving and that maybe interviews for positions might begin. My UN partner and I had 2 interpreters and 2 drivers. We had no idea how to begin to interview the numbers that showed up or what the criteria should even be. This was not a job that came with a guidebook.

Once we got into the flow of things, we learned how to use our interpreters to interview quickly due to the huge numbers of people waiting in line.It is tough to know for sure if decisions made are the right ones when communication is lacking.

It turns out we might have made one big mistake; hiring a former(?) Khmer Rouge to have a key role on one of our electoral teams. Oops. Not good. We brought in the UN security guys to deal with that one.

In the end we hired more than 300 people. But… a big But..we discovered that we had unknowingly hired many teachers leading to the school being shut down (temporarily until we fixed that slight problem). Not exactly the goal we were setting out to achieve.

How to convince people to return to old jobs such as teaching when ours paid so much more? The influx of money into a district that was previously isolated from such a world threw everything out of balance.

One guy who was doing the same job as me in the neighboring province was killed by a disgruntled person who apparently had not been hired. Never had I thought what this kind of responsibility and I guess, power, could lead to. Scary. Given the option to leave and return to Canada, I chose to stay but the knowledge of what could happen was now present and rumbling in my mind.

I don’t regret staying, in fact, it was an incredibly rewarding year, despite the fact that the electoral process did not go according to plan. The Khmer Rouge threw some twists and turns into it but our amazing staff persevered through all the challenges.

Their success shone that day when Cambodians walked miles and miles to get to the nearest voting station and proudly marked their ballots; signifying that their voices would finally be heard.