Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Monday, December 29, 2008
(Here they are riding in their first Tuk-tuk!)
It didn’t even matter that their arrival came 3 DAYS later than expected, and completely shifted our whole trip’s itinerary. Because I wanted my mom and dad to have the best experience possible in Cambodia, I was fairly upset when I realized we would have to forgo our excursion to the ruins at Siem Reap. But we made the most of their 6 full days here, packing in a visit to Wat Phnom, the Russian Market, the National Park, and even an all-day trip to several village churches for worship. There will be more to come on that experience in a later post. But today, I wanted to write about our first day’s excursion to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek (or the Killing Fields).
(Tuol Sleng Museum's Entrance)
Anyone who has read anything on Cambodia knows that the horrendous genocide that took place barely 30 years ago under the Khmer Rouge has single-handedly shaped this nation in ways we Westerners will never truly fathom. Killing off 1/5 of the nation’s inhabitants, Pol Pot’s brutal communist regime mercilessly beat, starved and tortured between 1 to 2.5 million people during his rule from 1975 to 1979.
There are few, if any, Cambodians that have not personally suffered in some way because of the terror inflicted on their nation. Many of my peers here have had to grow up without parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles. In fact, so many people died during that small section of time that there is a gap in Cambodia’s population. Today, the average age in Cambodia is 20.6 years, and over half the people are under the age of 25! Land mine victims can be found on nearly every corner- some begging for spare change, others working selling cards or other handmade crafts. Even a short visit to Cambodia will reveal how deeply impacted everyone here continues to be by the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge.
I know none of that is something that many of you want to hear. However, I personally think it is essential that people the world over open their eyes to the atrocities going on around them. No, they are not pleasant to hear about. But unless and until we acknowledge the evil that exist in the world today, we can never hope to defeat it. That is why I was so eager to take my mom and dad to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum as well as to the Killing Fields. I wanted them to see firsthand how horrible the Khmer Rouge’s actions were. While not a lighthearted day, our time spent touring those two sights was undoubtedly impactful.
Here are some photos of the victims of S-21, a prison in which the museum is located:
And here are the cells people were kept inside:
Here are a few of the excavated mass graves at the Kiling Fields:
I think this sign speaks for itself.
If you can't read that sign at the bottom, it says, "Please don't walk through the mass grave."
I will avoid a long explanation here of everything in these photos. Instead, here are some links to information about both the prison and the Killing Fields for those of you that are interested to learn more.
Friday, December 19, 2008
So far, I'm loving my new temporary accommodations. Kenny and Jasmine are my fun new companions. Both adopted kitties have incredible stories of how they were rescued- Kenny still bears the scars from when he was found caught in barbed wire and Jasmine got stuck in a sticky-paper rat trap when she was just a few weeks old. The toxins in the glue on the trap meant Jasmine almost died of liver failure. But she pulled through, thanks to special soap to remove the glue from her skin and and IV drip to help her body work the chemicals out of her system. Now they are healthy, happy, and, as you can see, adorable! These pictures are only of Kenny, since Jasmine was feeling shy during our photo session. I'll post some of her another time.
Here's proof that dogs are not the only animals that roll over...
...Cats just do it on their own terms!
Kenny wishes you all a very Merry Christmas!
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Before I explain our adventure, let me begin by telling those of you who don’t know, that Cambodians take their weddings very seriously. In the U.S., couples have been known to spend exorbitant amounts of money on rather elaborate marriage ceremonies. However, compared to the multi-day extravaganza of ceremonies, feasting, and clothing changes that a traditional Cambodian wedding involves, ours seem downright plain! And when you factor in the average income in Cambodia, the several thousand dollars spent on these affairs easily becomes a life savings spent in a matter of days. (So remember, girls, when your fathers get upset over the cost of your wedding dress or catering, to tell him “It could be worse. At least I’m not Khmer!)
But back to Avey’s wedding….
On the other side of the water, we walked a little ways, led by the sounds of Buddhist chants and songs until we found a large tent set up next to some small homes. The tent is where the many guests at the wedding would later enjoy an elaborate 8-course meal of fried fish, chicken, pork rolls and crab. More on that later.
First, we wanted to see Avey! In Cambodia, weddings do not happen at all like they do in the states. Because they often last for many days, the different ceremonies the bride and group go through are not watched by all the guests. So, many people in attendance were sitting in the tent waiting for the meal even while Avey and her husband-to-be were inside a house going through the process of getting married. It was a little awkward to climb up to the place where the ceremony was being held and walk in on the middle of chanting and different things, but no one really seemed to mind that we were there. Several ladies even came and pulled me to them and tried to help me find a comfortable seat to watch everything. I don’t know how to describe all of the different ceremonies I witnessed, because I honestly have no idea what most of it meant. But I do have a few interesting photos of the proceedings, so I thought I’d share them and let them speak for themselves.
After the ceremonies, Avey came down for some photo ops.
Notice the many different outfits Avey is sporting in these pictures? Apparently she changed clothes 10 times, though I only saw 4 of those outfits.
We had to rush back to Phnom Penh to make it in time for church services at 4pm, so we left the party very early around 2:30pm. Needless to say, my first Khmer wedding was definitely a unique and interesting cultural experience! While I enjoyed being a guest for the festivities, seeing such an elaborate event made me feel tired for those having to put it on. In fact, I decided that if I were Khmer, I’d probably just forgo the whole thing and elope!
Saturday, December 6, 2008
Tomorrow I am off to a traditional Khmer wedding. The cook at Partners in Progress is getting married about 2 hours from the city, and we're taking a vanload to the event. Pictures are soon to follow.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Since Thanksgiving is a strictly American holiday (okay, so Canadians have a version too…) last Thursday was a regular working day here in Phnom Penh. But that did not stop the expatriate population from celebrating their beloved holiday. It just postponed it to Saturday. So, 2 days after the official festivities were celebrated in the U.S., 16 Americans in Cambodia got together to hold their own version. As you can see, we were not lacking in the food department!
Everyone pitched in to bring their favorite dishes- or “Cambodian-ified” versions of them. Graham crackers, cream cheese, fritos, corn syrup, pumpkin puree, corn meal are just a few of the items people in our group either could not find or could not justify paying outrageous prices for. So, substitutions abounded! Even still, everything turned out great! And while I did not sample any, I am told that the 4 chickens Sharon roasted were far superior to any “dry turkey” that might have been served on the other side of the globe.
My contribution was carrot-flavored hummus. Not necessarily traditional, but definitely something I love and miss from the states. Plus, it made a great vegetarian source of protein! :)
We completed the day with good conversation and a puzzle that Dennis and Sharon assure me was merely a warm-up for our 1,000-piece Christmas one.
All in all, my Cambodian Thanksgiving was a fun day because it was spent with some really wonderful people. (Of course, the fact that there was not a football in sight didn’t hurt either!)