Friday, March 2, 2012

Just Another Bump In The Road

In other years we've been here, our lives have cruised along and have been fairly uneventful.  We've volunteered, toured, experienced Cambodian life and generally had a great trip.  This year has been a little more challenging, especially for me, because I've been plagued with sinusitis, colds, Montezuma's Revenge, and chronic bronchitis.  So when we had the tuk-tuk accident, I figured that was the topper and it would be clear sailing from there on in.


A couple of nights ago, we returned to our guesthouse room after a leisurely dinner and, as is our usual custom, Gordon readied the after-dinner martinis.  My job, as usual, was to go downstairs to the restaurant for a cupful of ice, but when I tried the door, it was locked and try as I might,  I couldn't get it to open.

Then Gordon tried the door.
He jiggled and pulled and turned, but nothing happened.
At this point, we figured it was time to call the front desk.  

Me: "Hello, this is Dorothy in Room 210.  We can't open our door." 
Front Desk: "I beg your pardon Madam.  Did you lock your key in your room by accident?  I will bring up another key to open the door."
Me: "No, I'm not sure you understand.  We are IN the room, and we can't open the door"
Front Desk:  "No problem, Madam.  I will come up with the key and unlock your door for you."

The Front Desk Clerk tried several keys, but the door wouldn't open.
Gordon jiggled and wiggled the handle from the inside.
Yep, we were locked in......

Time for a different approach....
The credit card trick you see in the movies didn't work either
(Not even with a REALLY BIG laminated card)

We tried unscrewing the door handle,
but this was as far as we got.
The faceplate unscrewed, but the handle didn't

Yep, there were screws inside, but no way for us to get to them
How the heck did they ever put this door handle together
in the first place?

Gordon got out his trusty mag-light
and a couple of dinner knives
and tried to force back the latch.
No luck.  It was really jammed.

While they worked from their end,
Gordon worked from ours.  Nothing seemed to work

By this time, several hotel workers had gathered.  I could see them through the peep-hole, and hear them discussing various options in Khmer.  Nobody was laughing either. 

Then the front desk clerk tapped on the door to get my attention.
Clerk:  Excuse me Madam!  Can you go to the window please?
Me: Which window?  There are two windows in our room.
Clerk: The window next to the door.  I want to talk to you outside.
Me: I don't know what you mean.  I can't get out.
Clerk:  No, I know Madam.  Please go the window and stick your head out.
Me: OK, no problem.
Clerk (now at the window): Hello Madam!  Can you see me?
Me (also at the window): No, I can't.
Clerk:  Put your head out the window and look to your left.  I am at the other window.
Me:  I can't.  Our window has grilles on it.  I can stick my arm through, but I can't stick my head out.  The holes are too small.
Clerk: Oh!  Sorry Madam!  OK, wait one moment, please.

At this point, I started to worry.  "Gordon, we're locked in!  We're REALLY stuck in this room.  The window grilles are welded in place so we can't even get out through the window.  What if there's a fire?....."  Gordon, of course, was calm, saying they could break down the door if necessary.  Visions of broad-shouldered, muscular firefighters danced through my head...  handsome firefighters like in the movies...  (Shake yourself Dorothy!!! This is Cambodia!  All the men here are puny, and you've never even seen a firefighter or a fire station in the whole time you've been here....) 

I was jolted back to reality by the voice of the front desk clerk.. "Hello Madam!  Can you see me?"  I looked through the window and there he was, two floors down, shining a flashlight up at me, and waving something in his hand. 
Clerk: Can you see this?
Me: No. What is it?
Clerk (waving his arms and shining the flashlight on the donut-shaped object): It's the part of the door handle.  Can you remove it?
Me: Oh, now I see it!  No, we've already tried to unscrew that part, and we can't get it off, because the door knob is blocking it.  Sorry.
Clerk:  No problem, Madam.  Please wait one moment!
(A few minutes passed, then rattling and rustling noises below) 
Clerk: Hello Madam!  Can you see this?  Can you catch it?
I looked out the window, and below me was the clerk perched precariously atop a stepladder, holding a broom high over his head.  At the end of the broom he'd tied a screwdriver.  I reached out and pulled it off, nearly toppling the front desk clerk in the process.
Me: What am I supposed to do with this?
Clerk:  Use it to remove the door handle.
Me:  There are no screws on our side.
Clerk: Oh.... OK.  Please wait one moment.

A few more minutes passed and once again, the three (or four) young men continued their efforts to unjam the bolt.  Wriggle, wiggle, jiggle, tap-tap, bang-bang.  Muffled voices. 

I began to assess the situation.  "OK, we have crackers and cheese, some fruit, cookies, water, tea and coffee.  Oh....and everything we need to make martinis.  No olives, but we'll live." 

Thirty minutes had gone by, and we were still trapped. I began to imagine spending days locked in our room, eating whatever food they could slip under the door.  Flat food.  Things like fried eggs.... grilled ham.....toast.... pizza. 

Then.... CLICK! And just like magic, the door opened.

It was evident that the bolt was ruined
(Sorry for the blurry picture.  I was so excited, I guess I was shaking a little:

Yep, I was right, four guys in all (the front desk clerk was on the other side)
Everybody had to have a good look.

They took apart our door handle and replaced it.

Escape tools, including flashlight, wrench, large butcher knife,
cut-up water bottle, laminataed bus schedule.

The front desk clerk, expecting us to be upset, held his hands in a sompeah, apologizing profusely.  We reassured him it was fine, "No problem" (In Khmer, "Ot bpunya haa").  And with that, Gordon and I picked up where we'd left off just before the door jammed.

I went downstairs to get some ice... And while they worked feverishly to replace our door handle, we sat on the balcony, enjoying a deliciously cold martini.  Without olives.   

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Wicked Witch

Exactly eight weeks ago, the population of Honour Village increased by three.  If you missed it, you can read about the blessed event here

Since that time, Joyful has been a faithful and devoted mother, protective of her children, keeping them out of harm's (and everyone's) way.  A few days after they were born, she declared that she'd had enough of being on public display by moving her family to a secret location. 

We discovered the kittens two days later in a box in the stock room, sharing space with a large toy truck.  It was the same day we took delivery of 126 Christmas boxes donated by school children in Australia, which we piled into (you guessed it) that same room.  This flurry of activity set poor Joyful into a panic, and fearing for the safety of her loved ones, she whisked them away once again. 

That night, they were discovered nestled among the housemother's belongings, upstairs in House One.  Although we tried to return the kittens to their original space in the library, Joyful promptly expressed her disapproval by carrying her precious bundles upstairs where she'd decided they'd be safe.  Defeated, we accepted that mother knew best, and the kittens were allowed to remain in quietude, out of sight and out of reach of 47 curious children. 

Long before Joyful found herself in a family way, the decision had been made that she would 'go under the knife' so as not to (over)populate the province of Siem Reap with her progeny.  For one reason and another, Joyful beat out the surgeon, producing her fine family of three, and so, ten days ago, the assignment went to me (the wicked witch) to do the unthinkable - separate the kittens from mother to dry up her mammaries in preparation for the big operation. 

Much to everyone's chagrin, I locked the kittens away in a bathroom, the only place onsite inaccessible both to inquisitive children and lactating mother, yet brimming with daylight and reasonable air flow.  For the first few days, Joyful paced back and forth between the bathroom door and her food bowl, not certain what had transpired.  Meanwhile, in a country where breastfeeding is 'the way it's done', the Khmer staff and the children absolutely could not comprehend why I would treat the Laws of Nature with contempt and take matters into my own hands.  It wasn't until after some explanation (and translation), that everyone seemed to accept what was happening.  Either that, or they were too polite to offend the crazy old barang lady. 

For nearly two weeks now, I've been left to my own devices, and have taken on the role as primary caregiver to three delightful balls of fur.

Although they've been named O.B. Thankful, O.B. Gentle, and O.B. Kind,
I'm not sure which name was assigned to which kitten.
This is the largest of the three kittens, the only male.
He demands my attention as soon as I enter the room
by taking a flying leap for my shins and climbing up my leg.

This is one of the females, the daintiest of the three,
whose favourite pastime is climbing up my chest and onto my shoulder,
then onto my back, where it's impossible to grasp her or get her down.

This is the middle sized kitten, also female, a bit of a tomboy
who quickly learned the flying leap technique from her big brother.
Trying to walk around the room to change their food and litter
has become a circus act with two kittens clinging to my pantleg

I put up some celophane dangling from a string
which has provided them with hours of entertainment and exercise
This picture was taken last week, and if you compare it to
the ones above, you can see how they've grown in just one week

Toy # 2 - Not sure whether to eat it or kill it.

I finally figured out a way to keep the kittens out of my hair
while I'm trying to feed them and clean their litter.
Putting them on the toilet seat gives me a few minutes to work,
until they get the nerve to jump down.

After a few initial days of confusion, Joyful finally settled into the contented life of an empty-nester, blessedly relieved of all responsibilities for her offspring. 
Ahhhhhhh...... Free at last!!

Dear Joyful, bask in your bliss and enjoy your leisure and while you can.  Unbeknownst to you, the wicked witch is up to no good again.  You have a date with the veterinarian this Friday.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Accidents Happen....

Last year, I wrote a post about Transportation in Cambodia that went into a fair amount of detail about the chaotic and often congested state of traffic, especially within the city limits.  One thing I didn't comment on then was traffic accidents, because it seems to be something that one rarely sees or hears about, except when someone you know is involved.   

The first year we volunteered here, we began to notice markings on the road, but never looked closely at them until someone said these were accident scenes, and the lines had been painted by the police.  Here are a couple of shots of those markings, identifying the location of the vehicle.  Now that I know what they are, I notice a lot more of them. 

This one looks like a bicycle. 
You can make out the two wheels, seat, and front handlebars.
I've never seen them paint the location of the victim(s)

This one looks like a moto-bike.
The handlebars are on the right,
The seat and gas tank are represented
 by the dashed line and the small curve, rrespectively

Never actually having witnessd a moto or bicycle accident, I can only surmise why they paint the lines.  Traffic flow is important here, and I suspect they move the vehicles and victims off the road quickly, and use the markings to continue their investigation later.  When I look at these lines, I wonder what happened, and whether the victims are OK.  Every year, more and more cars and trucks are on the road, and some of them race along at break-neck speed.  I can't imagine a cyclist or moto driver having much of a fighting chance in a collision with a car.

I used to feel fairly safe in a tuk-tuk, especially when we'd get out in the countryside where traffic is scant.  Then yesterday, in an instant, everything changed.  We were riding along merrily down the dirt road that leads to Honour Village, when a huge truck came up fast from behind and passed us.  At that very instant, TeeTee, our tuk-tuk driver, lost control of his moto, and went into a skid.  The tuk-tuk jack-knifed and flipped onto its side.  Fortunately, we were travelling at a leisurely 20-25 mph (30-40 kph), or it could have been worse.  TeeTee ended up on the road, half under his bike with his ankle pinned under the tuk-tuk.  Gordon's ankle was under the edge of the tuk-tuk, and I had fallen out of my seat, across Gordon.  Gordon & I quickly managed to scramble out of the tuk-tuk, (Gordon losing his left shoe in the process).  TeeTee still lay motionless on the ground, and with what I can only describe as super-human strength, we managed to lift the tuk-tuk off TeeTee, and upright it.  We were all shaken.  I'd hit my shoulder and wrenched my back, and Gordon had hurt his ankle, but we were relatively unscatheed apart from a few bruises. TeeTee had some scrapes and his shirt and pants were ripped, but he was able to walk.

Across the way on an adjacent road, a couple of boys on bicycles shouted that they'd seen the truck hit us as it passed.  TeeTee said he'd felt as if the trailer had been pushed from behind, and we can only surmise that the truck, passing us too closely, clipped the roof of the tuk-tuk with his side mirror.  The truck was long gone, and none of us had gotten his licence plate number.  There was nothing to do but be thankful we were all fairly OK, and nothing more serious had happened.  TeeTee was able to get back on the moto and drive us the 1/4 mile (1/2 Km) or so, to Honour Village.

Large trucks travel down our once-peaceful road at break-neck speeds.
They are hauling dirt to fill in the rice paddies
where several large buildings and homes are being built

Gordon and I managed to lift the trailer off TeeTee and get it back on its wheels
You can see the moto is still keeled over,
and the roof of the tuk-tuk is bent down at the back corner.
TeeTee had just recently spend a lot of money fixing up his trailer,
with new paint, new roof and new upholstery,
all of which suffered some damage in the accident.

Once at Honour Village, we got out the first aid kit and tended to TeeTee's wounds. 

Besides some serious road rash on his arm and shoulder,
TeeTee also had a 'dent' in his ankle.
Fortunately for him, he was wearing his helmet,
which is the full-face type with chin guard.
The helmet was badly scraped, and I can only imagine
what TeeTee's face would have looked like
if he hadn't been wearing it.

This morning, both Gordon and I woke feeling like we'd been hit by a truck.  (Wait a minute....We WERE hit by a truck...).  After breakfast, we went across the road to check on TeeTee's injuries.  Gordon redressed his wounds which seem to be healing nicely.  TeeTee's a healthy guy with a great atttude, and you can't keep him down.  As proof of this, he's headed home today to his cousin's wedding. 

Us old folks just don't bounce back like we used to, so I think Gordon and I are going to lay low for the rest of the day.  However, there's a Giant Puppet Parade tonight, and I wouldn't miss it for anything.  It's not that far away, but rather than take a tuk-tuk, I think we'll walk this time.

Cambodian Apsara Dance

I know some people who have a 'bucket list' (a list of things they want to accomplish before they kick the bucket).  I don't have one, per se, but every year we come to Cambodia, I keep saying I want to go to the Landmine Museum and also see an Apsara Dance performance.  Somehow we always manage to run out of time before we head for home, and we never get to fit them in. 

I secretly think the reason we've put off these activities is because we try to avoid places frequented by tourists.  They tend to be over-crowded, and quite frankly, some tourists are downright pushy and rude.   But at long last, this year we delisted those two items.  You can read all about our trip to the Landmine Museum in my previous blog post. It was on that occasion, coincidentally, that we finally met Richard Fitoussi (yet another thing  that's been on my to-do list).  It's quite possible we'd still be waiting to go to an Apsara Dance performance, except for an invitation to join in a birthday celebration for John, one of our volunteers.  The $6.00 price tag included an all-you-can-eat buffet, Apsara Dance performance, plus taxi pick-up and drop-off at our guesthouse.  What a deal! 

Apsara Dance is probably not very well known around the world.  There is a very good (albeit lengthy) description of Cambodian Apsara Dance at this
website, and to steal a quote from their page: "Apsara dance has a grounded, subtle, even restrained, yet feather-light, ethereal appearance.  Disinct in its ornate costuming, taut posture, arched back and feet, fingers flexed backwards, codified facial expressions, slow, close, deliberate but flowing movements..."  Quite frankly, I think it's one of the most beautiful, precise, graceful dance performances I've ever witnessed. 

Apsara Dancers, beautifully and elaborately costumed
The dancers perform in unison, in apparent slow-motion.
It takes years of practice and precision

Notice the exaggerated arched toes and fingers flexed backwards

Live music with traditional Cambodian instruments

Arched back and flexed fingers
are typical of Apsara Dance

Costumes are exquisite and highly adorned
Thick wrist and ankle bracelets,
Heavy ornate headdresses with added hairpieces

Facial expressions are restrained
giving the dancers an ethereal quality
This one-legged stance is held for great lengths of time

The costumes and headresses of the dancers
 who are behind the 'lead dancer' are not as decorated.

Some of the children from Honour Village are learning Apsara Dance and several other traditional Cambodian folk dances.   On December 25, at the Christmas party, which I blogged about here, they put on a beautiful dance demonstration,

Sweet girls dancing with blossom-coverd stems
This 12 year old boy has exceptional flexibility
 in his hands and feet
Boys and girls dancing
Deep knee bends are part of the dance,
difficult to do in slow motion

Charming folk dance done with coconut shells
that are 'clicked' together
Backward flexibility in the fingers
The children purposely bend their fingers back from a very young age
to get them to take this shape. 

Several restaurants in Siem Reap feature an 'Apsara Show' with dinner.  This restaurant definitely catered to tourists and probably seated  500!  (Not exactly an intimate atmosphere).  The evening was a harsh remiinder of why I avoid touristy places....Pushing and shoving in line at the buffet, bllocking everyone's view by standing close to the stage with video cameras, running up on stage to have pictures taken with the performers after the show..

While we were eating, I heard music and saw something out of the corner of my eye.  Unfortunately, there hadn't been any announcement that the show was beginning, and I was too busy filling my face didn't look up right away.  (I'm not sure why I assumed there would be food first, then the performance).  As a result, I missed a good deal of it.  I guess now I have a good excuse to go back.   

And the birthday boy?  I'm pretty sure he enjoyed himself.... A lot.  Out in the parking lot after the performance, he was still trying to get the moves right for the Apsara Dance.....

Happy Birthday, John!



Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cambodian Landmine Museum

This year, we finally got around to visiting the Cambodian Landmine Museum.  It's been on my bucket list for four years now, but it's quite a ways out of town, and up until now, we never seemed to have make the time.  Through the grapevine, we learned there was a free bus trip going there on January 29th, and any of you who know me can understand how my ears perk up at the sound of the word 'free'.

Sign advertising the Open House
at the Cambodian Landmine Museum

The Museum is located inside Angkor National Park, about 30 km from Siem Reap.  We rode in air-conditioned buses and the trip took about 45 minutes. 

Once out of the city, we drove past countless rice fields, barren and dry

Occasionally we drove through small villages or past lone houses

We passed an area with lush green rice fields, a rare sight during the dry season.
These fields have probably been flooded by water from the 'baray',
a vast man-made reservoir created almost 1000 years ago by the Khmers.
This is what all of Cambodia must look like during the rainy season

The Cambodia Landmine Museum was founded in 1997 by Aki Ra, who as a 10 year old boy was  a child soldier in the Khmer Rouge army.  In  the early 1990's, he began his quest to make Cambodia safe after he went to work for the UN clearing Angkor Wat of landmines and unexploded ordnances.  Wearing only flip flops and a T-shirt,   he probed for them using a stick, and defused them by hand.  In 2010 Aki Ra was chosen by CNN as one of its Top 10 Heroes of the Year.  When you read  this article you'll fully understand why.  He truly is a shining example.

Aki Ra

Sign outside the Cambodian Landmine Museum
(There's that word free again)

Sign at the entrance of the Cambodian Landmine Museum
'Every mine destroyed is a life saved'

At the entrance to the Museum, bomb shells form a sinister fence

The Museum tells the story of landmines in Cambodia and the country's continuing efforts to rid itself of the aftermath of over 35 years of warfare.  There are numerous exhibits of landmines,  artillery shells  and munitions which are all certified FFE (free from explosives).  Large placards outline details of Aki Ra's life and his life's work, as well as the current status of landmines around the world and the on-going efforts of ridding the world of these weapons.   We were given a guided tour through the museum by Bill Morse.  He and his wife met Aki Ra in 2004 and moved to Cambodia in 2009 to help him with his NGO's.  You can read Bill's story here.

Bill Morse gave us an excellent tour of the Landmine Museum
which gave us a thorough understanding of the ravages of war
Here he shows an artificial limb used by a landmine victim,
one of the many on display in the museum

The museum is housed in several small buildings which circle this pond
with its central glassed-in display of mines and ordnances
unearthed and deactivated by Aki Ra's team

The circular display from another angle

More shells.  So many more are still in the ground decades after the war.
They are still active and are a serious threat to the citzens of Cambodia.
The day before our tour, a young girl had been seriously injured by a landmine,
along with her mother and siblings.

Different types of landmines.
These small, harmless-looking devices are responsible
for thousands and thousands of deaths and injuries.
The Cambodian government estimates that millions more are yet undiscovered 

A grim reminder of how a landmine can change a life forever 

In one small building, there is a display of the different nationalities
of soldiers that have fought in, and occupied, Cambodia.

Effigy of a Khmer Rouge soldier

 This sculpture was created by a Phnom Penh artist
out of materials given to him by Aki Ra. 
It consists of many types of land mines
as well s the tools a de-mining expert uses.
 The sculpture was on display for six months
 in the lobby of the United Nations.

In 2008, Aki Ra formed his nonprofit demining organization, Cambodian Self-Help Demining. Comprised of native Cambodians, it includes former soldiers and war crime victims. One of the workers is an amputee who lost a leg to a land mine.  The group has cleared more than 50,000 land mines and unexploded ordnances, including bombs and grenades. The Cambodian government says there are 3 million to 5 million mines still undiscovered.

While clearing landmines, Aki Ra also began bringing home wounded and orphaned children and raising them alongside his own children.  Today the Landmine Museum Relief Center cares for approximately three dozen of these victims.  We also visited the orphanage, and out of respect for their privacy, I didn't take photos.

At the end of our tour, we were given the opportunity to watch the documentary film 'A Perfect Soldier' about Aki Ra.  This film,created and directed by Richard Fitoussi has won many international awards.  You can read Richard's blog about 'A Perfect Soldier' here.

Viewing 'A Perfect Soldier'

We have known about Aki Ra, The Cambodian Landmine Museum, and Richard Fitoussi for at least five years, almost from the first time we ever set foot in Bayfield, where we now reside.  Richard is a resident of this same small village that we live in (population about 800). He has been closely involved with Aki Ra, with Cambodia, with the Cambodian Landmine Museum and Relief Fund for years  We have been in Cambodia (in the same city) at the same time as Richard.  His film, A Perfect Soldier, was shown in our little town hall, but unfortunately we had other commitments that night.  And even though our paths have crossed so many times, oddly enough, we'd never met him.  We've often remarked on how strange that was, and the most amusing thing  is when we finally did meet him, he said "I've heard so much about you!'.  (Hey wait a minute!  He's the famous one!  That's what WE were supposed to say to HIM.)

Gordon and me with Aki Ra (centre) and Richard Fitoussi (extreme right).
(An employee of the Cambodian Landmine Museaum stands between Richard and Aki Ra)