Pants Gone Wild

Sing it with me:
Sheeeee woooooore ginormous elastic huge fantastic yellow polka-dot balloon pants…

First off, we now call Mom-sung Monsoon, because she is EVERYWHERE, swooping in 1000 miles per hour doing things like washing our feet, laying blankets on us when we nap, covering our feet when the AC is on, cutting our food, placing extra utensils in our cereal bowls to help eat… those types of things. She also once ran into our room to get some bug spray, holding a scarf in place on her chest to cover her naked body. Oh, Monsoon.

So. After watching Monsoon run around the compound every day in these lightweight, elastic, knee-length, wide-leg pants in varying patterns, I tried to tell her I liked them. I am constantly hot, and fabric touching me is annoying. These pants appear to just float around her body never actually touching her. When she couldn’t understand me, she got one the girls who sews clothes at the Imprint Project shop to have a look. She and the other girls became excited and said, “Pisei can make! Pisei make for you! Yes!”

Pisei is kind of the leader of the group, CGI staff and seamstress, and watches over the girls at the house. She said the fabric and sewing would cost $5 and she’d bring the magical pants home tomorrow from the shop. She asked what kind of fabric I’d like, and I said, “Whatever you think is cute! I trust you.” I had seen so many prints, and I had no idea what to choose or how to communicate my style. Pisei has awesome style, though, and everything she wears, she has made herself. I was sure that almost anything would have been fine with me.

The next evening when the girls returned home from the shop, they gathered around as Pisei produced the pants: bright yellow polka-dot elastic balloon pants. The girls remained cautious until I tried them on to make sure they fit, and then asked, “You like?”

I mean, they’re lightweight and if I’m ever going to walk around in yellow-polka dot pants, it will be here in Cambodia handmade by my housemate friend. Of course I like. “Yes!” I said, turning a circle for all to admire. “I like!”

They all burst out laughing and Pisei said, “Oh good!” a look of relief on her face. She liked the fabric, but when she got done making them, the other girls wore them around the shop calling each other crazy. With MY homemade yellow polka-dot pants.

No. I mean, NO! Not crazy at all. (Right?)

Later, Pisei showed me a picture of the dress she’d made Anna, one of the other interns, and it was adorable. I had no idea normal clothing was an option. Pisei said, “You like the dress? It’s the same one I am wearing.”

Yes! I loved the dress. Pisei said she could go to the market today, find some fabric, and make the dress on Monday at the shop. I looked at the dress on Pisei and the intern, Anna, who were both tiny, and tried to show Pisei my food baby, Crystal. She said, “I understand, I understand! No problem. I am small M. You are big L.”

Yes, that’s me. I am big L, and on Monday I may have a cute dress, or I may have a yellow polka-dot dress. Either way, you will soon notice me in all the team pics as the one in the bright yellow polka-dot pants, size big L.



A Conversation With No Words

First, Mom-sung brought out this little pink dragon fruit

Dragon fruit

Then, she chopped it up for us because we had no idea how to get inside

Mom-sungchopped fruit

Then we ate it, and it stained our faces and hands dark pink


Which led to a discussion about clothing and face dye out of dragon fruit

(When I say discussion, I mean gestures)

Which led to Mom-sung giving me a tube of pink lipstick

Which led her to opening it and applying it for me

And then she requested, via gesture, that I kiss Jeff on the cheek to leave a stain

Which led to nail “stain”

Which led to Mom-sung giving me a bottle of pink nail polish, which you can see next to the lipstick tube


Which led to one of the Daughters painting my nails


Which is the best “conversation” I’ve ever had with no words!

In Which I Eat a Sweet Roll Off the Ground and Misunderstand Trafficking

A small victory was achieved this morning when J and I were able to effectively communicate with Mom-sung (phonetic spelling), the woman who watches over the Daughter’s House: One egg lunch Jeff. Eat rice Brooke. Lunchtime. Egg. One. Jeff. No egg Brooke. Eat rice. 12 lunch.

We spoke all these words in Khmer, and Mom-sung eventually decoded our accents and repeated the words in Khmer with gestures. It didn’t sound the same, but we checked our notebook, understood we were all saying the same magical words, and then threw a party! We clapped and cheered, Mom-sung hopped up and down, we danced a small circle all around each other with big smiles and thumbs up signaling success.

When we came home for lunch, we found three eggs, heaping plates of rice and some cucumber. Close enough!

For almost four days we have been happily settled into our host home, but totally confused. Mom-sung, so sweet and energetic, speaks to us non-stop in Khmer with lots of gestures, but we can never figure out what is going on. For the first 24 hours we had no food or water, because the Daughters (who we would typically eat dinner with) had already eaten dinner, and we couldn’t figure out how to get breakfast, because the girls eat breakfast at the workshop.  Even with our translator friend, something just kept getting lost in all the back and forth and when all conversations were finished—there was still no food or water!

Finally around noon the next day, half-starved and dehydrated, we saw a roadside stand, purchased a sweet roll and a bottle of water, accidentally dropped the roll on the ground, stumbled over each other to dust it off, and ate it anyway. Given that we had just eaten a roll off the ground, we did not have to try very hard to convey our desperation to Srey Leak (our translator friend, CGI Kids host, and the woman we spend our days with), but continued the long walk to and from home visits. It would have taken less effort if the little girl we were going home with hadn’t sped off on her bike without us. We walked half a mile down, turned around to ask the sweet roll ladies who the girl was and where she lived, walked another quarter mile but couldn’t find her, looped back around to the village chief’s house and then found the girl.

When our friend walked us home at 1p, she spoke a few words to Mom-sung, and the next thing we knew, a giant plate of rice and several fried eggs with soy sauce were set out in front of us.  By 5p we had a 5-gallon water tub and immediately got water-drunk. That night we ate dinner with the daughters: shoes off, cross-legged on bamboo mat, spices and sauces in a bowl, chopped the roasted chicken, spooned the rice, and dipped everything into everything. By 7p I was in bed with the dehydration-walked-forever-in-the-hot-sun-barely-ate-but-accidentally-worked-out-because-I-didn’t-know-the-day-would-go-like-this headache. I slept 11 hours, drank another liter, and have been back to normal ever since.

DSC_0092 DSC_0103

We also went into town for a birthday party yesterday, visited the big supermarket, and came home with a few essential easy-to-store groceries and maybe a sleeve of Oreos that somehow ended up in our bag.  Srey Leak helped us set up a bread delivery each morning, so now we get 4 baguettes. Two for breakfast and two for lunch. And then (are you tired of me yet?) today we passed a little surprise pop-up roadside market and bought tomatoes and cucumbers to eat with our baguettes. We bypassed the frogs, eels and snails, though.

(Uh, also Jeff ate a baby duck at that birthday party. Video is on FB. Gag me.)

In my notebook, the first three pages are words in Khmer, like water, breakfast, lunch, egg, one, two—all words we needed to know in the order we needed to know them. You could easily read my vocab list as though it were a journal and understand what was going on in our life simply by the words we learned and in what order. Funny. I think it’s safe to say between the vocab, the bread delivery, the water tub and our surprise market, we’re now onto a regular routine of eating :).

In other news—this is it, I promise— I have a nice little lost in translation moment. Yesterday we sat in the schoolyard waiting to meet with a teacher for THREE HOURS after having been told the teacher had just gone to the market. Later we learned she’d left to attend a customary three-day funeral. Whoops. During our three-hour wait, we got into a pretty intense conversation with Srey Leak about the dangers of being born beautiful in Cambodia, and the value of lighter skin tone as it relates to beauty, which is why most Cambodians wear full-length shirts and pants despite the heat. They want to protect their skin from the sun—not out of skin cancer fear, but fear of turning a shade or two darker.  In the middle of this discussion, as she was introducing all kinds of different “issues” in Cambodia, she told us they have a big problem with trafficking. J and I looked at each other like, here we go. Straight into the issue.

She continued to talk with a look of concern, said a bunch of things we had a hard time following, made the motion of two fists banging into each other, and then said, “Yeah. Trafficking is a big problem. The cars and the motos crash into each other and sometimes they crash into a tuk-tuk. They drive too fast.”

Traffic. They have a big traffic problem.

An album of school kids, meals, the bamboo train, our neighborhood and other first-week-firsts? HERE!

I Am Pineapple Retainers

I Am peanut sauce and chicken satay, a thousand spring rolls, curry, and 50-cent Angkor beer through a straw. I am cold, iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk, mango smoothies and fresh pineapple slices turned into pretend retainers for the cheap laugh. Which reminds me: I am brownie-on-tooth girl to at least a dozen college friends.

I Am all up in the equator and 100 degrees hot (wink!). I am the Indochina time zone, but my internal clock is somewhere in Europe. I am a genocide memorial when I thought my heart could not hold any more genocide, but then it opened a little wider. I am cross-legged on a bamboo train platform reeling through a Cambodian countryside under an overcast sunset, wind and bugs in my face, the biggest bottle of cold water in my lap.

I Am a 9-year-old girl’s little hand squeezed into mine as we tour her village brick factory. I am that little girl’s grandmother’s $3 scarf and a little baby’s toothless smile. I am step-sis to a birthday girl, and while I’m at it, step-sis to FOUR of the best step-sibs ever made (holla!). I am Michael Jackson, Enya & Celine Dion who provided the backdrop to three out four meals with us at the Kiwi Bakery.

I Am “Mind your head!” and “Can I have a dollar?” and “You must tip the driver!” I am “You want tuk-tuk?”, YOLOP (You only live once in Phnom Penh), “Never settle for less than butterflies” and “The Blackberry did it.”

WHO ARE YOU? Food, places, people, and words spoken into your life… Go!

Insomnia, Insanity, and the ‘Bode

So far today: I woke up at 3a, then 4a, then finally got out of bed at 5a to do I-Candy, which is my own personal version of Insanity. I named it Brooke-CAN-ity (because I CAN do it, right?), then changed it to I-CAN-ity (to make it universal), and then shortened to I-Candy (because this is what everyone thought I was saying). It’s a little cardio/resistance circuit that represents my new attempt at routine and consistency in life, and it usually feels awesome. But today I lost half my weight in sweat during the first 20 minutes since it was 94 degrees at, like, 6am.

Oh yea. Which reminds me: WE’RE IN CAMBODIA! We made it safely here via Seoul after about 30 hours of travel to embed with our host ministry Center for Global Impact []. We spent today doing things like eating tropical fruit, Thai noodles and Vietnamese coffee, visiting a riverboat village, meeting Tavi of byTavi(!), getting chopstick lessons, setting up all the phones and data stuff, banging my head against the wall when the phones and data stuff wouldn’t work, sweating, trying not to nap, singing If you’re happy and you know it with a bunch of kids at the children’s home, and listening to the kids sing a song back to us in French which none of us, not even the kids, knew the meaning of. We also visited the Phnom Penh programs each of us will be working with this summer: byTavi, Imprint Project, and the Enzo-tina Children’s Home.

From here our team will divide between four different programs in two cities to work alongside and document CGI’s mission for justice within the sex trade industry.

Some basic info:
Sex trafficking is transportation across international borders for the purpose of sex.
Sex slavery is when someone (usually kidnapped, tricked or coerced) is held against her will for the purpose of sex within the borders of her own country.
CGI deals with both.

The sex trade is divided into 4 categories: prevention, rescue, recovery (safe houses), and reintegration. CGI works primarily with the prevention and reintegration pieces. CGI believes that poverty + crisis = risk for trafficking. The solution to poverty in some families is to sell their daughters for weeks at a time to feed the family due to the high economic value of young girls. In this way, girls can be sold over and over as a source of income for the family.

One of our interns is embedded with ByTavi, a prevention program that empowers girls and young women to earn an income in safe ways by first learning how to sew bags and purses, and then being provided with an international market to sell the items they’ve made. A talented team in the US sells the product, and this allows the women to earn 4x the poverty level income in Cambodia. They are then able to provide for their families outside of the sex industry. ByTavi was named after Tavi, one of the women workers who was formerly trafficked and now able to provide a legitimate income for her family. We met her today! ByTavi info here:

Another intern and one of the other year-long fellows are embedded at the Green Mango in Battambang. There, orphans, girls-at-risk, and formerly trafficked women are enrolled in a two-year culinary training program that will prepare them to work in high-end restaurants all over Cambodia.

Our third Intern is embedded with the Daughters Project (currently being renamed the Imprint Project- girls who can’t read or write use their thumbprint as a signature, the program is named after that imprint). The Imprint Project is a two-year residential program pairing high-risk or formerly trafficked teenage girls with social workers who provide life-skills training, education, health care, money management and professional seamstress training. Initially the program was aimed at developing the girls inside the residential program and after the two years, the girls would return home. However, after discovering how the families adapted to life without the girls at home and how quickly marriages were arranged once the girls returned home, the program is has shifted to include the entire family, even providing them with land and a house to go through the program as a family.

Jeff and I will be living at the Daughters/Imprint house at night, but embedded with CGI Kids during the days. In Cambodia, the most educated and most successful students are given priority in school with front row seats, attention, and encouragement while the poorer, less successful, struggling students are ignored and fall behind. CGI partners with a children’s home down the road and goes into the schools, asking each teacher for a list of the least-performing students to work with, encourage, develop and come alongside. CGI also works with the younger siblings of the girls from the Imprint project who are living at the children’s home. This is all I know about CGI kids, but that’s our job. To find out more! I know one of GCI’s goals is to engage kids in the US to get involved helping kids all over the world.

Some photos from today- meeting the Imprint/byTavi girls at the shop, the WND dudes at the pattern-cutting table, and the riverboat village we visited:

Imprint girls IMG_3822 IMG_3836

We are so excited, because this week or next (we’re not sure when it will be released) the June issue of World Next Door magazine will be available to download and JEFF AND I WROTE THE ENTIRE ISSUE! This is our first content for World Next Door, and we have seen some of the article designs. Our graphic designer continues to be *awesome* and we can’t wait to see the whole thing. Hope everyone loves it :)

So. Thanks for following along. Updates from our trip will at, and you can click “Rwanda” for the last trip or “Cambodia” for updates on this trip from the menu along the right side of the screen.

Direct links to those categories are here:
World Next Door-


You guys are the best. Once again- THANK YOU for your support of Jeff and I with World Next Door. The sharing of your resources is what allows us to continue to do this work, and there are no words for how grateful we are!

I have received some emails with questions about how to maintain your monthly giving amount and want to try to help clarify! If you set up an automatic bank payment, you should be able to choose this to be a recurring check sent out from your bank account to WND each month on whichever date you choose just like a regular online bill payment. That’s one way.For those mailing in hand-written checks each month, we have an office staff of 1 (the graphic designer) while we’re out of the country, although we are desperately trying to hire an office manager, so we do not have a system that distributes reminders or bills or invoices, so sorry about that :( If you have committed to supporting us on a monthly basis, please be sure to send those in each month (or whichever interval you checked on your pledge card) and Tara, our graphic designer, will collect and deposit the checks. We will be reviewing the total amounts collected quarterly to evaluate the total amounts coming in.

The third way is to do an online paypal payment at the World Next Door website once per month. All giving instructions/directions are here:

Thanks again guys! Miss ya’lls…