An Actual Photojournalist, here.

That moment you get an unexpected call from your host organization to run out and take pictures of a house fire for the homeowner who is 5 hours away working at the Green Mango,

but you’re still in your uniform (pajamas) because your husband is on a personal retreat and you have spent the entire day doing things you would never do with your joint time like reorganize your entire blog,

and you have to quick jump in the shower but the tuk-tuk is already here,

and when you throw on clothes and arrive at the scene, 300 people are already crowded around so you have to push your way through with your giant camera and iPhone, as if your white skin and complete inability to communicate hasn’t already alienated you,

and the quarter-mile alley leading back to the house is ankle deep in mud from the fire hoses,

and of the three houses affected, one is a pile of smoldering rubble, the second a single cement wall, and you never did find the third, but instead found dozens of teenage boys and old men throwing buckets of water on the smoking rubble and another dozen with hoses pulled from surrounding houses,

and you have to move because the house you’re standing next to that didn’t burn is radiating so much heat people start to throw buckets of water on that,

and you realize that in your haste to leave you didn’t bring any water or sunscreen or sunglasses, but the tuk-tuk guy notices and buys himself water, water for his son and a bottle for you,

and you snap all the pictures you can for the woman who is now responsible for the damage of the other houses,

and you wish you could tell everyone you’re not exploiting them but just helping the lady out,

and somewhere in the back of your mind you are recalling your own house fire back in college and how your roommate shredded her soot-condemned couch when she put it out on the curb so no one else could take it,

and you are realizing how odd that was as you watch neighbors lift mattresses up stairs and over alleys and shuffle between houses as though everyone belongs to everyone,

and you have to keep moving because your flip-flops are getting hot from the heat, and you thought regular Cambodia was hot, but that was before you felt  house fire Cambodia,

and when you get home Momsung and all the girls gather around sadly because this is their friend’s home and they want to see the pictures,

and you show them and eat dinner and come inside,

and you grab the phone to call your husband because you’re like, What just happened? but you can’t because he’s on that retreat and none of your blasted phones work,

and so you tell the internets, instead.

Yep. That happened.

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Other strange happenings at the house since Jeff’s been gone: The girls all surrounded me last night at the table to eat dinner with me, and Momsung has been arranging my lunch on a bamboo mat in her room for the 12p pirate soap opera. I think it’s the Cambodian version of Downton Abbey, but with pirates. They must all feel very sad on my behalf since Jeff is gone. Also, today Srey Leak came over to work on the assessment tool we’ve been creating and stayed after to hang out for a while. This has never happened. Momsung joined us, and I learned that Momsung is the owner of the property and has been here for 42 years! She was here during Pol Pot time and shares the land with her brother and sister. I also learned that the dude who sleeps here every night is a security guard Momsung pays $80 per month for.

 

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After Srey Leak left, Momsung took my hand and marched me through the village to by a Sprite from a special vendor. I had no idea we were living with a superstar. She knows everyone, and we bypassed several cold sprite coolers to buy from what I assume to be a friend, and the Sprite was warm. Go figure.

On the way home, I learned that she’d had a husband but he died. I learned it through the handy thumb symbol and the word for husband: propone.  It’s a total girl party around here with J gone, though it’s only been 30 hours and I miss him SO much, and I was totally responsible with thumb thing so I haven’t screwed up any more funerals.

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Modest is Hottest!

How about a picture monologue of the time I got rejected by the ancient temples at Angkor Wat?

Back story: I had heard that in Thailand, people are not allowed to enter the temples wearing shorts or tank tops, but in Cambodia temples are comparably pretty lax. We went to the Angkor Wat temple complex today as part of our mid-trip retreat, and I wore a skirt and tank but brought a scarf to cover my shoulders just in case. As we approached the entrance, one-by-one the girls in our group were turned away because of our attire. We were wearing the following items: a floor-length sleeveless dress with a scarf, a fully sleeved knee-length dress, a t-shirt and shorts, and me in the skirt and tank, but my upper body was totally covered in a giant sarong scarf.

#hussies ‎#modestishottest ‎#cambodia2013
#hussies #modestishottest                                                                                                  Photo by Tara

There was a sign at the entrance of the temple that X’d out a drawing of almost every article of female clothing, and even had an X over scarves. What?! The internet lied to me about what would be acceptable at the temple, but I had this magical scarf in my bag which had saved my life on several occasions in the past. I had previously converted the scarf into a shirt, dress, skirt, head covering, and full-body cover-up from my neck to ankles. So after my first rejection, I thought I’d give it another more creative try (or two) (or three).

I wrapped the scarf over my shoulders, tied the ends at my wrists, tucked all the fabric into my high-wasted skirt for good measure, and set off for the entrance.

That’s it guys. Don’t try to stop me. I’M GOING IN.
Hm. But what if they recognize me? Maybe I should cover the whole tank. Yes. I’ll pull it together in front and cinch it in the middle.
(Earnestly walking toward the Entrance of Shame)
Bites fingernails in anticipation. Other women wait from behind the rope with hopes of a better future for the shoulders of their children.
…and denied. Fine. Fine, you entrance blockers. But you haven’t seen the last of me.
*Pulls scarf around 110-degree body to guard against the chill of rejection*
Hey guys. Bad news. They didn’t let me in. But check out that shirtless dude behind me.
Wait. I know! Let’s get mummified.
Intern Anna focuses intently on covering any piece of exposed flesh
But guys. I CAN’T MOVE MY ARMS!
Go. Go with the strength of a thousand shoulders before you, and carry with you the hopes of a thousand shoulders left behind…
Hold on. Are you guys sure about this? What if I trip on the temple steps and can’t catch myself?! You’re right. We NEED this. Wish me luck. Third time’s a charm…
…and denied.   *Hangs head*
Like I really wanted to see some dumb ancient ruins anyway. Spoiler alert: THEY’RE RUINED!
…and then they made me get out of line, so we wrapped me in a cocoon but I was afraid I was going to fall, and THEN the guy said Lady, you don’t understand! No scarf for shirt! but I went through anyway, and then

This photo sequence was brought to you by the rejected women of World Next Door.

My Big Fat Cambodian Monthly Update

Hey Guys.

If you were sitting around today (middle of the night) thinking, I wish Brooke would post a real long monthly update, this is your special day!

In Rwanda, I was frantically posting every 72 hours because Jeff & I were the only people experiencing most things, it was all brand new, and I felt like it would a) slip through my fingers too quickly to internalize if I didn’t write it all down and b) verify to 62 people who funded us we didn’t run off with a wad of cash to the Cayman Islands.

In Cambodia, there are 7 of us providing content (Anna, Sarah and Hannah and Tara each have blogs), my first feature was due 2 weeks after we got here which occupied most of my time and mental energy, and I feel generally less spazzy this time around. Also, at least 20 of those 62 people told me they felt confident Jeff and I were not rolling around in piles of cash on a remote beach somewhere, so that’s good.

Either way, here are some things I’ve been dying to share but just now getting onto paper/the internets.

Weather
I don’t care what the iPhone says, it’s not 90 degrees here; it’s 90 thousand degrees. Every day is a constant struggle not to rip off my clothes and run around naked OR to stand underneath the cold shower for 11 hours at a time with 30-minute breaks. It’s just really hot. Never have I ever spent so much time organizing clothing into tiers of importance and “saving” certain things for days when I know I’ll be out walking around. I tried to combat this issue by having one of the girls make me some traditional freely flowing lightweight pants the locals seem to love, but ended up with these beauts: yellow polka-dotted pants gone wild.

Housing
We are staying at a compound rented by CGI for the girls in the Imprint program, so although we have our own living space (kind of like a little apartment), we have 7 housemates ranging in age from 17-26 with a combined 20 words of English, and we have a groundskeeper/people-keeper named Mom-sung, who we have renamed Monsoon because of all the swooping in and helping.  Here is a little picture sequence demonstrating the Monsoon-ness, but yesterday took the prize when she tried to physically lift me onto her lap in the van because sunlight was streaming in the window onto my arm. She is the personification of the spiritual gift of hospitality, with a dash of crazy and a sprinkle of obsession.  Monsoon and the girls are sweet, though, and we’ve spent time together watching scary Cambodian soap operas, looking at photos of friends and family on the laptop, and eating dinner together every night. Speaking of food…

Food
We eat well. The girls feed us a variety of greens, veggies and meat, and mealtime constantly smells like fried garlic, which is awesome. Unfortunately, each meal also includes a 14-thousand foot mountain of rice or noodles, sometimes both, with chili and soy sauce. Every morning we are served two French baguettes each, which we protein-ify with peanut butter and a side of Nescafe instant coffee, but we are fighting off the squish with jump ropes and I-candy. Every meal, no matter what the food is, everyone yells, Nyam bai! Nyam bai! which means Eat rice! Eat rice!  Also, three people have put their hands on my belly and gestured a baby, then when we say no, they laugh and shovel pretend food into their mouths and say, Nyam bai? Nyam bai? Eat rice? Eat rice?  *Hangs head* I will not say anything else about that, because I’ve realized (this is profound) that if I continue to present myself in this way, although funny, people will begin to see me in this way. I will say that when our poor intern started puking, Jeff came up and said, in his best Cambodian accent, Throw up rice? Throw up rice?

Jeff has sought out a little more culinary adventure than I have: whole fried frogs and duck fetus. Gag me. He almost had fried tarantula, but lucky for him (me?), the team was sick that day and we opted to stay in. Somewhere inside the world wide webs are the videos of the fried frogs and duck eggs. We also visited this cool picnic area that served toasted turtle. We did not partake.

Language
Khmer is the hardest. Everyday we communicate with Monsoon and the girls through gestures, which we’ve gotten really good at. Picture me scooping up invisible ice cubes and dropping them into my empty glass, saying tink, tink, tink. Ohhh! Ice! Ice! Picture Jeff squawking like a chicken, laying a pretend egg, cracking it on the surface of an invisible frying pan and making a Chhhhh noise. Oh! Fried Egg! Fried Egg!  Imagine Monsoon with her hand above her head saying Shhhhh and washing her armpits. Oh! Shower! Shower!  And, if you dare, imagine Monsoon walking past the dinner table with my clean bra (she does our laundry) around her waist trying hard not to laugh. Oh!  Saggy boobs! Saggy boobs! Monsoon is funny even with no words.

Work
Each morning we meet Srey Leak, CGI staff, at the primary school to speak with the teachers in each class. Usually we’re greeted by excited and squirmy students, and the top one or two are selected by the teacher to stand up and perform a song or greeting, which is adorable. But we actually come in search of the lowest ranked students, not the highest, and they’re often times sitting at the back with embarrassed smiles and very little eye contact.  We walk home with a different struggling student every day at lunch to visit with families and learn what might be keeping each child from being successful.

We’ve gone home with students whose parents are fighting or divorced or using drugs. Our hearts broke with a student whose siblings were killed in a car accident three years ago and who is being called “a gentleman’s boy”—the equivalent to being called gay—by other kids in the class. There was a little boy whose parents had each abandoned him leaving his two grandmothers in a deadlock over whether or not to sell the little boy to ‘His Excellency’, another term for rich man.  There have been orphans and single parent homes and homes with disabilities. We’ve seen families of four living in 10×15 sq foot rooms, and four families of too-many-to-count living in a four-bedroom house. We’ve seen families who simply don’t have the means to pay for afternoon classes or for lunch. We’ve seen kids who live too far away to walk back and forth every day. And we have visited with kids whose families can’t care for them at all and have arranged for their stay at a Children’s home, which most refer to as an orphanage.

We are also learning that the stories not told over lunch are those things that happen when the poverty becomes insurmountable. When the snails don’t sell, and the fish don’t bite, and the kids have already dropped out of school, and there is nothing left to eat. In that tight spot, we’ve found the underbelly of poverty. It’s not hunger or filth or lack of education—though these things are difficult enough. For some families, there is one last option, one final economic recourse: selling or renting out a child. The underbelly of poverty here is the sex trade. It’s what happens when there is simply no other solution.

But! We’re seeing the prevention of this recourse through the program we’re working with: CGI Kids. CGI is working hard to identify and intervene through relationships and community involvement before the family reaches this level of desperation. J and I got the chance to meet two little girls and their families, for whom CGI has provided an alternative.

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My feature article in July will be the story of these two little girls and their families, about CGI Kids and Kien Svay kids and my little nieces and how all of these things fit together. So download the July issue! It will be broadcasted from a virtual blowhorn on all my social media accounts when its ready for download.

Church
You thought this update was over, didn’t you?

Church yesterday morning: hour-long van ride to the bank of a river with wooden steps leading into the water, a boat appeared and ferried us to an Island, we removed our shoes before entering the church, sang worship songs in Khmenglish, then voted on 2 of 4 singers who were competing in a singing contest to be the new worship leader. People around us wanted #2 and #3 to win, so they took our #1 and #4 slips, but somehow #4 won, and he was definitely in last place. All this was followed by a sermon and kool-aid communion, my legs lifted off the floor the entire time due to 3 big spiders roaming the tile, and with a couple of 4-year-olds sticking their little hands through my chair to tickle my armpits. Door to door? About 5 hours.

Play
Due to my lack of legit updating, it might appear via FB that all we do is play. That’s because I posted like 300 pictures of bike rides through our neighborhood, some bamboo picnic areas on stilts, a bamboo train ride with the team, and a fantastic 24-hour anniversary celebration in Phnom Penh. Some friends let us borrow bikes for the summer, and we’ve been making friends with neighbors, visiting the “ploating” restaurants on the river behind us, and finding ways to explore Phnom Penh by rooftop when we make it into town.  We’ve visited the S-21 genocide memorial, the National Palace and Museum, the Silver Pagoda, the Fine Arts District, a sunset boat tour of the Mekong, and will visit the Killing fields this week. We’ve also had a couple of team days in Phnom Penh and Battambang and will head to Siem Reap this weekend by boat for our mid-trip retreat. What?! Half over already?

Our anniversary was awesome because school was conveniently closed for testing, so we packed up and went to Phnom Penh.  For the entire 24 hours we did activities that benefited ministries all over the city. We ate lunch at Friends, a restaurant that trains and employs street kids, got massages by trained blind masseurs using their skills for self-sufficient living, and river toured with a company who’s profits maintain an orphanage.  Pics from the weekend: here.

Okay. I think that’s it for now, except everything else, which you’ll find in the July issue of World Next Door! Speaking of, did you download Rwanda’s Issue? DO IT! But if you can’t download the app, you can still find the content online here. It’s our first published content for World Next Door and we’re pretty pumped about it. People outside the family even like it :)

Welp. If you’re still here, you’ve made it until the end. For your diligence, here is a dancing kindergartener:

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For more pics of our time in Cambodia, click here.

For more pics around our Kien Svay neighborhood, click here.

For additional posts about Cambodia, click here.

Bye!

It’s Online, Too, Grams.

PS: No smart device? You can’t beg, borrow or steal an iPad to browse the Rwanda Issue? Don’t steal one, because the content is available online! (minus the interactive features and the bells and whistles) If you can find an iPad, do it. If you can’t, click here to see the content online!

http://www.worldnextdoor.org/magazine/june-2013/

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