Caritas Cambodia Retreat 2024 / Day 4a

Today was a get-to-know-your-country day for the Caritas Cambodia staff. Most of the day was spent visiting several interesting sites around Sihanoukville.

It wasn’t on the schedule but we had a mass after breakfast before getting on the road.
The first stop was a mangrove restoration area where the staff planted mangrove seedlings to restore those trees that are so important in maintaining healthy coastal areas.

The seedlings could be planted anywhere in the water but were to be two meters apart from other seedlings.

After the planting we had a rice box lunch at this house isolated in a really remote area.
There is no electricity in this isolated marshlands area so the solar panels on the roof supply some lighting and phone charging.


[Photo from the Khmer Times]

Asian countries seem to have a real problem with lightning. This past year 84 people were killed by lightning in Cambodia, 59 others were injured, and 107 cattle were killed. This compares to an average of about 30 people per year killed by lightning in the United States with a population of 330 million compared to Cambodia’s 16 million. Of course, though, most of Cambodia’s people spend a good part of their life outdoors.

Human Rights for the Deaf 4

The training for judges and prosecutors working with people with disabilities was organized by the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights (or UN Human Rights). It was held at the Angkor Paradise Hotel which seemed to have five or six UN and NGO meetings going on while still accommodating hordes of tourists come to see Angkor Wat.

The Angkor Paradise Hotel is a beautiful facility but much of its beauty comes from its (over) use of luxury woods native to Cambodia, one of its treasures.

The hotel lobby exhibited the characteristic Cambodia display of wooden furniture, figures, and objects.
The shops in the lobby were accented by massive wooden stools. Imagine the huge luxury trees sacrificed to provide these five incredibly heavy wooden decorations in the corridor.

Another section of the lobby.
Wooden chairs and a carving worth thousands of dollars decorate one of the passageways. These chairs are really unusual because they are padded! I have never seen that in 23 years here. For me one of the curses of Cambodia is sitting in a doctor’s waiting room with these huge wooden chairs, designed for a Cambodian sense of beauty and not for comfort.
The Angkor Paradise Hotel has a beautiful pool.
And of course the pool furniture is more of the heavy wooden style.


When I first came to Phnom Penh, one of the institutions of the capital city was Sambo the elephant who spent the day at Wat Phnom giving rides for tourists. That was his life until he was retired in 2014 to an elephant refuge in the mountains where he spent the last nine years of his life in peace until he died this past week.

Sambo would daily trek along the busy streets from the park where he stayed to the wat.
One Sunday I was at Wat Phnom for some event and Sambo came by. I was talking with the Australian Ambassador and some colleague offered her a ride on Sambo. I don’t like the idea of using animals that way but she needed someone to accompany her so I had my only elephant ride that day.

New Wheels 2

Back on January 1st, I showed some pictures of the small motorized tuk-tuks that have become the new norm for public transportation in Cambodian cities. Four models with LPG-powered engines were featured.

Well, there’s a new kid on the block. The Onion is a new version of the now familiar motorized tuk-tuks but it is different for two reasons. First, it is produced in Cambodia! It was completely designed here and is locally manufactured. And secondly, it is electric. It has a lighter plastic body and a really quiet electric motor to propel it.

Close to Nature

Probably the majority of humanity are feeling a closer relationship with nature these days. Slowly, unobtrusively we people have infringed upon the territory of nature and overwhelmed so much fawna and flora with air and water pollution, destruction of forests, contamination of all sorts. Now we might conjecture that nature is fighting back as so many parts of the world experience devastating fires and floods and drought as nature seeks to re-establish an equilibrium.

On a smaller scale, we might have a more personal, a closer daily experience of nature here in Cambodia. It’s very much a part of our lives. Here are three examples:

Just thirty minutes ago I was washing dishes after eating my rice and leftovers and I had my phone radio playing classical music. I couldn’t hear it, at full volume, because it is raining and the drops hitting the steel sheeting of the kitchen roof totally drowned out the music. And in the picture, the red bucket on the floor is to catch the nature–the raindrops–that are coming through a hole in the steel sheeting.

Lightning takes a huge toll on the people and cows of Cambodia. Practically every thunderstorm there are fatalities in one group or the other–or both, because daily life here is so close to and exposed to nature. In the photo are five cows killed by a lightning strike a few days ago.

We had a major power outage yesterday, caused by a faulty transformer that cut power to a large part of the country. Mechanical problems are matched by natural ones, though, as this snake on a utility pole discovered.

Trees: Struggling to live…

The trees of Phnom Penh have been tortured and disfigured over the last century–and many of them did not survive–but some are still making a strong effort to keep going with new shoots and branches. It says something about the in-built striving for life that is part of creation.