Mission Notebook

Random ideas, comments, reflections, and information on mission and life in a mission country.

2000-2001   2003   2004

New Year's Eve in Phnom Penh

Our annual gathering

31 December 2002

The Maryknoll group on New Year's Eve 2002

Every year the Maryknoll group in Cambodia gets together early on New Year's Eve for a prayer service followed by desserts. The Maryknoll Sisters always host this event, and this is a picture of us this year, joined by Sori, a Korean young woman who was our guest.

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Samnang's Wedding

Quite an experience

29 December 2002

Samnang, the bride, and her husband and CharlieVath Samnang, one of the staff of the Disability Action Council where I work, was married today to Sun Thon. The actual wedding took place at 6:00 AM at Samnang's home but all the guests were invited to a reception and dinner this evening at a restaurant that specializes in such events. The DAC staff were going to arrive together so that we could sit together. I was one of the first and had my picture taken with Samnang and her new husband Thon while I was waiting for the others. The woman on the left I didn't know. She was asked to be in the photo because Khmer people will not take a photo with only three people in it because it means one of them will die. The dinner was in a very nice room but as usual the music was so loud as to be painful and to completely negate any possibility of conversation. We all ate in linguistic silence and then the Westerners departed as quickly as it was seemly, to get away from the noise which is a now-traditional part of every Khmer wedding, actually all Khmer celebrations. The louder the better, literally.

Christmas in Phnom Penh

21 December 2002

I decided to give Christmas in Cambodia its own page.   Click here to be escorted to all the Christmas activities I'm experiencing.
Holly leaves

Salesian Sisters

Ten years in Cambodia

9 December 2002

Salesian Sisters: tenth anniversaryThe Salesian Sisters celebrated their tenth anniversary of work in Cambodia yesterday with a liturgy and meal at their big school in Toek Thla in Phnom Penh. The Salesians do excellent work in education around the world. They have only one focus, and they do it extremely well. They are one of the mission groups I respect and admire the most.

He's wearing the hat...

...but I don't think he's a Cub Scout!

8 December 2002

Adult man in Cub Scout hat I don't know why, but a lot of adult men in Phnom Penh wear Cub Scout hats. I'm sure they have no idea what they are or what the insignia on the front means, but that probably wouldn't stop them anyway in a culture where both men and women wear just about any kind of hat on their heads, even though many of them would be designated as women's hats in a western culture. As for the frequency of the Cub Scout hats here, I'm guessing they must be made somewhere in the area. The remaining question, though, is how they get them big enough to fit adults! Or maybe American grade-school boys have big heads!

Learning English

Where to practice?

15 November 2002

Two boys on the street want to speak EnglishMany, many people want to learn English in Cambodia. First of all, it offers job prospects with the UN and international NGOs. In the long run, it might provide an opportunity for training or studies outside of Cambodia. Often on the streets, young people will stop foreigners and ask to talk to practice their English. These are two boys who spent fifteen or twenty minutes with me down by the river recently.

They're Back!

The Return of the mosquitoes

13 November 2002

The mosquitoes are never completely gone from our area because it's always either hot and dry or hot and wet. But at times the mosquitoes inside the house seem to be fewer. We were in such a period for the last month or so, but all of a sudden about ten days ago, they were back in force. Because of the heat, I like to wear my short pants at night when I work in my room, but now with the mosquitoes back I have gone back to long pants and even socks to keep them away. There is a special sense of precaution this year because so many people we know have come down with dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease that is really mean. It just wipes people out and they usually are hospitalized, and there is no cure for it except rest.

Independence Day (from the French)

Cambodia celebrates many days of independence

11 November 2002

Independence Monument in Phnom PenhIn the early 1950s the French were defeated in Vietnam and that began the fall of their colonial empire and the dissolution of what was known as French Indochina. Cambodia was part of Indochina, and upon becoming independent again, erected this monument in Phnom Penh. November 9th is the celebration day of independence from France. Cambodia also celebrates their liberation and independence from the Americans in the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge, and the Vietnamese who defeated the Khmer Rouge and then occupied the country.

Things learned in mission and living overseas


26 October 2002

Geckos are small lizards, three to four inches long, that live in every building in Cambodia. Some newly arrived foreigners freak out when they see them on the ceilings and walls of their new domicile, but after a while everyone gets used to them. They are part of life here and eat lots of bugs. The learning: geckos will always poop on the most important piece of paper left on your desk overnight.

A Mobile Phone

Giving in after years of resistance

26 October 2002

Charlie with mobile phone and landlineI have always resisted having a mobile phone or "hand phone" as they are known here in Phnom Penh. In Hong Kong, the volunteers with the deaf group were always after me to get one, but I was happy with and well served by the fax machine that we used to communicate with deaf people. Faxes could be answered on "my" schedule. The only time I considered a mobile phone in Hong Kong was when I was hiking in the mountains by myself, off the trails, and realized that if I fell there, no one would ever find me.

There was also a certain elitism about mobile phones in the early days, but now that even primary school kids carry them, that aura is much diminished. Probably the biggest resistance to mobile phones was the interruption factor, feeling irritated every time someone jumps up at a meeting and, at best, goes out for a call, or, more irritatingly, sits there in the meeting and talks loudly about some unknown business considered more important than what we were doing.

But now I have a mobile phone, (12) 608-470. I don't plan to carry it all the time but it will be a replacement for my landline phone in my room. I got that line because I needed it for dial-up connections for e-mail and the Internet, but now that we have a broadband connection, I can use the office telephone for outgoing calls and the mobile phone will be for incoming calls up in my room. That will keep people from having to run upstairs to get me when the office phone rings downstairs. The deciding factor was cost in the face of 15% cuts in our Maryknoll budgets. Using the mobile phone for incoming calls will cost about one half of what the landline costs. And I got the phone itself for free from another Maryknoller who found that the battery didn't last long enough to get her through the day. Not a problem for me!

Just for historical purposes, my first phone call received (I still haven't initiated any) was from Maryknoll Lay Missioner John Tucker who responded to a text message I sent him.

Our Wednesday Liturgy Gathering

The whole group with a new technique

19 October 2002

Every Wednesday, Maryknoll Cambodia has an NGO staff meeting followed by a liturgy. Usually five to ten non-Maryknollers join us for the liturgy and supper. Here is a photo of a typical Wednesday afternoon crowd as we finish the mass. I used a new photo-joining program to merge two photos into one wide-angle one. It turned out pretty neat!

Wednesday afternoon Maryknoll liturgy

War on Iraq

No Persuasive Reasons So Far

18 October 2002

US Policy for Saddam Hussein

Goodbye, Gustavo!

Lay Missioner to Priest

17 October 2002

Prayer service for Gustavo BenitezThe Quebec Foreign Mission Society from Canada also has lay missioners, as does Maryknoll, but Quebec accepts members from around the world. One of their members here in Cambodia is Gustavo Benitez from Argentina, but he will be leaving us soon to pursue studies for the priesthood. He will be joining the PIME mission group, based in Italy, where he will enter the seminary. Tonight we had a prayer service and dinner to wish him farewell.

A House Warming

John and Kathy Tucker Move

15 September 2002

John and Kathy Tucker with Sr. LenPhnom Penh has a very fluid real estate market. The poorest people live in sheds or on small platforms against a wall that they rent for $10 a month. The section of town where the Maryknollers live is called Boeung Keng Kong 1, and it is home to a great many UN offices, NGO headquarters, and housing for their staffs. That makes the rent a lot higher, of course, but it is a section of town that is relatively safe (although you still don't go out much at night). The thirteen members of the Maryknoll community live in five rented apartments or houses within walking distance of each other. That is convenient because we all go to the Big House, our office, every day to pick up mail, renew visas, prepare budgets, etc. John and Kathy Tucker lived the last two years one street over from the Big House, but this month they moved one street farther away to a house that had a little bit of a yard. Today all the Maryknollers were invited over for a barbecue prepared by John for the house-warming gathering. In the picture with John and Kathy is Sister Len on the right.

Low man on the totem pole?

Or, Starting at the bottom?

13 September 2002

Checking the mail at DAC These phrases have taken on new meaning for me as I began my work as coordinator of deaf programs in Cambodia for the Disability Action Council, a semi-government body that coordinates disability programs throughout the country. As the newest addition to the staff, I inherited the mailbox on the bottom! It makes checking the mail interesting!

September 11th

Muted remembrance in Phnom Penh

12 September 2002

The tragedy of September 11th was remembered here in Cambodia but not in the same way as the celebrations in the United States. There was supposed to be an official ceremony yesterday at the U.S. Embassy, but Phnom Penh was one of the three cities in Asia where the embassies were closed because of warnings targeting US installations in Southeast Asia.

But even if there had been the memorial service here, I'm sure it would have been on a different level, somewhat low key and muted, I suspect. That's not because the American people here are less patriotic than those living in the US, but--I was reflecting yesterday--the Americans in Cambodia view the events of September 11 with a different perspective. For people in the US, the acts of terrorism stood out because they were so surprising--that kind of thing just didn't happen much in the US; because American people generally don't know how they are perceived--often with frustration and anger--by many people around the world; and because so many people were killed in a few very visible, very violent events.

But people who have lived overseas for any length of time know that terrorism is very much a part of the lives of so many people. It occurs all too frequently and has been going on sometimes for decades. Many thousands more than were killed in the US attacks have died in countries like Cambodia but the impact of their loss was spread out over a longer time. And many of us understand very well the anger against the US which supports many dictatorial and undemocratic and oppressive governments; which has so much of the world's power and goods and yet is seen as working mostly in its own self-interests; and which seems to apply unequally its principles of justice and equality. Some of those dynamics become much clearer when seen through the eyes of the people we live and work with.

September 11th's death and destruction can never be justified by any right-minded people. But living outside the US creates a different context for reflecting on them and better understanding how they may have happened.

Children Affected by AIDS

They deserve all we can give them

9 September 2002

Children affected by AIDSMaryknoll in New York asked us to take some photos of the Little Folks Project here so they can raise some money for it. Little Folks is a Maryknoll program that is a part of the larger Seedlings of Hope program which takes care of the poorest people who have AIDS and no one to look after them. When they die, their children are left, and Little Folks tries to help them face their lack of parents, family, money, and schooling. Right now there are 170 children in Little Folks, 40 of them fully orphaned, all of them dependent on Maryknoll for money to keep them with a grandmother or a foster family. Our subsidy goes for rice and school fees and a little bit to help the foster parents with the help they are providing. Today we went around to five or six houses around Phnom Penh where kids are being cared for, to make sure they are getting what they need and to make sure that they are in school and doing OK there. Jim Noonan is the founder of Seedlings so I was taking pictures of him, but at one stop one of the field workers snapped me with a group of beautiful children being cared for by a couple.

The Catholic Deaf Community in Cambodia

One 12-year old girl

18 August 2002

Earlier when asked, I was telling people that I did not know of one Christian deaf person in Cambodia. Last week I heard of a 12-year old Catholic girl in a village along the Mekong who is deaf. Actually I had met her once before but didn't realize she was Catholic. She is Vietnamese, though, so I still don't know of any deaf Khmer Christians in the whole country.

Missioner of the Month

Fame at last!

13 August 2002

Today the Maryknoll web site (http://maryknoll.org) began featuring me as the Missioner of the Month. You can see their write-up at http://www.maryknoll.org/MARYKNOLL/MMAF/mf_dittmeier.htm . The Maryknoll deaf work in Cambodia is also featured as the Mission Project of the Month. That can be found at http://www.maryknoll.org/MARYKNOLL/MMAF/mf_dittmeier_mom.htm . You can also get to the Mission Project of the Month page from the Missioner of the Month page by clicking on the Find Out More link on the Missioner page. You have to look hard to find that link, though. It looks like it's part of the box where you can make a donation with credit cards!

Barbara Smith Goes to Phnom Penh

Checking on Her Daughter

7 August 2002

Today Barbara Smith, the mother of our lay missioner Rachel Smith, arrived in Cambodia for a visit. In the left photo, Barbara (white sweater) is introduced to the community that comes together on Wednesday afternoons for a liturgy and supper together. That's Rachel sitting to the right of her mom. Also noteworthy in the photo is Ed McGovern (No. 6) whose birthday we celebrated today. We always appreciate having a reason for ice cream and cake for dessert.

Barbara Smith is introduced to the group Part of the Wednesday liturgy group

Researching Sign Language

A Japanese-Cambodian Project

3 August 2002

Vuth demonstrating Khmer sign languageA group called Asia Mind in Japan is interested in producing an instructional video of Khmer sign language to use in education. This weekend two representatives from Asia Mind were in Phnom Penh to video some Khmer signs for a demonstration tape they can show to potential funders in Japan. Here Vuth, the deaf assistant program manager of the Deaf Development Program, demonstrates the letters of the Khmer sign language alphabet.

Tuesday we moved in...

Friday it floods

2 August 2002

Flooding at the deaf officeLast Tuesday we moved the Deaf Development Programme to a new office in a building a block away from the old office. Today we had the first big rain since then, and the courtyard flooded. We had specifically asked if the place flooded and were told no, but the front area of house is lower than the street, and water from the street--unable to drain fast enough through the inadequate sewer system--backed up and poured over the gate lintel. It didn't get into the house but we're wondering what happens when a REALLY heavy and REALLY extended rain comes!

The Center for Child Mental Health

A valuable resource for Cambodia

30 July 2002

Charlie talking with the CCMH staffSeven or eight miles outside of Phnom Penh, in Kandal Province, is the little city of Takhmau where the Center for Child Mental Health is located. It is a wonderful center, offering a wide range of mental health services for children with emotional, psychological, and developmental problems. Unfortunately it is the only such resource in the country. Dr. Bhoomikumar Jegannathan is the director of the center, and he has developed not only the programming but also the physical facility itself to be a really healthy and life-giving place. Today I went to CCMH to talk with the staff there about deafness and mental health. I hope we will be able to continue our discussion later with more input and feedback about their experiences with deaf people in their therapeutic work.

Hong Kong Lay Mission Group

Hope for the future

29 July 2002

Hong Kong lay mission group visiting Phnom PenhSix members of the Hong Kong Lay Mission Association are visiting Cambodia for two weeks to learn more about mission as well as about Cambodia and its needs. This evening they--and the two Hong Kong lay missioners already working here--invited me and Sr. Sue Glass to join them for supper. Sue has worked for many years in Hong Kong and is here in Cambodia at the end of a renewal program before returning to HK next week.

What do you see?

I hope it's correct!

25 July 2002

I have been trying to upload a slideshow about Mike and Matt, our two Notre Dame students, showing them in action in the classroom at the University of Phnom Penh. Every time I try to FTP those files to the website, however, I get error messages. An older page that I know has an incorrect address in it keeps displaying. I haven't quite figured this thing out but I'm giving up for today and will tackle it again tomorrow. It seems like the correct pages should be in place now but I still get a #404 error message saying the page cannot be displayed. At least that is what I see here. Maybe the page actually IS in place and you're seeing it as it should be!

Fourth of July

Cookouts even in Cambodia

4 July 2002

Charlie and Hae In watch John cook the hamburgersWe heard on the BBC that security was tight throughout the US for various Fourth of July activities, and even here the official Independence Day celebration hosted last night by the U.S.A. at the Hotel Le Royale had beefed up security. But at the Maryknoll house in Phnom Penh, things were basically normal. Soo and Nga, our two live-in guards watched the gate as usual while the Maryknoll group plus a few other unattached Americans who would have been alone today enjoyed John Tucker's barbecued hamburgers, chicken, and ribs.

Things learned in mission and living overseas

Finding Mosquitoes

3 July 2002

Did you ever wonder where mosquitoes go during the day?  In Cambodia, I know where they are--in my shoes.  At the Maryknoll house there is a wicker set of shelves next to the front door where people leave their shoes and sandals when they go into the house.  At any given time there may be 8 to 10 pairs of footwear there.  I have found that when I come out in the morning, and if it's a day when I'm wearing shoes instead of sandals, when I pick up each shoe, five to ten mosquitoes will be disturbed and come zooming out.  Here in the city we have only nocturnal mosquitoes so when dawn comes they look for a place to hide during the day.  The closed dark space inside shoes must be really attractive to them because they are there each morning.  I just wish I could find a way to kill the ones that gather there each night without spraying my shoes with insecticide.

A Fascinating Dinner

and a New Respect for the U.N.

24 June 2002

Last week a family from Uganda invited me to their home for supper on Sunday night. The mother mentioned that their daughter, who had just graduated from the international high school here, wanted me to come because I had been in the States at the time of her graduation last month.

It turned out that it was quite a large dinner. The father of the family is an official with the UN Development Program. Two other families were invited. The father of one was an official with the UN Human Rights Commission and the other with UNICEF. The UNICEF official was from Jordan, his wife from Iraq. The Human Rights official was from Saudi Arabia. I was the only Westerner in the group. All the UN people had worked in Africa, specifically in Sudan, and the stories they told were horrific.

One man had been responsible for shepherding seventeen kidnapped and tortured children out of Sudan and ended up being held hostage in the UN compound for twenty days by rebel groups threatening to kill them all. I sat enthralled for more than two hours as he related the sufferings the group had gone through and described their confrontation--which eventually was resolved when Kofi Annan intervened personally with the Sudanese government--with the rebel army groups. I gained a new respect for the unsung heroes of UNICEF and the other agencies who aren't just bureaucrats but really put their lives on the line for the children covered by their UN mandate.

[The dinner didn't end until 11:15 PM which is why I didn't get to update the home page yesterday!]

Fr. Bertrand Roy's Conference

Challenging us on dialogue as a tool of mission

21 June 2002

Fr. Roy speaks on dialogueOn Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons of this week, Fr. Bertrand Roy, a priest of the Foreign Mission Society of Quebec and a former missionary in Indonesia, spoke to us about the challenges of dialogue in our mission work. He addressed three specific issues: Dialogue with peoples of other cultures; dialogue with people of other faith traditions; and dialogue with the poor and marginalized (globalization). About 20 people came to hear his English-language talks on all three days, and another 15 or so made one or two of the talks, which were well received. In the mornings he also offered a similar series of lectures for the French-speaking missioners here.

Seminarians visit Maryknoll...

...but will they remember it?

20 June 2002

CRS seminarians at Maryknoll houseEvery year CRS (Catholic Relief Services), one of the most respected aid agencies in the world, takes small groups of US seminarians to countries where CRS is involved. Last year a group of eight came to Phnom Penh and met with our Maryknoll group for a liturgy and supper, and the organizers thought it was so helpful that they asked us to meet with the seminarians again this year. Yesterday three seminarians--just arrived in Cambodia that morning--came to our house for supper after we all attended a conference on inculturation, but by that time the poor guys had been up more than 36 hours and could hardly stay awake! We certainly enjoyed meeting them, but I don't know if they'll even remember meeting us! They were tired!

First Communion

Welcoming more of the family to God's table

16 June 2002

First Communion class with Sr. Regina Pellicore Last night at the English-speaking Catholic liturgy five children received the Eucharist for the first time. Sr. Regina Pellicore, our country representative in Cambodia, had prepared them over the last two months and tonight was the celebration of their First Communion with their families. It was a happy occasion for our community and for the five boys and girls.

The rains start again

so it's time for the ponchos.

15 June 2002

I got an e-mail while I was still in the United States that the rainy season had started at the end of May. It sure has! Every day since I have been back, it has rained in the afternoon and evening, sometimes quite heavily. We have an empty lot next door to us, and when it rains, frogs that have burrowed in the mud turned to dry dirt come back to the surface and croak away. It sounds like a farm pond on a summer night, but it's just an empty lot with no body of water at all!

Today was the first day that I got caught in the rain. I hadn't taken my rain poncho to the evening mass with me, and it was pouring down when it was time to leave. I waited a bit but it didn't abate, so I made a run for it on the back of a motordupe whose driver was wearing a poncho. I could hold the back side of his poncho up to my chin and keep most of me dry as we hurried to the Maryknoll office in the dark. I'll have to start carrying my poncho all the time now.

Japanese Deaf Visitors

Seeing old friends again

1 May 2002

Japanese deaf visitors in Phnom PenhLast year I visited the Minato City Association of the Deaf in Japan as they sponsored a fund-raiser for the Phnom Penh deaf group. Today a delegation from the Minato City group came to Phnom Penh after touring Siem Reap for three days. They will visit several deaf organizations here and talk about plans for future assistance. Here I am with several of the group whom I knew from before.

Defense against the Mangoes

Once is enough

29 April 2002

Mango tree at our houseEarlier this month the windshield of our Nissan four-wheel drive (on the right) was cracked by mangoes falling from the tree above it. It cost us $120 to replace the glass so now we back the vehicle in and we don't pull it all the way up to the wall like the Toyota next to it. We're hoping to avoid any more repair bills! It's getting near the end of the mango season now, though, so soon we won't have to worry that much. Most of the mangoes have already fallen. We have had a steady supply of mangoes to eat for about two or three weeks, and they have been quite good although a little on the small size. They would probably grow bigger if we pruned some of the early mangoes at the beginning of the season. There were a LOT of mangoes on this one tree!

Wildlife Problems

Worse than Karaoke!

28 April 2002

Cambodia and neighboring countries have some large lizards called dteuk-gais (pronounced duck-guy. The grow to about ten or twelve inches in length with a body about an inch or an inch and a half in diameter--and a very loud voice! They start with a rapid chirping sound, and then bark out a series of DUCK-guy! DUCK-guy! calls. They almost always have nine DUCK-guys in a row. Then they are silent for about fifteen minutes. They are around all year but they aren't particularly noisy except at certain times of the year. And this is one of those times. For three nights in a row, one dteuk-gai that lives in the air conditioner in my room (I have never seen him; he comes and goes from outside) was going crazy with his barking. The last night I didn't get to sleep till 2:00 AM because every time I would start to drift off, he would let go with another DUCK-guy! I yelled into the air conditioner, beat on it, and finally turned it on (I don't normally use it) but to no avail. Maybe it's mating season or something. If so, I hope he finds a mate soon!

Things learned in mission and living overseas

Mosquito Bait

13 April 2002

Only female mosquitoes buzz and only female mosquitoes bite. So what do male mosquitoes eat? I asked in an Internet question forum and didn't get a good answer, but from observation here I can say that they like mangoes and oranges! I cut up an orange every morning for breakfast, and often when I am eating those or a sliced mango, a mosquito or two will dive right on them. I'm assuming they're male mosquitoes although I didn't ask and couldn't check.

The Beginning of the Rainy Season

...But a Small Beginning

10 April 2002

This afternoon it started getting cloudy--with dark clouds that looked like rain--and then there were some lightning bolts off in the distance although no thunder. And then it actually started to rain! It was the first rain here in about six months and people were visibly pleased to welcome it. It means the settling of some of the dust and maybe a lowering of the temperature by a few degrees. The rain didn't amount to much today, maybe a shower of less than five minutes, but it was the harbinger of things to come.

I see you...

...Do you see me?

4 April 2002

Maybe because of a different lifestyle, a different diet, etc., the people of Cambodia don't suffer the same eye problems as people in the developed world. Maybe that's the reason almost no one has eye glasses here. I suspect, though, that they actually have as many eye problems--maybe even more--as Western countries, and just don't have the money and resources for diagnosing them and treating them. That gets scary when I'm riding on the back of the motorbike taxis here, especially with some of the older men with white hair who are driving. All these people who have eye problems and would be wearing glasses if they lived in a developed country, but who don't have eye glasses here--just what are they seeing as they zip in and out of the Phnom Penh's chaotic traffic where there are no rules and collision avoidance depends on seeing the next collision about to happen and getting out of the way?

All clouds

and no rain...so far

2 April 2002

Travelers returning from northern Cambodia have spoken of heavy rains in those provinces, but we have received no rain yet in the Phnom Penh area. In the last week, morning clouds have given indication that the rainy season is rapidly approaching but so far no precipitation. As the weather also turns hotter and hotter, the approaching rains offer some thought of patches of coolness, but that will be more than balanced out by the now dusty streets turning into mud!

Easter Sunday 2002

Celebrating in the Slum

31 March 2002

A slum located along the river, not too far from the Maryknoll house, is the site where the Methodist church operates a small program for street kids. Today they invited us to come for a small Easter program.

Four-wheel Drive versus a Mango

And the Mango Wins. Sort of.

29 March 2002

The other morning our house guard came to the door after we awoke and told us that a mango had fallen off our tree and cracked the windshield of our old Nissan four-wheel drive. Whenever a mango falls around here, everyone goes chasing to the site of the "thump," and our guard had probably done the same, only to find that the mango had hit the top-left corner of the windshield and left a ten-inch spidery crack!

Becoming a nun for the weekend

Making merit

27 March 2002

A deaf woman with her head shaved as a nunRecently one of the deaf women, worried about her father who is elderly and has had a stroke, went to her home village and shaved her head and became a Buddhist nun for the weekend. This was to gain "merit" for her father, an important tradition and practice in Buddhism. She was back at the deaf center on Monday morning, minus her hair but reporting that her sacrifice had really pleased her father.

Things learned in mission and living overseas

Catching Mosquitoes #2

24 March 2002

The initial frustration with realizing that there is a mosquito buzzing around inside the mosquito net over your bed can turn to a perverse sort of joy when you realize that she is cornered and has no means of escape!

Going Native

...with Khmer "pants"

21 March 2002

Charlie modeling Khmer A few days after three staff members of the Cambodian Disabled People's Organization were married, some of them came back to the office and I was asking them about the traditional bottom garment worn by both men and women in very formal situations. I wanted to know if it was a fitted garment or just a rectangle of material folded in a special way. They indicated the latter, and just then the cleaning lady walked out of the meeting room with a large table cloth, so I asked for a demonstration on how to fold the cloth to make the "pants." It isn't that difficult, and I'll have to try it again with a better piece of material, preferably a solid color. (Samath, in the background wasn't impressed with the way I looked!)

Renewing a Drivers License


18 March 2002

Last November when I was in the United States, I had planned to go to the court house in Kentucky to see if they would allow me to renew my driver ''s license three months early. One day I had it on my mental list of things to do, but when I got home that evening, I realized I had not made that stop. So back here, I checked on the web and found an address for the Kentucky Department of Motor Vehicles but an e-mail there got the reply that I had to contact the county courthouse in Louisville. My sister Mary did that for me and sent me an e-mail version of the form for renewing a license without a photo and without a signature.

The form had to be notarized, though, so today I took it to the U.S. Embassy here for what I thought would be a simple task. It ended up that it took me an hour and 25 minutes of waiting--and it cost $55 just to have one of their staff put the notary seal on the application! I couldn't believe it! I think I'm going to write to the ambassador on that one. But there was more. My one-month grace period for renewal expires on the 25th of March so I had to get the form back quickly and went to DHL because I knew where their office is. They charged me $60 to send my old license, the application, and check to Louisville, and said it would take four days at that! None of this "The World. Overnight." stuff that one of the couriers used to advertise!!!

Things learned in mission and living overseas

Swatting Mosquitoes

17 March 2002

One of the most frustrating things in mission is doing a two-handed swat, clapping your hands on a mosquito flying by, only to open your hands and see the mosquito fly away, having survived--probably with ringing ears and a good headache--in the hollow formed by the palms of your hands.

The Duskin Program

A chance to study abroad

10 March 2002

Sambo with Japanese visitorsSambo is a woman with a disability caused by polio who started off with training at Maryknoll's Wat Than skills training program, eventually became part of the staff there, and then moved to the Cambodian Disabled People's Organization where she worked in community development, especially with the Women with Disabilities Group. Now she is one of three finalists from Cambodia being interviewed for a Duskin scholarship which would allow her to study in Japan for a year to be trained as a leader. Two Duskin representatives came from Japan to interview the three Cambodian candidates, and Sambo asked me to help her prepare for the experience. We met three times for mock interviews and then yesterday I attended the session when the Japanese visitors came to CDPO to see where she has been working. She will find out in April if she has been accepted or not. In this photo, Sambo (right) looks at some photos of CDPO activities with the visitors.

International Women's Day

A visit with the queen

8 March 2002

Disabled women returning from the royal palaceToday is International Women's Day, and part of the observance in Cambodia was a visit with the queen by several hundred women, including about fifty from the Cambodian Disabled People's Organization. Here is a picture of some of the disabled women and 110-pound sacks of rice returning from the Royal Palace. More on this tomorrow!

Things learned in mission and living overseas

Avoiding Mosquitoes

4 March 2002

Tuck in your mosquito net all the way around. Don't just let it hang down beside your bed.

Things learned in mission and living overseas

Catching Mosquitoes

26 January 2002

You can actually catch mosquitoes quite easily with a one-handed grab, if your hand is full of shampoo or soap suds, as when in the shower and under attack.

How to help?

A dilemma

22 January 2002

VooTee on the roadVooTee is a familiar sight around Phnom Penh, riding around the city in his arm-powered tricycle, his thin, polio-twisted legs useless beneath him. He has some English and aggressively pursues a lot of the tourists. He has also become attached to Maryknoll and has a couple of us singled out, probably because we have helped him with money over the years. He lives in a little lean-to with a wife and two small children and is genuinely desperately poor and always in need.

Last week he was waiting for me at the Maryknoll gate when I was leaving for language school, and he wanted $20 to buy locally made hammocks for $2 each so he could sell them to tourists for $3. He can be a nuisance at times with his aggressiveness, but I keep reminding myself that he is dirt poor, with four mouths to feed, and barely a roof over his head--and no dependable income. I have opted to help him because his is out hustling, cycling all over the city to beg and sell hammocks. Selling hammocks puts me in a bit of a dilemma, though. If I give him $20 for hammocks, he ends up putting $10 in his pocket as profit. If I just give him the $20 outright, he ends up with $20. But he does want to work so should I discourage him from his salesmanship and let him end up with half the money?

Candy and Soap Together...

That's a No-No!

10 January 2002

My brother Paul's children, Kyle and Nikki, in Wisconsin sent some candy and small bars of soap they made with their mother Hope to me as a Christmas present. The package arrived a few days ago after three weeks in transit. The candy was quite good--but had a subtle soapy taste to it also. Probably the result of several seeks sealed up in a box together! The soapy scent wasn't enough to stop me from enjoying the candy, though! Thanks, Kyle and Nikki!

Celebrating the Epiphany

at the Bishop's House

6 January 2002

Bishop Emile speaking before supper Charlie eating with lay missioner friends

A tradition in Phnom Penh, where the diocesan church is more like a parish community, is for Bishop Emile Destombes to invite all the church workers together on the Feast of the Epiphany for a buffet supper at the bishop's house. In the first of the photos above, the bishop is speaking to the assembled group, and in the second, I am eating with lay missioners from France, Hong Kong, and Ireland.

Missent Mail

Where in the world is Cambodia?

3 January 2002

Thanks to the Vietnam War and the US's secret bombing of Cambodia, probably a lot of Americans know that it is in Asia, somewhere near Vietnam. The people who sort mail don't seem to have many specifics about where we are, though. I had given up on several packages from my sister in Cincinnati that had failed to arrive after three or four months, but then one day they turned up stamped "Missent to Yokohama." Today I got a Christmas card from Hong Kong stamped "Missent to Sri Lanka," so apparently the Hong Kong mail handlers may be as much in the dark as their US counterparts when it comes to geography.

So Little Money

Can Do So Much Good...

2 January 2002

Today I was meeting with a local sister to try to arrange two "ear camps" for this summer. Those are week-long periods when foreign doctors come in and donate their services to do surgery for people with ear problems. The people receiving surgery will have to spend one night in a provincial hospital after the surgery and then will sleep on the floor of the church in Battambang for another four or five days while their progress is monitored. We figured that keeping 20 people in the hospital for 5 days would cost us $100!

Hong Kong Lay Mission Association

A Meeting...

1 January 2002

HK Lam Missioners with CharlieThe past week Eunice Lo, the head of the Hong Kong Lay Mission Association, has been in Cambodia to visit the two HK lay missioners working here. Today we had a meeting to discuss how HKLMA and Maryknoll's lay mission program might be able to work together. Because HKLMA is a small organization, they cannot provide a sponsoring NGO in various mission countries, but that may be an area where Maryknoll can help.

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