Mission Notebook

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

2000-2001   2002   2003   2004   2005   2006

Christmas in Cambodia

It's different here...

25 December 2005

Kathy Kremer and Christmas decorations
Click here for an account of Christmas in Phnom Penh

Christmas in Phnom Penh

Ecumenical Christmas Service

18 December 2005

Every year the four big English-speaking international church groups hold joint Easter and Christmas services.  

Kindergarten hand bell choir

A kindergarten hand bell choir from the International Christian Fellowship

Pastor Leroy Cloud

Leroy Cloud, pastor of the International Christian Assembly, gave the presentation

About 650 people attended this Christmas service which was held in the Chenla Theater, a facility with regular fixed theater seats. The theater wasn't our first choice for a venue, but other facilities had already been booked so we decided to give it a try, and it worked out well.

We also tried a somewhat different and shorter format. There was less music and scripture reading inside so that people could gather and meet outside afterwards, to add more of a fellowship dimension.

11 December 2005

Japanese Emperor AkihitoOur DDP program manager received an invitation to the 72nd birthday celebration for Japanese Emperor Akihito last Tuesday evening at the Japanese Embassy.  Kim, our program manager, thought many NGO people would be invited and because she didn't trust her English, she asked if I would go with her.  The invitation had said that a spouse could come also so we decided I'd fake it.

We both went to the Japanese Embassy on motorcycle taxis, and when I arrived there were Mercedes, BMWs and Land Cruisers lined up along the road for a quarter mile in both directions.  I walked in carrying my motorcycle helmet under my arm.

Once inside, we both quickly realized that we didn't know anyone else there, and everyone we did recognize was an ambassador, a military attache, or a high-ranking member of the CPP, the governing political party.  We took the opportunity to wander around the beautiful Japanese formal gardens of the ambassador's residence, listened to the toasts, and ate their food, but it's obvious we didn't belong there and were invited by mistake!

A Eucharistic Symbol?

No, a symbol of Khmer culture

1 December 2005

Waer Festival decorationAt first glance, the elaborate decoration on a barge on the Mekong River could look like a religious symbol, a representation of the "monstrance," a religious vessel used to display the Catholic eucharist.  This symbol is not religious, however, but represents Khmer culture, part of a display erected on a huge barge which is towed along the Mekong River front in Phnom Penh during the Water Festival. The barges are stunningly beautiful at night when the metal framework is invisible and moving displays of colored lights are reflected on the river surface.

My new bicycle!

...A mixed blessing

24 November 2005

Charlie and his bicycleI love riding bicycles, and now that I have moved to the other side of Monivong Boulevard, where I don't have to cross a major street to get to work, I ride to my office every day on a bicycle graciously given to me by David and Kerry Anne McKenzie when they left Phnom Penh.  It is exactly the kind of bicycle that is useful here: well-built, with a light and a basket, and with six gears.  The only damper on my riding excitement is the craziness of the traffic here.  Motorcycles especially come whizzing by literally inches from my handle bar, and then--even worse--will turn right immediately in front of me.  There is NO sense of traffic control or right of way such as is known in a developed country.  Constant vigilance must be exercised to the extent that it takes a lot of the fun out of riding.

AIDS in Cambodia

A doctor's perspective

20 November 2005


Tom Heller is a medical doctor working with people with AIDS in Cambodia.  Read his powerful account of how he and his wife Lynn live and work in a rural province.

"Come to Cambodia to live...

...or die"

10 November 2005

An expatriate from the United States living in the southwestern Cambodian province of Kampot has been encouraging people to come to Cambodia to commit suicide.  He has had two websites which noted that it is not illegal to practice euthanasia in Cambodia, and one of them said "I will do whatever it is that is necessary, within the law and my own comfort level, for you to have a satisfying end-of-life experience."  But after a lot of publicity and media interest and comments by government officials, the websites have been closed down because their owner said he feared trouble from the authorities.  One of the websites also encouraged Western men, unhappy in their retirement but not seeking suicide, to experience Cambodia as an alternative place to live out their final years.  It noted the many pretty girls here, a moderate climate, low costs, and a culture that respects people for their age.

Bird Flu

...what does it mean for a place like Cambodia?

5 November 2005

Several people in other countries have inquired about the bird flu situation in Cambodia.  They have been reading about the incidence of the flu in Southeast Asia, especially in Thailand where there have been 13 deaths and in Vietnam where there have been more than 40 deaths and probably human-to-human transmission.  Cambodia has had four deaths so far, and we are probably lucky because the government is ill-prepared to deal with anything like a mass outbreak--even to give accurate information and advice--and the health care system is close to non-existent.

There is increasing concern among both the local and ex-patriate populations, though, about the dangers of avian influenza.  The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs ratcheted up the level of concern this week with advice to Australians living in Cambodia to evacuate quickly if sustained human-to-human transmission occurs. The bulletin noted: "Australians who don't leave affected countries when first advised to do so may be prevented from leaving later. Borders may be closed, commercial air services may be curtailed or halted and quarantine requirements may further restrict options for leaving."

An international NGO this past week raised the fear level even higher, advising its staff to stock up with a month's supply of food and water, candles, cooking gas, etc. That advisory warned of the cessation of air travel, possible rioting and public disorder, and attacks by hungry people in Cambodia! It advised staff to avoid contact with outsiders, and if there is human-to-human transmission, to lock themselves in their houses to avoid contact with friend and foe alike.

Maryknoll Cambodia has Jim McLaughlin, our own PhD microbiologist who is keeping us up to date on the bird flu, and he doesn't believe the situation is anywhere near so perilous.  Jim recently returned from training at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and is working at the public health lab in Cambodia so he is quite knowledgeable about the disease and its spread and has been able to give us a lot of good advice.

Ducks in rural village in CambodiaRecently he told us that the bird flu may not be dissimilar to other major diseases which are actually quite common around the world but only affect certain people and relatively few of them.  Jim said no one can prove it yet, but his personal belief is that bird flu may well be a somewhat common disease that has been around for decades, even centuries.  Many of us may have been exposed to it but only a very small number of individuals actually contract a serious and lethal form of the disease.  What the world is seeing now is just the most severe cases that are getting a lot of publicity.  There may not be a grave risk to the rest of humanity who, for whatever reason, don't have the factors which make them susceptible to the disease.

Still, Jim advises caution, especially the avoidance of contact with wild and domestic poultry, and thorough cooking and careful hygiene for all of us Maryknollers.  And if worse comes to worst, he has also managed to get 15 doses of Tamiflu which he is keeping in reserve for us.

A place to hang my cables...

...so how do you hang YOUR cables?

2 November 2005

Clothes tree full of cables 

Visitors to our house in the Bokor neighborhood of Phnom Penh are often surprised to see a clothes tree full of printer cables, USB cables, camera cables, AC cables, and assorted other audio and video and computer cables.  Plus about ten or twelve computer mice, some dead, some alive, some moribund, and one shop light like an angel on a Christmas tree.    They think it a strange sight, but my reply is always: "Well, how do you keep YOUR computer cables?"

Avian Influenza

US Embassy hosts bird flu meeting in Phnom Penh

23 October 2005

I was living in Hong Kong in 1997 when the first deadly bird flu struck there.  The Hong Kong government reacted quickly, killing 2.5 million chicken and ducks in a week, and the disease was contained with only a few deaths.  That same H5N1 virus is back now, in a mutated form, and much of the world is wondering what is going to happen.  Many virologists say that a pandemic is inevitable.

So far about 69 people have died of bird flu, all in Asia, with four of those deaths in Cambodia.  A few days ago, the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh hosted a meeting for Americans living here to give the latest information about the situation.  They reported that there seems to be at present no risk to public health from processed poultry products and eggs arriving from infected countries, but emphasized good hygiene and thorough cooking of all poultry.

One of the Maryknoll lay missioners, Jim McLaughlin, is a microbiologist working at the public health center in Cambodia so he keeps us up-to-date on developments, and he has also managed to get fifteen doses of Tamiflu in case the flu does take hold here.  Right now our biggest problem is storing the Tamiflu. It must be kept between 25 and 35C (about mid 70s to low 90sF) which is the range of room air conditioning.  But none of us have 24-hour air conditioning.  The medicine cannot be frozen or refrigerated.

Up-to-date information about bird flu from the WHO is available at http://www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/en/.

Things learned in mission and living overseas

Dealing with Power Cuts

22 October 2005

Due to the high price of oil, our power cuts in Phnom Penh are becoming more frequent.  The government just doesn't have the money to buy the oil for the generators.  (They could probably buy oil and do a lot of other things if there weren't so much corruption, but that's another story.)  One way to cope with the loss of power is to take a normal computer UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) and adapt it by putting an external car battery in parallel with the smaller battery inside the UPS.  When running a laptop, as I usually do at the office, that will give an hour or two of usable power, and usually the power cuts are one to two hours in duration.

After the meetings...

...a time to catch up with the Cambodia Maryknollers

25 September 2005

Maryknoll gatheringEvery year the leadership of the Maryknoll Society's leadership (the Society is the priests and brothers) has a meeting, and this year it was held in Phnom Penh. This evening after two days of meetings, the leaders from Korea, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, and Cambodia met for pizza with all the local Maryknollers, just to catch up with old friends and learn who else is working here.

Bangkok Hospitals

Definitely first class

17 September 2005

I have commented before about the quality of the hospitals and their staffs in Bangkok.  A year and a half ago, I had to go to Bumrungrad Hospital there with one of my staff when she had to be evacuated from Phnom Penh. The level of care there was extraordinary.

Now that same hospital which has free valet parking, a Starbucks,and a McDonald's in addition to excellent and affordable medical care, has a branch of the Thai Immigration Bureau on the third-floor of the hospital for the convenience of the 360,000 foreign patients who are treated there every year! Each week more than 50 patients need to extend their visas so the hospital arranged for the immigration people to come to them instead of the other way around.  Bumrungrad Hospital particularly has experienced a huge increase in the number of international patients coming for major surgery after it was featured on the U.S. TV show "60 Minutes" which explained how major surgery could be done there with the highest standards and about one-tenth the cost.

Things learned in mission and living overseas

"S"-traps on Drains--#2

11 September 2005

Bathroom sinkThere are no electrical or plumbing codes in Cambodia, or if there are any, they are totally ignored.  Earlier I mentioned how "S"-traps in the plumbing in Hong Kong didn't keep the rats from coming up through the toilets. Here in Phnom Penh, the problem isn't rats emerging through the drains but sewer gas. The pipes are not vented to the outside and again most of them don't have any elbow or "S"-trap in them.  This is a picture of the sink in my bathroom.  The sink has an "S"-trap because it comes with the sink.  But notice the white drain on the floor.  There's no regular trap or vent on that, and if I close the bathroom door while I'm sleeping, the build up of stinkY sewer gas in the bathroom almost knocks me out in the morning.  Actually there is a type of trap built into the lid of the floor drain. It's a plastic flange that should extend down into water that collects inside the drain and the combination should block gases from backing up.  It probably works OK in most Cambodian bathrooms because all bathroom floors have drains because people don't use a shower stall enclosure or a bathtub.  The shower water just goes all over the floor so every day there is a flow of water into the drain that helps to block the gases.  But the landlord adapted this bathroom for westerners and put in a tub with the shower in the tub so that the water goes out through the tub drain. That means there's no water flowing over the floor into that drain and no blocking of the gases. I have found that if I pour about a liter of water into the drain every night before I go to bed, it will keep the gas flow under control and I can take a shower in the morning without asphyxiating.

Demolishing the house next door...

...faster than expected

8 September 2005

Taking the roof offThe house next to us on Street 95 was largely empty since we moved in. But about two weeks ago, workmen (and women) appeared and started knocking out interior walls. We thought they were going to remodel, but then they started taking off the roof so it seemed the work was going to be more extensive than first apparent. The construction work was unusual in that the workers put up a green protective net to keep debris from falling over into the yard of our house. Usually Cambodia isn't that concerned or sophisticated.

Collapse of a wallThen last week the crew started knocking down exterior walls and our landlord said that some government ministry had bought the building. He was trying to reassure us because we have been complaining about how noisy the area is. The demolition noise has been terrible--a dozen people with sledgehammers banging away at 5:30 AM while it's still dark--and he wanted us to know some quiet government office was moving in. But then one afternoon I came home and found that the exterior wall closest to us had collapsed over into our yard. Luckily no one was hurt and removing a few truckloads of rubble got our yard almost back to normal, with just a few less trees and branches between the two houses.

Plenty of water...

and still the power is going off!

6 September 2005

Back in February, I was lamenting the frequent power cuts we were experiencing. At that time, before the rainy season, much of the power shortage was caused by a lack of rain to generate the 40% of Cambodia's electricity that is hydroelectric. But now we're deep into the rainy season (metaphorically and literally as the flood waters spread) and this past week we have been having more power cuts than we did before the rainy weather arrived. No one seems to know why and the government certainly doesn't go to any pains to explain anything.

Things learned in mission and living overseas

"S"-traps on Drains--#1

3 September 2005

The "S" curve or gooseneck built in to a toilet's outflow pipe may prevent sewer gases from coming up through the toilet but they don't prevent rats from coming up the pipes. One night in the Maryknoll house in Hong Kong, I saw the tell-tale toothmarks of a rat on the bar of soap on the sink in the downstairs toilet (rats like to nibble on soap for some reason), and then when I looked around, I saw the rat himself (herself?) sitting on one of the four toilets in the room. When I made a move toward him to check more closely, he took a dive into the water in the bowl and was gone. That happened two nights in a row, so the rat control people came and spread poison. They said there must have been a break in the outside sewer line for the rat to get into the pipe and make his entrance into the house that way.

Things learned in mission and living overseas

Picking a motorcycle taxi

26 August 2005

Motorcycle taxiThe standard mode of transportation in Cambodia is a motorcycle taxi (motordupe). Every time you step on to the street, especially if you have your helmet in hand, a swarm of these motorcycles dart to your position like moths to a flame. There are some general rules to be followed in choosing which motordupe to ride:

  1. Always choose a motorcycle with a license plate. Probably a fourth or a third of the motorcycles don't have a license plate. The drivers either can't or don't want to pay the fee. This becomes dangerous for the passenger because when the driver without a license plate suddenly encounters a police roadblock checking for license plates and guns, he will veer off into the other lane and run against the oncoming traffic or go on to the sidewalk on either side of the road or do an instant U-turn without waiting for a break in traffic, in order not to get stopped. It's definitely dangerous for both the driver and the passenger!
  2. The other thing to check for, at night, is whether the motorcycle has a headlight. Again, probably a third of the motorcycles on the road don't have them. You always have to ask the driver if he has a headlight and make him turn it on to be sure. The driving population does remarkably well in avoiding the potholes, open sewers, and other obstacles on Cambodian streets, but they are less adept at avoiding the night time cars, bicycles, and motorcycles without lights since Cambodian drivers drive in both directions on both sides of the street, irregardless of which lane you're supposed to be in. It behooves one to have a headlight so that other drivers don't plow into you.


Researching new stories in Cambodia

20 August 2005

K Hannum, B Fraser, Chap Kim HoeungEvery year Catholic Relief Services presents an award to journalists writing on issues of social justice. This year two of the winners were Kristen Hannum (left) and Barbara Fraser (middle), and the prize they received was a two-week trip to Cambodia. Introduced to CRS projects throughout the country, they also were able to visit the Deaf Development Program in Phnom Penh. Here they pose with Kim, the DDP program manager, at DDP House, a hostel for homeless deaf people. Barb Fraser is a former Maryknoll Lay Missioner. She and Charlie Dittmeier worked together for many years when they were area coordinators for the Latin America and Asia areas respectively.

Pessimistic about Cambodia

The view of international journalists

19 August 2005

The past several days I have been in contact with two journalists, one from Asia and from Latin America, who have toured Cambodia for two weeks to learn about the country. Getting off the tourist trails and having access to local people in remote areas as well as people in Phnom Penh, they have developed a rather negative view of the government of Cambodia and the prospects for real development and improvement in the kingdom. Particularly striking to them were the severe poverty of so many people and the corruption that is endemic in the government. They found them both hard to believe. To those of us who live here, it is not so hard to believe.

Electrical Problems #1

Keep those wires dry!

18 August 2005

We're in the rainy season now and usually get a downpour every afternoon. Yesterday it was pouring rain and suddenly our door bell started ringing at the deaf office. There are no electrical codes to be observed in Cambodia, so a little tingle here and there, and even some major arcing of electricity, is never too surprising.

The doorbell operates on 220 volts instead of 12 volts, and is just wired with regular light gauge extension cord wire run to a switch attached to a concrete pillar at the gate. Neither the wiring nor the switch is designed for outdoor use. Our guard had cut the bottom out of a plastic water bottle to try and shield the switch a little from the elements, but yesterday's rain had found its way into the switch to trigger the self-ringing. It wasn't too difficult to stop, though, because the wiring for the doorbell comes in through a window and is just plugged into a wall socket in the kitchen! We just pulled the plug until the switch had time to dry out.

Web log...

...I didn't know I had one!

17 August 2005

Web logs, or "blogs," are an increasingly prominent feature on the virtual landscape of the Internet. Basically a blog is one individual's personal reflections or commentary on some aspect of life, politics, history, or any other subject. They might be compared to an Op/Ed columnist in a newspaper who is paid to give his opinion and point of view on topics of interest to readers. A blogger is not paid, but has a potentially huge audience, and some bloggers today attract hundreds of thousands of hits to their websites because of the interesting content they publish.

And many people, attracted by the relative ease of establishing a forum in which they can hold forth for the world, have established personal blogs. Blogs are cheap, even free, and now there are more than 14 million of them, with a new one created every second.

I have had my website since the early 1990s, before we ever heard mention of a "blog," and I always tried not make it just a personal diary for the world to read. That seemed rather conceited, even voyeuristic. But recently some Cambodian bloggers have invited me to join their group. They not only post Cambodia-related blogs on the Internet but also regularly get together in person to compare their style and productions. Maybe one of these days I'll attend to see who they are and what they're up to.

Off the air

Troubles with laptop and website

23 July 2005

This has been a really bad ten days for my computer and my website.

First my laptop began acting up, suddenly shutting itself off for no reason. It got so bad that I couldn't use it so I took it to a local repair shop near the Maryknoll house in Chicago. The repairman said it would take two or three days to fix. In the meanwhile I had to speak in a church in Buffalo, Minnesota so it was about five or six days before I got the laptop back. The man said he had found two problems: the air filter for the cooling fan was clogged and the hard drive was overheating and couldn't be repaired. He cleaned the fan but instead of buying a new hard drive, I had him install an 80 GB drive I carry with me for photographs. I got it back Tuesday evening this week and then Wednesday morning went to Louisville. But in Louisville it started acting up again. Same problem. It's still giving me fits. The problem is really unpredictable. Last night I ran the laptop all night long while moving files from one computer to another. Just now as I started writing this, it went off three times.

The second problem was with the website. My website is hosted by Esosoft and apparently the two-year subscription ran out. Unfortunately they didn't advise me of that but rather just took the website off the Internet. I didn't even know it was down until a friend told me. It took us several days to get that worked out, but now it's back in operation again.  Not a good week!

Finding a beehive

A blessing, not a curse

7 July 2005

Tree trimmers eating wild honeyLife is rough in Cambodia, especially for the poor and uneducated.  They work terribly hard, earn very little, and usually have insufficient food and housing.  But when good fortune comes, they can enjoy it fully.

This family of tree trimmers was working on the grounds of a hospital when they discovered an active bees nest in one of the trees.  Rather than be put off or irritated, they ignored the swarming bees to eat the honey which had almost literally fallen into their hands.  In their book, today was a good day.

A Kentucky Toyota in Phnom Penh?

Or is it only the dealer plate?

29 May 2005

Car in Phnom Penh with a Kentucky auto dealer plateToday, walking to the grocery store, I saw this black Toyota on a Phnom Penh street.  Note the front dealer plate which says "Toyota of Somerset, Ky."  Do you think this car started off in southern Kentucky and made its way to Cambodia?  Probably not.  Notice that it is a right-hand drive.  Those are illegal in Kentucky--and in Phnom Penh, too (but that's another story.)  It's more likely only the dealer plate made the trip from Kentucky but why or how is anyone's guess.  Notice the car also has a television hanging from the rearview mirrow so the driver won't miss any exciting moments of a favorite soap opera.

Cracks in the windshield?

That's what Super Glue is for!

12 May 2005

Repairing the windshield with glueBefore we left Sisophon in northwestern Cambodia this morning, the driver was repairing the windshield of our bus, using Super Glue on the many cracks in the glass!

Rainy Season False Alarm

It's Still HOT!

7 May 2005

Last week a couple thunderstorms after some cloudy days created a hope that the rainy season--with its less hot weather--was upon us.  Those hopes were unfounded.  There has been no rain since the thunderstorm and even the clouds have been few and far between.  The heat is upon us, though!  It is HOT!

Right now at 8:00 PM it is 94F in my office, and that is down from a temperature of 100 during the day. And it's the same every day now.  We get used to it, but it's still really uncomfortable.

Funeral of Pope John Paul II

Ceremonies in Cambodia

8 April 2005

I didn't think the death of the pope would create much interest here in Cambodia, a 90% Buddhist country, but when I came back to the deaf office yesterday, the deaf people were all talking about what they had seen on television and about how many people were gathering for the funeral.

Pope John Paul IIYesterday morning the three bishops of Cambodia had a memorial mass here in Phnom Penh, and embassy personnel and other officials were invited.  The new King Sihamoni himself attended, along with two of the major Buddhist figures in the country.  That service was held outdoors because of the numbers.

Then today, the Catholic Social Communications office invited people to come to their office to watch the funeral on a large-screen display they had set up there.  I have considered the interest of so many people and the continuous coverage on CNN to be really remarkable, and that same display of interest was much in evidence here.

Blind Association Opens New Building

A successful Maryknoll project

25 March 2005

Bun Mao at the opening of the new buildingOne of Maryknoll's first projects in Cambodia was working with blind people. From very humble beginnings, a blind association has developed, and today they dedicated a new training and resource center funded by the Nippon Foundation from Japan. Here Bun Mao, the founder of the Association of the Blind in Cambodia, walks to the ceremony with a member of the Nippon Foundation board.

More to come about this dedication ceremony.

Development Technology Workshop

One of the better NGOs in Cambodia

21 March 2005

DTW staffDTW staff and medical equipment for repair

The Development Technology Workshop (DTW) is a UK-based NGO with several sites around the world. They apply appropriate technology to local problems and come up really good solutions. In Cambodia they are probably most famous for their Tempest, a remote-controlled vehicle used in mine clearance.

But last week they opened a new workshop to repair medical equipment no longer in service in Cambodia. Cambodian hospitals and agencies frequently receive used equipment from other countries, but when this equipment has problems, often up to now it has just sat in a corner unused and unrepairable. Now DTW has set up a special workshop to work their magic on such equipment.

Things learned in mission and living overseas

Eating Rice

19 March 2005

My unscientific observation from years of eating rice in India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, and now Cambodia is that (1) it fills you up; (2) it is not fattening; and (3) it keeps you regular.

January 1st Birthdays

Could they ALL be born on that day?

11 March 2005

The international NGOs here are much more concerned about documentation, proper identification, record keeping, etc., than the Khmer culture is.  The Khmer Rouge destroyed all land records and similar documents in order to create an empty foundation for erecting a new society, and the culture has never recovered.  Many, many people don't know when they were born.  When NGOs collect information on their students or clients, it is not unusual to see LOTS of names with the birthday "1 January" beside them.  That is because the people don't know what day they were born, and 1 January is arbitrarily assigned.

Chinese animal zodiacBut while parents will not be able to tell you the date of a child's birth, they will say "He's a horse (or a rat or a goat or one of the other animals of the Chinese zodiac).  That makes it easy for the one taking the information to figure out the year because each animal only makes an appearance in the cycle every twelve years, and it is relatively simple to guess the person's age within twelve years!

International Women's Day

One of 25 Holidays in Cambodia

8 March 2005

Women's DayToday is the celebration of International Women's Day. In Cambodia it is one of 25 official public holidays that by law all businesses and organizations are bound to celebrate. Because there are so many holidays on the government list in Cambodia, most NGOs like Maryknoll give their employees a choice of 12-15 days from the list of 25. The Deaf Development Program chose Women's Day as one of their days off and so our office was closed today. We also sponsored a staff trip to Kampong Som, the coastal province last Sunday and that turned out to be a great success. Click here for photos of the trip.

Things learned in mission and living overseas

When the lights go out

7 March 2005

White-walled bathroomWhen the power is off at night and it's necessary to read by candlelight or by a kerosene lamp, my bathroom with white walls and white tiles is the best place to work. The ceramic tiles are shiny and reflect a good deal of light, and the room is small so the walls are closer and more efficient in reflecting light back to where it's needed.


but not all the change is for the better

6 March 2005

The last two mornings have been actually very pleasant, about 70 when I woke up. We don't get TV weather here so it's hard to know what atmospheric patterns are responsible for the delightful weather, but it's accepted gratefully. The only fly in the ointment is that there has been a strong steady breeze connected with the cooler air, and it has been carrying a LOT of dust and ash with it. Surfaces like tables and shelves need to be wiped off every hour or two.

Redneck World

...is introduced to Cambodia

18 February 2005

The mail here--the paper kind, not e-mail--is the source of some surprises.   Sometimes the surprise is that something seemingly valuable got through.  Other times the surprise might be that a letter arrived in four or five days instead of nine to eleven days. But a recent surprise for me was receiving a copy of Redneck World magazine.  I don't know who sent it to me or if it is just a trial copy or the beginning of a subscription.  It's probably the first copy of the magazine ever to be read here, though!  Right now it's being passed around the ex-pat community.  I suspect the local people, even those good in English, wouldn't have a clue what it is talking about!

Power outages...

...making it really difficult to work

15 February 2005

Frequent power outages were a common occurrence when I first arrived in Cambodia five years ago, and even at that time it was much better than in the years before that. Then in the past three or four years, the electricity has basically stayed on most of the time--until the past few months when it has been going off more and more. The power went off once yesterday for an hour and fifteen minutes, and then it went off four times today, each time for more than an hour! At least during the day, it's possible to keep working in a dim office without the fans, but the last outage this evening was from 8:00 to 9:20 PM when there's little a person can do except go to bed early or sit in the dark or read by a candle. And of course there's never any advance warning of the power going off or any explanation. Aggravating!

A death in the deaf family

A tragedy compounded by Cambodia society

7 February 2005

One of the deaf staff members of the Deaf Development Program died today of meningitis and kidney failure. He was 42 and one of our classroom teachers in the provinces. We had worked hard to keep him alive for a year and a half but his illnesses overcame him today. There is no life insurance in Cambodia and no social security system, but at least his wife, who is also deaf, will be able to collect his severance pay. It will be a more difficult adjustment for his mother. Our staff member was the last living child of the eight children she bore. Five or six of the others were killed by the Khmer Rouge.


...reasons to get together

28 January 2005

The birthday people in a gameFar away from their homes and the friends they grew up with, many foreigners in a place like Cambodia take advantage of any opportunity to get together and socialize since it is normally not safe to go out at night and there are few places to go for recreation. Tonight three of the Maryknollers with birthdays in January celebrated together with one of the teachers from the language school we use.

A familiar figure...

...in an unfamiliar pose

24 January 2005

Ronald McDonald in Bangkok


Did Ronald McDonald get religion? Has he been saved? No...he's just visiting Thailand and respecting the culture. In front of a McDonald's on Silom Road in Bangkok, Ronald greets passers-by with a "wai" or traditional Thai greeting of folded hands.

The infrastructure's better, ...

but we're still in the Third World

5 January 2005

Yesterday afternoon we had the power go out at our deaf office and in a large section of Phnom Penh. That's not an unusual occurrence. Usually the power is off anywhere from ten minutes to an hour or so. Yesterday it was an hour. But when it came back on, we no longer had an Internet connection at our Deaf Development Program office nor at my home. We have networks set up in both those locations and I could see the "Internet" light on the router was off. That usually means there's something wrong with the microwave antennas on the roof through which we connect to the ISP called Telesurf.

Sure enough, when the technicians came to the house today after I called to say our service was out, they went straight to the roof, without even asking me what was wrong, yanked out the old power supply from the antenna box, put in a new one, and in five minutes we were back on the air! I'm thinking now I'll unplug the antenna power whenever we're out of the house.

Sorry for not being able to update the web site yesterday!

Raymond Dittmeier

One year anniversary of his death

3 January 2005

My brother Raymond died a year ago today, and I am sure all of the family is thinking of him as I am.  In the new house I have lived in less than a month, we have a little prayer space and today I placed Ray's picture there.  It is a photo in a shadow box made by his wife Tammy.

Memento of Ray on his death anniversary

Raymond Dittmeier

First of the brothers and sisters to die

3 January 2004

Raymond Dittmeier is one of my younger brothers, the fifth of the eight children in our family.  He contracted a rare form of cancer from working with asbestos in his construction company and died 3 January 2004, thirteen months after he was diagnosed, at the age of 49.  He was married to Tammy and they have one grown son who is married.

Raymond was an exceptional person.  One of his lifelong friends spoke of him yesterday as a good person who never did anything wrong.  He was known among his family, friends, and workers as an honest, humorous, hard-working individual with tremendous personal integrity and real concern and care for others.

He will be missed.

Raymond's Death

A very special experience

5 January 2004

All of us have to die but few of us control many of the circumstances of our death.  If we could, however, probably Raymond Dittmeier's death would be a model for us to copy.  He died with great dignity in a very simple way, surrounded by people he loved and who loved him.  Some observations and comments about the family's experience of his death:

  • From the time Ray was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, he never once complained.  He certainly did not want to die, but he simply observed that some people are going to get cancer and he happened to be one of them.  At the same time, he tried to take advantage of treatments that were offered him, but it wasn't from any sense of panic or grasping at straws but rather trying what seemed to offer some reasonable hope for himself or even just for others who might benefit from the research his experience could provide.
  • He had a very high tolerance for pain.  One of the nurses from Hospice noted that, observing that the doses of pain killers he was taking would themselves have killed most people.  And yet I never once heard Ray speak of his pain unless someone asked him about it. And we would have to ask because he didn't show it and didn't talk about it.
  • The brothers and sisters of Ray (there are eight children in our family) were in and out of his house daily throughout the Christmas season because we knew this was the last time we would be together.  As Ray's condition started worsening after New Year's we were there more often, and the last 24 hours we never left his home where he was being cared for by Hospice.  It was an extraordinary privilege to be with him throughout that night, to give him his medicine, help him stand when he couldn't breathe, and just be present.  We didn't have any schedule but throughout the night two or three of us would always be by his side while others slept on the floor or couches.
  • Ray owned a construction company with a super partner, Marty Thieneman.  Sentry Construction did special jobs with steel erecting, and it was so powerful to see the big bearded, pony-tailed, muscular steel workers standing beside his coffin with tears running down their cheeks.  Three other construction companies that sometimes worked beside Sentry on a site let their workers off for the afternoon so they could attend Ray's funeral.
  • The family of Tammy, Ray's wife, the Pences, were also with Ray during his final days, and a strong bond developed among all of us, sometimes leading to special moments when all of us, Baptists and Catholics together, would pray together.
  • When the Hospice nurse left finally after Ray had died, she commented that she had never seen a family like that. I really hope there are many, many families that can be there for each other at such times.

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