Mission Notebook

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

2000-2001   2002   2003   2004    2005    2006    2007    2008   

A picture of myself

An unintended byproduct of the rearview mirror law

25 December 2006

Photograph of the photographer


This is a photo that I used in the Daily Life segment on cold weather. But this version is cropped differently and gave me a surprise. I wasn't aware that I would be taking a picture of myself in the rearview mirrors that the motorcycle taxis are supposed to have now with the new mirror law!

The Maryknoll Cambodia Mission Team

...planning our future

9 December 2006

Maryknoll Cambodia planning meeting

Every 12-18 months, the Maryknoll Cambodia Mission Team (CMT) has a planning meeting to look at the situation in Cambodia, our current projects, and at what we should be doing. This meeting in December was a follow-up to a social analysis we did of the country. Next we will start a review of the ministries we are engaged in now to see if they are meeting the needs that we have identified.

Staying alive...

...but missing so much

7 December 2006

Recycling for a living

This is one of four children of this disabled man. She is 10, although she looks much younger, and has never had the chance to go to school. There is not enough money for school; she doesn't even own a pair of shoes. She pulls the cart for her father while they collect recyclable stuff to sell. And so it goes in Cambodia.

Photo and text by Jim McLaughlin, Maryknoll lay missioner

An MLM Prayer Day

led by Affiliate Kathy Morefield

2 December 2006

K Morefield and J McLaughlin

Last week Kathy Morefield, a Maryknoll Affiliate from Seattle, led a day of prayer and reflection for the five members of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners here in Cambodia. Here she explains while Jim McLaughlin listens.

First the ISP...

...then my computer

15 November 2006

It's been a rough week for this website and for everything related to my computers.  We have been having problems with out new ISP ever since we changed services because they can't put the antenna on our house up high enough to "see" their base station antenna.  A good portion of the Internet services in Phnom Penh are wireless, using small microwave antennas on the tops of buildings to connect to the ISP's base stations located around the city.  We are probably going to have to switch back to our old ISP.

But then I started getting Blue Screens of Death (BSOD), otherwise known as Windows fatal error messages, on my main computer.  When I took it in for repairs after trying everything I knew how to do, the techs first identified that my hard drive is failing even though the computer is less than a year old.  They replaced the drive and said they wanted to test to make sure there were no other problems.  Sure enough the BSOD continued, so they replaced the RAM.  The BSOD continued, and then in tinkering, one of the techs managed to burn out both the new RAM and mainboard.  The computer is under warranty so they replaced everything.  Then they found out that my old copy of Windows was corrupted so they replaced Windows XP.  But in doing that I lost 35+ programs and utilities that I had installed.

Now I have a new computer (except for the case) but need to start reinstalling all the programs, about two or three weeks' work. Ugh...

20 October 2006

Sihanoukville port

This is a picture of the port at Sihanoukville on Cambodia's southern coast. It is the only port in the country, connected to the capital Phnom Penh by a highway built by the United States at the time of the Vietnam War. On October 26, the MV Doulos, the world's oldest passenger ship (launched in 1930s) will arrive in Sihanoukville. It is run by a Christian organization that uses the ship as a floating library bringing all sorts of books to remote destinations all around the world. The Doulos will also host a series of Christian-themed gatherings for pastors, Christian women, Christian men, Christian youth, etc., while it is docked in Cambodia for ten days. This picture is taken from the Catholic center, on a hill above the port.

Sewing Class for Deaf Students

DDP's Job Training Project

19 October 2006

Job training for sewing

Two deaf students (left) learning sewing and tailoring pay attention to the instructor's explanation while the interpreter (right) assists. In the background is Sou Poly, the project officer for the job skills training project.

Farewell for Fran Kemmerer

..the last Saturday night

14 October 2006

Fran opening gifts

Fran Kemmerer (seated) has been a Maryknoll Affiliate working in Cambodia for the past eight years. Now she is leaving to return to the United States for different work. Tonight after the Saturday evening mass--where we also said farewell--the Maryknoll community gathered at the sisters' house for pizza and ice cream. Here Fran opens some of her gifts. She will be greatly missed!

Lay Missionary Meeting

Missioners from many countries working in Cambodia

8 October 2006

Lay missionaries meeting

Every month lay missionaries from different groups meet together for camaraderie, support, and working together. This month they met at the office of Catholic Social Communications to view their work on the Mission Sunday theme for this month.  The missionaries come from many countries. In this photo are Renaldo from the Philippines, Wendy from Hong Kong, Lieke from Belgium, and Denis, a priest from Canada.

Ed and Charlie's House

A view not usually seen

5 October 2006

Charlie Dittmeier's house

Ed McGovern and Charlie Dittmeier live together in this house on Street 334 in Phnom Penh's Boeung Keng Kong 1 neighborhood. We moved here at the height of the electricity shortages because this area has constant power because of UN agencies and government officials who live nearby. Actually we live on the second floor of what was once a large single-family dwelling. The ground floor below us has been divided into three long narrow dwellings. Because we are on the second floor, the large covered roof area belongs to us also. You can see a room built on the roof in the right rear, but it's pretty rustic and would take a lot of work to make it usable.

Countering Terrorism Today

by Tzvetan Todorov of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris

30 August 2006

...Democratic societies must use both political and police tactics in confronting fanatical terrorists. Politics is necessary for the simple reason that occupying armies and police cannot force hundreds of millions of Muslims to shed their hostility.

TerroristsPolitical action implies actually leaving Iraq quickly and finding a fair solution to the Palestinian conflict, which in turn requires ending the occupation of all Palestinian territories. Of course, extinguishing these hot spots will not erode the fanaticism of die-hard and suicidal activists; nor will it rid us of the avidity and hatred that is so evident among the leaders of Islamic rage. But it will deprive them of the masses of sympathetic Muslims who view the fanatics as the only people seeking to defend "Islamic" values and oppressed Muslim peoples....

19 August 2006

Some thoughts on our relatedness... (Part 2)

It is...the cry of the victim that creates the bond of community, for as the French writer Simone Weil says:

At the bottom of the heart of every human being, from earliest infancy until the tomb, there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done to him.





(From "Siding with Victims" by T. Michael McNulty, SJ, in the January, 2005 issue of Center Focus)

A thank-you letter

One of the rewards of mission work

17 August 2006

Thank-you letter

I am continually impressed by the tolerance of pain by Cambodian people. And I am saddened by the need for them to suffer so much pain needlessly, just because they have no resources for avoiding it. We Americans, me included—and maybe most Westerners—encouraged by advertising and the mythos of our medical establishment, run for relief at the onset of even minor pain. But in a country like Cambodia, where there just is no money for doctors and medicines, people suffer unimaginable pain, day after day, and without complaint, just realizing that it is part of life for them.

I'm a soft touch when it comes to pain. I can't change the country's poverty and it's going to take decades to set up an education system for deaf people, but when I see people suffering just because they're poor, I usually find some money or some help somewhere to enable them to get some relief.

Recently two deaf students happened to come to me on the same day, talking about their toothaches that had them sleepless at nights and often in tears. And there was nothing they could do about it. Their families are poor and we're lucky to even get the students in our education program. I talked with one of our teachers who happened to go to a local dentist who has a deaf child, and I asked her to arrange for the dentist to see our two students. Yesterday afternoon we were able to pull them out of class and send them with our interpreter to the dentist who started treating them.

Today the girl came to me to thank me for her help, and she presented me with this letter from her father. I was really touched by it as he so genuinely expressed his thanks for our helping his daughter. He had seen her suffering at home and could do nothing, and now he was so grateful. It's time like these that it's great to be here and to be able to contribute a little bit. And that little bit is possible because of the generous people in the U.S. and elsewhere who give me the money to do things like this which are not possible with the funds from the major donors which must go for teachers' salaries, desks, etc.

16 August 2006

Some thoughts on our relatedness... (Part 1)

Maybe we can only help those with whom we share moral community. The issue is not our moral obligation to help so much as the recognition of the other as a fellow human. It is not in abstract principle but in human interaction that we find the connections of compassion and solidarity that make for practical community. Theologian Henri Nouwen defines compassion as follows:

Compassion manifests itself in solidarity, the deep consciousness of being part of humanity, the existential awareness of the oneness of the human race, the intimate knowledge that all people, however separated by time and space, are bound together by the same human condition.





Compassion is the recognition that everyone else is just like me.

(From "Siding with Victims" by T. Michael McNulty, SJ, in the January, 2005 issue of Center Focus)

6 August 2006

Chris Patten, last governor of Hong Kong

The last British governor of Hong Kong was Mr. Chris Patten, a really good man who served Britain and the people of Hong Kong well. He was also a Catholic, and occasionally he would come out to our Maryknoll center house for a cookout and just to talk. It was fascinating to hear some of the unofficial and personal insights into the dealings with the Chinese concerning democracy in Hong Kong and the lead up to the handover of the colony to China.

After Hong Kong he was Commissioner for External Affairs for the European Union and now he is chancellor of Oxford University. Recently he was in Bangkok representing Oxford at a meeting and he spoke to The Nation newspaper about his new book Not Quite the Diplomat. He had a very interesting quote in the interview in the newspaper:

The Nation:The theme of your book is that, after World War II, Uncle Sam worked to unite a bunch of fractious, unruly children into a family through NATO, the Marshall Plan, the World Bank,IMF, the beginnings of the European Union. And now the children are dismayed to see their father wander off on a solitary drunken spree and are working to bring him home.

Patten: I should have used those words in the book!

The Pax Americana has been a good thing and worked on a global scale.

The irony is that, just when this force for good is most needed for issues of the environment, terrorism, epidemics, the drug trade, this is the time the US has decided to roll back the systems it had originally set up to deal with them and retreat into unilateralism.

I hope this is a passing phase, lasting only as long as this administration. An example is the disaster that is happening in the Middle East. The effect of the neo-conservatives has been to weaken the United States.

What the country has to do after the election is return to its role of leadership. The temptation is that America will look at the casualties in Iraq and its declining popularity and decide to turn inward.













Well said, Chris! You haven't lost your sharpness and insight!

3 August 2006

Charlie with two loaves of bread

Yesterday a young deaf woman, who was the first deaf homeless person we encountered and the catalyst for establishing our two deaf hostels, showed up at our office to see me while I was meeting with the teachers. She waited a long time but had left when the meeting was finished. She returned this morning and presented me with a gift "because you're old and will die." The gift-wrapped contents turned out to be two loaves of bread! I'm not sure of the connection between the bread and my survival and good health, but the gesture sure was neat. Chenla is really cute in her simple way.

21 July 2006

Leftover flood waters

Last night, after the heavy rainstorm, I was riding my bicycle through water up to my knees. This morning I had to cross town for an early morning mass for the Salesian Sisters. On the way back, my motordupe (motorcycle taxi) driver turned onto the main road in that part of town—and then immediately turned off to find another way when he saw the traffic stopped by water still quite deep twelve hours after the storm ended.

Things learned in mission and living overseas

Riding a bicycle in a flood

20 July 2006

Three days we had a heavy rain (pictured in 17 July, below) and today we had an even heavier rain that lasted for 2½ hours. We were having a meeting for most of that time, and the rain pounding on the metal roofs over our porches made it almost impossible to hear. But then when I left, a half hour after the rain had tapered off, I found Street 63—a perennial trouble spot—and its intersecting streets flooded the worst I have seen in my six years here. I was on my bicycle and kept plowing through the water even when cars and four-wheel drives were turning around rather than test the depth of the flood water ahead. And finally I got to the point of today's enlightenment or learning: that I could continue to ride a bicycle in water up to my knees! I was really glad that I could shift to the lowest of my six gears as I labored through the water and against the waves thrown at me by large vehicles. It's too bad it was too dark for me to take pictures!

17 July 2006

Rainstorm at deaf office

We are in the rainy season now, with some rain almost every day. And some days it REALLY comes down, like today!

Catholic Identity

in Catholic institutions

15 June 2006

The book A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America, by Peter Steinfels, the Senior Religion Correspondent for the New York Times, gives many interesting insights into and interpretations of the contemporary American Catholic church.

The following is an excerpt from a chapter on Catholic institutions.

Having studied Catholic health care's public role and identity for years, Professor [Clarke] Cochran found the Catholic identity of institutions like Buffalo's Mercy Hospital seriously challenged by "market forces and medical technology."

"Internally," he stated, "the business practices of Catholic institutions look very much like the business practices of for-profit institutions." The CEO "is most likely to be a non-Catholic layman with an MBA from a state university, instead of a Catholic nun with an MDiv from Fordham." The realities of the bottom line left little room for the attention to the poor, the immigrants, and the outcasts that had been a central concern of Catholic institutions. At the same time, modern medicine has stressed acute care, heroic efforts to defeat illness and extend life, and reliance on machines and pharmaceuticals rather than touch and voice. Largely eclipsed was "healing modeled on Jesus," which Professor Cochran described as "personal and incarnational," valuing "care more than cure, regarding death as an enemy but by no means the most dangerous enemy."

"What would be the consequences of taking quite seriously the claim that sacramentality is central to Catholic identity?" he asked. By this, he meant the capacity to convey through the visible and tangible a message about the presence and action of the invisible and mysterious. "If health care is to be Catholic it needs to look, feel, smell, and taste Catholic. This demand is difficult to measure. How many crucifixes and statues does it take (per bed? per floor?) to make a hospital Catholic? Does sacramentality reside in the visible primarily, or in the tangible, the touch that passes between healer and patient? Or is it in the voice, compassion embodied in words and tones?"




















These are good questions as Catholic institutions today struggle with their identity. These are also questions very much related to mission work today. What is the value of and the need for visible Catholic identity in the good work done by groups like Maryknoll?

Celebrating the King's Birthday...

...for too long a time

15 May 2006

Display for King Sihamoni's Birthday

Cambodia is cursed with one of the largest numbers of public holidays in the world—23 of them. (The United States has 10.)  It's fine to celebrate but a little moderation is in order.  For example, today we are celebrating the birthday of King Sihomani, a genuinely good and respected man.  But the official holiday was Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (today).  And because the one holiday fell on a Sunday, an extra day has been added tomorrow (Tuesday) to give a full four days of celebration!  And on top of this, the former king who resigned last November is still alive and so—not to be disrespectful—he gets three days of celebration this year also.  Enough is enough!  The country is in terrible shape and people need to work to make it better.

Wet season begins...

...at least officially

11 May 2006

The government's chief meteorologist has announced that the wet season in Cambodia officially began Tuesday, 2 May, five days later than last year. The meteorologist didn't explain how her ministry calculates the beginning of the rainy season. So far there have been several cloudy periods on different days but no real rain consistent with the wet season. The rainy season extends from now until September or October, and normally some rain could be expected almost every day.

10 May 2006

Bat at Charlie's house

When we first looked at our present house on Street 334, Ed and I noticed some droppings on the porch at the top the stairway. I assumed it was probably a bat, and finally I got to see it a couple nights ago when I was locking up for the night. It roosts on some electrical wires. In the picture the bat is holding a red fruit it is eating. From the amount of droppings, I was expecting to see a bigger animal but maybe I'm just as happy it's not any bigger.

Coming to Kentucky

13 April 2006

I received news this morning that my mother is dying and so I am starting the journey to Louisville tonight, with a flight to Bangkok. From there I will proceed on to Kentucky in the morning. I was extremely fortunate in getting a ticket on one hour's notice and then getting my passport back from the Cambodian Foreign Ministry where it had been sent to get a new visa. The ministry is closed today (although the holidays for Khmer New Year don't start until tomorrow...but that's government), but our office manager was able to go through a contact in the ministry to retrieve my passport. I'm not sure when I will be able to update this website further.

29 March 2006

Pellicore family in Cambodia

Sr. Regina Pellicore (standing) is a member of the Maryknoll Cambodia Mission Team, one of the earliest arrivals when Cambodia was reopened to foreigners.  This week her brother Richard and his wife Karen and their daughters Madeline (left) and Katie are visiting Regina in Phnom Penh.  Richard and Karen are both 747 captains for a major airline.

Breakfast on the road

A Khmer tradition

16 March 2006

Breakfast on road to Kampong Chhnang

Maybe it's a carryover from days not too far past when it took much longer to travel about Cambodia than it does now (although it still takes a LONG time!) but in every trip of more than an hour or so, Khmer people need to stop to eat. This is particularly true in the morning. The westerners eat at home before they leave, but the Khmer people don't and always want to stop for food.

This morning some of our staff and a group of deaf people traveled to Kampong Chhnang province (an hour and a half trip) for our education program. We left at 6:30 AM, and, sure enough, before 7:30 AM they were asking me if they could stop to eat. We're rewriting our policy and procedures now. Maybe we need to include something about expectations for food on trips.

The Maryknoll Cambodia Mission Team

Almost all of us

15 March 2006

Cambodia Mission Team 2006The Maryknoll Cambodia Mission Team with members from the Maryknoll Congregation, Society, Maryknoll Lay Missioners, and partners. Front row: Celina Campas, Luise Ahrens, Ayan Matutina, Lisa Pirie, Doy Castro. Second row, seated: Myriam Frys, Kevin Conroy, Kathy Kremer, John Pahls, Mary Little, Jean-François Frys. Rear row, standing: John Tucker, Jim Noonan, Fran Kemmerer, Judy Helein, Roberta McLaughlin, Jim McLaughlin, Ed McGovern, Helene O'Sullivan, Regina Pellicore, Duc Nguyen, Charlie Dittmeier. Missing from the photo are Kathy Tucker and Kim Ji Hoon and Li Chung Won.

Sean Sprague

Maryknoll photographer

10 March 2006

Sean SpraguePeople who have read Maryknoll magazine over the years might certainly know the name of Sean Sprague. It has appeared in the credits for hundreds of photos over the years as Sean has traveled the Maryknoll world photographing and writing about the work of Maryknoll members. Recently Sean was in Cambodia on another assignment and visited and photographed activities of the Deaf Development Program. It was good to be able to put a face with the name that has been familiar for a long time.

25 February 2006

Repairing Internet antenna

Five days ago our Internet connection stopped working at our house in Bokor. I called Telesurf, our ISP, and they checked from their end but could not get a response from our microwave antenna on the roof. They wanted to send a technician to check it, but I was busy with our funders from Finland and could not be home to meet the technician until yesterday afternoon. After doing his on-site checks, the tech determined that the router in the antenna box was malfunctioning so he had to climb the roof to get access to the antenna. Then he had to go exchange the old router for a new one, but 2½ hours later we were back on the air.

George and Michele Otte

Bearers of good news and my camera

17 February 2006

George and Michele OtteGeorge and Michele Otte are two Maryknoll Affiliates from Menlo Park, California who are on an exposure visit to Cambodia to see if some sort of mission work might be in their future. Their traveling to Cambodia coincided with the shipping of my new camera here, to replace the one that was stolen, and they graciously agreed to put the new Olympus C750 in their luggage to save me overseas shipping charges. Thank you, George and Michele!

Things learned in mission and living overseas

The sound of silence can wake you up!

16 February 2006

Bedroom fanFans are an essential part of life here where there are only two seasons, hot and dry, and hot and wet.  In addition to providing a cooling movement of air, fans--turned on high--also help mask the constant noisy din of life in Cambodia.  One soon is accustomed to dropping off to sleep to the accompanying sound of the fan.  We get so used to the noise that it is noticeable when it stops, and it can be really frustrating when the electricity cuts out and the fans stop while you are sleeping.  It's bad enough that the fan goes off and the heat and the mosquitoes the fans kept at bay begin to envelope you.  What is worse is that the sudden silence wakes you up!  It wouldn't be nearly so bad if you could at least continue sleeping until the heat woke you, but--no--you wake up as soon as the fan noise stops, wide awake to ponder the approaching heat.

15 February 2006

Charlie Dittmeier and Celina CampasIn the Maryknoll community, now that we have about 35 people to remember, we celebrate all the birthdays in a given month on one of the Wednesdays when we normally come together to have our weekly meeting, liturgy, and dinner together.  My birthday is in February and so is the birthday of Celina Campas, our newest member. Celina turned thirty. I turned thirty once,too.

14 February 2006

Phnom Penh trafficTraffic is getting worse and worse in Phnom Penh. More and more vehicles are put on the road every day and with no effective traffic laws or enforcement, chaos rules. Here in morning traffic, motorcyclists take to the sidewalk when the street traffic stops.

A bad day

...50 feet from my house

3 January 2006

When I was riding my bike home at lunch time today, I was thinking that I wasn't looking forward to sitting through six interviews for a new sign language interpreter we are hiring.  About that time I heard a motorcycle coming up behind me as I was nearing an intersection on the rough dirt road near my house, and I thought to myself that I hoped the guy didn't pass me and then immediately turn right on to the side street in front of me.  That happens all the time because of the different cultural values and behaviors here.

Then the motorcycle was right beside me, very close, and I said to myself "He IS going to turn in front of me!"  But instead, the guy riding on the back of the motorcycle reached into the basket of my bicycle and stole my bag with my camera, a flashdrive, my appointment books for 2005 and 2006, and all the papers I was going to work on at home.  The motorcycle then took off down the street ahead of me. All I could see was that it was two young guys on a black motorcycle with no license plate.

I always am conscious of not placing things in the basket that can be stolen that way, and I had deliberately put the strap into the basket first so it wouldn't offer something attractive to grab.  I was thinking that if anyone reached toward my bag, I could put my hand on it and stop them first, but these guys were too fast.  A lesson learned.

Then I got our office manager to go to the police station with me to help me through the bureaucracy.  I knew there was no chance whatsoever that they could do anything but at least I wanted another theft to be on the official record so that the terrible condition of the country would have to be that little bit more acknowledged by the government.

The police station is just a little shop house in a row of shop houses. When we arrived, there were two policeman out in front, one just getting up from a nap on a folding bed he started putting away, and the other who directed me to the post chief in the backroom, probably because I was a foreigner.  The office manager helped me give the story, and while he was talking, I was taking a look around.  There were fifteen AK-47s, all of them dirty, beat-up, and probably not in working condition, and none with magazines, stacked in a corner. Five more Kalisnakovs and an M-16 were hanging on the wall, and the chief had his shirts hanging on the M-16.

It took about an hour to fill out all the forms and tell the story to one of the officers in the first room, and then to thumb-print all the copies with red ink.  I had come prepared with a copy of my passport, a typed explanation of what happened and what was stolen, and even a map showing the location of the theft.  It would have taken much longer if I hadn't had all that in writing that the officer could basically copy.  Then just as I thought we were finished, our Maryknoll office manager went scampering out of the police station and returned a minute later with a blue folder the policeman had sent him out to buy so they could put it in the official pile of crimes they had recorded.

And on top of that I still got back to the office in time for three of the interviews!

Christmas in Cambodia

A "Three Kings Party"

1 January 2006

Three kings
The last Maryknoll gathering of the Christmas season was a Three Kings Party hosted by Roberta and Jim McLaughlin

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