The flowers were a huge success with the kids at the library. Although it took quite some time for the dozen or so kids to cut all the newspaper and foil they are turned out beautifully. Throughout my time with the kids I listened and helped them with their English and they taught me a few fun Khmer words as well. Afterwards I was cataloging different journals and a cat came into the library. I was clearly on his turf because he kept staring at me and whipping his tail behind him (which was also odd because most of the cats here in Cambodia do not have tails). After lunch that day we attended a lecture on Buddhist ethics of care hosted by Professor Hansen and had a meditation session with Venerable E Nol afterwards. Thursday was a Buddhist holy day, one of the two that occur each month. We were able to witness the chanting and lights of the monks which was a really beautiful experience.
The next morning was a really early one for me! I woke up at 4:30AM so that I could watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. No one else from the trip was able to go with me because of their early work sites. Although I initially went alone, my tuk-tuk driver Sohka accompanied me to watch the sunrise and walk around Angkor! He is a 23 year old student studying accounting, and although he was really smiley, his English wasn’t that great so we spent most of the morning in silence. It was super funny though because I had asked for a picture in front of Angkor, but he ended up keeping my phone on him and he directed me to different parts of the Wat for different pictures. I seriously had to sort out through over fifty pictures! Although at first it was really awkward and felt silly recreating my senior picture photo shoot around Angkor, I was really happy it happened because one this vacation I’m the photographer and usually I don’t get many of myself! Overall it was an incredible morning, perfect sunrise and I made a friend in the process. I still see Sohka every so often outside the hotel just chilling on his tuk-tuk and I’ll say hi.
Later at my placement site the project of the day was to draw a self-portrait and all of your favorite things. I drew myself in the center and included flowers, a tiger, some friends and family, books and the sun but what I found most interesting was what other students drew. A lot of children wrote words instead of drawing. One girl in particular drew herself with blonde hair and explained to me how, “Pretty girls have blonde hair”. I was so taken a back that I didn’t know what to say. She had dark skin, hair, and eyes, similar to all the other girls in the room but she chose to draw herself blonde. It broke my heart because she was beautiful herself yet she was idolizing the “other”. I wasn’t shocked because of the idolization, but more so at the young age. She was maybe eight or nine. In America I feel like were force fed the idea that beauty is definitive, I just was not expecting to encounter this abroad.
After work, as a group we all took a tour of the Metta Karuna Reflection Center that is run by a Jesuit nun who was a disciple of Mahgosananda. This Center is described as, “an interfaith center where Cambodians and foreigners are welcomed to spend time seeing the challenges of Cambodia through the eyes of the poor. Very quickly it is apparent that the challenges facing Cambodia, as its people struggle to achieve a quality of life that benefits all, are also the challenges facing the world. We see through Christians and Buddhist lenses as we view the world from the underside of history”. That excerpt is from a little information guide we were given upon arrival. As we went through the center, we were faced with several symbols of the challenges Cambodia faces. Although we had briefly talked about these challenges as a group, seeing physical sculptures or displays that stood for the challenges really helped me understand more. Art, I feel, can sometimes explain or convey ideas and emotions more powerfully than words. There were two specific symbols that really moved me. The first was called, “The Woman at the Well”. It was a sculpted woman carrying a vessel near a well that actually functioned. The nun had Taewee try and pull water up, but once Taewee did we all noticed that the bucket was leaking. The nun explained that this was a symbol for development that enriches all. Water is an extremely important symbol in Christianity and Buddhism, and here it served that same purpose. The water stood for goods, education, money, anything but because the bucket was leaking it shows that the water of the earth is meant to be shared with everyone. Essentially, what the well and bucket conveyed was the struggle to ensure that current and future generations in Cambodia would have access to these necessities. The second symbol that really moved me was called the “Treasures in Earthen Vessels”. It was an area that had around twenty different earthenware pots. We were told to pick out the pot that stood out to us, for whatever reason- just one pot that we really, really liked. Surprisingly out of the eleven of us, none of us chose the same vessel, and even more beautifully after each individual explanation of why we chose our pot it really made sense for the person. At first I completely glanced over mine because it wasn’t as high up or big as the others, but once it caught my eye I knew it was the one. It’s my favorite color and I love the little intricate, yet rough, etchings all around it. Etchings that represent abstract petals of a lotus flower. This was meant to show that although we are all made the same like earthenware vessels, we are sculpted then turned to dust- yet we need to appreciate and recognize the differences each one of us has. This center was probably my favorite field trip so far (besides Angkor) and if you’d like to know more I really recommend visiting their site! http://www.jrscambodia.org/Reflection_Centre/reflectioncentre.html
The night ended with a fun and lively evening at Ivy’s, where Michael invited all the volunteers that are affiliated with ConCERT! Everything, literally everything, was a dollar on the menu and it was top quality food. It was a satisfying day for my mind, body, spirit, and stomach. 🙂