Chantra’s Hearts

 

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On Tuesday, I returned to Siem Reap, home of magnificent Angkor Wat about 200 miles northwest of Phnom Penh. I hopped a 40 minute flight after being advised to avoid the road from Phnom Penh, which is a hot mess in spite of the billions Cambodia has paid a Chinese company for improvements.

At least Cambodian Angkor Airlines is happy — like me, most tourists don’t think the $6 bus fare is such a good deal!

I am staying at the Golden Banana Hotel, which is famously gay friendly, although it seems the heteros have taken over at this point.What started off as one small hotel is now several hotels on so much real estate the neighborhood  is referred to as “the banana republic.” I love this hotel — it is low key with just enough of everything I want — earthy simple furnishings, a nice location in a quiet alley near the center, friendly employees, a connection with the local community and good coffee at breakfast.   I also love waking up to the chanting from the Buddhist Temple across the road.

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Golden Banana’s bartender makes a delish Tum Yum Margarita, which has chilies, coconut and ginger in addition to the usual lime fun.

Yesterday, I spent the day with Vanna and Max from Cambodian Children’s Dream Organization (CCDO).  CCDO provides education and health services to children living in rural communities outside of Siem Reap. Seven of us traveled by tuk-tuk to a school site about an hour outside of town.  The site is several acres with five modest school buildings for 800 students from pre-school to 9th grade.  The six Americans in the group were impressed at how cooperative (not competitive) and happy (not entitled) the children were.   The boys were playing a ball game without keeping score and the older children were eager to help the little ones with breakfast logistics.

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The preschoolers sang us a Khmer song.  As Kathy will tell you, the girl on the left in the yellow shorts will be Cambodia’s Prime Minister in 2054

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The children help run the school and rarely need to be told what is needed. These children are pumping water for hand washing stations.

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The children manage large vegetable gardens at the school site. They mostly grow bitter melon and morning glory greens, both very common in Cambodian cooking.

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CCDO provides two meals a day to 800 students at the school site. For many of the children, these meals provide the only protein their diet.

 

My personal favorite part of the day was hanging out with 12 year old Chantra when she was between classes.  She has three sisters, and a dog. Her favorite color is pink and she wants to be an English teacher when she grows up.

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She handed me this note for Max and me as we drove off.

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I am a week into my Cambodia adventure and 61 years into my life and I still don’t know what I am doing. For now, I am trying to just go with my interim strategy — find enriching experiences and be grateful for them.

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