So far this year is has been really busy! I finally got a chance to meet one of the founders of the school, Danny Spitler, so there was lots of planning and meetings for the first week of the month.
One of the regular donors to Spitler School, Global ADE, recently built a beautiful middle school in a nearby village. The founder of this organization is a young guy still in college who has done amazing work here. His mom visited Cambodia several years ago and her guide was Chea Sarin. It’s incredible that Sarin has been the motivation and inspiration for so much progress in these rural villages. Neither Spitler School nor I would be here if not for him.
Anyway, I was invited to the middle school’s grand opening celebration- lots of speeches and local dignitaries, performances by the Spitler Apsara dancers and the band from a school in town. Sadly, the major donor for the school was inspired by a heartbreaking event. He and his partner were touring the temples while on vacation and were, like so many others, awed by their history and beauty, touched by the warmth and joy of the Khmer people and saddened by the poverty. As they continued their tour on to Angkor Wat, the most majestic of temples, they headed up steep steps to the top floor. This area, which represents heaven, is particularly beautiful as the walls are adorned with bas relief carvings of Apsara dancers, each one different and more beautiful than the next. It was here that tragedy struck and one of the men collapsed and died. Buddhists believe that this is the closest place on earth to Nirvana, so it is a particularly sacred place to die. Such a sad story, but wonderful to see this school built in his memory.
On a happier note, the US Ambassador to Cambodia visited Spitler School with some friends this month. The Ambassador has been a friend of the school for a couple of years and it was an honor to meet him.
I’m enjoying my apartment and getting to know my new neighborhood, but some things take getting used to. For example: the trash has to be put in the building’s main trash bin by 5 pm. One day I was late getting it out, so just put it in the trash basket outside my front door. In the middle of the night I heard sounds of rustling and I thought, oh geez, a rat is in the damn trash. Do I just let it be or scare it away? I got up and headed toward the door, still not sure what I was going to do when I realized the noise was coming from some plastic bags INSIDE my apartment. What the hell do I do now? Ignoring it was not an option so, my heart pounding, I kick the bag and out scurries a palmetto bug the size of my hand. I beat it to total death with a flip flop and went back to bed wondering what I would have done if it had been a rat. I really hope I don’t ever have to answer that question.
Also, the infrastructure for electricity isn’t even close to OSHA regulations. There’s no such thing as grounding and wires are willy nilly everywhere, so it’s gamble whenever I plug anything in. In addition to that, the hot water heater is on a wall inside the shower and the switch is in the direct path of the water which I always thought was a very scary place for it. Sure enough, I’m in the shower and I hear a pop at the switch, sparks fly out and smoke starts pouring out. I ran out and got a wooden broom to turn the smoking switch off. Then I’m thinking- how do I call the fire department? Is there even such a thing as a fire department? Fortunately, there was no fire, because no one seems to know whether or not there is a fire department, so I’m guessing there isn’t. Not surprised.
A couple of weeks ago, two young women on a moto got hit by a drunk driver in a Lexus. He turned out to be a rich attorney so he just paid off the cops and drove away (very typical). Both girls’ legs were pretty much shattered and of course they cannot afford a hospital. But, one of the nice things about Siem Reap is the really strong expat community, so the local Food Coop held a big fundraiser - music, food, drinks, henna tattoos, massages … and enough money was raised to pay for their operations and aftercare and the girls now have a very good chance of a complete recovery.
I went to my first Khmer birthday party last week- such fun! Great food and although I couldn’t communicate with 95% of the people there, I had a great time. We had lots of toasts with beer- the Khmer word for “Cheers” is “Chul Mui” – you have be careful with the pronunciation because a very similar sounding phrase “Chuy Mui” means “f--- me once”!
Tomorrow I’m off to Myanmar for vacation! Lucky, lucky me!