Monthly Archives: March 2010

Phnom Penh

I find Phnom Penh really, really hard to spell. Makes me stop and think every time.

Most trips make me stop and think hard in some way, and this one has been no exception. There have been some things about this trip I’ve found tough.

The heat, for one. It’s been about 100F here, and the electricity’s been hit or miss – which is no small thing when you’re on the fourth floor of a tall, narrow, building trying to run a good workshop with 22 people packed into one room and the sun beating down on the roof.

Then there’s noise – the whole city thrums with it. Car radio’s, children shrieking as they play badminton on the streets at night by the weak glow of street lights top poles, cats desperate for some love, rats in the roof, and the dawn to dusk construction project right next door to this place.

And translation issues. I had a fantastic translator for these workshops – an inspiring young man who picked up much of his amazing English from Mormon missionaries. But even with a good translator there was so much I missed. Jokes by the participants. The nuances of questions. Some of the subtlety in what they were saying.

Especially when you are talking about stress and resilience, nuance and subtlety is important. Without it I felt a little like I was feeling my way forward into a dark room while wearing sunglasses.

This workshop process was not comfortable for me. But I am walking away believing it was worthwhile. I hope and pray the participants – 18 Cambodians working for a local NGO that combats sex trafficking – took something away, however small, to think over and to act on to better care for themselves. The work that they are doing is so admirable. And, in this region, so badly needed.

As a result of these workshops and many rides around the city this week in tuk tuk’s like the one above, I know I took away some things to think on. A renewed appreciation of the cross-cultural complexities of stress and thriving, and the acute challenges of caring for yourself in a context where viable choices are far more limited than the ones I have at my disposal. Gratitude for air conditioning and cold running water. And a deep admiration for the capacity of the people I’ve been here working with these last couple of days to laugh until they cry. Their laughter is a skill, a gift, and a blessing.

It’s 8:30am. I have an hour to shovel everything back into my suitcases and head for the airport. Only three airports, two long flights, and one US immigration official stands between me and Mike.

And to that, I say amen.

Thanks for stopping by,

Indonesia and Cambodia

What’s “right now” is a construction zone right outside the window of the bedroom at my guesthouse in Phnom Penh. And a very loud radio. Oh, and an air conditioner that’s struggling. And no hot water. But that last one doesn’t matter, because, well, the air conditioner’s struggling and it’s really, really, hot here. So when in need of a shower, cold is just fine.

Let’s just say that there are some days when I enjoy these experiences more than others.

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind. Mike left for a gig in Malawi two weeks ago. I left for Indonesia just about exactly a week ago. The Jakarta program turned out just fine, despite a host of logistical challenges – including a frantic phone call from the caterer at 9am the morning we started saying “we forgot to do your food, and the driver is lost”. But they got it sorted right when I was trying to figure out where we were going to walk our group of 20 to feed them, and all’s well that ends well. After some tense moments, Jakarta was a success.

So, since I was already going to be in the region after the work in Indonesia I figured that it was a good idea to do a quick hop, skip, and jump across to Cambodia to have a look-see as to the needs of the local mental health community here and run some workshops for a local organization that Headington is interested in supporting.

I am no longer entirely convinced it was a good idea. But let’s not go there right now. Because I’m here now and there’s nothing to be done about that except soldier through.

Right now it’s 6:30am. Yesterday started with an alarm clock at 2am so I could catch my flights from Jakarta, and ended with no dinner. Hopefully today will bring better nutrition, better cheer, and maybe even less noise from next door???

One can only hope.

Thanks for dropping by,

The rat has left the room

On his first night in Malawi Mike woke up at midnight to see a rat running around his room. Every time he got up to try and find it, it disappeared. When he turned the lights off and lay back down he heard it come out of hiding again to chew on the door, or drag all the toilet paper onto the floor, or knock his toiletries off the bench. He said he didn’t sleep super well. Lisa was surprised he slept at all.

Fast forward to 6pm the next night (8am LA time). Mike has just returned from his first day at the office to be told by the hotel staff that they have not managed to find and remove the rat from his room because “they were out all day.”

Mike sounds somewhat resigned to this state of affairs.

Lisa: “You need to go and demand another room until they get the rat.”

Mike: “I don’t think there are any other rooms left, and they’re all really depressing anyway. I can’t really be bothered. I think I’ll just stay here.”

What Lisa was thinking: Are you insane?? If that rat got up on the bathroom counter you think it couldn’t get up on the bed, huh? And what do you think it’ll do when it’s on the bed in the dark in the middle of the night? EAT YOUR FACE!!!

[Contrary to widespread public opinion, however, Lisa does have some filters. And she judged that this might not be a helpful thing to say to a jet-lagged and overwhelmed spouse who was contemplating another night in ratville.]

What Lisa said: “Well, you’re a big boy. I’m sure you’ll figure something out.”

Mike via email at 8:12pm Malawi time (10:12am LA time): “Rat just left room. Apparently he’s a potty trained rat because as I was sitting at the desk he crawled over to the door and motioned to me that he wanted out. So I opened the door, which of course scared him because he’s a skittish thing. But I sat back down at my desk and prayed for God to give the little bugger the courage to try going out again. And he did. Thanks be to God.”

Goodnight, sweetheart

It’s Mike’s birthday:
Mike: “Goodnight sweetheart.”

Lisa: “Goodnight. Happy birthday again. I hope you sleep like a bear in the middle of winter tonight.”

Mike: “Really? They might sleep well, but I’m pretty sure they snore.”

Lisa: “Well, I hope you sleep like a bear in the middle of winter that’s not breathing then.”

Mike: “So, a dead bear. Guess my birthday’s over.”

Life admin

For those of you who are wondering why there have been no Lisa&Mike dialogues on here lately… That is because most of their conversations right now go something like this:

Mike: “Can you please remember to get a certificate of creditable coverage for health insurance from work? I need to submit that to World Vision.”

Lisa: “OK. Do I need to have a physical before we leave?”

Mike: “Hmmm, dunno. But we do need to get the car smog checked before we can sell it. If we can sell it.”

Lisa: “That piece of crap car. Did you let your parents know our schedule for June?”

Mike: “Yes. Did you have Alicia double-check your dates for your flights to Indonesia and Cambodia?”

Lisa: “Not yet. Oh, when you get a chance can you check to see if those deposits came through to link the bank accounts?”

Mike: “Yeah. Hey, speaking of things we need to buy, have you decided what size screen you want for the computer?”

Lisa: “Sort of. Maybe. Has the contract for Malawi come through? When are you leaving again? Saturday, right?”

Mike: “No contract for Malawi yet, but I booked the Laos tickets for April. Will you still have time to go over the taxes with me tonight?”

Oh yeah… It’s all fun and games in the McWolfe household at the moment.