July 26, 2010

Cambodia in the News


The man known as "Duch" has been sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role in the death of thousands. Duch ran the infamous Toul Sleng "S-21" Prison in Phnom Penh. In this former high school, 14,000 people were killed under the Khmer Rouge regime.

In the above article, survivors of the Khmer Rouge are unsatisfied with the 35-year sentence. Bou Meng's statement gets the message across: "I underwent brutal torture. Although Duch did not hit me himself, he ordered his men to hit me in front of him. This hurt me. The verdict seems to slap me in the face and kick me in the head." Other survivors shared the sentiment that this sentence did not bring justice to a man who committed crimes against humanity.

What is justice in this situation? The judge accounted for the time Duch has already spent in prison, the coersive Khmer Rouge environment, and the remorse Duch expressed for his actions. Duch will spend the rest of his life in prison, but is it enough? Does a mere 35 years mock the suffering of a nation under a brutal regime?

The lasting effects of the Khmer Rouge still grip Cambodia, and for me, the verdict on Duch is insufficient. The sentence is an important acknowledgment of Duch's responsibility for crimes against humanity, but I don't think 35 years reflects the continuing impact of the horrors at S-21. I'm an eye-for-an-eye kind of lady, and Duch doesn't have enough eyes to pay up. The survivors and the children and grandchildren of those who weren't so lucky deserve justice and closure. Cambodians are ready to make something better for their lives, but they need a solid foundation. Coming to terms with the genocide in the 1970s is a crucial step to redefining Cambodia's future.

July 20, 2010

La vie domestique

As an adult living with my parents, I'm getting a taste of the domestic life. Certainly there are situations in which my psuedo-adulthood comes in handy. I can pick-up and drop-off my 10-year-old brother, Sam, at his sports practices, camps, and games. I can do laundry while I wait for the repairman to fix the icemaker. And I could probably cook a meal (emergencies only).

But overall, I think having another adult in the house is just confusing the system. Since both of my parents work and must travel for work, they have figured out a way to run things even when one (or both) is gone. Grandparents, aunts, cousins, and the parents of Sam's friends are all on speed-dial to help when schedules are tight. Upon my homecoming, I suddenly became the go-to girl. It's still a bit of a novelty to me. I feel like a responsible family member and a cool older sister. I don't mind little chore lists, and my brother and I get along swimmingly. I'm okay with Sam and House Duty, but the tricky part is how often the plan changes after I have rearranged all of my important daily events, like sleeping in and blogging.

Sunday night, my mom was standing in our kitchen finishing her presentation for the out-of-town business meeting the next day. Between mouse clicks, she was texting and calling people to see how Sam was going to get to and from basketball camp this week. I sat at the table, browsing unrealistic grad school programs, somewhat annoyed that she wasn't asking me lots of questions about my life aspirations.

After she tucked Sam in, I was brushing my teeth in the next room. She peeked in to say goodnight, and the best I could come up with was, "Wow, taking care of that schedule is a mess!"

She said to me, "This is my life every day."

So that is the domestic life. Squeezing in pieces of everything you need to get done, providing shelter and toothpaste for your ungrateful adult children, and lots and lots of driving.

July 14, 2010

Licorice adventure

Hello, Identity Crisis. I'm the Cambodian Adventure Lady--er--I used to be. Well, maybe I still am. I don't know.

I reinvented myself in Cambodia, and now that I'm home, I'm struggling to find a place as my new-and-improved self.

I found a job at a funky local business that buys and sells licorice from around the world. I get to ply people with sweets and chat with those who appreciate international stuff. It's a great start, and I know it will lead me to the next opportunity. Cambodia gave me the adventure bug (I hope that's the only remaining bug) and I am ready for another!

July 10, 2010

Kearney after Cambodia

Yesterday I made a much-needed trip to Kearney. I was craving Barista's coffee, but I was hungry for a reality check from my Writing Center friends.

The month I spent in Japan was "time-off" enough for me. I am ready for the next project, the next plan. The Japanese life counselor who gave me an incredible perspective on my personality, my health and even my past life suggested I look for a career that allows me to be creative while helping people. An assistant, she said, or better yet, maybe a counselor.

At this point in my life, any plan is better than no plan. I've always been that way. I took the counselor's advice and began researching the counseling profession right away. Working one-to-one with people who need help was very appealing to me. I excelled with these interactions in the Writing Center, so why not as a counselor? Upon my return to my parent's house, I asked my mom to help me get interviews with counselors in the community. We e-mailed into her social network, and the response was tremendous. So many people were willing to help me get started on my next adventure (and some even helped me with summer job opportunities!).

I had my first interview with a counselor this week. She gave me a realistic summation of her education, training, and experiences as a Licenced Mental Health Practitioner. Somewhere between the 3000 hours required for the license and the prospect of clients in crisis, I realized that counseling is a lot more than talking about life's little mysteries. This isn't to say that it's off my list of possible careers. The only things that have been crossed off so far are: actuary, accountant, surgeon, and professional athlete.

Back to Kearney. Inside Barista's with a soy latte lighting up my brain, I was catching up with Collin, my other half from the Writing Center. In the midst of our future plans and current relationships, we started reminiscing on our work in the Writing Center. I confessed that I would be happy to be a writing consultant for the rest of my life. For the rest of my life--that sounds like something worth pursuing. Maybe my youth and lack of experience are showing, but I can't imagine a job I would like more. I love writing, I enjoy the writing process, and I have a knack for working with people.

At lunch, my pseudo-mother from the Writing Center gave it to me straight. You can be good at anything, but you should do what you love. If you enjoy the WC, don't fight it--direct it!

This whole self-discovery business is really exhausting.

July 5, 2010

Poo for Power!


I received this link in an e-mail from the director of CWF this morning. The Cambodian Rural Development Team plans to install 15 more bio-digesters--yes, the magical concrete boxes that turn poo into power. For 15 families, this means that they will have electric lights and gas cooking stoves (instead of using kerosene lanterns and wood-burning stoves). Implementing biogas in rural Cambodia helps slow deforestation and offers a sustainable solution for two basic problems.

So if that extra cash is burning a hole in your pocket, or you just feel like making a big difference in someone's life today, this is my recommendation.

Sorry, poo donations not accepted.

July 1, 2010

An update from Outer Space

No, I haven't gone on an adventure to Mars, but it sure feels like it.

I seem to have left my brain in Cambodia and my heart in Tokyo. I feel like I'm living in a strange dream world where I recognize everything and I can read all the signs and I can eavsdrop on people in restaurants, but I'm not really understanding anything. I believe this is what they call "reverse culture shock." It's powerful, disconnecting and a little revolting. For example, I thought the Japanese TV shows were lacking a certain something; they were boring. When I returned to American TV, the focus on sex and violence really shocked me. Even the country music stars are wearing corsets and mini-skirts while they sing about domestic abuse and adultery. I guess I never noticed what was making our TV "interesting".

Besides my fear of American television, I think I'm terrified of what's next for me. I always like to have a plan. A precise plan with steps and directions toward a goal. Normally, I've figured out the next mission before I complete the current, but this time is different. I've landed on my butt in the middle of my parents' basement with no idea what I'm going to do next.

What do you do after volunteering in Cambodia?

With my job and school prospects currently at a standstill, I'm working with my blog posts from Cambodia. It's strange to read through them and relive some of those moments of horror that seem totally insignificant now, or the days that really changed my experience for the better. My writing from Cambodia is comforting to me as I float in Outer Space, searching for the next adventure.