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The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.
~ Nelson Henderson

Now that I’m no longer ignoring my blog, I’ve been prompted by another (Thank you, Lori, for your post that stirred me into action!) to do a bit of gap filling on gap filling.

As do all internationally adopted children, my kids have gaps in their personal stories that can’t be filled. Not only do they have little information on their genetic links and the specific circumstances that preceded their adoptions, their country of birth is also somewhat of a mystery.

They know a lot about Cambodia, of course, from books and photos and films and the tales of our family history, but those can’t convey the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Southeast Asia any more than breathing into a freezer compartment can relate the experience of being cold enough to see their breath.

It has long been in the works for the kids to spend time in their birth country, and this happened for Sam back in February.

Some years back I wrote about Gay’s plan to have him accompany her on an annual housebuilding trip for Tabitha. She’s been doing this every year since Sam came home in 2003, and now that he’s eleven-years-old, it seemed the right time.

I had my concerns, of course, as any mother would seeing her young son travel far without her, but knew most of the building team (Brits, Americans, friends … ) and trusted in their dedication to my son’s safety and had the team leader, Dave Richter on my radio show just a month before, assuring me that Sam would be well looked after.

I won’t say that I was thrilled by him going, as I knew I wouldn’t relax until he was back under my wing, but his excitement was contagious and I knew he was leaving on the trip of a lifetime.

After almost two full days of travel, the first item on his agenda was a 10K walkathon benefitting the building of a women’s hospital in Phnom Penh which he completed with no problems whatsoever … and had raised almost £600.00 for on his Justgiving page. (He’d also raised over 3,000 Seychelles Rupees at a carwash conducted here!)

More difficult were the orientation visits to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the killing field at Choeung Ek. Although he has been familiar with the tragic history of Cambodia since he was old enough to turn the pages of a book, there’s a lot to process in those places for anyone, even more so a Cambodian-born 11-year-old.

The housebuilding days were a joy for him. Meeting and playing with the children in the village reaffirmed his hope for his compatriots. Working hard felt good, too, empowered as he was at his age to contribute something so substantial to some he knows are his people.

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. ~ Anne Frank

Gay had wisely decided to end the adventure at Angkor Wat with its evidence of the rich and grand history that is also Cambodia … an amazing wrap to an amazing time had by my amazing son.

My love and my gratitude for my children are the greatest gifts I’ll ever know. They are all spreaders of light … candles all.

There are two ways of spreading light – to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. ~Edith Wharton

Here’s a video Gay put together showing some of the highlights of the trip. Huge thanks to Gay, to Tabitha Cambodia, Dave Richter and everyone involved in making this such a wonderful experience.

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Not dead today ... just at the beach ...

Not dead today … just at the beach …

Today is my 15th Not Dead Day.

Yes, I have had a few thousand days of being not dead, but on this day in 1999 I very well could have been.

During the course of what I thought was a routine checkup with a cardiologist while on holiday in Singapore I was yanked from a treadmill after about 10 seconds, told to lie down, had a Heparin patch slapped to my chest and was informed that I was within one to thirty days from a massive and certainly fatal heart attack.

Good thing I took that vacation, huh?

I’ve written before about the process, recovery, etc., so no need to do that again. What I would like to do today is talk about living. Fifteen years … nothing to sneeze at. I would have missed a lot had I not been around. Not that everything has been peaches and roses (sometimes not even coming close with pizza and rotgut), but an unpleasant slog through what we know as real life. There have been times I’d have rather avoided, some that almost broke me …

You fall out of your mother’s womb, you crawl across open country under fire, and drop into your grave. ~ Quentin Crisp

But so much has been worth much more than the price of admission. Fifteen years of sunsets and puppies and laughs and love and friends and fresh fruit and hugs and cuddles and kisses and great books and conversations and new experiences coming seemingly from out of the blue.

Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies. ~ Erich Fromm

I’ve had

They're growing, and I get to watch the process...

They’re growing, and I get to watch the process…

another fifteen years to learn new things, to confront my personal ghosts, and wrestle them for lessons, to put effort into making the world a better place.

Life has meaning only if one barters it day by day for something other than itself. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I’m still around to see Sam at 11 and Cj at 9, to fill their heads with as much wisdom as I can and as little baggage as possible, to do my best to leave them with as few gaps as I can … and I have no doubt I will leave them before the gaps are full, just as all parents do … and to live up to Walt Whitman’s edict in “Leaves of Grass”

“…the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.”

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An end-of-year update from one of the most effective organizations on the ground in any country …

Dear friends and partners,

Today is the last day of our program year and what a year it has been. We had so many goals – so much we wanted to do. We had so many dreams we wanted to achieve – dreams that each of you made happen.

Let me share some of our highlights.

This year our goal was to work with and reach out to 42,545 families with 340,228 dependents – we ended the year with 43,546 families with 348,368 dependents – we worked with another 358 families in cottage industry. It is a remarkable achievement.

Our goal for our New Year starting this week is to reach out to 59,140 families with 473,120 dependents. Together we can do it.

The core of our program is savings: 90% of acute poverty is attitudinal – a mindset created by any number of factors – for our families it has been 40 years of war and genocide. It results in despair – an inability to think ahead – to plan for the future – what is the use – I will lose all anyway. It results in an often heard slogan from our families – we are bad – a statement that reflects
their inability to grasp the loss of so much in their lives.

Savings breaks down the attitude for savings involves people starting dreams – achievable dreams – it involves saying they are worth something – no matter how insignificant we think that something is. It involves action, for the people must give of their own money – it involves people standing with them, cheering them on – it involves achieving those dreams and making new ones.

Their initial savings isn’t much – usually .25 cents a week – but those little bits of money grow into big money – our families saved $2,037,313.90 this year but what is the miracle is the purchase and life changes brought about – they purchased $10,919,450.00 worth of goods and services. Savings works – for families pull together all their resources to make a positive change in their lives – we as Tabitha staff are cheerleaders, encouraging and celebrating each achievement.

The families say to us – you helped us to think again. The attitude has changed. It is so very good.

We talked about our impacts on families – we always start with basic necessities of which eating better food is a key marker – in our newest expansion areas people eat only once a day – rice and whatever insect’s people can scavenge from the fields. This year 27,907 families were able to achieve better food. I asked the managers what that meant – it means people are eating two to three meals a day which are balanced with vegetables and fruit daily and meat and fish at least twice a week. As we were talking, I asked how much do you think that costs a day say for a family of 8 – the universal answer was $5.00 a day – we started multiplying the numbers – families eating
times day times cost in a year and the end figure boggled our minds -over 50 million dollars worth – it is teaching all of us about the micro economics of food.

13,129 families are moving towards food security with their ability to purchase 3 months supply of rice. All of our families were able to purchase basics such as clothing, sleeping mats, beds, tables and chairs, pots and pans, mosquito nets and much more.

Water and its life giving strength – we were enabled to install 2015 sources of water – with over 1000 hectares of land put under year round cultivation – earning our families an average of $500.00 US per month – or $6,000.00 per year up from the low of $300.00 per year.

In Income generation, especially in agriculture and fishing – 18,728 families were able to raise animals such as pigs, chickens, ducks, cows, etc.. Another 18,893 families were able to grow crops such as rice and vegetables year round – it is so very good.

We talked about the number of school aged children in our program- in the communes where we work – and how many got to attend school this year. We had a dream to build 7 schools and we ended up building 14 schools. We talked about the impact it has on the children in our program. In our new areas, an average of one child per family is able to go to school – in areas where we are in mid – program – the average is 3 out of the five – in the areas where we built our schools – it is 4 out of the 5 children. This year we enabled 120,878 children to attend school for the first time.

Our dream this past year was to have 55 teams come and build 950 houses – we had 97 teams come with 2,425 volunteers come and help build 1,182 houses for our families. It is so very good – The volunteers become friends and supporters – people who have a deeper understanding of poverty and its impact on people.

It has been an amazing year – a year of being blessed and giving blessings. I thank my God for this privilege. I thank my God for the staff and for each of you who have made so much happen this year. I pray that our dreams for the next year will bear much fruit for those whom we serve.

Janne

Tabitha USA was established in 2003 to provide funding and support for Tabitha Cambodia, a humanitarian NGO in Cambodia. Our mission is to improve the lives of people living in poverty in Cambodia. We seek to raise funds to support Tabitha Cambodia’s community development efforts, which include a savings program, house-building, digging water wells, and building schools. Tabitha USA is an official IRS 501 (c)(3) non profit organization that grants all donations tax-exempt status.

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Ah, the subtle swaying of simple minds ...

Election furor in the US.

Some of that here, too, with the National Assembly vote very soon.

Palestine’s bid for membership in the UN will be vetoed.

An execution in Georgia took place.

Austerity measures are protested in Greece.

Facebook makes changes.

Just a few of the topics swirling this morning that bring to mind a recent discussion on democracy, what it means, what it is, and what’s do be done with it, spawned partly from last week’s declared International Day of Democracy marked on the 15th.

So, what exactly did that occasion celebrate?

democracy
diˈmäkrəsē
noun ( pl. -cies)

a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives : capitalism and democracy are ascendant in the third world.

• a state governed in such a way : a multiparty democracy.

• control of an organization or group by the majority of its members : the intended extension of industrial democracy.

• the practice or principles of social equality : demands for greater democracy.

ORIGIN late 16th cent.: from French démocratie, via late Latin from Greek dēmokratia, from dēmos ‘the people’ + -kratia ‘power, rule.’

As a quick read through the democratically organized Wiki shows, democracy comes in many different flavors.

You’ve got your Representative Democracy, your Consensus Democracy, your Deliberative Democracy, Cosmopolitan Democracy, democracy Representative, Parliamentary, Presidential (and Semi-Presidential), direct, inclusive,
participatory, Socialist, Sortition, Supranational and the Anarchists … any of which can be liberal … or not … characterized by Majority Rule, but, as mentioned, ” … it is also possible for a minority to be oppressed by a “tyranny of the majority”.

While there is no universally accepted definition of ‘democracy’, equality and freedom have both been identified as important characteristics of democracy since ancient times.These principles are reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to legislative processes.

Nice idea, heh?

Those of us who were around during the time the US was busy wrestling dominos in the course of “saving the world for democracy” might be forgiven for thinking democracy a new-ish, western-ish concept since not a lot of talk about Mesopotamia, Phoenicia and India, cultures that adhered to democratic practices before the Greeks came up with the word, entered debates over whether or not dropping cluster bombs over Cambodia was a good plan.

Democracy went from being a Greek word to a Buzz word once … dum de dum dum … communism gave it something to bounce off of and resonate, and as is the nature of such things it became undemocratic to question the righteousness rightness of democracy.

It doesn’t take a deep investigation into history to see how that worked out. Do the term McCarthyism ring a bell?

During the McCarthy era, thousands of Americans were accused of being Communists or communist sympathizers and became the subject of aggressive investigations and questioning before government or private-industry panels, committees and agencies. The primary targets of such suspicions were government employees, those in the entertainment industry, educators and union activists. Suspicions were often given credence despite inconclusive or questionable evidence, and the level of threat posed by a person’s real or supposed leftist associations or beliefs was often greatly exaggerated. Many people suffered loss of employment and/or destruction of their careers; some even suffered imprisonment.

As Thomas Jefferson so aptly put it: A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.

So, is democracy a red herring, a set of shiny, jangling keys designed to take our eyes off the prize of true freedom and call it healthy compromise?

American history is rife with praise for the democratic way of doing government, starting as it did from roots dug from monarch trees that had held the mountaintop for centuries, but perhaps the motivation was best summed up years later by that very British brain, Winston Churchill, when he said, ” … democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”

Unless the world ends in 2012, there is much more to come in the way of evolving systems of governing bits of our increasingly crowded planet. Power will shift, economies will weaken and strengthen in little relation to rightness or wrongness, wars will happen and winners will be touted as those holding the true path to glory. People will even adjust to Facebook altering the way feeds work.

“Democracy… while it lasts is more bloody than either [aristocracy or monarchy]. Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”
~ John Adams

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I don’t want to say this very loudly, but … I have both water AND electricity. Shhhhhhhhh …

Yep, toilets are flushing, showers miraculously have water come out when the tap is turned and lights go on when a switch is flipped. Amazed? I am. Maybe there is something to this Year of the Rabbit thing after all.

Funny how days of island shit ups the appreciation ante when it comes to stuff many so take for granted, but even those of us who do without need reminding regularly that blessings are heaped upon us even when when we’re toting water by the bucketful and trying to read by candles.

What follows is one slap up the ungrateful side of my head that comes in regularly … an update from Janne Rikkes, founder of Tabitha, an organization that does great work in Cambodia.

February  2011

Dear friends and partners,

It’s been a week of mixed emotions. Pat, our manager in Prey Veng, asked that I come. Pat is one of our senior managers; he has been with us almost from the beginning. Pat’s area is one of our toughest. In the areas we work, the poverty is rather stark. Pat wanted me to see Prek Komdieng, an area we have worked in since 1998. It was always frustrating to visit because, despite a lot of effort, very little has changed.

As we drove into the area, Pat had us stop. I was looking at a lot of barren fields with splashes of green, here and there. A number of people were working in the fields and came to meet us. The first man to reach us didn’t smile; instead I got a look of utter defiance mixed with pride. Touk looked at me and stated bluntly, I have all my children back from the border. Touk has five children and like so many in the area, when life got too difficult, he would get a loan in exchange for one of his children. The 3 girls and 2 boys had been at the Thai border for two years, the girls in the sex trade, the boys as carriers for heavy loads and of course, the occasional appointment with a man. What Touk did was not uncommon in this area – many families used the practice. Touk was waiting for me to say something.

I looked at Pat who was excited – he shared the story – last year he had asked Touk to be a model for the village. Pat would put in a field well and together they would grow rice and vegetables. It was unheard of in this village – many of the men had gone off to find work, many were too ill to do work – primarily because of malnutrition. Touk agreed and in the past year grew 4 crops of rice and 2 crops of vegetables. He earned enough to get his children back. They don’t need to work anymore, he said. Other men had joined us and the talk began – there were now 12 field wells installed – they needed 20 more – and then what, said I. Come back in March and you will see. We will have rice and vegetables covering 150 hectares. And the children, I asked. And the children they replied, will all be home and in school. March is not a long way off – it’s quite a challenge.

Touk was watching me intently. He was expecting me to pass judgment on his past behavior. All I could think of was who am I to judge these people – what do I know of hunger – I see it but I eat whenever I want and whatever I want. What do I know of being ill and not having medicine? What do I know of having to chose which child is next to go? I know nothing of this – I just know pain when I see it – and hope when I see it. I agreed and so in the latter part of March I will come and see. The challenge is on.

Yesterday I went to see Thary’s projects – she is near to Phnom Penh and easy to get to. Our first stop was at Preah Put village – we walked into the fields – 80 hectares of dry season rice was growing, all from Tabitha wells. The families grow year round food for the first time and their lives are changing rapidly. The husbands and the children are all at home. The smiles are wonderful to see.

We went to the new area of Duang. What a different story. I met 18 of 50 families who have been deeply affected by AIDS and by malaria. In this process the families have sold off their farmland and all have less than 5 square meters to call home. There are lots of children – it seems that this is the one thing in life they can do. None of the children go to school – they cannot – they need to scavenge whatever they can in order to eat each day.  Each small shack has two families living in them – 3 square meters is not a lot for 15 or more people. These families had heard of us and asked us to come and work there. The estimate is that there are 1000 desperately poor families in this area – half of them are ill. Some still have land and so the pressure is on to put in wells. One young husband is growing mushrooms in a space 10 meters square. His income for the next 6 months will be $600 a month but then the rains will start and the mushrooms can’t be grown. So he planted another small field with cucumbers and another with trakun, a type of spinach. He gives us the energy to hope and to do as much as we can. For those who no longer have land – the problems are much greater – I pray that the children don’t become the victims.

It’s been a week of sadness – it’s been a week of hope. I thank my God for all that I have, for the choices I can make, for His goodness to me. I thank Him for each of you – for standing with us as we go through these cycles of sadness and hope.

Janne

Here are some links to Tabitha branches around the world:
http://www.tabitha.ca     http://www.tabithauk.com     http://www.tabithasingapore.com
http://www.tabitha.org.au    www.tabithausa.org   http://www.tabithanz.com

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Wrapping my head around the holidays … looking happy about it … dwelling is not an option … cleaning out corners is …

My dog and stuff

My dog is called Mitzy
she’s ditzy
My cat is Diego,
hasta luego
The tortoise is Helmut
… the shell, mate …
I do with my critters,
their litter,
and fritter
away many minutes
with little else in it
My kids
are Sam, Cj and Jenn
and Jaren, of course,
although he’s now a “been”
I’ve a mother,
three brothers,
Larry, Tom and …
oh … Jim …
and, very thankfully,
a whole raft of friends.
There’s Andy and Gay
who both make every day
a tolerable passing of
whatever may
come hell or high water
show up when my daughter
the grown one (I miss her)
is beyond where I aughter
while I’m with her sister.
It’s life on this rock
that keeps me in hock
always missing someone
even as I keep stock
of those coming and going
I love them all, knowing
time passes so fast
What’s it mean? I could ask
my dog who’s called Mitzy

Cambodia in Seventeen Syllables
Always conflicted,
smiling through horror
Poison on the top shelf waits

X-mas

It’s ghosts I hang
on the Christmas tree
shades of all that
couldn’t be
Another year has
come and gone,
another season
thrust upon
all tinsel, balls and
shiny fluff
and meant to be
diverting stuff
but serving only to remind
of all that has been left behind

Leftovers

How does one finish with
stuff that’s not done
like a bird in the oven
still bleeding?

Can’t very well eat things
still moving now
can we? Not while it still keeps
its beating

It has stewed, it has baked
but no matter,
stlll kicking this thing’s not
completing

the process of dying
takes time and may
nevertheless bear
repeating

Hunger can’t rush it,
wishing won’t work,
but no worries.
We’re feeding

on scraps of leftovers
savouring each
it seems we are
still needing.

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Is connectivity making people smarter?

I’m not talking about those with the inclination to investigate every innovation, develop platforms for interaction or keep track of what humanity is up to, although I do wonder what Julian Assange might have done with his smarts if the Internet didn’t exist and how many other brilliant minds might have gone to seed in the days before sitting around in your bedroom in smelly sweats for days on end allowed one to reach into the guts of power of all sorts.

No, I’m thinking about the reasonably bright lot for whom ease of access to information, one-click research and breakfasting on RSS feeds just might be growing brain cells or teaching the ones already there to shake hands more often.

Historically, availability of info has been proven to do just that, and along with the process of getting smarter shit happens, as this WSJ article illustrates:

As Gutenberg’s press spread through Europe, the Bible was translated into local languages, enabling direct encounters with the text; this was accompanied by a flood of contemporary literature, most of it mediocre. Vulgar versions of the Bible and distracting secular writings fueled religious unrest and civic confusion, leading to claims that the printing press, if not controlled, would lead to chaos and the dismemberment of European intellectual life.

These claims were, of course, correct. Print fueled the Protestant Reformation, which did indeed destroy the Church’s pan-European hold on intellectual life. What the 16th-century foes of print didn’t imagine—couldn’t imagine—was what followed: We built new norms around newly abundant and contemporary literature. Novels, newspapers, scientific journals, the separation of fiction and non-fiction, all of these innovations were created during the collapse of the scribal system, and all had the effect of increasing, rather than decreasing, the intellectual range and output of society.

I started blogging back in 2003 on a professional site that eventually saw my posts getting over 100,000 hits a month. It was new to a lot of people then, all this Internet interaction, but the site was topic-specific … adoption … and many came to it looking for information tailored to their issues, questions and needs. Approaching what was to many a new way of gaining knowledge with an agenda encouraged participation, and a jump into one pool of info prompted leaps into others.

In pursuit of fodder, I joined a bunch of groups … Yahoo first, then Google offered forums for exchange, and the give-and-take was often lively after people overcame their original shyness.

Most new members announced themselves as such, apologizing in advance for any blunders as they tiptoed into discussions, but soon gained confidence not only with the technology, but also in their ability to convey meaning through writing their thoughts.

Unlike in the time when written material was often a one-side lecture and responses took days or weeks to lob the discussion ball back over the net, hot debates started happening in real time with only seconds passing between one point and the next.

People not only began to type faster, they learned to frame thoughts in ways that could be typed fast and understood. Without the benefit of vocal tone, eye contact and body language, words needed to be well chosen and presented if one had any hope of having meaning comprehended by the target audience.

Online groups led to social networking, and chatting and typing got even faster. People grew beyond the fear of putting thoughts in writing … an ‘engraving in stone’ idea that had some concerned for a while about the written word … and began to converse comfortably with their fingers.

The global scope gets people from widely-flung countries and cultures talking, an opportunity that serves to extend the range of thought at the same time it encourages us to consider people geographically distant to feel like neighbors chatting over the back fence. With online translators … as crap as they are … we can even communicate across language divides.

Sure, a lot of what goes back-and-forth is inconsequential bollocks … flirty bullshit, schmooze, schmaltz and preaching to the choir … but it is back-and-forth, active, so has more likelihood of developing into something of interest than sitting in front of the TV. For those who think inconsequential bollocks is what it’s all about ….

The decade the pessimists want to return us to is the 1980s, the last period before society had any significant digital freedoms. Despite frequent genuflection to European novels, we actually spent a lot more time watching “Diff’rent Strokes” than reading Proust, prior to the Internet’s spread. The Net, in fact, restores reading and writing as central activities in our culture.

On a personal level all this connectivity has made life on a tiny island vastly more interesting, and, yes, it has made me smarter. Friends from all over the world share ideas and information freely and easily, so my perspective is wider. I can read news from just about anywhere, from the Red Bluff Daily to Al Jazeera, and although I often feel the overload I can click from link to link to link and examine any issue. When I have a question about anything I can find an answer … or 1,000.

Sure, I can also watch Bullwinkle pull a rabbit out of a hat … oops, wrong hat … and read all the stupid shit that floats, but even that keeps my brain working.

There is no going back … I hope, although today’s news on the ramping up of what is rapidly evolving into a war has me worried that we’re sure to see serious attacks designed to rein in freedom of information.

Those of us with Internet access … even me with my fucking unreliable Kokonet connection … have grown accustomed the routine of getting a bit smarter, or at least better informed, every day, and as more people connect the world gets smaller and smarter, both through reference sources and personal contacts previously impossible.

For example, I have a facebook friend in Niger, so can not only Wiki the country for info, I can write to my pal with questions on day-to-day living, his take on politics and events and a weather report.

When news happens … the recent tragedy in Cambodia comes to mind … it’s not difficult to get a first-hand account from someone there.

The option we have now of removing or ignoring filters placed by those with an agenda we may not see makes it possible to get closer to the bottom of any issue of interest, and as we get better at learning how to use our ‘connections’ to plumb depths we expand the concept of our place in the world.

Of course, there is a downside …

It’s a lot harder to find an excuse to be stupid.

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