Wednesday, November 19, 2014


'When you have your healthyou have everything. When you do not have your healthnothing else matters at all.'  From Dry: a memoir by Augusten Burroughs-- author of Running with Scissors. 
I once described an upper-class, 50+ woman as "well-maintained."  She had a honed pilatesyoga body, vibrant skin and styled hair that looked carelessly expensive.  She was well-kept: ironed, fresh and stylish.  For me, I fear that I have turned  downright frumpy. I'm  dressing the part as a middle-aged missionary, I have lost some gumption for getting very primped.  Of late, I am feeling tired.  It could be all the women in pajamas that I see everywhere.

Because I hate to spend too much time complaining, suffice to say that I've been stressed out and in physical pain over the past couple of months.  My maintenance regime is feeling overwhelming.  Not only exercise, healthy foods and regular social engagement are required, but also fingerpricks for blood glucose tests, the injections of insulin and the never-ending triangle balance of exercise, food and insulin.  In recent weeks my teeth were sensitive and my right shoulder, hand and elbow were in a constant undercurrent of stiffness and pain. I was really discouraged. 

Mentally, I was caught up in an unfulfilling and repetitive internal tape of loneliness and boredom.  I have been slipping into drinking a little more than usual and indulging in the wonderful whole meal baguettes and European cheeses from the shops around the corner.  With the additional stress at work generated by donors that re-strategize in the middle of a grant term and the ever escalating pressures on the core, unrestricted operating income we receive from individuals and community groups around the world, I've been restless and unhappy. I'm longing for a creative sabbatical.   I want to run away from it all.   

My experience of late is reminding me of the escape from the trauma and urban life that surrounded my first job as a street outreach in downtown Boston's high-risk neighborhoods in 1989.   The Combat Zone,the hustlers circling the block around  Arlington T stop and the punk rockers of Harvard Square were all on my case load. HIV was hitting our kids hard. Three young people died in a year: one a 17 year old Passamoquoddy tribal member that I met several times, each time nearly unconscious from intoxication.  He was killed with a broken bottle in a homeless camp under an highway overpass.  I read of his death in the lifestyle section of Saturday's Boston Globe. He was the straw that broke the camel's back.  It was time to go.

Just before I hit the road, I had extensive periodontal surgery done on my front four teeth.  In the ensuing months, I did not follow whatever guidance was provided in the noisy and crowded long rows of dental chair cubbies that comprised the Tufts Dental School teaching clinic. I sold nearly everything and began working my way around the US and using my little Toyota station wagon as the mobile storage unit.  Life was filled with new experiences, short-term jobs in wacky and creative communities: Key West, the Everglades, and the stunning isolation of Big Bend.

Then there were problems.  A combination of my cavalier approach to perio maintenance, not getting regular check-ups  and neglecting the ball and chain of diabetes.  After a year or so my front teeth were wobbling in their sockets. 

 I settled in at my friends "little storage shed with a window and a doorbell" in the North Boulder Trailer Park, picked up a couple of  jobs  and met Dr. Jaques De Lorimier, who happily traded me a hand-knit sweater for a tooth extraction and a denture.   When I was back in Boston at graduate school 8 years later, the denture split in half when I bit into a bagel turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving.  $8,000 later, I had a new fixed bridge across my canine teeth.  The most recent verdict, another ten years later, is that I need to be vigilant about maintaining the teeth upon which that bridge is secured.   I have to follow the program. 

Now, in my fifties, I am much more diligent and mindful-- in some ways more sensitive to maintenance needed to steward the balance of health and stress. The recent pilgrimage to Bangkok for medical consults is done.  I got a dose of steriods into the tendon that threw my blood sugars in a tizzy for a few days, but I am not longer in pain.  I must stretch, relax and brush after lunch.    

I also think its good to have a giggle over this crazy expat life.  So here's a few tidbits of my current reality that made me giggle from Phnom Penh Tuk Tuk 

 After a meeting with my Khmer colleagues

What happened when I bought cheap "Champaign" to celebrate 

Whenever I pass by a Chaly      only 50 cc and really cute!       

Regular driving for a Cambodian taxi 

Just hanging out at Serindipity Beach

The first time that I saw the Phrare Circus Show    I have now lost count how many shows...  

When I saw a Khmer carrying his own transfusion while being on the motorbike 

When the Oknha goes to the gym room we wait for his son to finish his sport session before using the machine

When my friends from abroad are coming 

When I managed to get home just before the rain 

When I am explaining the direction to the tuk tuk

When I am finally out of PP and can see nature and wildlife in the province

When I go back to my homeland put on 3 kilos

When I go back to my homecountry I keep old habits from PP

When I am back in my homeland after a long time in Cambodia 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The neighborhood

There was a bit of commotion in July over the appearance of Google's street view car in Cambodia.  Tasked with moving around the capital city and capturing the temples of Angkor Wat, the street view car captures moments in time for a rapidly changing city.

Here's a few shots from the neighborhood just outside my door.  The streetside vendors sell phone cards, gasoline, compressed air and minor repairs for motos and bikes, cold drinks and snacks for the students.