How do you do enough?

Since I’ve returned from Singing Kites, it feels like something is missing. It is lovely to be reunited with my wonderful husband, and to be back in beautiful West Cork, but when I was in Cambodia, I felt like I was useful, like I was doing something truly worthwhile.

A young Cambodian boy rocking his baby brother to sleep - no money for education

A young Cambodian boy rocking his baby brother to sleep – no money for education

Now I’m home, I’m loving my work, my writing, my home, and my life – and I’m feeling extremely grateful for what I have – but I also feel, in some way, useless. Not unworthy, but like there’s a void. That’s the best way that I can describe it.

The more you delve into conservation or charity work, the more you realise how endless the need is for help. So where do you start?

Do you help defenseless animals like at the Elephant Nature Park, or do you teach voluntarily in developing countries? Do you look closer to home and volunteer with wonderful organisatons like Inner City Helping Homeless, or do you look even closer still and adopt a rescue dog or make sure you remember to do the little things that help your loved ones and neighbours? All of the above, probably, but how can you ever do enough?

There is no doubt that I will return to Singing Kites next year (I can’t wait!), and I have an exciting charity project brewing that I hope will come to fruition soon enough. But we have to pay the bills and can genuinely only do so much, so in the meantime, I’m left wondering, how exactly can I help?

The simple answer is, that as a writer, I hope that by creating I can provide something useful – whether it’s a blog post that raises awareness, a story that allows for hope or escape, a fun children’s adventure trilogy, or a poem or piece of short fiction that reaches out to someone or simply entertains.

It’s not much to offer but I hope my writing will be read and enjoyed and will somehow affect the reader. I guess that’s what we want as writers, and, while I try and get my charity project off the ground, I’ll have to stop questioning whether that’s enough.

happy students

A poem about worries by students of Singing Kites, Cambodia

Another great piece of work by students at Singing Kites – and once again, their first ever poem in English.

I’m so very proud of them – well done girls! (The boys in the photo are their friends; they liked to visit and chat and they were all such great company)

happy students

The girls that wrote the poem, Our Worries

 

Our Worries

I worry…

about my exams and if I will fail,

if I’m absent from school then my study isn’t good enough,

about my eyes because I always use the computer on the weekend,

that my brain gets tired when I study so much,

when I go home at night, my bicycle will get broken,

about riding my motorbike on the road in case there is an accident

I will hear ghosts in the dark,

that when I go home there is no rice and I’ll be hungry,

for my brother in Korea because he is working with machines – it is very dangerous,

about not having money because I cannot study or buy things like leashal*,

that I make mistakes every day,

about not having enough water and the world getting hotter,

my face and skin is not white enough.

 

by Raksmey, Theary, Kaknika, Kanha, Lengheang

*Leashal are tiny clams, covered in salt and chilli and cooked in the sun. The shells do not open; you have to use your teeth. Very delicious. See below!

food cambodia

These are the delicious clams

Being Included at Singing Kites #WritingCambodia

Coffee shop, Tanop

Our local coffee shop – I drink the iced coffee with condensed milk. Sounds bad, tastes good!

I really wanted to try and be part of the community while I was here, and to understand a bit about how the people live. Although I have enjoyed visiting the city, you do feel very much like a tourist because that’s everyone else’s perception of you. Staying in a commune in the countryside shows a whole other aspect, and has begun to show me the real Cambodia – and so that’s why I decided to abandon the city completely and stay at the school over the weekend while the teachers are away studying and the school is closed.

During the last week, I’ve been treated to breakfast in the little coffee shop – roasted pork & rice and sweet iced coffee – followed by a dawn motorbike ride through the local countryside. To catch breakfast you have to be at the coffee shop before seven – I asked about trying some noodles at around 8am and the reply was a chuckle and ‘no, you have to go in the morning’. OK, so 8am is no longer morning here – got it!

One of the dentists and her three dental nurses (local village girls and some of the first graduates from the school) also included me in their meals when they came to stay – smoked fish mixed with papaya, Cambodia spicy rice porridge, duck eggs (OK, I admit, I wasn’t expecting the foetus but this is common in South East Asia) and fried fish. They accompanied me on a beautiful morning bicycle ride through the fields to the village – rightly amused by my wobbly riding on the retro bikes – for a breakfast of banana fritters and giant prawn crackers filled with real prawns. And they also brought some strands of young green rice for me to look at, seeing as I’ve only ever seen it already dry and bagged. You can actually eat the young rice and it tastes like coconut milk.

making friends rural cambodia

My friend preparing the coconut from her garden – coconut water is the most refreshing drink in the heat.

This weekend, I was working on my book edits and freelance work, but I also had a few groups of girls visit me to take me for bike rides, join me for iced coffee, show me the stories they write, and share food; the villages in the commune are currently celebrating this year’s rice harvest by sharing Khmer noodles. I was also lucky enough to visit a girl’s home and meet her parents and sisters. They were such beautiful, welcoming people and I had a wonderful few hours in their company.

Then there was the roasted duck shared with the grounds men and teachers, the Khmer lesson over beers… The hospitality has been endless and generous, and I can’t thank everyone enough for their kindness. To feel safe, loved, and included, is such a gift – especially when you’re surrounded by people you’ve just met. People you can call friends in a very short space of time.

The darker side of the country’s past is also starting to reveal itself to me. I don’t pry because it’s far too sensitive, and far too recent, but one of the girls showed me their old traditional wooden house that had survived the Khmer Rouge times, how it was reduced in size due to damage from bombing. She also shared some stories that she had heard from her parents about their lives during that time. They were, as you would expect, horrific. Having met her parents, I have no idea how they have remained such kind and generous people. There is no sign of anger or bitterness; they emanate gentleness and warmth, which I find both remarkable and honourable.

There are also certain things that you can’t help becoming aware of. For instance, driving back to the school, Tith and myself listened to some beautiful and haunting Khmer music in the car. After a few songs had played, Tith explained that all of the singers we’d just listened to were now dead, brutally murdered during the Pol Pot regime for having beautiful voices. I’ve been reading the novel dogs at the perimeter by Madeleine Thien, and this has given me not only an insight into the terrible atrocities that Cambodia endured, but also the lasting impact of the Khmer Rouge regime. It shows me how far the country and its people have come in a short space of time.

Although I cannot understand the commentary, it is apparent from the snatches of the news that I have seen on TV that there is still faction fighting. The political situation remains tenuous and dangerous, and it seems that families need to ally themselves with either the police or the army – through family or marriage – to create some form of security for themselves, and particularly their daughters.

I have seen many Cambodian people wearing a T-shirt with the slogan ‘Sometimes we smile to hide the sad.’ I think explains plenty. I have only just begun to scratch the surface and my return to Ireland is imminent, but what I have seen so far only serves to enhance my feeling that this is an incredible country filled with strong and beautiful people that are making the most of what they have. They are striving to succeed, whatever odds are against them. To me, they are a shining example of what it means to be human.

writing poetry in english, cambodia

My Village: A poem by students of Singing Kites, Cambodia

I’m so excited. I’ve been working with a group of six girls for three days in a row to write a ‘portrait poem’ of their village.

They found it challenging and scary at first but really got into it and there was lots of discussion and laughter and as there’s no right or wrong answer, I think they appreciated the chance to ‘make mistakes’.

This is their first poem in English – and they were so excited with the result. I’m really proud of them. I hope you like it…
writing poetry in english, cambodia

The wonderful students that took up the poetry challenge!


My Great and Beautiful Village

My village sounds like…

Motorbikes beeping fast and loud,

People talking happily,

Bird cries all day,

Singers singing Khmer songs,

Children crying because they’re hungry,

Traditional music for weddings and festivals,

At night, the dogs bark and scare us.

 

My village feels…

Like a golden rice harvest,

Beautiful like a sunflower,

Friendly like the ants like sugar

Comfortable and warm like our wooden houses,

My village smells…

Of fresh water when it rains,

Like the white malis flowers in the gardens,

Tasty like fried fish, garlic and cauliflower,

Strong like durian and sweet like jackfruit.

When I think of my village,

I feel very happy and proud

I want to develop the roads, schools and hospitals,

And I want to live there

Forever.

 

By Lida, Sreynoch, Chanleap, Sothea, Seavmey and Danth,

Year 10-12