WE ALL HAVE WRINKLES

“People in glass houses should not throw stones.”

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A friend had a truly horrifying experience recently and I give thanks that all are OK. Sadly many others, instead of showing love and support, feel it is justifiable to criticize and place blame.

Why is it that people feel it is OK to judge, bully and shame others who are vulnerable? On social media, personally or with rumours.  Why continue to traumatize those that are already hurting?

Stop throwing rocks at those who are already vulnerable please.

Before people go and start saying nasty things maybe they should first stand and look at themselves in the mirror.

See those wrinkles? We all have them; regardless of your age.

Each wrinkle has a story line.  Some stories are what the universe has thrown at us, when life has unexpectedly gone sideways.

More of those wrinkles are a result of the stories we ourselves made up. Our very own blunders and errors in judgement.

NOBODY is immune to making mistakes. We all have faults.

We will all slip up again… and again…. and again…..

Lets just hope that all those slip ups have small consequences and do not end in tragedy. It is also said that mistakes are the best opportunities for learning. Lets build resilience, not shame. By throwing words and turning our backs on others, we all lose. Show support and assist others to recover from adverse events.  It is then that we ALL have the opportunity to gain wisdom.

So when you look in the mirror remind yourself of the story behind each wrinkle. Sure, you can try to hide the wrinkles.  The wrinkled story may be disguised behind botox or redirected at others with cruel words. Regardless, the wrinkles will always reappear. Botox cannot hide all our years of aging.  Regrets will aways come back to get you in the end.

We are all spinning on this green and blue spaceship together. Nobody gets out alive. So why not try being kind. As Mary Ann Evans; AKA, George Eliot said,

“What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for each other?”

If you walk away from your reflection and you still insist on throwing rocks, make sure you first open the door to your own glass house. If you keep tossing, eventually your own house will shatter, and you will find yourself surrounded in broken glass.

Hoping that others will show compassion and help you rebuild again.

CAMBODIA A PLACE OF HOPE, FORGIVENESS AND HEALING HEARTS

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We are reflections of our past and our future

I went into Cambodia with no expectations. All I knew for sure is that it remains one of the world’s poorest countries, that is was still recovering from a cultural genocide and it was home to the world’s largest religious complex.

What I witnessed was a culture of people who greet you with smiles and grace. Who are resilient and beautiful. People who despite the inequality and poverty that still exists, find faith in their culture and religions. People who have lost entire generations to genocide, remain strong and compassionate. That in their sorrow they have found the capacity to forgive. An environment that shines brilliantly green with fields of rice and other crops. Of fruit trees that are ripe with the taste of sweetness. Temples and ancient trees coexisting, each the skeleton of the other. I witnessed thousands of individuals from every race and religion, gathering in peace and solidarity at a place of worship that has existed for 900 years. I always heard the laughter of children wherever I went. A country where monks of every age tread lightly on earth with grace. Shrines can be found everywhere, as a sacred place to focus the mind and to promote gratitude. Others honoured the ancestors that have passed with offerings of flowers, water, food and incense. A country of citizens who believe in truth. A country of healing hearts that hold forgiveness and compassion tenderly.

Everywhere in the country I would meet men and women selling their wares. Be it a remarque driver wanting to tour you around his city or another selling pineapple. Persistent but always with a great sense of humour. Truth is, many needed those sales to supplement their income so they could perhaps send their children to school.

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Our guide having a nap while we toured the temples. Cambodians have hammocks on hand everywhere.

Then there were the children. Always trying to sell postcards or bamboo flutes. They really pulled on my heart strings. They should be in school. Purchasing their wares would only encourage them to stay out of school. Sadly though, the public education system is said to be corrupt and poorly funded leaving the future generation with little in the way of education. All intellectuals in Cambodia were killed during the genocide, which would play a large role into the poor education system of today. There are many NGOs working hard to educate Cambodia’s youth. Some are succeeding, such as Phare Ponleu Selpak. An NGO that is making a difference in the lives of many youth and their families. If the circus is any indication of their successes, this organization is made of passion and love. Check them out here .

 

Siem Riep was bustling with tourists from everywhere. All drawn here by the Angkor Wat, a Wonder of the World. This temple complex was breathtaking in its scale. At one time home to a million people while London had a population of only 50,000. To walk among these ruins and those of many other temples was a privilege.

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Angkor Wat. A World Wonder and the largest religious complex in the world. Was built in the 13th century as a Hindu temple and is still being used as a Buddhist Temple today.
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Shea in the library of the Angkor complex with the Wat in the background.

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This area truly is the world’s largest hands on museum. I was just as thrilled as my boys to wander all the dark passageways and pretend I was a character in the “Temple of Doom.” So much history collided here and it leaves you with a grand imagination.

Photos from Ta Prohm, Bayon and Phrea Khan

I woke early one morning to join the other thousand of tourists to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat. As I sat and gazed at the brilliance of the stars and listened to the quiet hum of early morning chatter in many different dialects, I felt a spiritual sense of peace. So many people from so many backgrounds coming together in awe and wonder. If anything, travel and tourism promotes diversity and peace.

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“The truth is one, though the sages know it as many, God is one, though different religions approach Him differently. Call Him Shiava, Vishnu, Allah, Jesus or any other form of God that you believe in. Our paths may be different. Our destination the same.” Amish Tirpathi

 

Cambodia has been occupied and ravaged with unrest for centuries. The Cambodian Genocide of 1975 to 1979 was the peak of brutality. Pol Pot and his Communist Khmer Rouge Army killed 1.7 million fellow Cambodians. This remains more of a reality than a distant memory. Pol Pot’s twisted mind wanted to create an agrarian communist society. A culture based on farming. He mentally manipulated the minds of young peasant teenagers into believing that anyone who is not of an agriculture background was not worthy. Wearing glasses or having soft hands “proved” you were an intellect and you were murdered. There was an evacuation of all cities to the countryside throughout Cambodia. Even the peasants that survived his reign were put into forced labour under horrendous conditions. Many died of starvation and disease. If any army official disobeyed they were put to death. A choice of killing or be killed. Cambodians are people who are still reflecting and trying to understand what occurred only 40 years ago. Generations were nearly wiped out.

We visited museums and shrines that so harrowingly remind us of the massacre that occurred here. The Killing Fields, 300 total in Cambodia, are now places of remembrance. A place for locals and travellers alike to learn of the atrocities. So those who perished are not forgotten. So we can strive for peace by honouring the past.

The cure for pain is in the pain.

                                                    Rumi

Just outside of Battambang Rowen and I visited Phnom Sampeau. A hillside standing tall and independent around fields of rice. We stood at the entrance of the Killing Caves where so many men, woman, and children were beaten then thrown to their deaths. Inside the cave, amoungst the shrines of skulls and at Buddha statues, incense cleanses the senses and many children play while the monks walk with quiet dignity. The past horrors rattles one spirit, yet the children and the monks balance this with compassion and acceptance. A sense of harmony pervades now.

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One of the many Buddhist Shrines that are now found in the caves.

“Judge nothing, you will be happy. Forgive everything, you will be happier.

Love everything, you will be happiest.”

             Buddha

In Phom Phen’s Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, tears of sadness fall from my very soul. As I stood beside the killing tree, a place of unimaginable horrors, my thoughts were only of the immense fear and grief only a parent could understand. The remains of the 20,000 killed here are still being recovered. There is the Memorial Stupa that holds the skulls of 14,000. A somber site to behold. Yet, as I walk these grounds I again hear children laughing and playing from the adjacent streets. I see Cambodians themselves remembering and honouring. A sense of forgiveness and hope is heard in the children’s chatter and the beauty of the songbirds as their chorus echoes across the pond.

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Mass grave with offerings left by the many Cambodians who have come to honor their ancestors.
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A pond adjacent to the killing fields brings serenity to a place once filled of nightmares.

When I stood with my children in the Tuol Sleng Museum, a school turned into a prison and place of torture for 12,000 men, women and children, I let my tears fall. I find it hard to even begin to understand what happened here. Photo after photo of so many haunted faces, babies in Mothers’ arms, and children years away from embracing any sense of responsibility. These memories were captured by the Khmer Rouge to identify everyone they would kill. To ensure that the “roots of all generations” were eliminated to creat a pure agrarian society.

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Tuol Sleng Museum. School room turned into prison cells.

My children walked through both these places of immense sorrow with me. They viewed the mass graves, the clothes and bones of so many victims that continue to expose themselves with every heavy rain. We previously discussed the genocide openly with our boys before we visited these two museums. What we might see, read and hear. It was a difficult decision as our youngest did not want to go. The thought of seeing human bones scared him. We spoke of how this story is just as important as the Holocaust. That all the sad stories of war need to be heard so we remember. He did not have to see the human remains if he did not want to.

We listened to the audio guide and/or viewed the next exhibit prior to our children to determine which were appropriate for their ears and young minds. I could not bring myself to listen to all as well. Some stories and photos were too horrific for even myself to absorb.  I understood my child’s hesitation. I also struggle with the raw visual exposure of war museums. However, our past is made from beauty and from madness. Both deserve recognition to try and create a brighter future. Shea did view the many skulls stacked a top one another. There were no nightmares, only questions.

Forgiveness sees wisely. It willingly acknowledges what is unjust, harmful and wrong. It bravely recognizes sufferings of the past, and understands the conditions that brought them about. Forgiveness honours the heart’s greatest dignity. Whenever we are lost, it brings us back to the ground of love. Without forgiveness our lives are chained, forced to carry the sufferings of the past and repeat them with no release.                    Jack Kornfield

We hired a guide at Tuol Sleng Museum who was passionate to share his country’s story of truth. It was just last week that he interviewed one of the female Vietnamese Army Officials who first arrived to Tuol Sleng when Pol Pot was defeated. Her story must be told as it is critical to remind the world of all of the horrors of war. The unimaginable evil that can permeate minds, causing corruption, hate and death. It is only with honouring the truth and remembering the many who perished, that we can find hope and forgiveness.  To read more click here.

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Vietnamese Army and the four children they rescued at Tuol Sleng Prison. The woman, second from the left, was interviewed January 2018.

I held my youngest’s hand as he stood and witnessed the sorrow and pain. He tells me after he has walked through most of both the museums, that he has seen enough.

He asks, “Why? How can people be so mean?”

We all ask why?

How could such hatred happen? How can we let such tragedies continue? Have we not learnt anything from our past haunts? The Holocaust, Ukraine, Rwanda, the North American Aboriginals, and most recently, the Royhinga in Mynamar. How can we as individuals promote peace? How can we help those who are the target of such hate?

Socio-economic inequality, poverty and lack of education can all too easily feed a governments campaign of hate. It is our duty to vote for governments that encourage equality, diversity, education, and adequate health care. We must invest only in corporations that protect human rights in developing countries. It is the corporations and governments that do not care about human rights that also may be funding, directly and indirectly, the very regimes that promote hate. Education is critical to promote peace. We must listen and honor the truths that have been and yet to be told. We must find room in our hearts for forgiveness. We also must assist those who are in less fortunate circumstances. At home and abroad.

As I watch the Cambodian students, in their crisp blue and white uniforms, walk through the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, where their ancestors once walked as students themselves; I feel a sense of hope. There are some support groups that are making a difference. See here.  I believe that their Buddhist faith brings them comfort as well. These horrors are very much a part of who they are; they lost entire generations yet they still embrace life with smiles and laughter. They continue to remember and heal.

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Tuol Sleng Museum with school children in the background. They come here to learn a horrific but integral part of their history.

There are still Khmer Rouge Officials who are incarcerated, being convicted as recently as 2012. The courts still have yet to determine the fate of others who have been charged with acts against humanity. Pol Pot died in 1998 and was never held accountable for his spread of hatred and murder.

Our guide is not troubled by these facts. He stated with a sense of resolve, “the outcomes of these courts don’t matter, what matters is that these memories are not lost, we have to uncover and share the truth. To remember. So it will never happen again.” The people of Cambodia hold the pain and suffering with gracious hearts to find forgiveness and release.

The future of Cambodia is uncertain as there is still an unsettling energy with the present government. Human rights still remain a concern. Cambodia is still recovering and in transition. Hope for peace and equality can be found in the dreams and aspirations of the youth. As well as in their faith. Yet, no developing country can do it alone. They need assistance from outside forces that believe in human rights. Even small ventures are making a difference. Such as Sister Srey  in Seim Riep or the Lonely Tree Cafe in Battambang. There are the larger enterprises as well such as the Asia Foundation. Foreign investment within the larger businesses has risen by 800% in the last ten years. Read more here. Lets hope these companies and individuals are considering sustainable investing and protecting the rights of Cambodians and their environment??

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Chum Mey with my boys. He sits almost daily within these old prison walls to share his story and promote peace.

Chum Mey is one of the only handful of survivors of Tuol Sleng Prison. He lost four children and his wife, all murdered by the Khmer Rouge. He shows such incredible courage as he sits a stones throw from the very cell where he was kept and tortured for three years. He sits here most days that the Tuol Sleng Museum is open, to share his story and promote peace. A place where they tried, but never broke his spirit. It is in his smile and the laughter and smiles of the many Cambodian children, that I feel an essense of hope. Hope for individuals and for a country that is still remembering and healing. Hope for peace and equality.

The rest of the world could gain much by honouring Cambodia and their story. Of how they are finding forgiveness in their immense sorrow, and hope in their truths.

We are all citizens of earth. We need to cherish ourselves, one another and all that inhabit this world. Promote peace in all that you do. It’s ripple effect will create change. Encouraging a brighter future for all.

A society cannot know itself if it does not have

an accurate memory of its own history.

                           Youk Chhang   Survivor of the Cambodian Genocide

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RAW & EXPOSED IN INDIA

DON’T EXPECT ANYTHING
Have Expectancy. Not Expectations.
Expectancy is the emotional knowingness that you have changed and therefore your physical reality will follow suit.
Bashar

In 1992 Gene and I spent 2 months in India. We loved India and how her people opened our eyes and hearts to a side of humanity we did not know existed. We came away more whole in mind and spirit. We wanted our boys to see the diversity and energy of a world that is so very different from ours.

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27 years is a long time. I knew India would not be the same. A society made up of a billion people, who have arguably the most diversity anywhere, could never be constant. When we were planning this trip we thought long and hard about including India in the itinerary. India is a world of incredible wonder, but it comes with many challenges. After much deliberation, we decided on 20 days in India. Delhi, Agra, Jaiselmer, Pushkar and Ranthambore. A triangle trip of tigers, camel treks, Wonders of the World and spiritual experiences.

The essense of India still remains. The color and charisma of India continues to stimulate and push personal boundaries. Watching the world of India is mystifying, intoxicating, stimulating, obnoxious and thrilling. With so many worlds colliding on the streets you leave exhausted and spell bound. However, I underestimated the phenomenonal change that India had gone through during this time.

The difference is that now you are watching it through a haze of pollution and with the sounds of thousands of motorized vehicles and honking horns. It was a game of chance every time you stepped onto the streets of India.

Pollution created stunning colours midday

In the past 25 years India has gone from a population of 888 million to 1.3 billion. With an incredibly fast growing middle class (it has essentially doubled in the past 8 years), there is more consumption, resulting in more pollution. The air is thick, litter is everywhere and the incessant honking of horns leaves you rattled. Cows, pigs and dogs that are seen feeding on the refuse and plastic that is constantly thrown on the streets.

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There are still millions that remain trapped in poverty. It is not as overt as it was many years ago. However, there are still so many that do not have running water or the guarantee that they will eat each day. Too many still have limited opportunity just because of the caste they are born into. There is a shift for equality happening, but slowly. Read more here.

Garbage has had a 2000% increase in 5 years. From 400 tonnes in 2010 to 8700 tonnes per day in Delhi alone. New Delhi is the most polluted city on the planet and it is hard to imagine as I choked on the toxic air, that anything is being done to mitigate this. The day we flew out it was 934 on the Air Quality Index. Schools have closed and flights have been cancelled due to toxic levels and a haze as thick as pea soup. A few years back a “garbage slide” spilt through its walls killing 2 and injuring more. You can find more here and here.

The Indian government is making efforts but the infrastructure remains in its infancy. There is still few treatments for solid waste and proper garbage disposal. Instead of counting yellow trucks while on the train, we played count the number of people defecating in the fields and rail tracks. Sad, but true. But where else are these people to go when government’s efforts still have a long way to go to provide proper education or infrastructure?

India is a country made up of such diversity, thousands of years of social norms, and shifting demographics. Change is happening quickly. It would be extremely difficult for any government to keep up with the ever increasing demands on resources and infrastructure needs.

Those of us who live in developed nations cannot judge. We play a big role in the decay of our planet’s health. We are just fortunate that we do not have a population of over a billion, so it is easier for us to turn our backs to our own mess. We have the knowledge, yet rarely make choices to mitigate our impact on planet earth, as well as our own health.

We were met with beauty and wonder, But also a little too much adversity this trip. Sadly, India challenged us so much that we cut our trip by half. Watching my children become so sick that it actually hurt my heart. We had taken precautions, but everyone of us still fell violently ill. No one was having fun being stuck in a hotel for five days, fighting off dehydration.

Good health care remains an issue for the masses in India. I did not want to find out what our options were if my kids became so dehydrated that medical intervention was needed. My children’s health is first priority. Both my boys have no reserves. They are humans riding chicken legs. Being a nurse can sometimes make things worse. I know how bad things can get.

I love being in control…. I felt completely out of control and it was frightening. At times I felt trapped.

We had to keep postponing moving on to the next adventure because one of us was always too sick to travel. After too many days in an Agra hotel room, our fingers and arse holes were crossed that all were healthy enough to travel the 6 hours by train to get to Ranthambhore. But no it was not to be. It was my turn to fall ill.

We did eventually make it to Ranthambhore. After the tiger safari, we made the family decision to leave India 10 days early. Travelling even further away from an international airport became not an option. The boys were still pecking at food and I could barely keep anything down.

The air pollution played a considerable role in our decision to leave early as well. We had hoped that leaving Delhi to the smaller cities we would find the air more pleasant. Only mildly so. Even in the smaller populated cities, the burning of wood and cow dung left a constant haze that continued to tax our respiratory system.

It is also now much more difficult to get around. Trains are booked months in advance. We ended up cancelling two train trips due to being ill. We hired a car and driver on two occasions instead. First was a ride from hell. Car started smoking an hour into our trip and the driver was just plain nuts. Frightening when you are stuck with this lunatic in a smoking car for 6 hours. The second trip was slightly better. Car was well maintained and our driver had all his faculties.  Just be sure to take their cell phone away first.

The roads do have designated lanes but no one pays attention to them. The only rule is to keep your eyes forward. That bus that is barrelling up 1 inch beside you is not your issue until he is within your frontal vision. Don’t worry about shoulder checking when verring into oncoming traffic. Not necessary, have faith that everyone will get out of your way. Except that bull lying in the middle of the road. He rules the road.

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Strangely, it all seems to work. Driving in India should be designated as another Wonder of the World.

Even though India left us physically and mentally exhausted, she still provided us with opportunities for personal growth and discovery.

We visited the Taj Mahal and stood in awe of this Wonder of the World.

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A visit to Ranthambore left us with smiling hearts to see so many creatures living in their natural habitat.

We met beautiful people who were genuinely concerned for us as we became too ill to leave a hotel for 5 days.

My boys learnt that grit, faith and a whole lot of love can get you through overwhelming adversity. India pushed all our boundaries in many ways. My children met every challenge with courage and curiosity. They remained strong in spirit through it all and I could not be more proud.

The lack of infrastructure left us even more grateful for home.

The constant stimulus found in the streets of India brought a greater appreciation for diversity and we learnt that having faith can turn a harrowing experience into a joy ride.

The pollution and litter left us all questioning our own footprint on this beautiful planet.

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Graveyards were an escape from the chaos. I appreciate that the Indians do not hide the reality of our mortality.

India was wondrous and frustrating. Challenging and beautiful. India also has me looking inward. It’s not always easy to be honest and true to your weaknesses.

I am much older and softer now. Travelling with my kids made me over protective perhaps. The idea of not being in control in an environment that is lacking quality health care produced too much fear for me to accept. I was finding myself becoming critical and ethnocentric. Something I never wanted to become. I could have and should have done more research. Our experience 27 years ago was clouded by a veil that both Gene and I chose not to lift. I am disappointed in myself for my lack of insight and judgement in taking my kids to the most polluted city in the world. Although it was our entry point into India, we very possibly might have had a different experience if we went to Goa instead.

Although I am sad that we did not have the trip we had hoped for, India has illuminated my strengths and weaknesses. I am still processing and reflecting on my experience there. Many mixed emotions clutter my thoughts. India left me raw and exposed. Sometimes it is these experiences that are necessary for further personal growth. Challenging my own expectations of what I wish to see in myself.

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However, what I do know for certain, is that I am thankful we left India when we did. When we stepped off the plane in Bangkok, the intense tension I was holding onto just slipped away.

It took a week in Thailand for my oldest to completely recover. My boys are once again healthy. Laughing and free to play as children should.

Nothing makes my heart sing more.