Monday, April 20, 2009

Little April Showers

April is the hottest month in Cambodia. Meaning 100 degrees, humidity, buckets of sweat, multiple showers a day, dust everywhere and trees heavy with gorgeous yellow blossoms. However, April is coming with an unseasonal twist this year, heavy rains.

The communications office of LWF Cambodia moved last month from upstairs to a room adjacent to the main building. Today we are experiencing rain in our new office for the first time.

It starts with Chanthorn noticing the ominous signs of rain outside. Ratna agrees it will rain. Then I ask if we have a tin roof. Oh yes we do.

It starts with a few random plinks, like someone is throwing rocks up there. Within seconds it escalates to hammering and pounding. The thunder is rolling and the sound is almost like machine gun sound effects from a movie or soda can full of pebbles I used to shake at my dog but neither really captures it. Though we have to shout over it to be heard, I love the sound. There is nothing quite like it.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


There is a saying in Cambodia. Men are like gold, once tarnished they can be polished to regain their luster. Women, on the hand, are like white cloth; once soiled they are stained forever. This duality exists all over the world to various degrees and it is deeply ingrained in the culture here. Women out late at night can be arrested on charges of prostitution even if they are just out to get milk for their children. Visiting brothels is normal and acceptable for young men but for a young woman to have a boyfriend is inappropriate.

This saying's message is painfully apparent. Women are not worth much. One misstep can ruin their lives and reputations. This attitude radiates into many areas of life. Violence against women is wide spread and rapists can get off the hook by paying the families of their often shockingly young victims. Visiting a rural village last week, the women said domestic violence is a problem for all of the families. One woman was raising her three children on her own. Her husband drank and was not "right in the head." He takes out his frustration on her and the family. And there are so few resources for her, or for him, to change this pattern.

I have been come more aware of this the longer I am here. And the more I see it, the angrier and sadder I get. So over the last four months, it has been a huge blessing to be involved in something that sends an alternative message. The Vagina Monologues.

I have loved the play since I saw it in Missoula but never had the opportunity to participate. Begin here, in Phnom Penh, meeting with a group of awe-inspiring women to talk about that which is taboo, to embrace it and celebrate it, has been incredible. The Vagina Monologues is part of a wider movement called V-Day to end violence against girls and women. At face value, the play is hilarious and heartbreaking. But as it has grown into a global movement, the Monologues have become a tool for change. So far, our little performance has raised over $5,000 for Women Peacemakers, a Cambodian organization that teaches rural villagers ways to confront domestic violence.

Here in Cambodia the cast has been all expats (not for lack of trying to recruit Cambodians). But I hope that as the play is performed year after year, more Cambodian women will become involved. This year, it opened each night with the Messenger Band, an all female Cambodian protest band. These women truly amaze me. Their songs speak out about women's rights, factory worker's rights and the need for men and women to work together for a harmonious life. Hopefully, their message can slowly change people's thoughts on rights and gender.

Well I need to go get ready for our last performance. If you haven't seen the Vagina Monologues yet, I encourage you to look for a performance near you next year on Valentine's Day. Together, we can change the message.

Check out for more information on V-Day!