My time in the US is almost over, and my heart is breaking at the thought of leaving. I have many thoughts on why this is, the difficulty of moving between cultures and feeling transition. I have learned a lot this week, and been excited and touched by my time here. In many ways, it is good to be back. In others, it is crushing me.

I was in a bookstore recently and read this poem. In some ways, it expresses my longings and my tumult better than I know how to do. It is the last stanza that reminds me most of my time here. Forgive me for the long post, and for the wave of melancholy. I am filled with joy among the people I love, and sorrow when I think of leaving again. So…

Goodbye, goodbye to one place or another,
To every mouth, to every sorrow,
To the insolent morn, to weeks
Which wound in the days and disappeared,
Goodbye to this voice and that one stained
With amaranth, and goodbye
To the usual bed and plate,
To the twilit setting of all goodbyes,
To the chair that is part of the same twilight,
To the way made by my shoes.

I spread myself, no question;
I turned over whole lives,
Changed skin, lamps, and hates,
It was something I had to do,
Not by law or whim,
More of a chain reaction;
Each new journey enchained me;
I took pleasure in place, in all places.

And, newly arrived, I promptly said goodbye
With still newborn tenderness
As if the bread were to open and suddenly
Flee from the world of the table.
So I left behind all languages,
Repeated goodbyes like an old door,
Changed cinemas, reasons, and tombs,
Left everywhere for somewhere else;
I went on being, and being always
Half undone with joy,
A bridegroom among sadness,
Never knowing how or when,
Ready to return, never returning.

It’s well known that he who returns never left,
So I traced and retraced my life,
Changing clothes and planets,
Growing used to the company,
To the great whirl of exile,
To the great solitude of bells tolling.

-Pablo Neruda, from Fully Empowered, 1961-1962
Translated by Alastair Reid



A brief announcement: This blog posting comes to you from… my apartment. That’s right, the Internet saga appears to be over and I now have DSL in my own home. It’s terribly exciting. Okay, back to my other thoughts.

I’ve just returned from Cambodia’s seashore, Sihanoukville. The vacation was due to a few scheduled days off in honor of a Cambodian religious holiday: pchum ben. The Khmer take this time to travel to their home villages and visit pagodas (temples) to sacrifice to the ghosts and spirits of their ancestors. Then, the food they’ve taken for the sacrifice is shared and eaten by their family, though some of what is left on the ground around the pagodas. The sacrifice is made to appease the ancestors and bring good luck for the year.

From a Western perspective, it’s hard to digest the idea that our ancestors might hang out around the cemetery and want to eat dinner. Yet, for Cambodians, this is a very real, very important holiday.

I’ll be having my own personal pchum ben over the next few weeks. I’ll be back in the US, visiting (not my ancestors) my family, friends, and several of the partner churches I work with. I’ll also be attending our annual partnership meetings and an event called “Congregate” at WR Headquarters in Baltimore. I’m quite excited about the trip, enough that I don’t mind that I’ll be in an airplane for a very long time. So, hopefully I will see most of you soon. Until then…



Tourism: An Essential Tool for Poverty Alleviation.

Tourism Opens Doors for Women

These phrases were printed on banners hanging across Kampuchea Krom and Mao Tse Toung Blvds. in Phnom Penh.

I’ve been thinking about these signs since I saw them last week. They were up in “celebration” of World Tourism Day (Sept. 27th). In the past few years, Cambodia has become a tourist destination. It helps that the temples of Angkor Wat were in the running to be one of the “new” Seven Wonders of the World. The country is a popular place for backpackers and “adventure” tourists, and it’s quite a bargain. Still, is tourism the way to move a developing nation into the developed world?

It seems like something out of “1984,” or some USSR propaganda campaign. The sentiment is strange to me: encourage foreign visitors who will… do what, exactly? Alleviate poverty how? Which doors will open for women? And what happens behind those same doors when they are closed?

What bothers me about these signs is that they seem to celebrate a kind of tourism that doesn’t exist. It assumes that money from tourist enterprises goes directly to people in need. Which, given the political structure in Cambodia, is not the case. Two popular tourist sites in Phnom Penh are Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choueng Ek “Killing Fields.” Each of these requires an entry fee. Where does the money from these sights end up? Certainly not in the hands of the families whose loved ones are buried at the Killing Fields. Those whose relatives were tortured at Tuol Sleng do not see any profit. Cambodia’s brutal history, this same genocide that is now open for tourist business, left many families without husbands, mothers, sisters, children. A generation later, would the individuals lost to that time be the ones to make a difference here? Would these be the people who would “open doors for women” and “alleviate poverty?”

Of course, I’m no economist, and I don’t know the best way to alleviate poverty or improve the status of women worldwide. I guess my protest here is against the hypocrisy of these statements. The women who benefit from tourism are the ones who work the market stalls selling Cambodia souvenirs. The ones who can study English and work in the hotels. And, lest I paint too nice of a picture, the women who work as prostitutes in the brothels and hotels that cater to tourists. The poverty that’s alleviated? It’s not the poverty that exists in the provinces, where the majority of Cambodia’s population lives. Bringing more foreigners to Cambodia doesn’t help the subsistence farmer grow more crops or increase the harvest.

I’m confused about what bringing more people to Cambodia will accomplish. What will they see? A bustling, dirty city and some ancient temples? Poverty and hunger, corruption and disease? Or will they experience a foreign city, interesting because it is different than home? Who gets exploited in the tourist scenario? Is it better to alleviate poverty and give women a chance when doing these things will change the way Cambodia is presented to the international audience? If it wasn’t so dusty, so poor, so exotic, would people still travel here?

The political motivations behind these banners are somewhat complicated, and too long to discuss here. I can understand why politicians would turn to tourism as a great hope for national improvement. After all, it’s a lot easier to invite people over and ask them to excuse your messy house than it is to actually clean up years of dirt, clutter, and disrepair. These banners might just be Cambodia’s way of asking for the international tourist community to participate in the housekeeping effort by putting a few dollars in the bucket by the front door. So, friends, hop on a plane and come visit me in Cambodia. In doing so, you’ll be alleviating poverty and opening doors for women. Doesn’t that make you feel better about the price of airfare?

In any case, allow me to wish you (a few days late) a Happy World Tourism Day!



Today the office has been abuzz with the information that the Cambodian government has passed new traffic regulations. These may include wearing helmets, seat belts, driving under 30 kilometers per hour, and they may never be enforced (this is actually quite likely). Why the crackdown on safety? According to one staff member, 4 people die every day in Cambodia from traffic accidents. During holidays, like Khmer New Year, 300 people die every day. I'm not sure where he found these statistics, so I cannot verify their accuracy.

Now, I know what you're thinking, but I can assure you, these laws were not passed simply because of my accident. Though the timing is a bit suspicious...

Oh, and I'm not so sore anymore, but my elbow is still pretty scraped up. The staff has been tracking my use of bandages (from big gauze down to current Band-aid). Still no sign of a staph infection.