Tag Archives: Children

Back When We Had Souls

I’m not sure if souls exist. I used to know for sure, I know I did, but now I don’t think I believe in souls anymore. As we all do, I’ve drifted from the pretty imagery of childhood stories into a world in which souls do not make rational sense.

And yet.

And yet.

I met a person who, if souls do exist, I would have to say has a soul. The word came into my head one day, suddenly and unbidden, but I knew it was right. I looked at this person across the room and sensed a soul. I knew this in the way that we know it’s going to rain when the sky grows dark and the wind changes. It was immediate and obvious and it frightened me. 

As adults, we live by routines and patterns, by socially accepted and endorsed ways of interacting with one another. We go to work, to meetings, out for drinks, out for meals. We entertain ourselves and each other. We pass the time. We have ‘responsibilities’.

But once upon a time, before all of that, we were children. We laughed and played and made up stories. We turned sticks into airplanes and we flew. We put on wigs and became witches. The sandbox became quicksand and the neighbor’s dog was a predatory dinosaur. In our fantasies, our younger siblings were the pets and our parents came from a different planet. We threw balls of fire and some of us got burned, but still we kept throwing. We claimed the swings as our boundaries and let our friends claim the tree line as theirs. Jumping from the roof with an umbrella was faith that, just like Mary Poppins, we could fly.

As children, we believed in magic. We believed that what we wished for could be, and we dared to make it so. In the eyes of a child, the child that I was, souls were possible because everything was possible.

It is in adulthood that we forget about magic. Instead we have practical, everyday worries. We laugh less often and we forget how to play. We’re too important and busy for that. We’re too concerned with the things we have learned that ‘matter’. We make sure to meet all our basic needs, to pursue and court relationships that allow us to belong to different groups, and to elevate our status to the levels that we believe we are entitled to.

We know that we have to get promoted before we can afford the mortgage on the house, and we have to do it soon because there are already three wedding invitations and one birth announcement on the fridge. Everyone else is ‘moving forward’, so what are we waiting for?

And so, magic is left behind. We forget the spells and potions, we forget the carefully delineated safe zones of tag, and we forget the glee of tearing barefoot across the grass yelling as loudly as we can. We increasingly channel our time to the pursuit of ‘personal progress’ and leave behind that was once so pure and central to who we were. We stop playing, and we stop being.

It is here, I think, that we lose the idea of souls.

As adults, we stop pretending and stop believing in things we cannot see. Looking beyond our adult boundaries into the joyfully cultivated worlds of children is a chore. And so souls, which are intangible, cease to exist.

Such a transformation, one which takes the imagination and supplants it with the material goals brought to us by ‘logic’ and ‘reason’, robs us not only of the existence of souls but of all those other beliefs that children are made of. Words which carried hopes and dreams are now said out of habit, if at all.

And so the progression through life’s journey continues and the price is the loss of the soul that made us who we were.

But such is the way of tacit acceptance of change. We do not recognise that this is what we are doing. We don’t notice the gradual shifts and how these lead us away from one world and into another.  

Once, we were pirates searching for buried treasure that we knew we would never find. The joy then was in the adventure of solving the clues. 

But as time passed, we imperceptibly became preoccupied with the treasure; the joy of adventure got lost and our souls vanished.

But what if?  

What if souls do not disappear, but are simply masked by the habits we develop, by the actions we mimic, by the words we pull together to intellectualise our actions? What if we suspend who we have become, if only for a little while, and simply look? And what if another was to do the same?

I looked across that room and without warning, without reason, I remembered. 

Once upon a time I was a child and I believed in magic. Back when we played pretend. Back when we trusted in our newest inventions. Back when finding all the pieces to build the perfect snowman was as much fun as playing in the snow.

Once upon a time I was a child and I knew we each had a soul. 

And it frightened me that I had forgotten.

Milford Sound, New Zealand – January 2019

Travel Guide: Battambang x2

Two years ago, I spent a week in Battambang, Cambodia’s second-largest city, as part of my school’s field studies program. That week completely changed the way I see education, my role as an educator, and what is possible with and for students. Last week, I had the opportunity to return to Battambang with about sixty grade 10 students for the same program, a week that has left me again convinced that young people can do anything as long as we support them.

On this trip, I acted as the school trip leader and worked closely with the program lead from the JUMP! Foundation, the organization that really puts together the whole experience. I can’t say enough good things about the work they do for students and communities and I am so proud to partner with them.

As trip leader, I wasn’t attached to a particular group of students and instead filled in for staff as needed, managed all student issues from discipline to illness to homesickness, switched groups daily to get to know each student, and met nightly with school staff and JUMP!’s lead to hear feedback about the day. Prior to the trip, I arranged airplane travel and rooming assignment, worked with teachers on curriculum coordination, communicated with parents, and managed petty cash. And, despite mental fatigue that hasn’t quite worn off, I really enjoyed it!

Welcome to Battambang, the arts and culture center of the Kingdom of Cambodia!


We flew into Siem Reap and immediately drove the three hours to Battambang where we spent the rest of the week. One of my friends immediately pointed out how much greener Cambodia is in November than it was in February on our last trip. It was really nice to be back in a city I had come to know a couple years before and see how it had changed.

On our first full day, I went with a group taking a tuk tuk ride to Phnom Sampov. Many of the students had never been on a tuk tuk, which is a really lovely way to see and engage with the countryside. The ride itself is beautiful and provides insight into how people live in a country still recovering from decades of civil war.

 

Phnom Sampov is a mountain dotted with Buddhist temples. We paused in front of several, but the goal of our time there was to visit a killing cave, one of the many legacies of the Khmer Rouge. Each group was partnered with a local facilitator for the week, in addition to teachers and a JUMP! facilitator, which gave the students a cultural connection to Cambodia that they would not have had otherwise. That was a change from the first trip and made a great impact on the students’ understanding of where they were and why.

 

That afternoon we visited Buddhist University and two monks led us on a tour of the campus temple and then guided us through a short meditation. From there we visited teh university library, which, in addition to the novel sight of monks on laptops, had a specific section for writings by peacemakers. That made me very happy!

 

As our last activity of the day, we met the dancers of Cambodian Living Arts, one of the many organizations working to revive the arts and culture that were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge era. They performed for us and then taught us a traditional dance involving coconuts, leaving everyone laughing and in high spirits. This was an uplifting change from the somber feel of the morning.

We caught a gorgeous sunset on our way to dinner, still travelling by tuk tuk. The sun rises and sets very early in Cambodia, something I always forget, but that also means that the stars are out when it’s still early enough to enjoy them.

DSC01971

The next day I joined a group at FEDA, an educational organization we used to work with that had just stopped its operation. Now, the visionary leader behind FEDA is working to build a peace museum on FEDA’s campus to chronicle Cambodia’s history and ongoing reconciliation work. That afternoon, we visited Banteay Srei, an NGO working for women’s empowerment in a country where there is a clear status difference between men and women from childhood onward.

It rained the following day, which was delightful because it cooled everything down and left the air quite pleasant. It’s always amazing to me how great of an impact weather has on the way we experience pretty much anything.

Another group started their morning with COMPED, an NGO that focuses on waste management and composting. The students learn about what COMPED does before going to the market to pick up organic waste. They then deposit it at COMPED’s dump sight. I missed it this year but remember the lesson very vividly: Everything goes somewhere and nothing disappears; we leave traces of ourselves wherever we are and that impacts people the world over.

Laster that day, I joined a group heading to Cambodian Children’s Trust. This is the organization that had the greatest personal impact on me from our last trip. CCT opened my eyes to the realities and dangers of orphanage tourism and the astonishing statistic that 80% of children in residential facilities worldwide have living parents. CCT works to support families by providing holistic care and services to the children they work with and their family members.

DSC01986

I went to bed laughing after spending the afternoon with a particularly entertaining group of young people. There’s a certain ease and genuineness that comes from eating together, learning together, and playing games together outside in sweaty clothes. It’s my favorite way to interact with students because everything I want for them, everything that leads to real questions, connections, and ideas, comes naturally.

The next morning we visited the Phare Ponleu Selpak, a non-profit providing children with academic education as well as arts education, specifically centered on circus skills, as a way of providing them with future work opportunities. I’d seen Phare’s show in Siem Reap on this trip two years ago, but this time we were able to participate in an amazingly fun circus skills workshop! We learned tumbling and how to juggle, took a tour of the campus, and got to watch some of the students rehearsing. We saw Phare’s Battambang show on the last night of the trip and were excited to see the same students perform.

 

That afternoon, in keeping with the arts theme, we visited Lotus Gallery to meet a local artist and make some art. The gallery itself was beautiful and had a very calming influence on the students.

 

I spent most of the afternoon chatting with the artist about the creative process and how she gets inspiration from her love of nature and purposely surrounds herself with plants and flowers, even building a garden sidecar for her motorcycle!

DSC01991

I also enjoyed chatting with her husband about his work in drugs education through theatre. He told me that the drug of choice in Cambodia is methamphetamine, which likely comes into the country from Thailand. It was a real joy to meet a couple who have invested their lives in work that they are passionate about and can also make a positive impact on others.

I spent our last full day on a cycling tour with Soksabike, which had been a highlight for me the first time around. We stopped periodically to learn about local livelihoods and the local families that Soksabike supports. We visited a family making rice paper . . .

 

. . . Cambodian scarves, which are called krama . . .

 

. . . banana chips . . .

 

. . . and bamboo sticky rice, which is a popular street snack. . . .

DSC02045

The bridge that we would normally take to cross the river had been dismantled, so we crossed by ferry instead. Needless to say, I loved this part. Water and I get along really well.

 

After the cycle tour, we continued that day’s local living theme by visiting the market, which was just such a joy. The students had a scavenger hunt to help them interact with locals and my job was to follow a group and make sure they didn’t get into any trouble. We saw food stalls . . .

 

. . . the usual array of meat, fish, and produce (my favorite!)  . . .

 

. . . textiles, toys, and dry goods . . .

 

. . . cosmetics and toiletries (and hairdressers and nail salons!) . . .

DSC02058

. . . and a surprising number of jewelry counters! (Hint: This is where we found the most English speakers.)

DSC02052

I love markets. They are always my favorite part (or pretty close) of any place I visit. I love seeing people come together for the same needs the world over. I love watching people interact and engage in the common pursuits of humanity. I love watching life happen in its most natural ways.

After Phare’s circus performance to round out the program, it was time for an early night before a 3am wakeup so that we could make the three-hour drive to the airport in time for our 10:30 flight. Absolutely worth it.

JUMP!, I can’t thank you enough. I watched students learn, grow as individuals, become closer to each other, create new friendships, engage with new ideas, and experience a culture and a place that is very different from what they usually see in Singapore. Thank you for bringing out the best in our young people. Thank you for all that you do.

DSC02101

 

Liars, Thieves, and the Future

My landlord is stealing from me.

I won’t bore you with the details, but there’s a repair to my air-conditioning that my landlord wants me to do. She also wants me to pay for it. This repair has been recommended by the air-conditioning company since 2013; I don’t know why no one has taken care of it before now. After first telling me she would pay for the repair in full, my landlord has now threatened to evict me if I don’t pay.

As there is no rental board in Singapore, which is actually quite surprising, my hands are tied.

We’re not talking about a lot of money, but we’re talking about enough money that I had to cancel travel plans for this weekend because I simply can’t do both.

What bothers me the most is that this landlord’s word is clearly worth nothing. It is worth nothing to her, and therefore is worth nothing to anyone else. I have it in writing that she promised to pay for this repair in full; in the US, that would be the end of the dispute. Apparently, that is not the case here. I’m irritated because I have done nothing wrong. I’m disgusted because she lied to me. I’m angry because part of the lease agreement stipulates that maintenance will be done before a tenant moves in.

This clearly did not happen.

But I’m also frustrated, because I know she’s stealing from me, she knows she’s stealing from me, and now we have to have a business relationship for the duration of my lease. Where does that leave me?

Ultimately, I’m sad because I believe in the goodness of people. I believe in doing the right thing. When I told my landlord that the air-conditioning company recommended this repair after they came for a routine check (weird law in Singapore), I was doing the right thing.

In books and movies, the good guy wins. We teach children that good triumphs over evil. However, the more time I spend in this world as an adult, the more I read the news, the more I try to help my students understand all the wrong in the world, the more I am afraid that good will not triumph over evil in the end.

And then where will we be?