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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cancun

I'm progressively losing awareness of linear time and space, but some where in the not too distance past, I once again found myself in Mexico after a brief sojourn back to my beloved NOLA.  This time, I decided to spend a week(ish) in Cancun and a day or two in Playa del Carmen before tying up loose ends in Tulum.  The only information I had about Cancun is the general knowledge that it is tourist central/spring break special and the helpful input of my father--"Don't go there. Why? Why??" which is relevant and on the whole pretty good advice.  Of all the places I could go, which is largely anywhere, why would I go to the high-rise capital of Central America?

Convenience and morbid curiosity.

I've definitely been spoiled in my previous travels with pristine, authentic and enriching experiences.  But there was apparently a part of me that was ready to get down and dirty, and have some fun in the sun, with corporate plastic trash and flash, strobe lights and jet skis.

I got precisely what I wanted.  To sum up a crazy week(ish) in a couple breaths with some useful travel tips: The City is the best club, there is something dangerous in the foam at the foam parties (think the water at Sochi...also don't wear make up), Isla Mujeres is beautiful--rent golf carts to zoom around and fish food for snorkeling, stay in a hostel not a hotel, BELIEVE the hostel if it advertises itself as a party hostel, don't take cabs to or from the airport and go to one of the many local on-going festivals randomly thrown in town squares (not in the hotel district).

That about covers it.

Isle Mujeres


The real bonus about this trip for me was that it was the first time traveling I wasn't going to meet a friend or family. Not that that isn't a wonderful thing.  But what was so great about it, was that I got to meet and get to know some really chill people from all over the world.  In particular, I met badass chicks doing as badass chicks do; trotting the globe alone or in pairs and having an absolute blast.  The thing about women going out and traveling on their own is that by necessity, these women find each other and automatically have each other's backs.  It's like a giant sisterhood; partying, traveling, doing community service and making sure they stay hydrated between shots or on the beach and keeping up a creeper radar.  Coming from a culture that so often pits women against other women--whether it be over men, careers, looks, what have you--I found this really revitalizing.  It was a revelation to see how many women, of all ages, were a part of this.  At one point I was sitting next to a group of individuals from Korea, Russia, Wales, France, Germany, Israel and Brazil all at the same table.  It seems to be a tradition in other cultures to take a few years to travel and explore, not just between school and university, but throughout life, which in turn engenders a maturity, confidence and open-mindedness that not only benefits the individual, but the society they bring it back to as well.



And it's some of the most fun you'll ever have.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The New New Years Revolution

SMASH THE SCALE

I smashed my scale about four months ago, sometime in September.  Literally.  I was in my apartment, staring down at the cold, impersonal metal surface, one foot hovering over the body-fat sensors, bringing to the surface the constant insidious chatter that made up a devastatingly considerable amount of my internal dialogue.

I didn't want to step onto the scale.  I didn't want what it said to matter to me.  I didn't want to give it that power--to give away MY power.  I was so tired.  Tired of tying my personal worth to the digits displayed on the interface.  Digits that would determine, if only by a pound or two, what clothes I would wear, how I would feel looking in the mirror, whether I would "indulge" in a full meal for dinner or heat up some frozen vegetables and naw, unsatisfied, on a piece of fruit.

This exhaustion--mental, physical, and spiritual--weighed over 22 years old.  I can remember quite distinctly the first time I ever consciously expressed dissatisfaction with my body to myself.  I was at a gas station with my parents, filling up our Volvo station wagon.  I was in a tank top and flip flops.  I remember standing in the sun, looking down at my slightly protruding stomach and thinking:

It should be flat.

I wasn't more than six.  Maybe younger.

Where did that come from?  The media?  Barbie dolls I played with?  The Britney Spears poster in my bedroom?  Something my mother said about her own body?  I have no idea.  The specific medium is largely irrelevant to me at this point.  But somewhere, (see: everywhere) the message that we are not enough has been repeatedly (see: continuously) conveyed and digested.  Across gender, race and social class.  Across all walks of life.  No facet of society has been spared from the overriding and prevalent theme of NOT ENOUGH.  We operate within a framework that tells us that to be worthy of love, to be worthy of feeling safe in our own bodies (see: to be worthy of EXISTENCE), we must be or strive to be X, Y, and Z.  And this benefits who?
Not us.  Not me.

This message externally manifested itself for your young author, among other ways, with terrible body image and a dysfunctional relationship with food.  It's not a private struggle.  This shame assigned to our bodies is designed to keep us from connecting.  To keep us hiding.  To believe that we fight alone and against ourselves.  But it is a battle and you--me, him, her, hir, us--we've been enlisted and indoctrinated from day one.

Whether or not you believe the human, industrial and governmental powers that be are systematically oppressing and repressing everyone that is not themselves (and actually unknowingly themselves as well) through media, legislature and rape/shame culture in general, it is a simple fact that the culture many of us live in encourages our focus on losing weight, having perfect skin and generally investing huge amounts of energy (and money) in how we appear to others. This leads but is not limited to; depression, extreme self-consciousness and self-doubt, anxiety, calorie counting, excessive exercise and full blown eating disorders.   And this conveniently keeps us (see: kept me) from proactively meddling/challenging everything from the status quo to immigration policy, at least not with our full potential and strength in tact (see: exhaustion, see: compliance, see: obedience).

Women are the world's richest and naturally inexhaustible resource and instead of having our growth and development encouraged and celebrated, we are still largely and tragically, not just underutilized, but actively, and often violently, kept silent and dehumanized. And don't think that that number on the scale yanking your emotions and closing your throat with shame is superficial or silly.  Don't dismiss its effect.  Because associating your self-worth with that sterile, numerical measuring stick is just that.  Dehumanizing.  Defining yourself as a commodity let's your value be judged by others.  A woman sexually confident and at home in her body, a woman without shame, is a fucking POWERFUL being.  A woman not obsessively focused on when and what she can eat or what other people think of her is a woman who can make waves and move mountains.

It makes me sad to think of all the time spent and energy wasted on trying to make myself smaller, on an impossible and doomed mission to be what I thought was everyone else's version of enough.  Skinny enough, smart enough, accomplished enough, pretty enough (see: eating less than 1500 calories a day, see: binging, see: waking up at 5 am to walk through a snow storm to my gym at boarding school to workout before breakfast, see: not eating for two days to make weight for a tournament).  What else could I have been doing?  What friends could I have made and gotten to know?  What projects could I have pursued?  What lives could I have made a difference in, what causes could I have joined?

It's not easy, getting to the point where you are ready to smash the scale.  It's scary, letting go of the false safety of having something or someone else define you.  It can be a very slow road.  But the freedom, the feeling of coming home to your body and realizing your inherent right to respect, is nothing short of a miracle.

So, when I stepped on that scale for the last time, when I saw the innocuous disjointed lines that made up those numbers and caused my heart to squeeze, I calmly walked over to my tool bag, got out my hammer and went to work.

I have stories to write.  I have places to explore.  I have ideas to manifest and people to love, myself included.  I have SMASHED THE SCALE.

Join the revolution: http://bit.ly/1dSoLmO

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The "Where in the World is Zilla?" Tulum Addition

My last entry left off after my appearance on the podcast "It's New Orleans" with my car loaded up, the rest of my possessions in storage and the intention of creating space in my life in order to let events and personal development unfold organically.  To learn to loosen my iron grip on the self-sabotaging concept of what I should be or should be doing. That was only two months ago but so much has happened since then that I find myself at a loss as to how to encapsulate that time in a few paragraphs or even several pages, especially since I want to focus specifically on where I am now.  And so, I will simply mention factually some of the major happenings that have taken place.

I did indeed drive up North.  I made it to Tennessee where I was staying with a friend before continuing to DC when I received a call for some stunt work in a movie filming in New Orleans the next week.  I continued to DC where I booked a flight back to NOLA.  I filmed for a few days, flew back to DC, got another call, flew back to NOLA and so on.  It was a fantastic experience.  I am now SAG certified.  I eventually managed to spend time with family on the Northeast, staying with my aunt and uncle on their new beautiful property, took horseback riding lessons, saw museums, got a tick bite and a subsequent cycle of antibiotics, spent a week with my mom and a week with a very good friend in Virginia.  And then finally, it was time to go to Mexico.

I am now based in Quintana Roo.  Specifically, I live in Tulum.  If you've heard anything about Tulum, it is probably in reference to its celebrity visitors, its pristine beaches and coral reef, and general status as an exclusive tropical paradise.  And you would have heard correct.  This place is awesome and I feel comfortable here.  Comfortable in the same way as I do in Cambodia, and Southeast Asia in general.  Comfortable in the same way as I do in New Orleans.  What draws me into these specific areas, what vibrational frequency attracts me to these similarly humid, wild, swamp/jungle, off-beat and often partially off-grid hybrids of first and third world?  Just that.  The razor thin edge separating developing and developed, the intermingling of Western amenities and technology, with the preservation (hopefully) and immediacy of indigenous cultures and ways of life.  It's the option of how to live; the option of living well but simply.  You can stick out your tongue and taste the potential along with the moisture and heat; a chance to set things right with the world, or at least a part of it.  Rebalance and harmonize industrial advances with the environment.  Reshape the collective consciousness in a blending of ethics, cultural and environmental preservation, and technological advancement.  Without the rigidity of cemented regulations and cultural preconditions, the power to effect change is permeable.  There's the haunting and pressing urge not to let this precious piece of earth gather the momentum of going down an increasingly steep path to which other parts of society have succumbed, oblivious.

Much of the Yucatan is collectively owned by the Mayans.  The land, and the beach front in particular, is largely off grid and cannot support extensive power usage.  These are both good things, as it sets natural limits on potential development and exploitation.  This area will never be able to support the crowded high rise hotels of Cancun or Miami.  Thank God.  Still relatively exclusive, there is already much that needs to be addressed; the bleaching and inevitable pollution of the reef, blatant corruption, increasing taxes and a backwards incentive system that gives rise to an underground economy that functions particularly ineffectively (yes, some underground economies function well enough, having been created in response to a system that doesn't...not optimally though, obviously), and--this is the part that interests/concerns me most--terrible waste water management.

The land in this area of the Yucatan--and certainly elsewhere though as of this moment I am not familiar enough to address other geographical regions outside of my immediate area--is particularly vulnerable to bad environmental practices.  The top soil is very thin and there isn't much underneath it; any natural filtration system provided by that layer is nonexistent.  Sewage, bleach, pharmaceutical refuse, are dumped and all sink straight into the aquifer, untreated.  It's not just hotels and restaurants who are culpable but local residences without viable alternatives.  Quintana Roo also has the largest underground river system in the world that remains an essential source fresh water and ecological support.  While I hold to the fundamental economical, environmental and spiritual principle that everything is interconnected, this basic tenet has never been so obvious or immediate as it is in the ecological system dynamics that make the Yucatan so unique and beautiful.





I came down here with no real agenda other than to get better at Spanish and put my professional SCUBA diving license to good use.  I was hooked up through a mutual friend to the two premier cave divers in the world who have been discovering and mapping the underground river system here for over a decade and who I now work with.  I am leading eco park tours, learning Spanish and Mayan, and getting my cave diving certification.  I am also watching, waiting and gathering as much information as possible.  As it must be obvious to anyone who knows me or reads any material I write (mom!), I like to get my hands dirty and keep busy.  And I see something on the horizon, right now, telling me to get ready because when I zip around town and back roads on my scooter, explore Cenotes, and visit with the small business owners trying to proactively impact and contain the development of Tulum, I stick out my tongue and I can taste the opportunity.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

It's New Orleans; Zilla Does a Podcast

Whew!  It's been a while! An action packed, pack your bags (and apartment), exciting rollor coaster while.  And I've been remiss.  Logging on, staring at the computer screen and then opening a new tab to facebook instead keeping up with this blog.  But, you know, while I've diddled here and there, etching out a paragraph or a page, I haven't felt compelled to write.  And although all the How-To websites like to stress the importance of cranking out a new post at least once, and preferably twice, a week, I don't want my writing to become a chore.  In addition to that not being fun, it also produces crap writing.  If I'm trying, I'm not doing it write.  Organic blossoming is what I'm going for here and so far so good.

As you may have surmized from the fact that I am, indeed, typing again, the urge to word vomit on the internet has stuck yet again and I have so much I want to spew all over you (read that: share); protests against the government in Cambodia, my last weeks in NOLA, new directions and thought processes, etc.  So to buy me some time while I blurt it all out in draft form, I want to share with whomever is reading this (mom!) a podcast I was invited to speak on.  It's New Orleans does a segment some Thursdays called "Happy Hour" where three people and host Grant Morris sit down at Casa Borrega, drink and talk about whatever comes to mind.  There are no rules, just interesting people from New Orleans.  And I'm one of those interesting people.  HA!

Getting schooled by Hugo, the owner of the fantastical Casa Borrega, on Mexico!

When I told one of my closest friends and mentors that I had been asked to be on the show, she replied, "Why?  Did you ask them specifically why they wanted you?"  Nope.  Hadn't even occurred to me.  To be honest, no false modestly or lack there of intended, I've never thought of myself as particularly interesting. Rather, I'm constantly curious and often find my self in circumstances, that when I look back or step outside of them, are themselves, quite interesting.  I'm just an innocent bystander to my own shenanigans.  Innocent, I swear!

I was a bit on the fence about doing the show at first.  I was rearing to leave NOLA a few weeks before the recording date and was getting itchy.  And talking...for a whole hour...about God knows what, but most likely personal information I hadn't entirely come to terms with myself.  Saying that I'm in something of a transitional  and questioning phase would be a flattering way to put it.  But I decided to do the show and am very glad I did.  That day, I had breakfast with my coach and some close friends, said goodbye to others, loaded up my car with everything I hadn't shoved in storage and drove uptown to Casa Borrega planning to take off North right after the show.

I drove right by the cafe the first few passes before I realized where it was.  It's hidden behind tasteful foliage and set back a bit from the street.  When I stepped inside, not quite sure what to expect, I was warmly greeted by the host, Grant Morris and Graham da Ponte, who orginally contacted me about being on the show.  Casa Borrega is a place I wish I had discovered earlier in my years of NOLA exploration.  I think the first thing I said after shaking a few hands and looking around was "Is that Llama a giant piƱata?"  The pomegranate rum ice tea they kept refilling my glass with was delicious, too, although I've found that it really doesn't take much alcohol to get me to talk about my favorite subject--ME.  All jokes aside (I haven't actually made any), the show was a fun way to connect with and say goodbye to this chapter of my life in NOLA and it was a pleasure to meet the other resident New Orleanians on the show, listen to some explosive live music, and field Grant Morris' wonderfully direct questions.  And yes, I laugh/giggle that much normally.  Please check it out and let me know what you think!

http://bit.ly/kikkit


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sanitation Brigade: Part 2--There is No Part 3 or 4, I lied

That night in Prek Toal, Osmose arranged for everyone in our group to do the homestays they offer as part of a package to the tourists who come to their village.  About three people per family were dropped off in a big boat at a number of floating shacks situated right next to each other.

                “He he he,” my father poked me, “Bet you get the house with all the kids.”

                “Yeah, dad, very funny.  Bet you get the house with all the crocodiles.”

I and two other women from my father’s team, Irina and Solyka, got off the boat and hopped onto a plank that lead to the front porch of a comparatively large house...and were immediately greeted upon entering by four screaming kids.  I was mildly irritated, not because I don’t like kids, but because I don’t like my father’s glee at being right about anything. ANYTHING. I’m on a personal journey to prove him wrong about everything.  Dad: It’s raining right now.  Me: *eyeroll* No, dad, it’s drizzling.

“HELLOOOOOO!!!  HELLLLLOOOOOO!!!!!!!” The kids shouted.  Little hands started determinedly pushing towards the edge of their front porch, suspiciously in the direction of their bait farm, a sectioned off area of water, which, according to one of the proud women housing us, contains 50,000 tiny fish.  What was this?  A guest initiation right?  I’m not much for initiations and I was definitely not for anything that included ending up in this water.  I circumvented out of the grubby, pushy little hands and the kid squealed and shrieked and started chasing each other.  I wandered inside the house where it was surprisingly modern and well-kept, given the rather ramshackle outside appearance.  It was also obvious that this family was specifically selected and paid to house tourists; a generous section of the living room was quartered off and housed four clean floor beds with colorful sheets lined up neatly side by side, each separated by individual mosquito netting, giving a small but appreciated illusion of privacy.

Irina, Solyka and I spent most of our time before bed watching the children wear themselves out.  We sat on the front porch, slapping mosquitos and staying out of the way while they dive bombed each other, wrestled,  and played “rock, paper, scissor” in Khmer.  Or as one of the girls insisted, “rock, paper, SHIT. SHHHHHIIIIITTTT! SHIT SHIT SHIT!”  When the little munchkins got bored, we took pictures of them as they posed and then showed them the frames, their faces avid in the small glow of the camera screen.  One of the children, a small girl, had rickets, a bone deformation caused by a lack of Vitamin D.  Often this happens during infancy, if the mother’s milk dries up and there is no good formula alternative. Her shins curved outwards quite noticeably.  This, I am happy to say, did not stop her from jumping around the house, tackling her little brother and shouting out the occasional, “SHIT.”





At some point in the evening, I figured out where the toilet was and was making my way along the side porch towards the back wash room when I happened to look out over the railing and froze, for the second time that day, as I stared into the utterly disinterested, reptilian eye of another huge croc.  Once again, only chicken wire and some flimsy wood planks were separating me from forty or so of the scaled beasts.  One roared-THEY ROAR??-and I, again for the second time that day, jumped theatrically into the air before resuming my walk in what I hoped to be an unruffled, nonchalant manner.  And yes, crocodiles roar.  Like lions.  In my case, all night long right next to my bedroom.

The next morning, Rick, Alex and I headed out for some last minute exploring, this time in one boat, propelled by a motor and steered by an appropriately aged man.  We saw…

A really cool Watt



The murals depict the story of Buddha.  It's amazing to see the interplay of the Hindu and Buddhist religions.  Some of the panes and themes seemed very...medieval.

A floating garden
Garden herbs!



And lots of friendly kids!


Everybody headed back to Siem Reap that afternoon, with nothing remarkable happening except for the briefly disturbing and invasive event that occurred as we stepped off our boat and started slip sliding through mud to our bus.  A girl walked up to me and handed me a photo.  Of myself.  From two days ago.  My mind was caught between the polarity of being creeped out and reconciling that with the innocent, harmless face of the little girl showing me the photo.  Blessedly, it turned out just to be another harmless way to make a buck.  The locals snap your picture before you leave without you taking any real notice and then put it in a kitchy frame and sell it to you when you come back.  My father bought mine.  More, I think, because he didn’t want a random picture of me floating around rural Cambodia than for sentimental value.
The rest of the crew went back to Phnom Penh, while my Dad, Rick, Alex and I all stayed in Siem Reap for a few more days.

We saw…

A reclining Buddha

A thousand lingas/yonis (can you see the faint outlines in the riverbed?)

A link to more about lingas with a more Hindu orientation: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingam

A picture a self-appointed guide drew of a hard-to-see statue, also on the riverbed


An awesome waterfall with some great swimming and fun!



And another less traveled temple complex…


…where I got the opportunity to wander off a bit on my own and climb the side of the mountain where I found a secluded spot to chill and take some pictures of the view


We also had a lovely dinner with a friend of my father’s whose husband gained professional recognition through his photography of the famous Angkor Watt complex and we all lamented over wine at the increasing number of tourists swarming the ancient ruins.  I have been to Angkor Watt many times, my first visit as a child of five, and each time the surrounding area gets more developed.  Hotels and 7-Elevens sprout up faster than jungle vine and droves of buses shuttle in tourists from all over.  We decided to forgo our usual Angkor excursion, but if the temples are something you wish to experience (and I still recommend that you do), then avoid the crowds and either go early, very early, in the morning or at midday when everyone sane is basking in a/c.

And that’s that.  I spent most of the rest of my time Phnom Penh; helping my dad, pouting when monsoons got in the way of my allotted pool hour, and stocking/holing up for the protests that occurred last Saturday.  But more about all that later.



Monday, September 9, 2013

Sanitation Brigade: Part 1

This past week the heat has been no joke.  And my dad doesn't believe in a/c, which is also very not funny.  It's the kind of hot where it feels like there is no barrier between you and the sun.  Where the heat is actually another person in the room and you walk around (or lie around not moving as the case may be) perpetually oily and hungry, unmotivated except for the small rivulet of sweat running down your butt-crack that forces you to do an kind of half-hearted shimmy in your seat so that it absorbs into your pants.  Bleh. Basically, I'm giving excuses for why I haven't updated this blog and have already eaten half a bag of my father's prized and very expensive cashews he keeps hidden in the fridge.  Note to dad, don't hide anything from me in the fridge.  We're in a committed relationship.

Besides the heat, there's the ever present chorus of "You're-not-doing-anything-with-your-life-and-will-die-with-no-significant-accomplishment-other-than-possibly-through-other-people-and-then-only-if-you-have-kids-which-is-very-unlikely-as-that-would-take-energy" that is making it difficult to motivate myself to do anything besides order fancy cappuccinos, work on stuff for my dad and read David Sedaris.  I know people, life is hard.  In all seriousness, I'm going to take this running soliloquy as a sign that I'm on the right path.  Because honestly, not having a plan or laboriously striving to some far off goal that requires a mountain of hard work that I can fall back on comfortably to define myself, is the toughest, loneliest thing I've ever done.  I can't claim that I have been through shit relative to the suffering in most of world, but that's sentence up there is still saying something.  And if I'm this out of my comfort zone, I'm pretty sure I'm in the right place, or at least heading there.  I'm trying to picture Jesus as an air-traffic controller, robes flowing as he frantically (or in a holy dignified manner) makes landing motions with neon orange traffic batons. "Don't stop Zilla, you're getting there!"

So what has my life of new found meaning, soul searching and non-attachment so far led me to?  Well, contrary to the taste my last little post left in your mouth, it has resulted mostly in deep thoughts such as "I should, like, really order purified water instead of, like, diet coke as it would be karmically kinder to my enamel."  Just kidding!  Sort of...I really can't stop drinking diet coke and it's horrible for your teeth.
Anyway, this long rambling explanation/intro is just background to inform anyone who cares (my mother and aunt) that I am now posting further about my trip to the floating village.


You can't tell, but the old lady paddling on the back is wearing a pair of badass aviators.


Off to Prek Toal!  My dad, his team and I boarded a surprisingly comfortable bus for a surprisingly comfortable trip to Siem Reap where we stayed over night at a guesthouse called Sweet Dreams.  There I met some super cool people doing super rad things.  Namely, my dad's cousin Alexandra and her husband Rick who live in Australia and were visiting Cambodia for a couple months.  After staying with my dad in Phnom Penh, they had been teaching English to children in a village not too far away from the guesthouse we stayed at and they accompanied us to Prek Toal.  A very good thing, too, as otherwise I would have been not-so-proverbially stranded on an island by myself while my dad and his team surveyed the villagers in their floating homes.

Intrepid surveyors!


The night before we went to the village, we had some mini markable events, such as going to a Khmer BBQ joint where you pick out the ingredients yourself buffet style and cook them yourself on a little stove.  I'm still not sure what I ate but I do now know that the tapioca dessert is not supposed to be eaten by itself but with the coconut milk and sugar that are provided right next to the dessert table.  Blech.

Also, I was very frustrated to notice that when I tried to use the computers at Sweet Dreams a "K9 Security" message would pop up and not let me go to any sites.  Some further exploration into the system showed me that the security settings had been programmed not to allow sites with content pertaining to "social media, entertainment, sports and life style."  When I mentioned this to Rick, he informed me that it was the work of a nefarious long term guest at Sweet Dreams; a greasy French guy who didn't want people taking up the computers he could potential be on and who enjoyed feeding the stray cats on the dinning area tables.  As this man was already not a popular figure at the guesthouse and it was easy enough to get one of the staff to change the settings on the computer, I contented myself with the knowledge that a couple of the other guests had taken to hiding his shoes.

The next morning we took a little van to a port.  Or at least, an opening to the lake where lots of boats were packed side by side, floating on brackish, smelly water that dense vegetation and the occasional flip flop were trying unsuccessfully to hide.  We hopped on board and with much trouble and positional adjustment, our driver backed out of his parking spot, turned the engine on full speed, and with frogs leaping desperately out of the way, we propelled up the muddy stream.





Arriving in Prek Toal, the boat pulled in and dropped us off at Osmose headquarters, which also serves as a center for their recently enervated eco tourism program.  Comprised of three moderately sized, open air rooms, bobbing gently up and down with the current, the Osmose headquarters house a restaurant, where we had all our meals, a small school room for village children, and a workshop that employs low income women--mainly heads of households--to weave bowls, hats, mats, hammocks and almost anything else you could come up with, out of hyacinth.  Hyacinth is an invasive water plant species that quickly over takes the surface area of bodies of fresh water, pushing out native plants and the animals dependent on them and making water traffic a pain.  The inside of the stalk is, however, rather squishy and soft, lending itself to being easily shaped into laundry hampers and snazzy purses.  Alex and I partook in a weaving class offered, resulting in two beautiful, tidy coasters with a pleasing and subtle pattern.  They were beautiful and neat because after showing us the basic weaving patters, our instructors became rather proprietary and discouraged our continuing efforts to help.  I still very much recommend that should you ever find yourself in the middle of a lake in the floating village of Prek Toal in the Battambang Province in rural Cambodia, that you take a weaving class supporting the livelihood of the women working there and maintenance of their ecological infrastructure.  You will also get a very well made coaster.  No thanks to yourself.  But that's why it's well made.

Beautiful, right?


After lunch, Alex, Rick and I hired some paddle boats for the day and took off into the unknown, to explore and to not bother the Wetlands Work! team who were actually getting stuff done.  And when I say we took off into the unknown, I mean we took off with guides giving us a structured(?) tour and paddling for us.  And by guides, I mean children.  Little girls to be precise.  And before you become appalled that two little girls were paddling us around in the hot sun, I'd like to point out that they were helping out their mothers (also paddling us) and that they only had to suffer in the sun for a little bit before they got some relief in the form a rain storm.  Feel better?  We didn't either.  Rick managed to commandeer a paddle and take over for one girl and Alex and I did our best to hold an umbrella over the girl in our boat.  We would have taken over as well, but the girls are startlingly proficient and we were afraid to move in the tiny rickety boat which had the tendency to rock alarmingly every time we tried to adjust our long limbs.  And there was the fact that we would inevitably embarrass ourselves paddling around in little circles to nowhere while the village children pointed and laughed.

One of our awesome paddlers.  She liked us, I swear!


The tour turned out to be awesome.  Having no idea what to expect and increasingly gaining appreciation for the size and scope of the village (it would be easier to get lost here than in cookie cutter suburbia), we let ourselves be taken to wherever we were being taken to...aaaaand we ended up at what looked like a store front.  We were resigned to hand over money and buy the customary trinkets and souvenirs, but a woman led us through the house, past the surprised old man hanging out in his hammock, scratching his balls and onto to something of a floating back porch where the woman took my hand and pulled me up to what appeared to be a tub.  I peered inside and squealed a dignified Zilla squeal of delight.  Baby crocs!  Dozens of them!  Looking up at me balefully and doing a weird croak/coughing noise which is surely croc speak for "pick me up!  pick me up!"



I was cooing over a particularly cute baby glaring at me resentfully for having the audacity to try to cuddle it when Rick interrupted with an ominous, "Ummm, hey there.  You might wanna look under your feet."  In comic slowness, I looked down under my flip flops, past the chicken wire and thin wooden plank holding me up, and gazed into the giant gaping maw of what had to be a 10 meter croc.  As my eyesight adjusted, I realized there were maybe 30 or so other equally as big crocs spread out under the porch, or as I now realized it was, the crocodile farm.  The lady who had shown me the baby crocodiles motioned for me to watch out for my toes.  I stood rooted to the spot, curling my precious mini-appendages as far into the flimsy safety of my rubber soles as possible.  Pleased with my reaction, she encouraged us to walk around.  Hesitantly at first, like the baby chickens these monsters probably ate, we began to move, exclaiming at the size and number of the animals.  One of the little girls from the paddle boats had ventured out with us and when two of the crocs roared and started belly flopping onto each other and into the water, we both jumped a rather impressive height (in my humble opinion) into the air.  Besides fecal contamination and poor visibility, I now had another reason not to go swimming.  There were no discernible markings on their scales and I could conceive of no way to keep track of how many there actually were, given the large amount of entangled reptilian limbs.  Soooo...how did they know if any escaped?



With that experience under our belts, we were herded back into what we now viewed as the woefully vulnerable, precariously balanced boats.

Next in Prek Toal: A homestay on the river, floating gardens and a reclining giant Buddha!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Monkey Bars

It has occurred to me, through some divine insight that must, in it's simplicity and obviousness, be a miracle, that all my future projections and alternate past scenarios, swinging from monkey bar to monkey bar and back again in this fantastical whirling gymnasium, are but rehearsals for a play that will never happen.  A compulsive defense against illusion and an imaginary version of my self that exists no where and in nothing.