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Published: June 10th 2017
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It is Sunday morning, my last Sunday here at the orphanage, or in Cambodia this year. The month has sped by, with good parts and not so good parts, but such is life. Right now life is good. There were bananas for breakfast, I got my online homeopathic students' work read and graded (I do this at 4AM each morning as the internet connection is best then), and there were no new client problems or emergencies; the kids are busy doing Sunday morning cleanup, and another English-speaking friend of mine from two years ago is again volunteering here at Wat Opot, so there is another person to talk to, and share conversations and stories. One of the not so good parts this year before he arrived has been the many silent mealtimes; frequently nobody talks. I kept trying at first, but interest in polite conversation seemed low. The volunteers eat separately from the children (who eat outdoors), and while the food is good, I miss the typically pleasant give and take of mealtime conversations. Perhaps it is a language barrier, but even though the other volunteers were all German, they speak English very well. So maybe it was a cultural thing, or maybe an age issue, as they are all around 20 years old and I am a grandmother. But why should that matter, really? We are all here, volunteering at an AIDS orphanage in Cambodia, so by that alone we have much in common. But it felt awkward for weeks, and not just at mealtimes. Now, with a handsome, young American male here it is much better, so I'll just enjoy the next few days of giving and sharing. What we say --or don't say-- to each other truly matters.
So, Sunday morning. Volunteers have more free time on weekends, although more correctly I should say fewer scheduled activities. The children have art classes today, morning and afternoon, but after cleaning their rooms and picking up the grounds, they are free to play; their time is open to all their creative desires and pursuits.
It is wonderful to be given the gift of unscheduled time! Many children (not just those growing up in the States but in many other countries as well) no longer know what it is like to simply be able to have time to play, to invent games, or create toys out of found materials. This is not a problem here! Some of the pre-teen boys here have recently made whips out of sticks and pieces of something I don't get close enough to to identify; I try to stay a safe distance away as they practice hitting metal cups or cans off low walls. They have also made slingshots, and have such accurate aims that they could feed themselves by shooting down small birds if needed. (I don't tell them this; they don't need that idea in their heads, although they probably already think this!) The boys are teaching me how to use a slingshot; I can hit a small boarded-up window at over 20 feet away now. They are pleased at my progress. Yesterday I saw two new creations: a grass whistle that sounds just like a wooden recorder, and bottles full of pond water with holes poked into their lids, making very effective squirt bottles. This reminds me of Songkran in Thailand, the water festival during the hottest month of the year; everyone gets drenched with buckets of water, but here we have homemade squirt bottles. I think lots of showers will be needed by day's end.
Other toys the children have created include: boats, kites, skateboards, vehicles made out of water bottles, bicycle noisemakers, doll house furniture, a treehouse, and, of course, guns. When my son was small I didn't allow him to play with toy guns, so what did he and his friends do? They created their own pretend guns from sticks. The boys growing up here are no different.
Pretend play is very important for children. Allowing the imagination to have free reign is good for all ages! Maybe Sundays were created exactly for that reason, to give us space to exercise our creative thinking powers and let our imaginations run wild. Also maybe to catch up on sleep.
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