S-21 / Toul Sleng Prison

 

Norng Chan Phal stands in the entryway of the S-21 Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  Now in his 40s, he’s is one of only a handful of children who were found alive by the Vietnamese soldiers on January 10th, 1979.  The Khmer Rouge converted the facility from a school to a make-shift torture camp and brutal prison where an estimated 17,000 Cambodians were imprisoned before being taken to the “Killing Fields” during the years of the genocide.  Today, Norng Chan Phal shares his story with the hope that history will not be forgotten.  The resilience of the Cambodian people and their ability to forgive is simply amazing and something that will stay with me forever.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” - William Churchill

 

 The Equal and the Opposite

 

The historic Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia stands as the largest religious monument in the world and dates back to early 12th century.  It's said that the insanely steep nature of the stairs to the highest level of the temple are intentionally designed to force the body into a bowing pose as you ascend and return back to the ground.  The young Buddhist monks here are given an opportunity for an education in return for their servitude.  In a country where “free public education” often times falls short of becoming a reality due to lack of resources and corruption, this life in Buddhism bridges the gap in education while providing benefits to the society.   In similar fashion to the laws of physics that state that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, the Buddhist belief on personal moral action acts in the same way.  A morally good action has good consequences. 

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

    - Dalai Lama

 

Life on the Mighty Mekong

 

The Mekong River divides the Kingdom of Cambodia and serves as the lifeblood for millions of people along its winding path. Originating thousands of miles away in the headwaters of the Tibetan Plateau, the Mekong in Cambodia flows with a steady power that no one knows better than the men and women who work the river daily for transport and fish. The local fishermen are always proud to show off their fishing rigs but the techniques and tools have gone largely unchanged for generations of fishermen who bring home a catch to put food on the table or sell in a local market.  Deteriorating boats and swift currents during the rainy season raise the stakes for their catch.  What would it be like to sit down with them and swap stories of the one that got away?

 

Morocco's Ageless Grind

 

In a land that seems to defy the aging effects of time, many roles remain unchanged for generations.  Repetition turns their hand skills into second nature reflexes that craft their art.  The energy of the daily markets in Morocco is the driving motivation for many to present only their finest crafts since the competition is fierce.  Resources in this area carry a higher value due to the natural demand.  Animal skins from the slaughter of sheep and cows are used in the leather tannery along with a host of other animal bi-products and natural dyes.   The wood shavings from the turning process are sold to the Hammam (bathhouse) to fuel the fires that heat the water.  Life within the Medina walls in Morocco has found a rare balance that only comes with time.

 

Through the Frozen Night

 

The rhythmic panting of the dogs breaks the silence of Michigan's frozen U.P. forest as the team races full-tilt through one of the coldest nights in January.  Freezing temps mixed with strong winds and blowing snow test the bond between the musher and his dogs.  Even the strongest teams are challenged under these unforgiving conditions.  For some teams this is more than a race, it's a tradition that dates back generations. 

"There is no education like adversity."

     - B. Disraeli