Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Wanderers 2011.2.1

Wanderers Presenter

Don's cell call reminded me of this interesting opportunity, to hear more stories from Asia from a woman recently returned. I took my leave of Food Not Bombs in the shelter, making sure I'd be seeing Cera again, before she disappears into some monastery or wherever she goes.

I peddled my bicycle through the darkness and winter cold, grateful for the flashing LED headlamp I'd finally won budget for (funds are tight in America, with Nick an hour on the bus each way to dialysis, barely able to walk, and with spinal difficulties). We've eliminated oil heat from the list of necessities. DSL is the priority.

Funds are very tight in Cambodia as well, forcing parents over the border into Thailand, perhaps to never see their children again. The child abandonment rate is very high, in part because of a recent holocaust and a missing generation. The need for orphanages is great, reminding me of Romania in some ways.

I learned a lot from Ms. Goldmann's presentation. She's a vivacious, intelligent and I expect effective fundraiser for her worthy projects. If only the Coffee Shops Network were further along, with its NGO-friendly games.

Ethical tourism is the new buzz word (right up their with eco-tourism), heard around Burma as well. Come with the intent to spend wisely, to have your visit help sponsor your causes.

Discretionary travel is a way to walk one's talk, on the model of a pilgrimage, an inward journey involving self reflection and meditations about purpose.

The flip side of traveling ethically is to encourage beneficiaries to not discriminate so blatantly against foreigners (in Cambodia, all foreigners are blanket "French").

For example, the current Cambodian airline (co-operated by Vietnam Airlines) actually advertises lower prices "for Cambodians only", meaning foreign nationals will automatically need to pay more.

This double standard makes humanitarian projects like Ms. Goldmann's unworkable, as NGOs depend on stretching dollars as far as they'd go as if a local were spending them. Having to pay "tourist prices" makes such undertakings unaffordable.

The orphanage in question is just outside of Batdambang, Cambodia's second largest city. Some speculate international tourism may route through a revitalized airport there, given the airport nearest Ankor Watt is too near, and the relics are starting to crumble thanks to jet engine vibrations just a mile away.

Ms. Goldmann has gone back and forth quite a few times and had many adventures to recount. Motorbikes are dangerous. Dustin's severe foot injury reminded me of Nirel's experience in India.

Our gathered Wanderers were much impressed and encouraged by Ms. Goldmann's kind and brave nature, as well as her extreme youth (she's 18). I was reminded of Jody (an orphan with experience working with orphanages), of my daughter, and of the goddess Tara herself, a compassionate archetype.

Speaking of Buddhism, even though the Cambodians are cash-poor, they know how to build epic-sized temples. Finding some kind of rapprochement between "the French" and their western education, and indigenous scholarship, would probably be of significant benefit to both sides. Californians revere Buddhist teachers and study Zen for college credit. Why pit east and west against one another, in dimensions where the most synergy might occur?

The orphanage itself is non-sectarian. Ms. Goldmann is Jewish and Dustin, her business partner, soon to become a Cambodian, does not plan his life around some belief in a deity. I think of my Jewish friend Alan Potkin as well, another respectful admirer of Asian cultures who has no interest in recruiting people away from Buddhist patterns of thought.

Buddhism is variously categorized as poly and/or non-theist, depending on which branch of scholarship one is following. A doctrine of rebirth somewhat obfuscates the line between mortal and immortal, meaning Bodhisattvas or saints might also be considered embodiments of eternal archetypes, more like in the Jungian model.