March: Mindful Communication month


Our first theme of The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series wrapped up with a few notable takeaways from our community members. By being mindful of self-care throughout February, a few community members noticed how little time they take for self-care, how it can be easy to make a plan but difficult to stick with it, and that it can be easy to say we are too tired or too busy for self-care, but if we make time for it, it helps with energy, stress, and productivity in other areas.

While you can certainly tell by now that this series is all about mindfulness, we can now start to see how that translates into daily life: paying attention, noticing patterns, and then moving from that place of awareness if we wish to make change.

Our strong foundation in self-care will now help us move forward as we explore mindfulness in other areas of daily life. This month, we’ll be focusing on Mindful Communication, and applying our self-care practice as a tool in helping us communicate most effectively. After all, we all know it’s hard to communicate well when we are hungry, tired, or stressed. So, we are building on our mindfulness practice!

Our prompt this first week is meant to help you bring awareness to patterns in your communication, both with yourself and others. Our prompt this week is:

The ending to this prompt seems simple, initially. We use communication to talk to ourselves and others, express ourselves, make connections and build relationships. These are overarching, universal themes of communication. So, this week we are taking a look at what really makes up our individual communication patterns. How do you tend to communicate with others? Is it in a way that encourages, entertains, or something else? How do you tend to communicate with yourself? Are you encouraging, critical, or something in between in your self talk?

In addition to this prompt, I shared one of my favorite podcasts on the Throat Chakra and communication with community members this week.

If you would like to receive a weekly prompt and additional resources, and/or join discussions in our Facebook group, come and join the community!

Remember, it’s

  • Free
  • One email per week
  • A learning and sharing experience

Click here to join the community


The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series: Mindful Self-Care Week 3


The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series is in it’s first month, and we are focusing on mindful self-care as a way to build up our foundation so we can move toward mindfulness in other areas of our daily lives.

Check out the introductory post to our Mindful Self-Care month to see what this month is all about!

For the first time on Happily Lost, readers can sign up to join one of my blog series! Community members in this series receive a weekly email with a prompt and additional resources to help explore our month’s theme.

For this month only, I will be sharing each of the weekly prompts here on the blog so that you all can get a sense of the series.

Our prompt this week is:


You can use this prompt to focus in on where in your day or week you can let go of a non-nourishing habit in order to make space for a piece of your self-care practice. This is meant to help us make space slowly, letting go of 1 or 2 things to begin with, and making space in 10-15 minute increments. In this way, we can start to see that small steps add up to big changes!

If you’d like to be part of a discussion around this prompt, and/or receive future prompts and some additional resources for each monthly mindfulness theme, come and join the community!

Click here to enter your email and join us!

I’ll send you an email when you join with a full list of our monthly prompts, plus the extra resources from February so you can start building your foundation in self-care, mindfully! Hope to see you soon in our community 🙂

Community members, Check your inbox for this week’s email, including one of my favorite simple mindfulness exercises, and after you have a chance to think through this week’s prompt, head on over to our Facebook group to share your responses to the prompt and some follow-up questions that are posted there. If you aren’t receiving the emails, please let me know by emailing me at

The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series is a blog series, as well as an interactive, peer-based learning community, centered around mindfulness in various aspects of our daily life, Click here for more details about this series.


The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series: Mindful Self Care Week 2


The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series is in it’s first month, and we are focusing on mindful self-care as a way to build up our foundation so we can move toward mindfulness in other areas of our daily lives.

Check out the introductory post to our Mindful Self-Care month to see what this month is all about!

For the first time on Happily Lost, readers can sign up to join one of my blog series! Community members in this series receive a weekly email with a prompt and additional resources to help explore our month’s theme.

For this month only, I will be sharing each of the weekly prompts here on the blog so that you all can get a sense of the series.

Our prompt this week is:

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This prompt can be used to start being mindful about the start and end of the day, two times of the day that can be crucial to how our day goes, and then how we take in and perceive what happened throughout the day. These two times of day are vital for my own self-care routine, which is why I am encouraging readers and the mindfulness community members to get curious about what these times look like for them.

If you’d like to be part of a discussion around this prompt, or if you’d like to  and receive future prompts and some additional resources for each monthly mindfulness theme, come and join the community!

Click here to enter your email and join us!

I’ll send you an email when you join with a full list of our monthly prompts, plus the extra resources from February so you can start building your foundation in self-care, mindfully! Hope to see you soon in our community 🙂

Community members, Check your inbox for this week’s email, including a link to one of my favorite podcast episodes about tending to our roots, and after you have a chance to think through this week’s prompt, head on over to our Facebook group to share your responses to the prompt and some follow-up questions that are posted there.

The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series is a blog series, as well as an interactive, peer-based learning community, centered around mindfulness in various aspects of our daily life, Click here for more details about this series.


After the R: Travel and the Transition


Within the last few days of a 9-week trip around Southeast Asia, on our last long journey on public transportation for a good long while, I wrote the bulk of this post as I reflected on how far we had come-geographically, emotionally, and mentally- since finishing Peace Corps service and leaving Mozambique at the end of November. Alex and I made the choice to take a long trip between the end of service and returning home, and I’d like to share with you a few Smiles and Struggles of travelling as part of our transition.


Re-energizing: When we left Mozambique I truly felt exhausted to my core. Mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Our last two weeks in-country were a blur of grading, packing, goodbyes, paperwork, medical tests…and who knows what else. Oh yeah, and Alex’s bout with malaria ten days before leaving our site. I remember saying at the beginning of our trip that I was glad we chose to travel before going home because I felt like I had nothing to give, emotionally, to people back home right after we left Moz. Although traveling can be tiring, my reserves of energy got refilled during our trip, and I got on the plane home feeling much more ready mentally and emotionally.

Re-connecting: One of the challenges of Peace Corps as a married couple is that, after a while, there is no news. Every day we saw the same students as each other, the same colleagues as each other, and functioned on almost the exact same schedule as each other. In short, by the end of service there were very few experiences that were noteworthy to share with each other. Needless to say, sometimes things like ‘I cut my nails while you were at the market’ constituted as news. Taking a trip was a great way for Alex and I to reconnect over some still shared but new experiences, see a new part of the world together, and ultimately remember how much we love adventuring together.

Gaining mental and emotional distance: This has to be one of the biggest benefits of a long trip right after service, and over a quick chat in Ho Chi Minh City with a couple other volunteers from our Peace Corps group, we discovered the same to be true for them. Comparisons to Peace Corps life and post-Peace Corps life are inevitable as things change in a huge way. Now, we have something in between, a kind of pause, between our Peace Corps chapter of life and our U.S., post-Peace Corps chapter While the comparisons still seem inevitable, things aren’t so stark: Mozambique vs. the U.S ; Peace Corps vs. post Peace Corps. Having gained a whole lot of new experiences during our pause reminds us of the broader perspective that life is a flow, not a ladder, and that our lives and our world are extremely dynamic things. In addition, having some time away from Moz before having to explain the experience to people at home allows for better clarity; two months out, while still a short time, I can ask ‘what’s sticking the most from Moz for me at this point?’ And then I can move from that place when chatting with friends and family at home. Right after service I felt much more overwhelmed at the thought of trying to sift through the details of Moz life in conversations back home. While Mozambique is just as dear to my heart-if not more- as it was 2 months ago, I know that I am speaking from a less emotionally cloudy and confused place after having some time to sift through some of my own feelings on my experience before trying to articulate it to others.


The Culture Cup: One of the things that felt like a challenge during the first couple weeks of our trip was feeling unready to embrace a new culture. This may sound insensitive, and I didn’t expect it to be a challenge. Even though Moz came to feel like home and we had become comfortable with it’s oddities and challenges and joys, I realized when we arrived in Vietnam that my capacity to be excited about a culture I didn’t understand was very low. I kept thinking ‘I just spent 2 years trying to understand a culture that isn’t my own. I just don’t have it in me to try to do it in another place right now. My culture cup is full to the brim and there’s no space for more.’ After time, after I became more generally re-energized, this feeling faded and I became more excited about experiencing more of the culture where we were travelling. Another thing that happened over time was that I let go of the idea that because this culture was foreign it was on the same plane as Moz in terms of what I should know and understand. It took me a while to realize that I wasn’t here to get to know a culture deeply and that that was not even possible in the amount of time we had. The kind of sad truth is that I will probably never do that again. Travel provides us with the chance to catch glimpses of a culture, but it only takes us so far. Once I adjusted my expectation and accepted this fact, I was able to be receptive to any bits of culture that we found along the way.

Staying away from home for longer: While I strongly believe that we made the right choice by traveling for a couple of months post-service, it meant that we were away from most of our family for 2 months longer, that we missed a third holiday season, and a host of other events. While we were lucky to meet up with some family for portions of the trip, the anxious feeling to see others and the somewhat guilty feeling for choosing to stay away longer was a challenge at points during our trip. The fact that everybody in our family was supportive of our decision even if it was challenging for them to wait longer to see us was a huge factor in helping me work through my own hesitations about being away for longer.

Self-care and feeling okay: I knew that this would probably be a struggle going into the trip, because a big part of me feeling ‘okay’ has to do with feeling stable. So, it goes without saying that living out of a backpack for 2 months, at a time that already felt emotionally tumultuous, had its challenges. Again, working through this struggle came mostly with adjusting my expectations. When we left Moz I was holding onto my self-care routine tightly, afraid to let any of it go for fear of feeling totally out of control through this change. After some time, I loosened my grip a little and realized that we were, after all, on vacation and that no matter my routine on the trip, it wouldn’t be the same afterwards as it was beforehand because we weren’t going back into the same day-to-day routines as it was. I was able to find a balance that mostly worked, that included the most vital parts of my self-care practice and still allowed me to enjoy the freedom and flexibility of travel.

Now, after 868 days abroad, we’re back home in Colorado, working through this change one step at a time, realizing that 50 degrees no longer means what it once did, and starting to catch up with all the people we’ve missed.

Until next time!


Meant to fill a void I have observed in the Peace Corps blogosphere, this series will address personal elements of life after earning my ‘R,’ a designation that changes a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), after 27 months of service. Look for posts that answer common questions, address elements of transitioning back to life in the U.S., and reflect on Peace Corps service.



February: Mindful Self-Care Introduction


Welcome to the first post of The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series!

We’re starting our series by focusing on the foundation from which we will build our exploration of mindfulness in various aspects of daily life. This foundation is self-care.

When we think about building a house, we know that it will soon fall down if the foundation isn’t solid. When we think about cultivating plants, we know that they will never thrive if we don’t tend to the roots.

The same goes for us as humans, right? Think about how much more likely it is to speak or act mindlessly- without really thinking- if you are run down, stressed, and frustrated. When our foundation is crumbling, everything that sits atop that foundation begins to crumble too.

This month, we are going to take a look at what self-care means to us, what it looks like for each of us, and how we incorporate it into daily life. We’ll work to make sure that our self-care is accessible to us daily, in a number of small practices throughout the day.

Take a look at our first prompt of the series. Feel free to use this prompt for journaling, thinking, discussion, or any other manner that serves you.


Consider trying the following exercises to help you tap into your instincts about what self-care means for you. I think this could be especially helpful if the prompt feels a little too vague for you.

When you take time out of your day for self-care, thank yourself afterwards. I began by using the phrase ‘Thank you for taking this time for you.’ After time, pay attention to whether more crops up in your mind to follow this statement. For example, I always thank myself after a yoga practice and after some time, without me trying to form this specific form of thanks, I realized I was telling myself ‘Thanks for taking this time to honor your one and only body and mind.’ From giving myself the opportunity to give thanks from a clear head space, I discovered, instinctively, what that part of my self-care practice meant to me. For me, this took time to become clear, but it started with the simple act of thanking myself for taking time for me.

Perhaps counter-intuitive, try giving up  your self-care for a couple of days. This may help you realize which aspects are the most important, as well as what you feel is missing when you don’t have that self-care practice.

On a personal note, my month of refocusing and rebooting my self-care practice is starting after about 2 months of travel, and as I return home to the United States after being away for almost 2 and a half years. In fact, as you read this, I am on a plane home! I am so excited to be exploring this topic with a community. Whether you all are facing big changes, little changes, or staying steady in your day-to-day, I believe this is one of the most important elements in moving toward a more mindful life.

Community members, you all should have received a Welcome email from me with our themes for the year, and the first February email, which includes a self-care accountability tool that I love! If you haven’t seen these, please let me know by sending an email to Make sure you add that email to your contacts to avoid the messages going to junk mail, and request to join the Happily Here Monthly Mindfulness Community group on Facebook as we start discussions!

This month, community members can look forward to receiving a self-care accountability tool from me, a link to one of my favorite podcast episodes on this theme, and more!

Join this interactive, peer-based, learning community to receive a weekly prompt and additional resources from me, as well as have access to community discussions around our prompts and themes.

Click here to enter your email and join us!

The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series is a blog series, as well as an interactive, peer-based learning community, centered around mindfulness in various aspects of our daily life. Click here for more details about this series.



Join me for The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series


If you are one of my long-time readers, you’ve surely seen Happily Lost grow and evolve many times over the years as we embark on new adventures, or become curious about new things. I love that Happily Lost is a living, breathing blog and that I have the freedom here to explore the many parts of life that I am curious about, and have the opportunity to share that curiousity with my readers.

This year, Happily Lost is growing again! I am opening up the Happily Here section of the blog, where you’ll find the ‘Just Talk’ posts, in which I have explored life’s everyday curiosities over the years, and the new Monthly Mindfulness Community Series.

I have touched on the topic of mindfulness before, in the ‘Just Talk‘ section. I have talked about a Blue Sky Brain,  about living in each of life’s seasons, and about eating mindfully. As my interest in this topic has grown, I am following my curiosity into a year-long series that will not only explore this topic in depth, but create a learning community here on the blog.

What is the The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series?

An interactive, peer-based, virtual learning community, centered around themes of mindfulness in various aspects of our daily lives.

What is Cece’s role, and how will this series look?

During this series, I will be in the roles of facilitator, and peer learner alongside those that choose to sign up and join in the learning community. As the facilitator of this community, here’s what you can expect from me throughout each month:

For all readers:

  •  Introduce the month’s theme in a regular, public blog post on the first Sunday of every month, including one prompt (journaling, thinking, discussion- your choice how you use it) on that theme. We’ll be talking about things like mindful communication, mindful movement, and mindful self-care.
  • Share the takeaways from each month’s theme, based off of our community discussions, in a public, audio post on the blog at the end of each month.

For Community Members:

  • Send you the complete list of monthly themes for the year when you sign up.
  • Email weekly prompts on that month’s theme to help you explore what mindfulness looks like for you in that area of your daily life. I’ll get your thoughts rolling with prompts like ‘Communication is most challenging for me when I feel…..’ or ‘I use self-care as a way to….’
  • Offer additional tools and ‘mini-challenges’ to help you become more mindful in the area we are talking about each month. I’ll give you a tool for self-care accountability one month, and together we’ll do some ‘Spring cleaning’ on our social media sites another month.
  • Manage a private Facebook page, where we can discuss the prompts, share resources, ask questions, and vote on themes for a couple of ‘free’ months throughout the year.

I will not be playing the role of mindfulness coach or teacher. While I am not an expert in this area, I feel that I have a valuable personal perspective to offer on the topic of mindfulness, and am looking forward to learning more as I complete a Yoga Teacher Training this Spring and Summer. That being said, I also know that my family, friends, and other readers have valuable perspectives too, and I’m looking forward to learning from you all. You don’t have to be an expert either to join in the community! During this series, we will all be exploring mindfulness in various areas of our daily lives and sharing our perspectives and insights so we can learn from each other.

Why The Monthly Mindfulness Community Series?

Image credit to:

Simply put, mindfulness is a way of paying close attention, of bringing awareness into the present moment. If you are curious enough about this series to have read this post this far, you may already know that there is a lot of research out there about the benefits of mindfulness including increased gratitude, less stress, better health, better relationships, and higher productivity.

Everyone has different reasons for wanting to be mindful in their daily lives. I’ve heard people talk about how their cell phone distracts them from time with their kids or significant other, about how they wish they were more in tune with their body, or how they wish they could be a more assertive communicator. When we take the time to focus and practice mindfulness in these areas, we are ‘flexing our mindfulness muscle,’ and strengthening our ability to use it in a variety of situations.

My decision to put a big personal focus on mindfulness this year comes as I am transitioning from life in the slow-paced culture of Mozambique, to life in the fast-paced culture of the U.S., and feeling pretty strong (whirl)winds of change for the coming year. Mindfulness is a tool that helps me ground into my life as it flows and changes, and observe both the world around me and my internal self. It is a constant practice; it is a journey without a destination.

If you are ready to get curious about how mindfulness looks in your daily life, and want the support of a community, come and join the Monthly Mindfulness Community!

Click here to enter your email and sign up!

***Your email is safe with me. I won’t give your email away or fill your inbox with unexpected messages. What you’ll get is what I’ve promised above.

Still not sure if you want to join in? That’s okay! Check out the February posts on Mindful Self-Care and see what you think, or sign up now to receive the prompts and join the community discussions at your own pace. This is your journey!

Looking forward to being Happily Here with you this year.



Cambodia: Best of Angkor Wat Images


From the cool, shady inner hallways to the faraway temple vistas, the 162 hectare – or about 400 acre- temple complex of Angkor Wat is so varied and stunning that words alone would not do it justice.

While the grandeur of the temples in this complex are undoubtedly something to be marveled at, the details in the bas-relief carvings were the most unexpected of Angkor Wat’s treasures for me.

We hired a tuk tuk for the day and just barely scratched the surface of this sprawling temple complex. From the main temple of Angkor Wat, to the many stone faces in Bayon and the strangling figs of Beng Melea, and a few of the smaller temples in between, I hope you’ll enjoy a wander back in time in the images below.


If you’d like to know more about the history of Angkor Wat, click here.

If you’d like an interesting historical fiction read about Cambodia’s Kings during this period, and modern post-war Cambodia, I’d recommend The King’s Last Song.


Cambodia: 5 Things To Do In Kampot


Are you looking for somewhere to take a breather during your Southeast Asia travels? Look to Kampot. Cambodia seems to be a midway point for many travelers on the ‘Banana Pancake Route’ through Southeast Asia, and it’s the perfect place to find a spot to lay your pack for a few days. When we rolled into Kampot to spend some time with family- joining us for various lengths of time on our trip- we quickly got used to vacation mode, after spending about a month in travel mode through Vietnam and other parts of Cambodia. We loved unpacking and staying put, spending a few days doing stuff and a few days soaking up the sun poolside. This little river town is a great place to unwind without getting bored. Check out these 5 things to do in Kampot.

Learn something new at a pepper plantation

We spent a day getting to (it’s a bit out there) and touring La Plantation between Kep and Kampot. The staff here offers free tours in multiple languages, where visitors learn about how pepper is grown and processed, and then have the opportunity to try a variety of peppercorns before taking a walk around the property to see the plants. La Plantation has a little shop full of green, red, black, white, salted – and more-peppercorns. They also have a small restaurant attached to their large deck, a great place to relax, enjoy the quiet and the mountain views. The best way to get to La Plantation without a private vehicle is to hire a tuk tuk for the day. This costs $25, and your driver will take you onward to Kep or to any other stops in the area that you are interested in. We loved that La Plantation had a house for the tuk tuk drivers to hang out in- including a TV and lawn bowling- while visitors were on their tours. We were also impressed by La Plantation’s social component: supporting the local primary school and employing Cambodians as tour guides, cooks, cashiers, and more.

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Enjoying the view from La Plantation’s restaurant, with pepper plants growing up trellises.

Ponder the Durian fruit statue

There is a roundabout in Kampot that is adorned with an impressively large statue of a Durian fruit. At the base of the gigantic Durian are other, smaller fruits. The walkway around the fruits is an indicator that it warrants a visit: here you will see a near-constant stream of people posing for photos with the fruits. I don’t quite understand this statue, or why the Durian seems to be the King of the fruits, but it’s strange enough to be worth seeing.

Get messy eating Kep crab

Kep is a beach town about an hour away from Kampot, famous for it’s crab fresh out of the Gulf of Thailand. The Kep market itself is full of crab, and it’s not hard to spot the wire traps along the beachfront. While we didn’t get a taste of Kep crab during our short visit to Kep, we did indulge in this local delicacy in Kampot on New Year’s Eve while we watched an endless stream of Roman Candles light up the night sky above the river. Being the landlocked Coloradoans that we are, we were unsure as to how to best get at the meat when our crabs arrived in tact and laid gently atop a bed of veggies. We cracked and dug, coming up with messier fingers after each bite. As it always does with crab, it felt like we got a few nibbles for a lot of work in the end, but that’s just the way it goes for people who don’t really know how to eat a whole crab.


Test your ‘go with it’ skills during a traditional Cambodian massage

All through the streets of Kampot you’ll find salons and massage parlors. With achy bodies from bus travel, a massage seemed like the perfect way for our group of 5 to loosen up, relax and unwind. The loosening up part soon became a necessity of surviving the massage, as I tried my best to be a ‘wet noodle,’ offering no resistance to the woman massaging, stretching, and gently beating my body with her tiny fists from bottom to top. While it’s possible that we left feeling more tense than when we entered, the Cambodian massage was a worthwhile experience and left us giggling the rest of the evening while we compared stories from our 60 minutes under the hands of sweet Cambodian women. : Alex’s talking on her phone, mine burping and at one point ripping the towel off to expose my breasts, and our friend Jorden’s leaving a gnarly thigh bruise on her that we wouldn’t notice until the next day. My best advice for enjoying the Cambodian massage: just go with it.

Find peace on the river

The Kampot River, while it still has many conservation challenges, is much cleaner and much more inviting than the muddy Mekong we had seen in southern Vietnam. We spent one day kayaking up the river- don’t think ‘whitewater,’ think ‘narrow lake’- and through some mangrove forests and back channels. We rented our kayaks from the lodge we stayed at. As we saw many kayakers along the river, it seems that a number of the lodges offer this service. The next day, we spent the late afternoon on a stand-up paddleboarding trip down the river and into the Gulf of Thailand with SUP Asia. We boated part of the way down the river before receiving a lesson in SUP basics and hopping on the boards.The trip was laid-back and leisurely and perfectly appropriate for those in our group that had never done stand-up paddleboarding, but still fun for those that had. We stopped for a while to play around with yoga on the boards, and once in the Gulf we stopped on a small island for snacks and drinks, and to watch the sunset. We then jumped on the boat to head back up river. A trip with SUP Asia has the added benefit of supporting sustainable tourism in Kampot. The company hires and trains locals, organizes river clean-ups and mangrove planting in the area, and works with local youth on conservation education.


If this doesn’t scream ‘relaxation,’ I don’t know what does. My bro-in-law looking much more suave than he really is.




Cambodia: Same, Same but Different for Peace Corps Cambodia


“This is Cambodia. It’s like the freakin’ Wild West sometimes.”

This from the mouth of Carley, a PCV about 6 months into her service in Cambodia.

She goes on about one of the many factors that back up her Wild West statment: the government dismantling entire political parties, sub-par transportation that often contains animals, the fact that she sometimes washes her hair in a reservoir near her home. We talked about a lot of things that night. I can’t remember which, specifically, sparked the Wild West comment.

To me, they all apply, and I most likely looked like some sort of frenetic bobblehead doll there in front of her, my head going in a non-stop nod of agreement and ‘yeah, I get that,’ as she described her service.

After our 36 hours with Carley I drew one big conclusion: her service is pretty much the ‘same, same but different’ to my own. In fact, when I said this phrase aloud she excitedly noted, “Yeah! We see shirts all over Cambodia with that phrase on them.” I, too, saw shirts all over my Peace Corps country with that phrase on them. I thought it came from South Africa. She wasn’t sure where she thought it came from. See where I’m going with this?

So, how else was our glimpse into Peace Corps Cambodia the same, same but different to our service in Peace Corps Mozambique?

Same, same: Carley frequently talked about being hot and sweaty. We, too, often talked about being hot and sweaty.

Different: I think it even gets hotter in Carley’s site- God help her- but she does have a beautiful reservoir nearby for all of her swimming, and hair-washing, needs.

Same, same: Learning a second language (read: spending at least 6 months speaking at the level of a primary school child and embarrassing yourself with later-hilarious errors) is hard.

Different: Carley is learning Khmer. What looks like beautiful and indecipherable doodles on all the signs is now Carley’s alphabet, although I noticed she uses the Latin alphabet in her own writing of Khmer. What sounds like beautiful and indecipherable words is now Carley’s language. I may have never been more quick to call Portuguese easy than after hearing Carley put her Khmer to use and arrange a Tuk Tuk trip for us.

Same, same: Living in a country torn up by recent civil war, not that far past independence and with many of the effects of colonialism still starkly present. We talked about goverment and corruption, about people living in fear, about why children look at the ground so much and why adults rarely express dissent.

Different: Of course, no two wars are ever the same, and every war is incredibly complex. Let me direct you to better sources if you’d like to learn more about these 2 wars. To learn more about Mozambique’s civil war, go here. To learn more about Cambodia’s war, go here.

Same, same: Many of the sights and sounds of daily life: women calling out in greeting, kids walking to school without adults, red dirt roads, a small and minimal health center, small and minimal schools, soccer fields, dirty criancas, coconuts and their trees, fresh fruit, having a bread lady and knowing she’s probably run out of bread by 2pm., bags of charcoal for cooking, ridiculously large speakers outside of people’s modest homes, the absence of visible knees, and also of privacy.

Different: Many of the sights and sounds of daily life: houses made of wood and cement and raised on stilts, motos buzzing about, many many children riding bicycles, volleyball courts, raw meat hanging in the market, living two years with a host family and all that brings to daily life, using a high-quality Peace Corps-issued mountain bike to get from here to there much to the chagrin of us PC Moz RPCV’s who received nothing more than an ill-fitting helmet and enough money to buy a bike that used up more of our time in repairs than rides.

Five weeks after leaving Mapinhane, our Peace Corps site for two years, a visit to another Peace Corps site, albeit half a world away, brought a strange sort of comfort: a taste of Peace Corps life again, saudades for our daily life in Moz, and a new type of reminder of what a strangely unique but universal experience Peace Corps service is. Perhaps the same, same, but different wherever a PCV roams.




Cambodia: Feeling Ghosts


We are on the grounds of a high school, one that looks like many other high schools that we’ve seen in developing countries: a few buildings facing a central courtyard area, basic brick and cement, barren classrooms on two levels, a wall surrounding the complex Outside of the wall motos buzz, horns honk, people on the street yell to one another. It could be any city street anywhere, but the barbed wire on the wall, spilling over like frozen, threatening tumbleweeds, are the first indication that it is not.

This is no longer a high school. It is the remains of the S-21 prison grounds, one of many such complexes used by Cambodia’s Khmer-Rouge in the 1970’s. The Khmer-Rouge was a wing of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (Cambodia) and were responsible for the killing of 2 million people in the four years that they ruled. The Khmer-Rouge drove people from cities- like Pnomh Penh, where S-21 is- to work on communal farms. Many of these people died of heat stroke, starvation, exhaustion, and a number of other conditions.

The people we learn the most about during our informative, self-guided audio tour through S-21 are the people that were imprisoned there for being intellectuals. To be honest, the complexities of what happened in Cambodia in these few short years is new knowledge for me.

The tour through S-21conjures ghosts. The old classrooms in Building A were used as rooms for administering various forms of torture. If they choose to enter, visitors see the blood stains on the floors and walls, by now more than 40 years old. The original bed frames and chamber pots remain, and each room holds a picture of one its former occupants as they were during their time at S-21. Outside of building A are the few graves of victim’s whose bodies were recovered.

In Building B, the classrooms were converted to crude, brick cells about 5 feet by 5 feet. When I entered, I could feel the prisoners here. I ran my fingers over the bricks, and quickly pulled away in a sort of shock at realizing that this all remains as it was when innocent people were held here; prisoners of the Khmer-Rouge touched the same walls that my fingers now grazed.

Past the cells and into Building C are countless display cases full of mugshots of the inhabitants of the prison, men, women and children alike. Mixed in are pictures of the the Khmer-Rouge higher-ups. Pol Pot, the leader, is pictured in glasses; he ordered many to be killed because of their glasses and the subsequent assumption that those who wear glasses are intellectuals.

Beyond that, Building D holds displays and paintings-done by a survivor- of torture tools and methods. And finally, a shelf of skulls. The magnitude, the human side, the reality of this war finally sets in.

I find myself rushing through the last rooms in utter disbelief.

I am in disbelief that so much remains as it was, the record-keeping of communist leader proving his efforts for the advancement of his party.

I am in disbelief that humans can do these things to other humans.

I am in disbelief that we always say the world will never let it happen again, but it does: Nazi Germany, the Khmer -Rouge, Rwanda.

I am in disbelief that I never learned about this war in school. In fact, it hits me, I don’t recall one ocassion in school when we learned about a war that wasn’t centered around developed nations and- for lack of more eloquent phrasing-white people.

I knew almost nothing of Robert Mugabe and the land takeovers before I moved to Mozambique and had conversations with the Zimbabweans living there that were driven from their country.

I had only once heard of Mozambique’s decades of war, and that from a Mozambican who was studying at my university.

I knew so little about colonialism and how deep the effects really run and how long they last for those colonized. This I felt in Mozambique too, and now I feel it here in Southeast Asia.

I was blown away by the complexities of South Africa when we were searching for our lodging there and asked directions. ‘Is the owner white or black?’ we were asked. ‘If white the house will be on that side of the street, if black it will be on the other side.’

I learned of the 1980’s Contras in Nicaragua when we ate dinner in a military airplane turned sundowner restaurant in Costa Rica

And sitting on a bench in the S-21 prison courtyard, imagining students there and then innocent victims of civil war and genocide, I bowed my head in sadness for the Khmer people that endured their war in the 1970’s and for the American involvement in this region- known as The Secret War during the years that the U.S. Was in Vietnam- of which I knew nothing about.

The realization of how little I know always creeps up in new places. I can read books, watch documentaries, and devour news. I can talk to people. I can listen to people. I can learn so much invaluable information in these ways. But I become only more and more convinced that there is no better way to learn about the world than to go to somewhere unfamiliar to me, be among its people, and to feel its ghosts.