If anyone told me I would have pet tadpoles in my kitchen I would have laughed in their face. But, pet tadpoles I have. In fact, the thought of releasing them back into the wild is making me feel quite sad. It is going to be something of a wrench.
How did you manage to get tadpoles in your kitchen, I hear you ask.
It all started with a routine walk around our village. We love our home in Oxfordshire and feel very privileged to live in such a beautiful part of the country. We began our Sunday stroll about four on a Sunday afternoon. We had just had a lovely couple of sunny hot days. We walked past the church and on towards the small pond by the meadow where the frogs lived. Except, there were no frogs, in fact there was barely any water as the pond had dried up. Struggling in the small amount of water were about a hundred tadpoles. We stared in horror trying to work out what we could do. Andrew suggested we go back and find a container and return to rescue them. Without giving it anymore thought we rushed back. I rummaged through the kitchen cupboards and found a huge vase that I never use and off we went again. With a small plastic cup Andrew rescued almost all of them.
We plucked several pieces of pond weed and trudged back to take the tadpoles to their new home. We filled the vase with fresh clean water and they all swooped to the bottom.
‘You’ve killed them,’ I cried.
‘I’ve stunned them. They will be okay,’ says a confident Andrew.
He was right. They were fine. They have resided in the kitchen for several weeks now and the pond is only just starting to fill up again. Bendy (the cat) has given them odd looks but overall has not seemed very interested.
Then, the day came when they had outgrown the vase. Again I rummaged through the cupboards. Ah, yes. I had a large bowl that I used once for transporting soup. I won’t need that again (she hopes) I hand it to Andrew and we look at each other. How to do this without losing our precious babies down the sink? It was nerve wracking. Out came the sieve. The kitchen bowl was emptied. Deep breaths taken and Andrew empties the contents of the vase into the sieve. I squeeze my eyes shut, convinced they will all fall through the holes, into the sink and down the plug hole. Oh, what a thought. Some tadpole mother I would have been. How would I be able to live with myself if I killed a hundred would be frogs?
‘Are they okay?’ I whisper.
I open my eyes to see them wriggling in the sieve. Quickly Andrew tips them into their new home. A big sigh of relief from us both. Then, we see a tiny black wriggling thing on the kitchen counter. The one that got away. I grab a spoon and hand it to Andrew who gently scoops it up and pops it into the bowl.
‘He’ll have a big story to tell,’ he laughs.
My heart is still in my mouth that I cannot laugh back. My legs are all weak. I mean what a state to get into over a tadpole. You’re so kind, you are thinking. Well, I guess you’re right. Although there was the day that I almost killed them with an overdose of stale bread after misreading a text from Andrew. As you can see Andrew is in charge of our babies. I noticed a stale piece of bread in the bread bin and text Andrew to ask how much they could have. I don’t want to be the one responsible for killing them you see. I’m sure you understand.
‘Give them what they want I guess. There is a big piece in there that should be thrown out.’
I took it to mean there was a big piece of bread in the bread bin that should be thrown out, so the tadpoles can have it. What he meant was there was a large piece of bread in the tadpole bowl that was no good anymore. Whoops. I piled in the bread, along with what was already in their bowl. Andrew comes home to a bowl so murky he cannot even see our babies, let alone see if they are still alive.
‘You’ve probably killed them on bread overdose,’ he accuses.
I nearly cry.
Luckily all is well and once the bread is cleared out they can breathe again and so can I.
As I write this, babies are doing well thank you and getting very big. I fear I will wake up one day to a kitchen full of frogs… I’m not kissing them all, so forget it.
I love you with all my heart and soul,
I still feel your tiny fingers wriggle beneath my own smooth hands.
How I miss you and how I need you.
There is not a day I do not think of you.
You were the most beautiful thing on earth
You were mine and you loved me more than anyone ever has or can.
You were the joy of spring, the pleasure of summer and the comfort of winter.
I held you in my arms and rocked you gently. I wanted to give you the world.
I lived only for you, existed within that dream that is you.
Then, suddenly you are grown and the odour of expensive perfume lingers
Where once there had been a soft milky smell.
You were my dream and nightmare combined
A dream child,
flaxen-haired and blue-eyed.
Then, too soon,
a beautiful woman adorned with confetti.
But, always we have the memories shared.
Summer days, playing happily on the beach.
Twirling in the living room to your favourite pop song.
Experimenting with make-up and high-heeled shoes.
Chuckling like two sisters when would be suitors arrived on the doorstep for you.
Then, all too soon time passes like fast cars on a busy motorway,
And again I am holding a tiny bundle in my arms.
This bundle is not mine but belongs to me just the same.
So, therefore I continue, I will always be remembered.
I was your mother her grandmother and his great-grandmother.
I cannot be forgotten. I am a memory. I am a photo on everyone’s wall.
But of course it is one big lie.
For you did not grow in my womb
But I still smell you and sometimes in my mind I even hold you.
I never bore you or felt you move inside me.
But in my heart you have always existed.
Still, even now, I would sacrifice the rest of my life for one year with you.
You see, without you, I really don’t have a life and never have.
One day, in my life, some unknown force ordained that I would be childless.
I haven’t been, for you have been with me every day and I miss you terribly.
There is so much I want to tell you but most of all I want to say,
I love you and I always will.
There is this man that I know,
such a sad sad soul.
I knew this man two years ago,
a different man he was then to know.
A loving wife, a fine home,
they had no reason to moan.
In their life children were not meant to be,
but god gave them each other,
their love shining for all to see.
Then the time came when they got old,
a sad sad story we are to be told.
The loving husband, why him
was the one to suffer this terrible thing?
One day struck down, a stroke it was,
then suddenly for them the warmth of happiness
turned to a cold cold frost.
The illness for them could be overcome
But never again for them the warmth of the sun.
For a few months after this sad event,
the poor wife died and left us all to lament.
The poor man I always knew to be happy
became suddenly the centre of tragedy,
Never to see his home the way it was,
home and wife to him were lost.
What was to become of this lovely man now?
The worry was there, on his face always a frown,
who could have him? Who would care?
With a useless arm and leg, how would he fare?
Suddenly his home was gone,
nothing left for him to see.
After eighty years all that was left was he.
His wife was gone, his home too,
I felt so sad wouldn’t you?
Now he lives in a home for old people.
Visitors he lives to see
but he isn’t like you and me.
We live our lives looking to the future, forgetting the past,
He lives his life each day hoping the next will be his last.
I am unhappy, simple to say, hard to bear
my pain thrust upon by two humans unaware
How to cope, who can help, do I care?
Yes I do.
The tears gush like a fountain beautiful but harsh
the pain is a sword piercing my heart
The nights are lonely, my thoughts drowning in the marsh.
Why don’t you love me, will you ever, or will you never.
Can I blame you, yes I can, because I believed in you.
You lied, they lied, do I now lie?
This is my life, loveless sad, oh how can this be true
All I wanted was love, like you and you and you!
No family, friends few but maybe not true
A lover can I trust? Do I dare
I need you to tell me what to do
If I go on how will I fare?
Life so beautiful and rare
What did I do to deserve you?
A Broken Life
Oh, the dreams, the dreams I clasped to my heart
snatched from me sharply when closed were my eyes.
Oh yes, we know those dreams, the chorus sigh
dreams fragmented and body torn apart.
I am a good failure tis true to say,
shame swirls around me like fog this grey day.
If I could be released to try again,
I would do it right, make good my amends
At school I pass grades with Excellency,
graduate university in style
become glamorous with a high-profile,
I ask you chorus can you still see me.
A man I would marry successfully
and slide easily into pregnancy,
then I am older, content and serene,
this is a dream of how it could have been.
Grown up children swelling my contentment,
.my husband lovingly embracing me
Oh I can hear you lament and lament
this is a dream of how it could have been.
How it really is, this nightmare of mine
no children or education for me
I grew up fast full of adversity,
no sun did shine on University.
Now to achieve what was once out of sight,
there in the mirror someone I can like.
As Andrew and I bit the heads off our little Chocolate rabbits (to celebrate Easter don’t you know) I was horribly reminded of the little headless bunnies that Bendy, our cat, brought it for us last year. The thought of a recurrence of that this summer makes me shudder. The pleasure of a cat is certainly overshadowed by that cruel thing known as nature. How often do you hear that? Don’t you just hate those calm people who, as your cat belts into the house with a live mouse, say ‘But it’s nature? What? Nature is flowers in bloom and buzzing bees surely. Nature is watching those little seeds you planted, blossom into something edible. I know, I know. Nature is also that awful savage thing where animals tear each other apart. Can’t we just call it massacre instead, that seems more fitting?
I love my cat but the pleasures of having a pet are wearing a little thin in this household. Our cat while cuddly and loveable in the house turns into a mass murderer when venturing outside. The problem however is not his hunting ability but his inability to hang onto his prey or finish them off. Last Summer I walked into the kitchen to many a headless rabbit, a leftover mouse’s kidney, and on the odd occasion a bat but there were many more that he had somehow dropped and lost. Not to mention the ones he has left only half dead and which Andrew has to finish off. Then there are the sparrows and blackbirds which no amount of screaming will force him to drop.
Last weekend my mother-in-law came to stay and obviously as a gift to her, Bendy brought in a large mouse. Mother-in-law, thanked him with a horrendous scream and a fast leap to the bathroom. In shock at this response, he promptly dropped and lost his prey. Andrew, of course, had conveniently gone for a run. I was left screaming at the cat to ‘Find it, find it,’ as if he understood one word.
Thankfully he did and finally took it outside where he proceeded to throw it in the air with much gayness. How could my lovely cuddly cat be so sadistic? I felt like locking the cat flap. I also swear he waits for Andrew to go out or even better, go away. For whenever he has gone away, Bendy has brought me more than my fair share of gifts. One time he brought me three bunnies in the space of two hours and another time he left me a lovely big juicy rat. Oh, I shudder at the memory. The problem with Bendy, however, is that he loses more mice than he kills. Last week Andrew went to get a saucepan from the cupboard only to find mouse droppings.
‘That’s it, I’ve had it with that cat,’ he snarled, as saucepan after saucepan came out of the cupboard and the whole place was scrubbed and disinfected and a mouse trap strategically placed.
‘That’s one mouse dead then,’ I hear you say.
Oh, if only it were that simple. This mouse is not just any mouse. It is SuperHoudiniMouse. So far, it has gotten through half a jar of peanut butter which has been used as mouse bait, teased Andrew when he tried to catch it and has managed to avoid the cat. Three times he has been caught in the trap and managed to escape somehow. Mind you it has dragged the trap around with it. It has peed all over my J cloths and bin bags and left a tidy mess eating through dusters. To say Bendy is not popular is an understatement. Sharing my kitchen cupboards with a mouse is not my idea of fun. This bank holiday weekend I traipsed around the hardware shop searching for superhuman mouse traps. I came home with two more traps and a sonic deterrent, which scared me and the cat but has had no effect on the mouse. We now have five mouse traps in the cupboard but amazingly Houdinimouse is still at large. We are reaching the stage where blowing up the kitchen doesn’t seem like an insane idea. So, if you read of a mouse coup in Oxfordshire, you can be sure it is us.
Some time ago I wrote a small piece on the Orphanage I visited in Cambodia. It was very short and I had not made contact with the founders. Two marvellous people named Doctor Andrew Clift and Dawn Cornish. I since have. This was their vision and my extraordinary luck to have found them and the Children’s Sanctuary. Below is the article I felt privileged to write. Currently live on NL Aid news agency and to be published elsewhere in the coming months.
Making a difference
A lovely lady who introduced herself as Sochenda Kann greeted me. I was hot and weary after having been unwell with food poisoning a few days before. I had been in Cambodia for four days. Only a week before I had been freezing in England without the vaguest idea what Cambodia would be like. I could never have imagined that this country would steal my heart completely and that the children of Cambodia would become extremely important to me. As I opened the gate to shake Sochenda’s hand I had no idea that this visit would change my life.
Cambodia has a way of reaching your heart in a way that no other country seems to. At least that has been my experience. I had no idea what to expect but what I hadn’t expected was the smiling people that I met there. I had been home no less than two weeks before I made arrangements to return. It is not often we get an opportunity to make a difference. This was mine and it can be yours too. I hope after reading this you will also decide to do something meaningful for the people of Cambodia from your own home.
I am fortunate enough to know people who are attempting to make a difference in Cambodia and it has given my husband and I the opportunity to see things we may not normally see. One of these people is my stepson, James, who works in the emergency department of the Provincial Hospital in Siem Reap as well as teaching and training there. On our arrival last December my daughter in law asked if I would like to visit an Orphanage where a friend was a member of staff. I immediately said yes. The following day we travelled in the tuk tuk for my first visit. I had stupidly visualised the Orphanage as being huge and rather monolithic, like something out of Jane Eyre. I couldn’t have been more wrong. After travelling along a very bumpy track and a bumpy track in a tuk tuk is no fun let me tell you. I certainly lost a fair amount of my diet coke on the way, we pulled up outside a traditional Cambodian house that was as far removed from Jane Eyre as one could get.
‘Hello,’ welcomed Sochenda in her broken English. ‘Thank you so much for visiting.’
I removed my shoes before entering the house and had just got them off when the children ran to greet me. I followed them inside where they pulled me to their books and toys. Some were quite shy and just watched me, while others were keen to go outside and play ball. I sat for a short time with the youngest baby there and then saw a child who was clearly distressed and very unwell. If anything brought my life into perspective this child did. Her skin was blue and her eyes sunken. This distressed me so much that I felt an urgent need to run from this situation that I could do nothing about. I forced back my own tears and asked my daughter in law what was wrong with the baby. With Sochanda’s help, she told me that Leangim, normally called Gem, was abandoned by her mother. Her father is unknown.
A midwife who helped Gem’s mum to give birth took pity on her and decided to adopt her. Unfortunately, eight months later Gem became really sick and the midwife and her husband brought her to Kuntha Bopha Hospital to get medical treatment. The doctor’s found she had a serious heart defect and needed an operation which could not be done in Cambodia. With hope and love for Gem, the midwife sought help from any NGOs that could save her life. She found the Children’s Sanctuary.
For the first time in my life I felt so helpless. Here was a child so very sick and there was nothing I could do.
A week later I returned with my husband. No sooner had we stepped into the courtyard, then children began shouting hello to us from their classroom high up on the balcony of the house which is located alongside the Siem Reap River. I have never felt as welcome as I did that day and I only wish I could have been armed with more than just biscuits. The children had just started their lessons. They sat quietly listening to their teacher while occasionally posing for me when they realised the camera was on them. I had the pleasure of playing with the children on my first visit and reading to them from the collection of donated books on the shelves. This time I sat in on their class and again I could not resist photographing their happy faces while wondering how I could contribute to their lives. I asked how Gem was and she was brought out looking a lot better than on my previous visit, but still very sick.
Dawn and Andrew
Cambodia is a poverty-stricken country and everywhere you look there is malnutrition. Many of the children here originate from impoverished rural villages and most children coming to the Sanctuary are orphans or have been abandoned by their families. When visiting the sanctuary it is almost impossible not to fall in love with the children. I pointed my camera again and Srey Roat Heng smiled proudly at the lens.
‘We found in her mother’s lap whilst she was begging beneath the scorching summer sun. She was only three months old.’ Sochenda told me.
‘Her mother was hungry and her breast milk was diminishing fast. She could not afford infant formula, had no access to clean drinking water and no facilities to keep bottles clean. Srey Roat and her mother now live with us and for the first time in her life, mother Mao is receiving a regular income for her work as an assistant at The Children’s Sanctuary.
It is thanks to an Australian couple, Dawn Cornish and her husband Doctor Andrew Clift that the vision of a home for abandoned children was realised. I contacted Andrew on my return home and he quickly put me in touch with Dawn. Andrew Clift visited Cambodia in 2006. The couple had already worked with HIV infected orphans in Africa and Thailand. They decided that Cambodia was one of the neediest countries they had seen. Following their vision, Dawn set off establish The Children’s Sanctuary in Siem Reap the following year. Four years later I would visit and feel an overwhelming need to meet Dawn and Andrew who share their life with the first child who came to the orphanage and whom they adopted. Dawn has worked in nursing and medical recruitment and management and has studied international and community development. She has worked overseas particularly with AIDS orphans in Asia. Andrew Clift, meanwhile, has worked in ten countries for government, non-government and United Nations organisations. His work in remote Australian communities, five years’ work with orphaned and abandoned children, as well as hospital and project management, assists his CSI work in Cambodia.
month of Dawn returning to Cambodia the venue for the orphanage had been found and renovations took place. Their first baby arrived weighing just 2.2kg. Shortly after, others followed. Abandoned babies were taken in, as well as others with cerebral palsy, HIV and epilepsy. Dr Andrew Clift described the following two years as a ‘Big adventure’
‘Many of the children in the orphanage originate from impoverished rural villages where their families live in conditions of extreme deprivation,’ Dawn explained.
‘Most of these children are malnourished, many severely, and significant proportions have other illnesses, most commonly infectious diseases.’
Despite significant improvements since the end of recent conflicts, Cambodia still remains one of the world’s most impoverished countries. Most families survive on less than one dollar a day and children are the ones most affected by the poverty. The under-five mortality rates remain very high. Half of all Cambodian children suffer from malnutrition. Less than half will complete primary school.
When a child is taken into care at the sanctuary, the main objective is to address any health issues. The children are cared for by the Sanctuary nannies and what wonderful people they are. All are trained in first aid and health care with emphasis upon hygiene. A doctor and nurse visit the children on a regular basis to check on the children’s health and progress if they are on treatment. Full dental care is also provided for all children. But, as always, money is a problem. The Orphanage depends solely on donations and sponsorship. I met the staff first hand and was so impressed. It was hard to control my emotions in the face of such caring dedication. Since its establishment Dawn Cornish has welcomed sixteen children into The Children’s Sanctuary in Siem Reap but she has also supported many children in a local village school and assisted people who have needed lifesaving operations. Her husband, Andrew Clift, has supported this venture by working in outback Australian and Pacific hospitals. One person helped by The Sanctuary is Srey Cheak, who has thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder requiring regular blood transfusions. She is being assisted by The Children’s Sanctuary for her medical treatment.
A few days before writing this article I emailed Sochenda for some background on the children. I was thrilled to read that thanks to the efforts of Dawn and Andrew, Gem underwent major cardio-vascular surgery at the Angkor Hospital for Children on Friday, 23rd March 2012 under the care of the visiting Singaporean cardio-thoracic team. The surgery was a success, which means Gem’s symptoms should dramatically improve and her life expectancy extended. Gem is due another operation in December this year and hopefully this will also be successful.
On my journey back I realised that I could help in more ways than I had at first imagined. I could write about the sanctuary and bring attention to its needs. For a small amount each month I could sponsor a child there.
The Children’s Sanctuary Incorporated (CSI) strongly believes the best place for a child is within his or her own community. It works together with families and single mothers who are wishing to relinquish their child due to their circumstances, and find solutions to avoid separation. The children, who are a part of the CSI family, are those who have nowhere else to go. They are either true orphans, have been abandoned, are seriously ill, or were living in a high-risk environment. The children under CSI’s care receive a secure and loving home, a balanced diet, high-standard health care, private education supplementary classes and weekly outings
I hope I have encouraged you to do something to help. I will be returning to Cambodia in July to work as a volunteer in the hospital where Gem had her operation. From my photos you can see how happy the children are. During our visit we saw the children receive gifts for their outstanding work in the classroom for the past year. Visitors are very welcome at the Sanctuary provided prior arrangement is made and you can help with the lessons if you wish.
My time spent with the children was very humbling and visiting the sanctuary certainly puts things into perspective. When it is time to climb back into the tuk tuk, both the staff and children come to wave goodbye. It is a visit I shall not forget.You can support the sanctuary on Facebook. For information on sponsoring please visit the sanctuary at www.thechildrenssanctuary.com
Please help and make a difference.
Lynda Renham-Cook is associate editor of the scavenger.