Cow Cart fun…Yeehaa!

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When I arrived for my Cow Cart experience here in Cambodia and they handed me the special hat and scarf that goes with the whole experience,  I, of course, immediately felt like Karen Blixen and had to fight back the words, ‘I once had a house in Arfrika.’ Although I would very much like to one day say ‘I once had a house in Siem Reap’

I love this country so passionately that to leave it in a few days will cause me the same physical pain it always produces. I laugh so much here. Not only with family but with the Cambodian people too, who are just fabulous. I’m lucky to have family living here but even so it is easy to make friends here and there are some wonderful places to stay which do not charge the earth.

The Cow Cart experience alone was hysterical. A wonderful enterprise set up by Cambodian students. What a great idea. As we prepared in my step son’s flat to leave, the rain just fell down. From the window we could see the children running out into the downpour to enjoy the monsoon while all we could think was, ‘It would piss down now wouldn’t it?’ Typical Brits off to do a Cow Cart ride through the heart of Cambodia in a monsoon, made me smile.  Every time I choose to do something unusual here, a monsoon comes. Memories of my Bamboo train experience came flooding back and I immediately turned to Andrew who I saw had a rain mac. Why is it he always comes  prepared?

‘They have some at Apsara market,’ says my daughter in law, helpfully.

Apsara market is the equivalent to the local coop, in case you were wondering.

I look at Andrew pleadingly. Well, I don’t have any head covering or a jacket at least he has a rain mac already. He gives me that despairing look, tells me to stop scratching my bites (of which I have thousands, at least it feels like thousands)

‘Okay, I’ll go and get one,’ he says.

Ten minutes later he returns with a bright pink rain mac. I don’t like to complain. I look at my daughter in law.

‘I hope this isn’t like a pink rag to a cow,’ I say, which sets her off laughing hysterically before we even leave.

The Tuk tuk has arrived and we all climb in. Within seconds I am scratching like mad. The plastic from the rain mac is making me so hot that every bite I have goes insane.

‘Stop scratching,’ says Andrew.

‘Take an anti-histamine,’ says my stepson. I don’t like to say I have well overdosed on anti-histamines now.

The tuk tuk ride to the farm where we are to meet the cow cart is pleasant and the rain stops. But just because the rain has stopped doesn’t mean it won’t start again and of course just thirty minutes of a monsoon means everywhere is flooded. The tuk tuk stops suddenly.

‘You walk,’ says the driver.

Of course we have no idea where we actually have to walk to, but the frightening conclusion we come to is that is must be the only dirt road that we can see which is now water is logged. I’m wearing sandals so the thought of negotiating this dirt track is not terribly appealing. But of course we do it, arriving at the Cow Cart village with muddy feet but very dry bodies, if not itchy (in my case). We are shown our carts and wonder of wonders the sun comes out. Our adventure begins. If you ever do visit Cambodia and I can’t recommend it enough, you will never regret it. I never want to return home but if you do then you must do the cow cart experience for an experience it truly is. If you are anything like us you will have great fun. In our case because the weather was so bad one of our cow carts couldn’t get down the dirt track but no one told us this. At least if they did we didn’t fully understand it. So when all five of us tried to climb into one cart you can imagine the fear in our eyes.Image

‘You do two hour trip?’ the girl asked.

God, I’ll be scratching myself to bits, I think, and in these cramped conditions I won’t have to worry about DVT on the flight home, I’ll most likely get it on the cow cart. Not to mention my daughter in law who was already complaining about cramp in her foot where I was sitting on it. I had visions of them amputating it after two hours of this. Off we go, or should I say off we bumped. Twice we nearly lost Andrew, not to mention my womb and my stepson’s hat. We giggled so much that I’m surprised we didn’t all fall off. A few minutes later we arrive to where another cow cart waits and we all sigh with relief. We will have one each. We alight and wander off to the rice wine making factory, picture below.

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and just make it before the rain pours again.

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 Obviously we all had a good swig of the wine first. Believe me I felt we needed it. A Cow Cart experience may be better slightly pissed I thought.  But then Cook luck set in and soon the sun began to shine and we climbed into our separate carts. This is no easy feat let me tell you, especially after a glass of rice wine, or should I say plastic mug. First we have to jump up into the cart backwards. I barely do things that well when I am going forward so you can imagine me trying to jump up backwards onto a cow cart, then again maybe you don’t want to imagine it… Once I’m up I have to dangle my legs over and remove my sandals so the mud doesn’t dirty the cart. Finally, one big heave backwards and I am as intimate with the cow cart driver as one can be. Andrew then follows and I push my legs down the side of him and off we go with bump and a strange noise from the driver. I seriously thought the guy had a bad case of wind until I realised his odd burping sounds were instructions to the cows. I don’t know what I imagined this trip would be like but I have to say it was an experience of a lifetime and the beauty of Cambodia is breath taking. There was one scary moment when a bike got in our way and we had to veer into the water. But amazingly the cart stayed upright. We stopped at a crematorium and Monastery and had a break for a drink (this time water) before travelling through the villages and countryside. Once the cart tried to leave without me almost sending me sprawling into the mud as I was about to jump on, much to Andrew’s amusement. As it got late we went to where the families fish and have family time. It was the most intimate I have been with the Cambodian people in all my visits here. Our two hour trip lasted much longer and by the time we got back to the farm I could barely feel my bum. But it was worth every minute as you can see.

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We thanked our Cow Cart hosts and paid and were taken back down the dirt road to meet our Tuk Tuk driver who was going to drive us back  to my stepson’s apartment. The journey was like tuk tuk Grand Prix. We were thrown all over the place. Meanwhile James my stepson is asking,

‘Do you want a takeaway Indian when we get back?’

‘Yes,’ I say in a shaky voice as we go over a huge bump and my handbag jumps up and whacks me in the chin.

‘The usual butter chicken,’ he asks, obviously more used to bumpy tuk tuks than me.

I grab the loose handle hanging from the top of the tuk tuk as we bounce around a corner and I almost slide out. My daughter in law laughs hysterically as James asks do we want poppadum’s.

‘Why are you asking me this now?’ I ask scrambling to grab my camera before it smashes to the floor as we take a corner on one wheel (a tuk tuk only has two)

‘I know what you women are like.  I may not get your attention later.’

Like he’s getting it now. I say this to him only to have him fall about laughing. Or maybe he just fell about because the tuk tuk went over another bump.

I ask you, men!

Go to Cambodia and go on a Cow Cart and preferably get a tuk tuk home like ours. Life is fun, and here you can have the best fun of your life. Enjoy the smiling people for they are the best company ever.
You can find The Cow Cart experience here Facebook here.

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Giving is receiving

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When someone takes the time to write a piece about my books I am thrilled. When they offer to feature my lovely orphan kids in Cambodia I am even more thrilled. So I am reprinting it here. The lady who wrote the article is Kathryn Brown and she has written a very good romantic comedy herself called Bednobs and Batchelors. You can buy it on Amazon.

I am currently in Cambodia. A place so close to my heart, that even throwing up seems worth it.

The last few days here have been busy. Last night we went to a nice hotel and watched Apsara dancing, which is beautiful.

Two days ago I visited my sponsored child at The Children’s Sanctuary and you can read more about them here. I am at my happiest here. We tried on the donated clothes I brought with me and played pass the parcel, danced, and generally had fun.

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I met with my Cambodian friends for dinner and shopping and of course we went to the circus.

A Cambodian circus is like no other. I urge you to check out the You Tube video here.

Enjoy Cambodia with me.

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You can read Kathryn’s piece here. Please do.

The Smiing People

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We arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia at 6.30 and it was already dark. Our journey had been better than previous ones. But long flights are taking their toll on me now and after 18 hours of flying it was enough. But as soon as I stepped on Cambodian soil my spirit lifted. It is hard to say what it is about this country but I have yet to meet someone not touched by the place and its people. What I was aware of, having been here during rainy season in the past, was that it would be wet. But I had not anticipated the devastation and deaths the flooding had caused. Our tuk tuk waded through flooded roads, where people were struggling back with their wares. Children were splashing about happily in the deep waters and waving to us. As always the Cambodian people are accepting their lot. There is no complaining here. No one cares if you are the height of fashion, whether you are rich or poor. These are people rich in good karma, they are cheerful in the face of hopelessness. They have hope when there is no hope and they are the smiling people. They will offer you food when they barely have enough to go around for their own family.

I’m thrilled to be back. To visit my sponsored child Pesai tomorrow is a highlight for me. Where we will play pass the parcel and I know I will have them squeal with delight at the clothes I have brought. They will try them on immediately and thank me with such gratitude that it will bring tears to my ears. These are children that have avoided hand foot and mouth disease, dengue fever, near starvation and loss of family. They will give me food, drink and hugs.  

Today was spent catching up with family and phoning friends and of course photographing the people I love so much.

Monsoons are predicted in the next few days and having lost my Nikon in a previous one several years ago I think I may just leave it at home.

Here are some picturess of a country that is so beautiful that it is impossible not to be moved.

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Can you help a child?

In just over two weeks I will be making a trip to Cambodia. A country I consider my second home. I always visit an orphanage there.  The children always need clothes, toys, pencils, games, anything you can offer. It makes their life happier.

These children have no family. The Children’s Sanctuary is their home. It is a small house where they live and somewhat cramped. I have, however, never met happier children.

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My first visit to them was almost two years ago now and I have been several times since. I am always made very welcome. On my last visit I was very humbled when the children helped me celebrate my birthday and bought me presents.

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My Birthday

The little I can offer them never seems enough. Please help if you can. You can email me at lynda@renham.co.uk and I will give you an address to send any contributions you have.

Thank you in advance.

Boot Camp Christianity? I think not.

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With the atrocious murder of Drummer Lee Rigby at the forefront of the news, it makes me once again consider the dangers of religion and religious cults and how dangerous religion can be when in the wrong hands or misunderstood. I recently blogged about a particular Christian organisation who assaulted my daughter in law on the streets of Cambodia in the so-called name of religion and you can read it here.

I will never mention their name because that is exactly what Mr Lindsay Clark the CEO of this organisation wants me to do in the hope it will drive more traffic to his site. But I’m happy to publish their photos if that would help.
The organisation recently blogged about their visit to Cambodia where they tried to snatch my daughter in law’s bag and then attempted to video her without consent. Of course they didn’t mention this but what bothered me most was how they termed this trip ‘A military training camp for new recruits.’ What kind of religion has military training? And for what possible reason? They then go on to describe the boot camp. How worrying is all this? I’ve never heard such words used in conjunction with religion. The programme is described as

‘More dynamic, interactive and challenging than ever before.  Among other things we have added a ‘sense making day’ to the program where students were regularly required to step out of their comfort zone in order to participate in various team activities and interactive field visits that challenge them to use all their senses to better develop their leadership abilities. 

According to Mr Lindsay Clarke it was during Susan Detroy’s first field trip that the incedent (his spelling) supposedly happened and she was just an observer. An observer of a young woman with a child having her bag snatched and videotaped?
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Mr Lindsay Clark

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Susan Detroy

Our final correspondence with Lindsay Clarke is as follows.
From: lindsay clarke Sent: 01 May 2013 00:41
To: a.j.cook@cmsoftware.co.uk
Subject: cambodia incedent

Andrew,

Your email was forwarded to me and so I will give you a direct reply. (ORIGINAL EMAIL SENT TO SUSAN DETROY WHICH CAN BE READ AT THE OTHER POST)

I would have great concerns if I were in your position and am personally concerned about anything that could have alarmed —– or for that matter any person whether I or my organisation were involved or not.

However I have emailed your wife and you were copied in, that if you wanted to talk about the matter to let me know and one of our senior team would respond. If the time zones worked that person would probably be me. I am currently in Europe.

However there was no response to this offer.

Instead you sent another email to an intern who is not in a position to reply not just because she has instructions but because she doesn’t have the life experience or background herself, she was an observer on her first day in a cross cultural setting. This literally was Susan’s first day on the field.

By the way I didn’t accidentally include you in an email? (YOU DID MR CLARKE, WHICH IS HOW WE KNEW YOUR TRUE FEELINGS ON THE MATTER)

So let me be very clear.

1. I offered the opportunity for you, your wife or family to speak to a senior member of our team directly – no reply (NO APOLOGY THOUGH)
2. You and you wife have made wrong assumptions about the status of any people involved in this unfortunate incident – do these people really work for me – mistake (THEY THEMSELVES SAID THEY WORKED FOR HIM SO WHAT IS HE ON ABOUT HERE?
3. And then your wife made the biggest mistake in making false allegations and decided to and threatened to defame me personally – that was a big mistake (I ONLY REPEATED WHAT HAPPENED AND THE WORDS OF HIS OWN INTERN!!!)
4. Independently of all of your threats and demands we have processes that are followed regardless and so this matter is under investigation and will be acted on and anyone within our reach that was at fault will be dealt with. (WHICH BEGS THE QUESTION WHY ARE THE PEOPLE STILL WORKING WITH HIM, WHICH THEY ARE!)
All this said I would suggest that it would be prudent of you to make a time to talk with me and it should be a priority from your perspective.
MAYBE AN APOLOGY SHOULD HAVE BEEN A PRIORITY FROM HIS PERSPECTIVE.
Regards
Lindsay Clarke CEO & Founder
Our response

Subject: RE: cambodia incedent

Dear Mr Clarke

Thank you for your offer to have someone phone. However, after reading your email to ‘the team’, in which I was included, I could see your true feelings about the incident and felt it would be pointless to discuss the matter with any of your team. What we would have liked was a genuine apology for the way my daughter-in-law was treated, which we could in turn pass on to her. That would have been the end of the matter as far as we were concerned. However, your email to your team showed such a lack of grace and honour, which ironically are your words from your email, that I have no desire to discuss the matter with you. It seems, from the email to your team, that you put traffic to your site above the respect for others. I find this motivation abhorrent and contrary to my understanding of Christianity, and my view is shared by a lot of other people.

You say that your intern does not have the life experience to respond to my email. My children learnt to say sorry at the age of three, but if she is that incapable then I question why she is part of your team.

I don’t think we will see eye to eye and so, regrettably, I think further contact would be pointless.

Regards and best wishes for the future,
Dr Andrew Cook

Oh, Mr Lindsay Clark if you are going to respond in this way do you not think you should at least make sense and spell words correctly. How else do you expect to have any credibility?
Avoid this organisation at your peril.

All we wanted was an apology. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Christian Approach? I think not!

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I have a lovely daughter in law. She is Filipino and wouldn’t hurt a fly. She is sensitive and kind and supporting my step son in Cambodia while he works in the hospital, helping those less fortunate than himself.

There is a man named Lindsay Clarke. He is Australian. Lindsay Clark from my experience, is not sensitive and far from kind. I want to tell you about them both because they have a connection which is not only cruel but ‘apparently’ driven by faith and a devotion to Christianity.

This is the story. I hate unfairness, injustice and ignorance and this smacks of all three.

My daughter-in-law was visiting her favourite café in Siem Reap Cambodia last Wednesday. It is one we frequent often when I am there. She was with her two year old son, my grandson, who loves ‘The Blue Pumpkin’ very much, and especially their mango shake.DSC_0052a-1024x682 Suddenly, out of the blue a young man came and grabbed her shopping bag. She was terrified and so was her son. The man was pulling the bag so hard that he was twisting her arm. Fearful of what he may do next she let go of the bag. She called for help but no one came to her rescue. The Khmer people are peaceful and have suffered much in the past and they may have been afraid to intervene. At this point another young man came and began videoing the incident. My daughter-in-law was confused, scared, and hanging onto her child who was crying in fear. A few minutes later some Cambodian women and a young American girl named Susan DeTroy came laughing and giggling in front of her. My daughter-in-law was now shaking and my grandson was hysterical. They told her they were grabbing the bag and videoing   a drama for training purposes for their organisation. My daughter-in-law became very angry, not understanding why they would pick on a mother and a child to use for fun and training, inflicting pain in the process. They never asked her consent to video her and her child. Can you imagine if that happened in England? At first they wouldn’t tell her the name of their organisation claiming they couldn’t remember it and asked her why she was making such a big deal. Fortunately, my stepson was working at the hospital close by and he came with another professional person and suddenly Susan DeTroy could remember everything. They quickly apologised. They said they thought she was Khmer (Cambodian). As though to harass a Cambodian woman would have been acceptable, but surely to harass anyone is unacceptable.

Now, here is where Mr Lindsay Clarke comes in. The organisation they worked for was a Christian one. Christian? I don’t know about you but this isn’t what I thought Christians do. Tell me if you know differently. My daughter-in-law is now too embarrassed to return to ‘The Blue Pumpkin’ and my grandson has been traumatised. Yes, they will get over it but was it necessary? And this is in the name of religion?

So, let’s go back to Mr Lindsay Clarke, who is he exactly? He is the CEO and founder of this organisation who hopes very much that any blog posting of mine will send a lot of traffic to his website, and feels that Susan DeTroy and her colleagues did nothing wrong. Of course this is not what he told me. I emailed Mr Clarke with my concerns. Here is my email verbatim.

Subject: Assault in Siem Reap

Lindsay Clarke

I urge you to respond to this email to explain the disgraceful actions of your organisation before I take further steps… My daughter in law was assaulted by members of your staff in Siem Reap city centre, (Cambodia) outside ‘The Blue Pumpkin’ café. She was with her two year old son and they had their bag grabbed and were videotaped without consent. It was not until later when my step son who works in the hospital in Siem Reap, confronted them did they admit who they worked for… YOU, and said it was for training purposes.

The member of your staff who was confronted was American and apparently named Sue or Susan and was said to be on a Gap year. There were others involved who were Khmer.  In my opinion it would be prudent of you to terminate her time with you and her team as she is discrediting your organisation and Christianity as a whole.

 I am a British novelist and freelance writer with a large readership and following on the internet. I have no qualms to bring this to people’s attention. It is disgraceful to do this kind of thing to people on the streets on Cambodia. They told my daughter in law that they thought she was Khmer (she is Filipino). This makes me think that you consider it acceptable to harass Khmer people. How disgraceful of you. My daughter in law has been left very shaken by this incident especially as your team seemed to find it funny. This time it seems you chose the wrong person and I look forward to your response regarding your very obvious racism and abusive behaviour in this particular case and how you justify it in the name of Christianity.

 Regards

 Lynda Renham-Cook and Dr Andrew Cook

I cc’d everyone in the organisation and included my husband Andrew Cook. Mr Clarke’s response to me was.

‘Thanks for your email Lynda.

If you would like a phone call from one of our senior team please let me know and we shall arrange it.

Regards

 Lindsay Clarke CEO & Founder

However, he sent a completely different email to his team. How do we know this? Mr Clarke ‘replied to all’ not realising my husband was on the cc list. The following email is what Mr Clarke really feels.

  ‘Hi Team,

No one responds to this email, especially you Susan. No need to:) 

I won’t say what I really think on email but basically go for it Lady the publicity will drive traffic to our web site. Oh! Except she doesn’t get any more blog likes that any of us. Check for yourself!!!

So for those not in the info loop, hardly anything this women said is accurate and I will on this occasion not run with her advice, so Susan is going nowhere, didn’t do anything wrong and is fully supported by our team and particularly me. We at ****don’t react we pro act.

Hope you are all having a brilliant week.

Pray for each other and enjoy the journey.

Grace

Honor

 Lindsay Clarke CEO & Founder  

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So Mr Clarke (pictured above) thinks there is nothing wrong in assaulting young women with young children on the streets of Cambodia.

Susan response was.

Subject: Re: Assault in Siem Reap

Thanks for the support guys 🙂

-Susan 

To be fair Susan is young and we all make mistakes. However we wanted her to be aware that people have feelings and that her actions were not the right way to promote Christianity. We hoped for a response as it would have shown she had some integrity. We have not had a response to date. This was my husband’s email to her.

‘Hi Susan

One of my favourite quotes is from Micah 6 verse 8, which reads, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” To me this and the teaching of Jesus on compassion and love for others encapsulates true Christianity. As you are working for a Christian organisation in Cambodia I assume we share the same understanding on this, and we both want to live our lives on this foundation. The reason I am writing to you is to share something that I am troubled with. I am writing to you as the Father-in-law of ***** the mother with the two year old child that you met last Wednesday. ***** is a lovely but sensitive woman who is working hard to support her husband who is on a placement with the main hospital in Siem Reap. She is like any other woman in that she is worthy of respect and love, and the fact that she has an Asian background does not diminish this fact.  Your actions last Wednesday have disturbed her a lot to the extent that she is now uncomfortable to venture into Siem Reap centre. She feels embarrassed and that she has been made a fool of. You may think she is over-reacting but you don’t know her, or her background. It really is very insensitive of Lindsay Clarke to minimise the incident and email you saying No one responds to this email, especially you Susan. No need to :). There actually is a need for a genuine response. ***** was very upset by your conduct with her and by your refusal to give the name of the organisation you work for, and that you only were able to remember this when my Son arrived. Are you really happy, before God, with your conduct?

I know that you have been told that you cannot respond to first email, and therefore I don’t expect a response from this. I only hope that you think about what you are doing and ask yourself if your work with ****** is bringing good to the people you are in contact with. I found Mr Clarke’s email to you (he accidentally included me in the c.c. list) very disturbing for a Christian organisation, but that’s another story.

I hope you enjoy your time in Cambodia. It is a beautiful country with lovely people – please be good to them!

Dr Andrew Cook & Lynda Renham-Cook

 

But what Mr Clarke does not know is that I am not going to mention his stupid website with his oversized donate button. You can find that for yourself if you are so interested. But I have published his email to show he supports racism, and unsolicited videoing of women and children to highlight his work, which he describes as ‘Christianity’.