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A State of Flux

June 25, 2010

My assignment here in Siem Reap is ‘Flux’. What is flux? As per a dictionary definition: Flux/fluks/ noun The act of flowing; a continuous moving on or passing by as, as of a flowing stream; constant succession; change. Synonyms: Change, Instability, Fluctuation, Unrest, Variance.I believe there are many ways to interrupt this and upon being given it last night I have varied my line of thought along many tracks: medicine from the traditional medicine man of Asia to western medicine, Buddhism, economy, rubbish, love, rebirth, even tourism. However, two things are coming to the forefront in my mind: Trust and the role of women have played in Cambodian Buddhism since the country was relieved of the cruel regime created by Pol Pot.

For those of you who may not know, Pol Pot was responsible for the deaths of over two million of his own people during his ferocious regime in which he renamed Cambodia Kampuchea (that’s more than 25% of the country’s population). A whole generation was almost wiped out. All of Cambodia’s cities were then forcibly evacuated. At Phnom Penh, two million inhabitants were evacuated on foot into the countryside at gunpoint. As many as 20,000 died along the way.

This resulted in the country being thrown into turmoil. At the start of Pol Pot’s regime there were more than 2000 doctors at the finish there were 4. People starved in fields and he started the infamous S-21 interrogation centre where more than 20,000 men, women and children were tortured to death. It is a part of history we should all know about, as things such as this are still happening across our globe.

Enough on history for today and back to my assignment as the heat outside starts to soar. Unfortunately, not like some of my photography comrades here I am not armed with a Leica – worse luck – and will make do with what I have got on hand. My trusty D3 I hope will deliver. Is it not the person behind the camera and how they interrupt their scene and not always the machine itself? I will though admit with such calibre of photography prowess around me I do feel a little daunted and yes out of my depth to capture images as dramatic and storytelling as they have done in the past. But I will tell a story.

So where am I starting. Well straight upfront by wondering into a temple and asking with a very big smile to meet the head monk. I am delighted as Somnieng, the Executive Director and founder of Life and Hope and second head monk of the temple of Wat Damnak welcomes me. We sit in the shade and our conversation spans more than an hour.

We quickly form a bond. We talk on trust and how Cambodians during the Pol Pot regime lost trust in each other. He explains his philosophy behind Life and Hope. It is simple yet resounding. Life + Hope = Change. Life +Hope + Education = Greater Change. He agrees to ask the white nuns if I may come and live with them for a few days and observe their way of life and asks me to join him this afternoon in delivering rice to outlying rural communities and to be present for his welcoming ceremony tomorrow, visit his orphanage and anything else I would like. The school children resting under the trees outside have now left, back to the class rooms and I offer to prepare a presentation on Australia which he readily accepts.

So what will moving into the temple with the white nuns mean? It will mean observing the life of a white nun and abiding by their daily rituals of meditation, cleaning and devotion. This in a month or so will be something everyone can do coming to Siem Reap as Somnieng prepares for the launch of his Angkor Retreat Program (his first two 7 days retreats are already booked out). “We want our friends to come and learn and have a real experience, learn our culture, hear the history of the temples with us, real monks, as their guides and practice the compassion of life. This will generate our good heart and help us heal and learn to trust and it will allow those who come and stay to go back home and carry a mindful life.’

He is a man devote on bringing happiness and smiles back to his people I am so very privileged to be allowed to experience this first hand. I am not expecting to capture award winning images. I am expecting though to have an experience and share that with others.

So now it is time for me to get ready as I am sure this will be a wonderful adventure for not only me and my camera but my soul as well. And of course a couple of images from today and with time not on my side, unprocessed but at least backed up!

A White Nun, Donchee, makes an offering.
This lady lost her husband during the Pol Pot Regime.
Image by Danielle Lancaster
At the temple of Wat Damnak a monk writes a message.
Image by Danielle Lancaster.
I sit with a group of drivers on the gutter by the edge of the street.
We cannot speak each others language yet form a bond.
I observe their trust in each other and feel an honour to be allowed to sit and ‘chat’ and snap away.
Image by Danielle Lancaster

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