From July 17 to July 23

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I love details and find them everywhere. This is a fence.

More Photos down below this text.

 

Thursday, July 17

Sophak, and I took off to my destination, Kultortoeng Pagoda, where I would stay for the duration of my time in Cambodia, except for two planned trips; one to Viet Nam and one to Siem Reap.

The driver of the tuk tuk negotiated the heart of the smoggy city. Dust, exhaust, snarls of traffic and no traffic rules, made our trip equal to the other folks caught in the same rush-hour maze.

Farm trucks, with farm workers headed off to the fields, competed with merchants on motorcycles that were piled high with such goods as flowers, metal pipes, plastic containers they would sell at the market – or various stations throughout the city.

It was noisy all the way to the quiet country road. Then the terrain was a few degrees cooler, and greener.

Sophak said the plush jungle we were in, came about from the rich earth of the nearby river.

The tuk tuk jogged bumps but hit some bumps square on the head, all the while I hung on and put my trust in the driver, who wore a helmet.

We twisted through muddy water and around other vehicles and finally, we arrived through the big gates of the Wat (temple) where I began to immerge into the realm of Buddhism.

I was introduced to Om Chie who would cook meals for me, and I found out later, help me get into my room in the dark of night, with a flashlight.

Sophak took me on a quick tour of the facility, after showing me my room, checking out the air conditioner and the refrigerator. The air conditioner, I learned, needs to be turned on up above by using a broom handle, and the refrigerator works by securing the plug into the outlet by stuffing clothing under the plug to keep it connected. It then works to keep the water bottles cold. Water is extremely necessary in the every day heat.

We walked through the facility and heard Monks chanting, and some walked by me, while I held my hands in prayer-form to show respect. I was surprised to see little Monks around the age of eight or ten. All Monks were dressed in burnt orange robes, with one bare shoulder exposed. They were barefooted while entering the building.

I learned that I, too, would be expected to always leave my shoes or thongs outside before entering any facility. I learned many other rules, as well: more about those later.

The monastery has several large buildings that serve as places for worship, chanting and eating.

Nuns, with shaved heads, dressed in white, eat at one end of the community and chanting room, while the Monks enter and eat on the other side. Monks and Nuns eat two meals a day; breakfast and lunch.

It was not only a warm place in heat of the day, the people proved to be friendly, quick to smile and curious, as heck about me. It seems my age was on the top of the question and answer list.

Sophak has filled Om Chie in regarding my age and desire to eat Cambodian food whatever it would be.

 

Friday, July 18 Getting started

Monk, Ven. Sopea knocked on my door and when I opened it, he stood, wearing the traditional robe and said, Ven. Sophear had asked him to visit me to welcome me and give me information regarding Buddhism.

We walked and talked a bit, and watched the Monks line up for dinner. While they walked by in procession fashion, I stood with my hands in prayer-form and held that pose until they all left. In the beginning of the procession, some of the older Monks smiled at me, while some seemed a bit shy.

Monks get two meals a day, breakfast and lunch, no dinner. They arise at 4 a.m. for meditation, prayer and chanting. They sit on rugs and listen to a leader repeating the phrases on the microphone. The sound is nasal and rhythmic.

Ven. Sopea met me in the late afternoon and told me I would go to the school in the village to teach the children. I thought I would be teaching Monks, but it is a school that was organized by a Monk to pay back the village for their support. The children’s parents pay for the school that begins at 5:30 p.m. and ends at 7:30 p.m. I wasn’t prepared to teach little children, but with a previous background in Head Start, I did okay and both the children and myself survived. Ven. Sopea bounced around with me in the tuk tuk to get to the school and he helped out during the lesson.

He is an easy-going person, as I am learning most Cambodians are.

One Nun who I met, named Wanton, with gold and silver capped teeth, speaks a bit of English and was welcoming to me with a big smile. She has since, brought me cooked pieces of squash and bananas.

Nuns wear white tops with white wrap around skirts and some wear a robe over that.

I find myself to be a novelty to the folks in the monastery, with the top question being, “how old are you?” No one else here or even near here has shoulder length white hair. That makes me different, indeed.

The food I’m given is very different from American culinary, and in the beginning, it was enough for a family of five.

For the first two days, I experienced stomach pains and bloating, so on the third day, I asked for Ma Chai not to cook dinner for me. That seemed to help a bit, and for the next few days I felt better.

My old childhood rule that I should eat everything on my plate stood in my way of declining food, but, in spite of that, I began to leave food untouched.

She eventually realized that I couldn’t eat everything presented to me, so the food was delivered in separate dishes and bowls so I could take what I wanted and place it on my plate. The bowl of rice and a bowl of soup is an unusual breakfast for me, but typical for Cambodians. Sometimes, I couldn’t distinguish the contents of the soup.

 

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One of the Monks who visited me and he’s taking my photo.IMG_1579

Children in the school showing the pens I brought with me from Nathalie in Germany. She collected them from the company she works for. Thanks Nathalie.IMG_1602

Farm workers – Cambodian style. I found these folks while on a walk.

July 19 – Met a smiling Monk

Ven. Sopheap, the second person in charge of the Wat while the head Monk is away, visited me and apologized for not greeting me earlier. He is a student at a university in Cambodia where he is a PhD candidate.

Sopheap always has a smile and an easy laugh. He is simply joyful and fun to be around. He took me on a more in depth tour of the Wat, and we ended up next to a lake. I sat on one bench and he sat on another. Never sitting on the same bench as a Monk is one of the rules of etiquette as well as never touching a Monk. There are more rules.

Sopheap loaned me a book, “The Transformed Mind” by His Holiness The Dalai Lama. He speaks of the middle path, which includes the right understanding, right view, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right concentration, right mindfulness and right effort.

Ven. Sopheap told me that people who suffer – and we all do – should make use of our suffering for enlightenment.

On meditation he said, “we have monkey brains” with our mind jumping all over the place, which is why meditation helps us to become calm.

The total teaching of the Monks could be summed up with, do no harm, do only good and purify ones mind.

Venerable Sopheap and I sat quietly in meditation. It was not too difficult to turn off the action going on in my brain, because I have become relaxed – there is no pressure on me.

It was a pleasure to be in this man’s presence.

 

July 20 – Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths

From gleaning information regarding Buddhism from Ven. Sopheap and several other Monks who were sent to talk with me regarding Buddhism, plus the reading I have done, I am sharing the four noble truths of Buddhism.

One – There is suffering in this world

Two – Causes of suffering are do to attachment, greed, hatred and delusion.

Three – The end of suffering

Four – The pathway to end suffering

The eightfold path consists of right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right meditation.

Five Moral Precepts – when people become Buddhists, they have to follow the rules which involves the five moral precepts:

Avoid killing

Avoid stealing

Avoid misusing sex

Avoid lying

Avoid using intoxicants

The day before this day was the celebration of Buddha’s birthday, which was 2,558 years ago. Lay folks came from various parts of Cambodia to this Wat to help celebrate with the Monks and the Nuns, by bringing food as gifts.

Each Monk sat in a chair facing the Nuns and other people, and prayed. Then, the Nuns and lay people distributed the food among the Monks, into their separate bowls or into plastic bags.

A woman came to me with a young man holding a large aluminum bowl loaded with little bags of rice and something else that I never did learn about. She motioned to me to place a package into each Monk’s bowl or bag.

When I thought we were duplicating some of the food, I said, “He already has some.”

“It’s okay we keep going until it’s all gone.” The young gentleman said in perfect English. It was as though he just appeared and then disappeared just as quickly. I would have liked to speak more with him in English.

 

My daily walk in the Wat – July 23

My life at the Wat has become a day-to-day routine. I wake up around 5:30 to 6:00 a.m. and by 6:30 to 7:00 a.m. I walk to the shelter of Om Chie and her family – where I eat breakfast, watch the dogs, and kids play around the shelter. I can hear the Monks and Nuns chant, and then the Monks depart for their quarters and the Nuns, to there’s, as well.

I read for a while in my room, or out on the veranda at a table that his been set up for me. I sit close to exotic plants of all kinds and a pool of small fish. I usually take a walk down a choice of two roads.

One road leads to a farm and the other leads to small houses on stilts, and sit among newer houses. Large pots stand on each side of a house, catching rainwater.

I cannot possible explain in detail the many images I see in the course of one day – but some here are some:

A woman squeezes sugar out of sugar cane to sell.

A frog sat on my front step but when I tried to move him he protested in frog noise. A nun walking by, saw it and chased it away with a stick, all the time, the frog protested loudly.

Huge white cows and their colorful cousin cows roam among the greenery and call out to one another, as they slop through the water. There were other cows finding treasures among the dump.

Children on tricycles played games and looked at me with quizzical faces, until I smiled and they smiled back.

Teenagers walk to their job, carrying their boots and water bottles. They help by loading greenery on top of trucks.

The fruit I have been given is delicious, and items I have never seen before. Ever.

After a walk I read a bit more and then I go to lunch, afterwhich I take another walk, or talk to a Monk that has been sent to me, or read a bit more.

Then at 5:20 p.m. I hop on a tuk tuk and head to school to teach.

The kids have warmed up to me and it has been fun.

The classrooms sit on planks and rough benches, in a room that is open to the street, one light bulb lights the room and a fan above circulates the air. Children sit two to three on a bench, shoulder-to-shoulder. The first one to enter the bench does not have access to get out on that side.

Everytime a student has an answer, he/she stands up to recite the answer.

The teenagers are shyer than the younger kids, due to embarrassment among their peers. This makes it more difficult for their one-to-one participation.

I have taught some games and some songs that they seem to enjoy. Two teachers help interpret the rules of the game.

By 7:30 p.m. I am drenched, and my clothing sticks to me, but it’s time to board the tuk tuk and head back to the Wat. Dinner awaits me and I sit and eat and then take my flashlight to head back to my room.

 

I was featured on a radio talk show!

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My bedroom is in back of this pond

My bedroom is in back of this pond

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Ven. Sopheap found me eating dinner one evening and said I had been invited to take part in a talk show on they radio station 96.7 FM. A few minutes later, I was sitting in front of a microphone, that was circled with sweet smiling flowers, and five Monks in the room operating the station.

Ven. Sopheap translated the questions phoned in to me, and my answers, as well. I must admit to being stumped when it came to scholarly answering the difference between Christianity and Buddhism. But I did manage to say that when we die our soul remains. And, yes, God is responsible for everything we have in the world and we often offer our blessings to God.

After a few more of those types of questions, Ven. Sopheap, I learned later, came to my rescue and asked folks to ask other questions, that it wasn’t intended to be a forum.

They asked questions regarding the difference between the United States and Cambodia. I had a lot of fun with that question and couldn’t leave out the huge numbers of motorcycles, tuk tuks and cars that share the road with farm equipment and trucks carrying farm workers, all the while with no noticeable traffic rules.

The questions and comments after that were very complimentary. The folks thanked me for being in the country and for teaching their children English.

Ven. Sopheap said I would be invited again to the radio station another time. It was lots of fun.

You can listen – but I don’t have a date – on www.mettapage.org or www.mettafm.org.

 

A Nun approached me the next day like I was a star. She told me she heard me on the radio. Later one of the teachers at the school also heard me, he said. So now, the mysterious white haired lady has been discovered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Without power what can you do?

There is an important form I need to fill out online to the Univ. of Albany so they can receive the stipend I earned from AmeriCorps. It will pay for the Buddhist Immersion program I’m on right now. I have put off this chore for a few days and decided last night would be the right time.

I’d just about get finished then the power would go out. When it came back on I tried again. Three times and I didn’t get it done, so I went across the road to an Indian restaurant. I was still stuffed from a fabulous lunch – it was fish with curry and other spices. I’d like that recipe.

I sat near the entrance and watched human activity (oh, there was that one cat) walking in the rain. Umbrellas bounced, tuk tuks rattled by, revved up motorcycles whizzed down the road, smoky trucks  poured exhaust, and traveling merchant wagons with loud speakers announced their goods.

I just sat there with my favorite drink: ice coffee with thick cream. The restaurant host has been in Cambodia for two years, and likes it so far, he said. The restaurant has a front area exposed to the street, but defined by a large canopy and a short hedge in front. Water trickles down on the side of one wall to bring a sound of peace.

I asked the host if they had dessert and the answer was no, however, there was one tiny bit of sweet he could let me try. The purple round looked like a plum, was in a tiny bowl of a thick syrup. He said it was made with a corn and flower paste and fried and then put into honey. I don’t know why the purple color.

I got ready to pay, and he said not to pay for the sweet, it was his pleasure to offer it to me.

“Most people in the world are good.” That is my mantra.

I’m up early this morning to pack my bags and get ready to leave. I’ll be at the Wat Koltertaing – a monastery for monks and where I’ll begin to teach.

I’m told there will not be wifi, so I won’t be able to post daily entrees, but will if I can find a place. Otherwise, the next post will be on July 24th, when I arrive back to Phnom Penh and the same hotel to prepare for the trip to Viet Nam. That’s complicated, but Sophak is working it out for me.

I will go with another volunteer from Global Service who is working in an orphanage in another area.

Getting educated

sophakTop photo: Sophak, my incredible teacher and guide. The photo below is the National Museum and the bottom photo is an elephant bush on the museum grounds.museumelephant bushIt was another day of learning and fun. After breakfast, Sophak went over the vocabulary and sentences in Khmer language, with me. Then the tuk tuk driver dropped us off at the National Museum, where I saw an extensive collection of sculptures and bronze artifacts, some going back to the 4th century. I’m always pleased to see a country display their culture and history. It’s a true gift.

The grounds were beautiful with a few elephant bushes. The elephant was a big part of the Hindu religion, which was the practiced religion in Cambodia before Buddhism.

In Cambodian political news today, a violent protest took place yesterday in Freedom Park. Four protest leaders were arrested. Also the Embassy has warned travelers to watch belongings as there had been some recent robberies.

Today we also attended a lesson given by Friends International. Their work consists of giving traveler tips from the Child Safe Network. Little children with pitiful and sad faces approach to either sell something or beg. The advice is not to give to the children; but instead contact one of the official ChildSafe Network Sites, which can better serve the children and their families. There are nice gifts for sale that are made by the mothers of the children who found their way into the program.

The lesson on child safety was given in a room on top of a restaurant; the restaurant serves as a culinary school for teenaged children.

The last thing we did after lunch was to take the silk material I purchased at the market yesterday to a seamstress who will make a jacket for me, fully lined. It will cost $17, and will take only a few days. I was measured for a perfect fit.

We had lunch in another restaurant from the other days. We’re trying out a different one every day. I had the most delicious dish of fish in coconut, mint, basil, pine nuts and red peppers. Yum. I’m really liking the iced coffee served in a glass with sweet milk.

 

 

 

Marketing and Wat do’s and don’ts

 

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From yesterday’s tour of the royal palace.

Today, Sophak, my teacher and guide, went over the Khmer pronunciation of words. Sometimes I thought that my mouth just wouldn’t do what it was supposed to do, but it’s not me to give up. I’ll keep trying.

After the language lesson, Sophak and I boarded a tuk tuk and headed to the old market.

If you have eye contact with a seller, you’re sure to get railroaded into their stall, and if you stop for a second, you’re hooked. This happened to me this morning. Sophak said the sellers will make better deals in the morning because when they sell something it brings good luck for the rest of the day.

Well, the handsome and charismatic young seller had me wrapped around his fingers, and I got a ‘deal’ but didn’t stop looking. He laughed. I laughed. Sophak laughed. I bought more. Sophak bought something and we finally got away.

I like what I have purchased and pleased with the ‘deal’. Sophak said it was good, so I believe him.

We also stopped at a pepper shop. I heard from the professors who I eat breakfast with that Cambodian pepper is widely known. It comes from the foot of the Cardamon mountains. There were pepper sorters in one room of the Kuratapepper Company – the website: www.kuratapepper.com will tell you all about it.

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A little bit of coconut juice quenches the thirst.

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Cute girl in the market.

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Pepper sorters

Sophak and I got back on the waiting tuk tuk for the ride back to the hotel. We then went over the Wat Do’s and Don’ts and all the proper etiquette I’ll soon need.

On Thursday, I’ll be at the Wat Koltertaing and not near a wifi, so my postings will not be visible until July 25th when I venture on to Viet Nam. No doubt I’ll find wifi there. However, if it’s possible to get to a wifi sometime during the Wat stay, I will.

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Street scene.

So, see you tomorrow right here.

Chom reap sour

The headline means Hello, written so English speakers can pronounce it.

“Are you okay?”, said some American as he walked in back of me down the steps of the Phnom Pehn’s memorial.

“Yes, I’m doing fine.”

“You don’t look so good.”

“Well, thank you.”

Sure, it was rude, but he had a point. I wasn’t as ready for the day as I should have been, and I forgot my hat and sunscreen. A pain pill would have been nice, as well. It was hot and humid, my face was red and I walked funny. Not to mention how unpretty it is to see my get out of a tuk tuk.

But it was a day of learning and an opportunity to see Phnom Pehn’s history from my teacher and guide, Sophak Touch.

A flower from a tree similar to the tree a woman named Phnom Penh found in the river in the 1400s and where the city’s name came from. The tree is called the Buddha tree.

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We saw the royal palace and the grounds, where the colors on the buildings are yellow and white – the national colors of Cambodia. Memorial’s where ashes are placed of former kings and can be seen on the grounds.

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I especially liked the long mural that was painted many years ago by 42 artists. It has faded through the years, but you can still see the history depicted in the art work.

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Sophak took me to the Genocide Museum to see the ghastly prison,that was operated under the ruthless leader, Pol Pot. We saw the cells, some of which are barely as large as a closet. People stayed here until they were taken to the killing fields and murdered. It’s a dark place and dark history, that is still a memory to many Cambodians, who’s loved ones were victims.

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To have record of Pol Pots work, he seemed it necessary to take  photos of every prisoner, both men and women. There are rooms full of photo after photo of people who eventually met their death. The eyes told the story of their fear, or the hope they had from the lies they were told. It’s a sad statement on the wickedness of the regime.

 

 

Small river at the killing fields

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Bumpy ride to see how millions died

Demonic leader of Camnbodia, Pol Pot,  in the 70’s, was the overseer of over 2 million heinous deaths.

Pol Pot, under his regime,  sent foreigners, police, men, women and children, and Buddhist monks as well as anyone else opposed to his desire to take over. His aim would be to “purify” the country, by  their deaths, and make Cambodia a communist country.

I saw the Killing Fields where thousands of people died by beheading , torturing to death, including  smashing babies against the wall.

A building with a window full of skeleton heads is part of the memorial to honor those who were killed during the evil regime.

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Even today, after every downpour, workers still recover bones that appear and then they become part of the memorial. I actually walked on a pathway that exposed bones and bits of cloth from the dead’s clothing.

It was a bumpy road and jarring ride for 45 minutes in the tuk tuk to get to the fields.

Sokal, my tuk tuk driver.

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Cambodia is unique to any country I have ever seen. It is a contradiction at every turn. While trucks spewed smog in our face, and bicycles, tuk tuk’s, motorcycles and carts, all vie for space on the road, you’ll see everything. This can mean a whole family of five on a motorcycle, tall, narrow houses, three to six stories tall, and finer houses sitting next to garbage strewn shacks.

Gentle giant white cows are integrated into the living space and are treated well.

Two doggies were seen making more doggies.

Once we drove by an “elegant eyeglasses” store, looking elegant, as the sign said, next to an industrial-looking machine shop. I can imagine the creative problem solving that goes on there in that shop, making do with what they have on hand.

There were furniture stores with beautiful hand-made chairs of wood and or reeds. I saw concrete statues, barber shops and so much more. It is truly an amazing country and, oh, and can’t leave here without mentioning the noise on the road.

IMG_1226Scene from my window.

Cambodian People’s Party signs were on display along the bumpy ride.

It began to sprinkle while going there, but coming back the streets were flooded and we drove through a mini-ocean to get back.

I held fast to my seat al the  time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing on the planet is standardized

I’m back on the internet in the community room of the Golden Gate Hotel. I tried yesterday, after running out of battery power, to locate a store where I could find a country converter. I have several for many countries, but those didn’t fit my computer plug, and the one I purchased after chasing around the city on foot and then on a Tuk Tuk, didn’t work either.

A college professor from Texas, here in Cambodia with American students, staying at the same hotel, advised me that I shouldn’t need a converter that all rooms have outlets that would fit any plug. NOT! Mine didn’t: so I asked at the front desk about a converter. The asked if my computer didn’t have a battery. YES, of course it has a battery, but the battery is down, and I need a plug/outlet to get back on. I showed them the plug and the computer. They looked into variou drawers but didn’t come up with anything and said they couldn’t help me.

I reminded them that hotel says they have wifi, so I need to get my computer up and running. This I said, mostly in pantomime.  Then they showed me the community room, and a plug, that lo and behold, as you see here, it worked.

Language is king in the world.

By take way a Tuk Tuk is a motorcycle of sorts, that pulls a wagon with comfortable seats.

I took one of those back from my unsuccessful shopping. The traffic here is a web of noise, with motorcycles, tuk tuk’s, taxi’s, cars, buses, wagons, moveable  food kiosks, and more. Pedestrians are an inconvenience.

But, just learning how to get around and be understood and be understanding is giving me the great experience I want.

On my walk yesterday, one shop sent me to another shop, and so on; at one place I found a lovely coffee shop with French pastries and a nice Japanese gentleman to talk to for awhile.

No power

Only have 10 % on computer, and all my converters don’t work in Cambodia.

 

Tried to find a source, difficult.

Will try again today.

Hello from Cambodia

I just arrived in the Golden Gate Hotel after an all day of being in the air. No sleep for one whole day. And so far, I’m not tired. I cannot, for the life of me, sleep on an airplane.

AsianaAirline flight attendants are charming and pay close attention to detail, and always with a smile. I love their fashionable uniforms, too.

When I got out of the airport, in Phnom Penh, after filling out several papers, including a visa, necessary for the time I’ll be here, Sophak Touch was standing with a group of people waiting for their folks. I saw my name on a paper he held up. He is responsible for the time I spend here, showing me around and helping me out with teaching.

I got here a few days early so I can get over jet lag and acclimated to the heat.

Sofak  called a taxi and for about 10 minutes we went through several neighborhood shopping areas, with small stores, still opened for business.

I taught Sofak about Mom and Pop stores. He now has one more bit of American slang.

Also on the road are some large buildings and a memorial for the king who died, and another structure – all lit up for the day Cambodia got their freedom – back in the 1990s.

We got to the hotel and a cute young boy with reddish hair and a sweet smile, carried my suitcases up to my room, and very gentlemanly, pointed to his bare feet. Oops! First mistake, I didn’t take off my shoes. There will be many learning opportunities ahead of me.

I have to admit, bowing to me is strange, but I like the respect. I must show the same respect to others, and it is well structured as to who you bow to, and how you do it.

This hotel is nice and located within a bustling tourist location, and the bedroom is large, clean and nice. And…the air conditioner works! Yea!

Sophak asked me if I’d like to go shopping tomorrow with some other volunteers who have been here for awhile, and I’d like to do that, but I really need some time to rest up before I venture out beyond this neighborhood. He promised me there would be other opportunities to shop.

Before I left San Francisco Airport, where my daughter-in-law, Debby took me, I began to wonder if I accomplished the task of turning my cell phone into International calling, I got off of an elevator at the gate and right in front of me was a gentlemen, Taru, who beamed intelligence. He works in the tech industry as an engineer and is going home to India for a visit.  I think we have the phone connected correctly. Thanks to Taru!

Everywhere I go there is always someone ready to help out; good people in the world.