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Parlor Talk

By Jeffrey Lott

02a.lott.jpgI’ve never taken time off while an issue of the Bulletin was in the final stages of production, but the chance to accompany six Swarthmore students to Cambodia during spring break last month could not be missed, prompting me to dig into my own pocket for the airfare. I’m currently in Phnom Penh, where I started a personal blog for this trip. Here’s an excerpt from March 8:

“Today dawned hot. I guess you could say that about every day here.

“We began our day at the Phnom Penh headquarters of the Tabitha Foundation, the organization we came to Cambodia to serve. It’s a quiet three-story building on a leafy side street. On the open-air porch, a dozen or so women were cutting and sewing beautiful silk handicrafts, and inside was the Tabitha store, where the goods they make under positive and humane conditions are sold. The proceeds go to supporting the larger efforts of Tabitha for community development in rural Cambodia—including the house-building efforts in which we are about to take part.

“We climbed the stairs to the roof, where we met Canada native Janne Ritskes, who has been working in Cambodia since 1992 and is the founder of Tabitha. We sat in a rectangle of chairs with Janne at one end, while she briefed us on Cambodian history since World War II. She has lived here for 18 years and is now a Cambodian citizen with an adopted Khmer daughter.

“A few quotes from Janne: On European colonialism in Indochina (and in general): ‘If you weren’t white, you weren’t much.’

“On Norodom Sihanouk: ‘A man of pleasure who refers to the Cambodian people as his children—but step on his toes and he steps back.’

“On Cambodia: ‘A nation of dreams, like your nation is.’

“On warmongering: ‘It’s easy for the spin doctors to get people to see difference. Once you see others as different, it’s easy to dehumanize them and then it’s OK to hurt them.’

“On the Vietnam War: ‘A long ugly war that deeply hurt everyone involved, without exception.’

“On the secret bombing of Cambodia under Nixon and Kissinger (1969–1973): ‘They bombed the snot out of Cambodia—all over the country.’ (More American bombs fell on Cambodia during the war than on all of Vietnam.)

“On U.S. foreign policy: ‘If you kill an American, the whole world pays.’”

To read more of my blog, go to

In the meantime, back at Swarthmore, the staff of the publications office are busy putting this issue of the magazine to bed. I wouldn’t be in Cambodia tonight without the support of my colleagues whose creativity and dedicated efforts go into each issue. I thank them.

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