Saturday, October 31, 2009

Cambodia 1979-2009

November 4, 1979. What do you remember about that day?

The major event that day was the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran being overrun by student followers of Ayatollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran's fundamentalist revolutionaries. Ninety hostages were captured and fifty-two of them would remain in captivity for the next 444 days. It was the turning point in U.S. and Iran diplomatic relations.

For me, it was the day I and fellow journalist, Joel Brinkley, left for the Thailand/Cambodia border where thousands of Cambodian refugees were crossing into Thailand to escape the war between the North Vietnamese and the crumbling Khmer Rouge regime. Our efforts there were centered around a Louisville, Kentucky physician, Dr. Kenneth Rasmussen, who was on the front line of treatment for the sick and starving who survived weeks, if not months, of perilous overland travel to the safety of the camps.

This past summer Joel and I made a return trip to Cambodia, thirty years after the "Living the Cambodian Nightmare" project. We wanted to see firsthand how life for the rural population, 80% of the 13.7 million citizens of Cambodia are faring.

Frankly, all is not well. In many respects Cambodia is much as it was prior to the Khmer Rouge era, 1975-1979. Old methods of rice production are still used, the infrastructure is minimal, education is not mandatory, corruption exits at every level of life and hope is a rare commodity.

While the world centers it's attention on the Middle East, Africa and other regions of conflict, Cambodia barely registers on anyone's radar. It has become the forgotten country.

I offer the two audiovisual shows below. The first is from our 1979 journey and has been expanded from the original version to include additional photographs of Cambodians in transit to the United States and several of a family that had been sponsored by Dr. Rasmussen and his wife. The last photograph is of Sot Oung, the father, in an English language class. He is looking over his shoulder out a window to see snow falling for the first time in his life. Ironically, a sentence on the blackboard being used as an example of tenses, says "How often do you go back home?" There are several responses to use. The first is "I never go back home."

I have reconnected with Dr. Rasmussen, now retired and living in Tennessee. He remained in contact with the family for a few years. They moved to Indianapolis where Sot worked for Lear Jet and Saot, his wife, became a dental technician. The couple divorced and Dr. Rasmussen hasn't heard from anyone in the family in over ten years.

The world has witnessed additional human tragedy, genocide and despair in the past thirty years. The legacy of Khmer Rouge debacle, Cambodians killing 1.7 million fellow Cambodians, has had little effect on the country's ability to redefine itself in the 21st. century.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Kirsten Bloom, Changing Roles.

For the last 14 years, Kirsten Bloom has been the most familiar face of the Sacramento Ballet. Audiences have admired and respected her abilities as a dancer and an athlete in numerous roles. She has performed in Romeo and Juliet, Giselle, Carmina Burana, A Streetcar Named Desire, Concerto Barocco, Etosha, and of course, The Nutcracker, each one demanding a different personna. Vulnerable, tender, feisty, sympathetic, headstrong, or regal, Kirsten showed the essence of the character in her dance. She partnered with Jared Nelson, Jack Hansen, Luis Napoles, Bobby Briscoe, Michael Vester in many of the dances adding the collaborative dimension to her abilities.

Kirsten will be taking on her greatest role, that of a mother next April and will begin her maternity leave after her final performance October 24th during the Capital Choreography Competition at the Crest Theatre in Sacramento. She says she is not retiring and plans to return to dance in the future.

I have been fortunate to photograph Kirsten on and offstage for most of the time she has been dancing with the company. Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda, the Artistic Directors of the company will work with the current dancers and mold them into world-class artists as they have with Kirsten. Who will dance the role of the "Sugar Plum Fairy" in this year's edition of the Nutcracker? Whoever she is will have one of the best ever to emulate.