Monday, December 31, 2007


I am back in Cambodia. A lot has changed. Cambodia seems different and I am not exactly sure why. I have my hunches.
Yesterday, Sunday, I left my parents at Bangkok international airport. They went to catch their flight to the United States and mine back to Phnom Penh. I walked away thinking, “Why am I doing this again?” Leaving them doesn’t get any easier. The only thing that changes is the airport and country in which I do it.
Still, I got to spend about 10 days with the two most influential people in my life. I look up to them so much and always will. It cost them a lot to fly half-way around the world to see me, but I think they knew how important it was.
The first four days I showed them my life in Cambodia. It was fun to say, “See, I told ya so!” Then they whisked me away to Thailand for the next week. Thailand is beautiful. We spent 4 days on Koh Chang island at a really nice resort. We sat by the pool, we swam in the ocean, we sat around and just talked, we rode elephants, we just were.
We spent the next 3 days in Bangkok which is a little different. Much more city-like similar to Phnom Penh yet still different. See Bangkok is “organized” chaos, there is some order there. Phnom Penh really can get out of control. The city basically shuts down at 6:30pm because everyone is scared to go outside and should be. It isn’t safe. Cambodia just is not an easy place to live. (Mental note: Keep track of how many times I say that in one day.) In Bangkok we saw a lot of Buddhas and wats, or temples. We saw whatever people told us to see. Mom was armed with her Lonely Planet guidebook to Thailand, so we always had a general idea of where we were. Mom knows the streets of Bangkok really well now! We went to some great restaurants, we walked around, we visited markets, we even found a Barnes and Noble-ish bookstore that I dragged them to, twice! On Sabbath we went to the Bangkok Adventist hospital church, went to potluck, and did some more sight seeing.
We probably missed the most important places to see and I was a horrible tour guide in Cambodia, but it didn’t matter. All I wanted to do was soak them up. I didn’t care what we were doing. We could’ve been locked up in a closet together for 10 days and I honestly, honestly would’ve been thrilled! No really.
During our time together we talked about my students, the traffic, the pollution, the culture. We chatted about people and events back home, they even made me a video of home complete with messages from my church family in Colorado! Aren’t they great? My Dad even recorded two weeks worth of Oprah episodes and brought them to me! (Mental note: Write that letter to Oprah.) Oh, but it doesn’t stop there. They brought me all kinds of things from home, it was a marvelous Christmas. Even a family friend of ours made me her infamous “Corky bars” she gives out every Christmas. They are these gooey chocolate, nutty, marshmallow, things that they froze and transported all the way to Cambodia. I feel horribly spoiled, yet, I am totally ok with it. Don’t worry, I shared.
Basically my parents visit was: comfort. Comfort that I am still the same girl that left home a few months ago. Comfort that this is temporary and this will not last forever. Comfort that I have total support and coming home would not bring an end to the world. But comfort that while this is hard, I am strong and maybe I can do this. I want the same confidence they have in me. I want to be proud of me too.
So alas, I am back “home”. (Mental note: One of my English students used the word “alas” in her paper. She definitely cheated. Another one used, “quintessentially”. I don’t even know what that means!) I got back yesterday morning and moved in with the Scotts yesterday afternoon. School starts Wednesday.
As cliché as it may sound, well, it is New Years Eve, I am making some big changes next year. I have to. I need to prove that I can get healthy once and for all. I need to take better care of myself. I need to spend more time with the God I came here to serve. I need to better love my students, because if I don’t love them, what’s the point? Yes, big changes I say! I am on my way.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


It is Monday, December 24, 2007, Christmas eve apparently. I am on Koh Chang island in Thailand with my parents. It isn't all sinking in.
My mom and dad flew into Phnom Penh last Tuesday, December 18th and obviously we’ve been pretty darn busy because I haven’t written or checked email in a week.
I was nervous about them coming: “What will they think? How will they react? Will they think I have been over exaggerating about the last 4 months of my life?” Either way, I stood at the airport last Tuesday waiting to pick them up. I shuffled back and forth. I stood on my tippy toes. I kept thinking I saw them, but was wrong over and over again, until two very familiar faces emerged. I had told them someone would be there holding a card with their name on it, I just didn’t tell them it would be me.
They were surprised. I thought I would be unable to hold myself together and just start balling, but I didn’t. We hugged and just sorta stared at each other awhile, it was very surreal.
The next 4-5 days were spent in Phnom Penh. Tuesday we just unloaded and talked. I took them down by the riverside and for their first meal in Cambodia, I insisted we get some Mexican food. I usually can’t afford this restuarant at a possible $5 a plate, so it was their treat! We took a tuk-tuk, which is a trailer with seats pulled by a motor bike. They were shocked by the chaotic traffic. They were overwhelmed with the dust and pollution. They were surprised and disgusted by all the trash. They were saddened by all the poverty. Maybe I’m not so crazy afterall.
Wednesday I woke up in fear that yesterday had been a dream. So I went over to the Scotts, where they were staying, to make sure they were still there. Sure enough, it was real. I sent them out touring for the day. They visited the Vietnamese school where I tutor on weekends. They saw the Killing Fields where thousands of Cambodians were murdered during the Khmer Rouge. They went to Toul Sleng a.k.a. the genocide museum. They saw the Royal Palace and the National Museum. They were busy! Their taxi brought them back to me at the school where I had to stay and teach. I took them to the market where I buy my groceries. It is outdoors and crazy and smelly and probably not so sanitary. There is raw meat with flies, and squirming fish waiting to be beheaded. I just go for fruit and veggies, but it was fun to see their reactions. That night they met some of the people I work with and the families who live on the mission compound. They were exhausted and falling asleep at 7:30pm, so I sent them to bed.
Thursday they spent the day with me at CAS. Of course, everyone loved my parents. We went to worship, they watched me teach, and then my dad taught my bible class and did quite well. My students loved him. They got to meet all of the students I had been talking about and experience the chaos that is a typical day at school. It is hot and sticky, I teach in thatch huts, the dust flies, the children scream, there is a construction site next door; they got the picture. After school we went into town to run some errands. I needed to buy some things for our Christmas party at school the next day. We took the Scotts out to dinner at a place called Khmer Surin. It is an upscale restaurant with good Asian food. By upscale I mean it is clean, good food, and may cost $3 a plate! They liked it.
Friday was the last day of school before break. So there are no real classes just chaos and Christmas parties. My dad challenged my 8th graders to a race. So he led them in some stretches, they got warmed up and about 10 of my boys tried to beat my dad. They failed of course! At 54 years old, my dad is still one of the fastest runners I have ever seen. I am pretty fast and have never been able to beat him. We went back to the classroom and played games, danced the Macarena, and basically tried to maintain some kind of order. My mom helped, but it was basically hopeless. They were just too antsy for break. My parents bought them donuts and they were so excited. At 11:30 am we had the Christmas program. Each class got up and sang a song, then it ended with my drama class performing the Christmas play. It went well. I was so glad it was over. We had to translate it all into Khmer, so I rarely had any idea what was going on, but apparently I directed! It went well. A few animals tipped over in the wind, Mary didn’t want to look silly holding a doll, so she put it on the floor, the wisemen added their own lines, still it is over. Whew!
Friday afternoon I took my parents to the Russian market. This is a huge market with about anything you need: name brand clothing, jewelry, postcards, souvenirs, food, and shoes. They found a few interesting things. I’m glad we went. After this we met the Mission College group I hang out with for supper. The M.C. group is Dina, Cheangley, Angie, Sokcha, J.C. and sometimes others. Either way, they are young, kind, and I believe I can call them friends. We went to City Cats, a hip Khmer restaurant with way too many choices complete with bubble tea or drinks with black tapioca balls in the bottom. We had a good time.
Sabbath, Dad and I went for a walk. He looked exhausted understandably. Traveling is so tiring. My Mom has been sick and he had been up most of the night with excruciating kidney stones. We took it slow. He was doing ok so I took them to the services that usually fill my day: young adult Sabbath school, Khmer church, English Sabbath school, then potluck. They got to see the spiritual atmosphere here: no familiar praise songs, no small groups, not much community, not always in a language I understand, and not the spiritual uplifting I need. We went to potluck and left at 3ish for the airport. On the way we stopped at a pharmacy for some painkillers in case the flight aggravated Dad’s kidney stones. He did ok. We flew the 1 hour flight to Bangkok and landed. It was weird to see a modern airport. It was weird to not be stared at. It was weird to drive on the left side of the road. It was weird to drive on a highway going 70mph and have people stay in their lanes! I saw a Starbucks. I saw a McDonalds. I’m not craving those foods; it is just strange to see familiar places.
We landed in Bangkok about 6pm. We made it to our hotel at 7:30ish, only to find they didn’t have our reservations, didn’t have extra rooms, and were not really willing to help us find another. We put our lives in the hands of our Thai speaking taxi driver and he found us another hotel. We transferred some money to bat and plopped into bed.
Sunday we were up early to catch out bus here to Koh Chang island, a 5-6 hour trip. This resort is beautiful, peaceful, clean, and spacious. There is room to breathe! The beach is outside our door, the pool is nice, and the weather is great.
We will be here in Koh Chang for the next 2 days, then back to Bangkok to do some sight seeing there. It is strange but good too have my parents here. It is encouraging to see Cambdoia through their eyes. It is more than encouraging and it gives me strength for the next 6 months. This is already really long, so I will hopefully write more later. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 15, 2007


My parents arrive in 2 days: Sunday, Monday, parents! Christmas break starts in 5 days. I will be going to Thailand with my parents in 6 days. I will be returning from Bangkok and moving out of my apartment in 14 days.
Yeah, that last part is the most recent news from my end. You know the Scotts a.k.a. Godsends? I asked them if I could move in with them. The teeny SM apartment just isn’t working. I am excited for many things. I am excited to get my prayer time back. I am excited to walk into a room a shut the door behind me. I am excited to live in a home environment. I am just plain excited!
It has been 4 months since my plane first landed in Cambodia. Oh, how much has changed. As I went for my walk this morning I listened to “Painting Pictures of Egypt” a song by Sara Groves. A few of the lyrics go like this: “I don’t want to leave here, I don’t want to stay. The places I long for the most are the places that I’ve been. It’s not about losing faith, it’s not about trust. It’s all about comfortable. I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt and leaving out what it lacks. The future feels so hard and I want to go back. But the places that used to fit me, cannot hold the things I’ve learned. Those roads were closed off to me while my back was turned. I was dying for some freedom, but now I hesitate to go. I’ve been caught between the promise and the things I know.”
The fabulous thing about music is that no matter what the artist meant by what they wrote, no one can tell me how I heard it was wrong. So this is how I heard it. I have both loved and hated Cambodia on any given day, I still long for home, often. But is home really what I need? If I went home today, would I be satisfied or am I “painting” it out to be something it isn’t? Anything seems better than this. So I have a hard time truly living here. But would I really fit in back home after the last four life-changing months? Things are different on both ends. I am here now. I promised God this year of my life, yet I am having a really hard time handing it over.
Today during a 2 hour Khmer/English sermon! I stumbled upon one of my favorite texts I hadn’t read in a while. Micah 7:7-11, “But me, I’m not giving up. I’m sticking around to see what God will do. I’m waiting for God to make things right. I’m counting on God to listen to me. Don’t enemy, crow over me. I’m down, but I’m not out. I’m sitting in the dark right now, but God is my light. But it won’t last forever. He’s on my side and is going to get me out of this. He’ll turn on the lights and show me his ways. I’ll see the whole picture and how right he is.”
I’m not ignorant to the fact that I will probably appreciate this experience years from now. I may forget just how much it hurt and even advise someone to be a student missionary themselves! Still the fact remains, how do I get through tomorrow?
Reading my journal from several months ago, I came here to really get to know God. Turns out there are distractions in the States and distractions in Cambodia, they are just different distractions. As I walked into Sabbath school this morning, I thought to myself, “When was the last time I actually talked to God?” Sadly, just sitting there today, made me sad when I realized I haven’t been leaning on God like I should.
I also read parts of Matthew 5. Verse 3 and 4 says, “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.” These words jumped out at me: “end of your rope”, “lost”, and “embraced”. Yes, I feel I have been living the last 4 months at the “end of my rope”. Yes, I feel like I have “lost” what is most dear to me: my relationships, my family, my sense of self, perspective, peace, etc, etc! But do I feel “embraced”? No. Will I only see how God has worked this year once it is all over? Am I ungrateful and oblivious to how much God has already been working in my life?
God has brought me this far hasn’t he? God has a spotless track record. He hasn’t let me down yet. Where do I get the nerve to doubt? God brought me through 7 different surgeries, all taking place in high school. I had a benign tumor growing in my ear canal. I am mostly deaf in my left ear. Honestly, at one point I thought I was going to die. I’ve never experienced such agonizing pain. God carried me and my family through the death of our beloved cousin Jake, a firefighter. He was a single father and left behind a bouncy red-headed, little girl with a beautiful heart. Eating disorders are the most deadly of all mental illnesses. I’m still alive. I’m still alive.
Tomorrow is coming whether I like it or not. I’m doing the best I can. I’m living the best I can for where I am at. I am not promising perfection because God doesn’t require it anyway. Whew! I am trying darnit! I’m still here aren’t I? I feel weak and unable and confused. But the next time I blog, will probably be when my parents are sitting next to me. I can’t keep up. I’m just along for the ride.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


Eight days until my parents arrive.

It is Monday, December 10th. I am not at school because it is International Human Rights Day in Cambodia. There are so many darn holidays, the people don't even know what they are for!

This weekend was...pleasant. Friday, I went shopping with 3 of my 11th grade girls: Kagna, Leeta, and Navy. They took me to Olympic market, an indoor Cambodian center. We rode their motos and stayed an hour or so. Apparently in Cambodia, if you bargain the price down, then try it on, you have to buy it. I found this out when I asked for a shirt to be $8 instead of $16 (which they would never charge a Cambodian), then tried it on. I didn't like it and put it back. They grabbe my arm and held out their hand. Good thing my students could translate. They just said, "Oh sorry, we thought you knew."

Friday night the school held a Bible bowl, but much cooler than the stuffy Pathfinder version. Four of us teachers put together teams. We had dinger bell thingys and categories like Jeopardy. It was fun and my team kicked butt. In other words, we won.

Sabbath was pretty typical: slow. Went to 4 different services throughout the day, but we had potluck too. I spent part of the afternoon at with the Mission college group. We went to Dina and Cheangley's apartment. It is small, no furniture, no refridgerator, no A/C, but cozy and always a good time. Dina made...Buch Pu po? Bucha Bucha Pech? Buphor Pu Po? Ahh, I can't remember. It was something Malaysian with coconut milk, tapioca, sticky rice, and sweet potato. Good, either way. None of them have ever had rice puddding, so I am making that some other time. We just get together and talk, play guitar, and tell funny stories about our students. Saturday night I went to LyChard's birthday. LyChard is a first grader at CAS who lives across the street. My roommates spoil him terribly, but he is funny and invited us to his party. He is now 7 and ended the party with frosting smeared all over his face. Later I called home and talked to my parents. Then went over to the Scotts where game night was just finishing.

Sunday, my roommates wanted to go get massages. Their are several places run by NGO's who help Cambodians find jobs. Some people are blind, but they have been trained so they can have a profession. It felt good, but today I feel like I got beat up to be honest. I think she bruised me. But I haven't yet learned the Khmer words for "Ouch" or "Please don't kill me!". So I gritted my way through. I ran some errands on my way home. Then, I went to the Adventist Vietnamese school where I volunteered to tutor. The priniple, Chan, is a friendly, efficient, and dedicated Vietnamese man who started the school out of his own house. He lives there and has allowed some orphans to live with him. It is a small, run-down building that houses 130 students each day. Most are street children who are attending for free, but are being either sponsored or paid for by Chan. He has 5 teachers. He feeds the children breakfast, lunch and dinner. He is teaching them to sew, so that they can sell the items to make money. He leaves each morning at 5am to pick up his students who live too far away. He checks their fingernails for dirt each morning and expects only disciplined, hard working students to enter his school. It costs anywhere from $2-$15 a month, per child. This includes transportation, food, and education. I showed up to teach 7 girls who desperately want to learn English. They are sweet, attentive, and eager to learn. They had desks, I basically taught on the side of the street. He gave me a tour before I left and really appreciated my help. The girls don't have school on Sundays but were so anxious to have someone to speak English with them that they came anyway.
I got back and went and played volleyball at CAS. The dorm kids get so bored there, so they like when we come. I ended up watching a movie with Angie, a Misison College teacher, to end the day.

Pleasant. Yes, pleasant.

Thursday, December 6, 2007


My parents will be here in 13 days. I wish I felt ready for them to come. I wish I could show them some great life I have made for myself. I wish I could have them meet tons of new friends. I wish I could show them what a fabulous teacher I am. I wish I felt stable. I wish I could show them that I am doing alright and that they don’t need to worry. I wish, I wish, I wish.
What is… is. I am still, Heather. My struggles remain. Reality isn’t going to change just because my parents are coming into town. I suppose I had just hoped that by this point I would be all settled in and adjusted, and I would truly be living the “student missionary experience”, whatever that means. I guess that saying I am an SM with an eating disorder just sounds like such an oxymoron to me.
Sometimes I get emails from Heather Mekelburg, a really sweet girl from Union, who is working at Maxwell Academy in Africa. She went with her best friend Kylie Schnell. They send pictures of their safari adventures, she tells stories about how much they love their jobs, and they have great staff that takes such good care of them. I am painfully jealous. Maxwell Academy was first choice when I decided to be an SM. But for some reason it didn’t work out. And well, Cambodia is very different.
On Monday, I talked with my eating disorder counselor, Teresa, on the phone. We’ve only spoken twice since I have been here. But she helps me get my head back on straight. Before I left, my parents and I made a deal: if at any point Teresa said I needed to come home, I would. I promised to be completely honest with Teresa.
Well, after telling Teresa about a really awful last two weeks related to ED, she said, “Heather, what are you willing to sacrifice, just to stay in Cambodia? Is this really worth it?” Fighting this all alone is really wearing on me. But some days I feel like my pride is the only thing keeping me here. I think to myself, “I can’t go home. I will be the SM who came home early, the SM who failed.”
I told Teresa about how the last two weeks had been so difficult for me. She helped me understand that, I have been giving and giving since I got here. I have been desperately trying to reach out to people, hoping to make friends. I have been giving so much energy to my students every day. I have been volunteering my butt off trying to get involved. I have been counseling my roommates about all of their problems. But I rarely get anything back. That is why I still feel so lonely. I feel a painful void because I don’t have very many meaningful relationships here. I have been trying to use food to fill that void, so I have binged every night for the last two weeks. Binging is painful and not something I really like writing about.
My weapon of choice is food. Other people may choose alcohol, drugs, self-mutilation, shopping, gambling, or pornography. We all struggle with something. But each day leaves me feeling hopeless, pathetic, disgusting, out-of-control, and more lonely than I did before. I have very little left to give to others when I am so selfishly concerned with myself. This is just what the devil wants and I feel like he is winning.
Yesterday I told someone that I came to Cambodia all alone. They very quickly and optimistically responded, “Well, no you didn’t. You came with God! Put your chin up” Well, thank you for that! I wanted to smack him and I probably would have if he wasn’t bigger than me. Still, a very kind, visiting pastor named, Carl Ashlock, reminded me last week: when God was creating at the beginning of time, everything was good. The sun was good. The ocean was good. The animals were good. You know the first thing that wasn’t good? God said, “It is not good for man to be alone.”
Even I can see that because of my loneliness I have been forced to rely more on God. But many mornings I wake up and say, “God, enough is enough. I just can’t do this anymore.” And still somehow, He carries, yes, "carries”, me through one more day.
Teresa told me to make a list of what I had hoped to accomplish in Cambodia and another list of what I have accomplished in Cambodia. The lists were quite different. I have so much to do here. I have so much I came here to do and haven’t been doing. The devil is working so hard to distract me really living out this year that I promised to God.
I don’t write these blogs because it is fun for me. Writing most of my blogs is painful and I wonder deep down if I have lost some peoples respect as a result. My friend Sandy got me thinking about what God meant when he said in the Ten Commandments, “Do not lie.” Did He really mean that when someone asks, “How are you?” to only report on the pretty parts of life? Could that same Commandment be read, “Be completely honest”. I’m not saying God wants us to mope around spilling our guts to everyone we meet. But as far as I have experienced, I have very little to lose by being transparent with people. I won't lie about my situation here; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Why can’t we all just admit we are human and get on with it?
I am anxious to see my parents, to hug them, to poke them and make sure they are real. I can’t wait to talk with them. I want to show them how I live and prove that I am not over exaggerating. I want their input, their suggestions, and their point-of-view. Thirteen days in counting.

Monday, December 3, 2007


I’m not sure where I got the impression after 1 month here, that I had Cambodia all figured out. I learn something new every single day and I will continue to do so until the day I leave. That is where the “constantly overwhelmed” feeling comes from. I can’t put Cambodia in a nice little box and describe it eloquently for you so it all makes sense. I am always overloaded by the stimuli that surrounds me each day. I can’t keep up. But writing about it helps me sort out my thoughts. So here I go.

Last week I sat on Fay’s couch and cried. I was frustrated with my classes, I was frustrated with my living situation, I was still feeling lonely, I was tired of battling this eating disorder, and I needed a shoulder to cry on. I do not take the Scotts for granted. I am fully aware that if they were not here, I wouldn’t be either. They have almost single handedly carried me to this point. I talked, she listened. Then she said, “Heather, why did you come here?”. I gave several reasons like, wanting a change of scenery from the college life, and wanting to be an SM ever since I was a little girl. I told her I wanted to do something that mattered and experience a new and different way of life. I told her I came here to teach. That was after all my job description: “Wanted: 19+ year old English teacher in Cambodia”.
When I told her that I believed my purpose in coming here was to teach, she said, “Do you even enjoy teaching?” Good question. Some days I really don’t like teaching at all. Some days I dread it. This really got me thinking. If my purpose in coming here was to teach and I don’t even like it, what am I doing here? What do I dread so much about teaching? I started thinking about the specific reasons that make me wake up so often and think, “What in the world am I doing in Cambodia?”
I thought about my 7th graders. They are a chaotic group of kids. Most of them are really good and sweet and smart. But I spend so much time chasing around the “bad” kids and Rotana with ADD, that I don’t enjoy my time with them. The classroom can get so crazy that last week they left me in tears. I tried not to let them see, because that would mean they had won. I walk out on most days feeling like I have failed as a teacher and Jesus would never treat those kids the way I just did.
I thought about my 8th graders. I spend so much time enforcing my “No Khmer” rule that I’m not even getting to know them. The girls are afraid of me, the boys probably think I am miserable and they may dread class as much as I do. Sometimes I will just glance at a student and they will say very defensively, “I was speaking English!” I hate feeling like I am little more than a guilty conscience to them.
I thought about my 10th and 11th graders. They are only a few years younger than I am and they know it. Some of them speak very good English and correct my grammar, often. One particular student named David, somewhat challenges me in class and I’ve been wrong before. All in all, my high school students are intimidating and I feel like a fraud every time I stand before them.
So this can’t be good. After I realized the specific reasons I dread teaching, I knew if nothing changed, I would definitely not survive all year with them. So in turn, I thought of a few ways to change my attitude and so far, things are so much better.
In 7th grade I have started laughing at the ridiculous things that Ratana does. Like the other day, he just stood up in the middle of class and yelled, “I feel so good!” I definitely didn’t encourage him to continue, but I kindly asked if he would sit down and we could continue. The girls in that class are so sweet and I have been being intentional about praising them for being such good students.
In 8th grade I somewhat gave up on my strict standards. Before if someone was blatantly speaking English I would say, in my best annoyed voice, “Puthereak, English, please!” Now I give them fair warning and if they keep it up, they dance the Macarena for all of us after class or sing. If that doesn’t work I chase them around and pinch them. I have started eating lunch with the girls at their desks and getting to know them one on one. We gossip, we talk about the boys, and we learn more about each other every day.
The high schoolers have been my biggest adjustment. How do you instantly stop feeling intimidated by 64 eyeballs staring you down each day? I had a talk with Fay and the principle about the intimidation factor. Sharon basically told me that my age should not matter. I have important things to tell them and they need to listen. I need to approach them with the same confidence and authority that I do with the younger kids. Once I started believing that I had something important to tell them and there is no way all of my students are going to love me anyway, the days became easier. Yesterday in class David corrected me on my past participle use of the word “run”. Heck, I didn’t know what a past participle was until I read about it last week! He kept asking me more questions and I told him I would be happy to help him after class. So he came later and asked away. I admitted that I didn’t know the answer to all of his questions but I would be happy to look for the answer with him together.

I am far from super-teacher. I don’t just breeze through the days. I haven’t discovered the magic solution of teaching. But the days are a bit less hectic and a little more peaceful. There is more purpose and less hopelessness. This is good.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Well Thanksgiving has past. All of you are probably returning home, to work, to school, or otherwise. Thanksgiving wasn't too eventful here in Cambodia considering the locals probably don't care too much about pilgrims and Indians from hundreds of years ago. Who can blame em?

I spent the day doing parent teacher conferences. I finally got to meet all of my 8th graders parents. It was fun guessing whose parents were whose as they walked into my classroom. I had translators because maybe 6 of the parents spoke English. Education is so important to these parents. In America, education is expected, normal, and taken for granted. These parents are hanging on by the skin of their teeth just to have their kids in shool. They realize that learning English is their childs ticket to a better life and they take it very seriously. I told them that I encourage their children to speak English with my "No Khmer" rule whenever I am in the classroom. They were all for it and some told me I could hit their kids if I needed to!

It was really helpful for me to see where these kids are coming from. One mother came and told me about her drunk of a husband who took off a few months ago and randomly shows up to tell his kids they are useless and should stop studying at our school. One father mentioned he doesn't know his son very well and can't figure why he misbehaves. He spends a half an hour with his son each day. I asked about his home life. His son is an only child and spends hours alone at their house and is in bed before they get home. Of course he begs for attention at school, he isn't getting it anywhere else. I told another father that his son Rassmey is the best English speaker in my class. He said I was wrong. His son is slow, too slow, he informed me. That was the end of the conversation.

I came away with parents cell phone numbers, inviting me to call if their child misbehaves. One parent invited me to dinner, as his son, Pagna, looked horrified at the thought of his teacher coming to his house. I came away with a better understanding of my students. They are real. They have real problems, real families, and real lives. They are not just objects sent to push my buttons. I have a lot to learn.

Us "foreigners" got together and had a traditional meal that night. I made apple pie and it was darn good! There were about 35 people there at principle Sharon's house. We came together American, Phillipino, Pakistani, British, Burmese, and Malaysian, oh my! In my apartment that night I walked by my cell phone on my way to bed and it vibrated. I would not have heard it unless I was standing there at that moment. My parents and Ben and Ashley called me! They knew the holiday could be rough, so we talked for about 10 minutes. I have no idea how much it cost them. But I needed it.

This last weekend was Water Festival in Phnom Penh. This is one of the biggest holidays of the year. So we didn't have school on Thursday or Friday. Water Festival brought 4 million people to Phnom Penh, quadrupaling our 1 million in population. Boat racers come from all over Cambodia and other Asian countries to compete. Some of the boats hold 50 paddlers. They raced all weekend. This brought tons of people to the riverside to watch. So the street vendors were in top form and overcharging even more than usual.

Friday, I spent the day with a young group of teachers I am getting to know. I call them the Mission College group. They are 20-something teachers from CAS, where I teach and they are all around great people: J.C, Dina, Cheangley, Angie, and Sockha. We went to the market to buy food, then we cooked together and ate lunch. We played Uno, watched a movie, and then headed into town at night. They wanted to show me the boats and fire works. It was fun. There was a lighted parade of boats and an hour long fireworks show. We strolled along and they had fun testing new foods on me from the vendors: sticky rice with beans wrapped in bamboo, grilled tapioca patties, flat rice, deep fried bananas, and papaya salad. I have had some of the strangest foods here. Don't get me started on the snack food! They will fry anything, dump seasoning on it and call it food! At the market I've seen cuttlefish coated peanuts, shrimp flavored fried taro chips, and pickled/salted pig snouts.

Sabbath I went with the Scotts to an orhanage about 3 hours away. We left about 6:30 am and took the dumpy mission van all the way there. It is called ICC or International Childrens Care. There are about 120 kids there who live in house-like buildings with "parents" and kitchens and chores. They all go to school, work in the garden, and produce most of their own food. It costs 50 cents a day for one child. The children are brought there off of the street from all over Cambodia. The workers there told us that if the girls are "lucky" they are brought here before they are kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Men with AIDs believe that sex with a young virgin will heal them of their disease. So they want them young and plump, "the whiter the better", she told us.

Tim Scott preached at the outdoor church service, we stayed awhile into the afternoon, then headed home. Because of the Water Festival in town, the roads were blocked going into the city. We tried to go another way by ferry. We sat in line waiting for 3 hours! Of course the street sellers took advantage of this and raided us and the line of 86 cars in front of us (yes, I counted!). I spent most of the time saying, "At te!", which is "no" in Khmer, to the pesky vendors. I had brought a few magazines I got in the mail from home. So Fay and I read Newsweek and Real Simple as we waited. It really wasn't that bad. The Scotts and I never run out of things to talk about even though they are about 40 years older than me. They are so wise and funny and flirty with eachother. They still giggle and poke fun at eachother. They are so darn cute. I think there is something different about couples in the mission field. They have gone places and shared experiences together unlike any other and all they have is eachother. They are just different. The Scotts tell me stories about Nairobi, Kenya, Egypt, and more. T'hey've seen it all and done it all together. I like them a lot. We rolled in after a 7 hour return trip and I plopped into bed.

Sunday I landed back at the Water Festival with my 11 grade students who offered to take me. They were shocked at how much attention they got just walking with me, but it didn't help when I embarassed them by loudly singing and dancing the macarena.

I wouldn't have called it a "good" weekend until I was able to talk to my parents and Ben and Ashley again on Sunday. They are my reality check that I need so desperately here. They remind me that I am doing my best and I matter. Honestly, ED hit me pretty hard this week. But talking to them enabled me to move on and forgive myself, to cut myself some slack, to live.

I am still here. I am doing ok. I feel stable right now. I feel pretty good.

Monday, November 19, 2007


A new week. It is Monday. I just got home from school.
As I am seeking my purpose here in Cambodia, God continues to lead the way. I continue to pray the “Big 3” of God. I pray every single day that God will help me to leave this eating disorder in Cambodia, that I will find a friend or some community, and that God will show me my purpose. I keep praying and God keeps working.
ED is becoming less and less a part of my daily life. A year ago, I didn’t have a daily life. My life was living with an eating disorder and I could focus on little else. I still have plenty of difficult days and irrational moments trying to counsel my way through this, but I still seem improvement. Now I am more likely to forgive myself, I talk more kindly to myself, and food and exercise is less of my focus each day. I feel like I am picking up the missing pieces as I continue to recover. I really want to leave this demon here. I can’t live the way I have been. I was created for so much more.
I am still praying for friendships and community. I am trying to do my part. I keep myself busy and try to plan things with people. I spend time with the Scott’s, go into town with my teacher friend JC, or spend time on Sabbath with a young group of teachers who just graduated from college. I’ve also been reaching out even further. A Pakistani woman named, Parveen befriended me one evening when we were both out walking. Since then she has invited me for curry, insisted I call her “mama”, and soon I will start giving her grandson piano lessons. There is a Vietnamese man I met this weekend who runs a small Adventist school out of his home. I offered to help tutor his students on weekends. I met a Cambodian named Isaac. He is Christian and is involved with a local church. I asked him if I could tag along sometime to his church or bible study. Hopefully we can go soon. I am trying, but friendships and community is not something I intended would be so difficult to find.
Lastly, I am not only praying for purpose, I am praying that God will help me see this is worth it. Show me what I am supposed to do here, yes. Then, please show me that it matters to someone, anyone. A tall order, but God hasn’t given up on me yet.
This is what I wrote in my journal last week: “So since God is showing me that ED and other things are not my purpose, what is? Am I seeking my purpose or just waiting for conditions to be ideal? I need to look for my purpose.
I am a teacher. I am Ms. Bo. I am not here to make them like me or be their best friend. I did not come here to be beautiful. I am not here to entertain. I am not here to give free passes of just get by.
I came to teach, to grow, to inspire. I came to encourage, guide, and love. I came to make connections, to matter, to do more than “just” teach. I came to smile, to comfort, and to listen.
So am I doing all of these things? How would Jesus teach my classes? What would he do differently?
Jesus would not get so frustrated when students forget to call him Mr. Jesus. He may not get so annoyed with the 11th graders complaints and requests. Would Jesus give out the death-glares I do to Vuthy and Ratana in 7th grade? Doubtful. I’ll bet Jesus would make time for Phalkun and the girls in 8th grade. Jesus might be a little more merciful and patient, not all of my kids even speak English!
So now what? I will “kindly” remind students, at their desks, to call me Ms.Bo. I will have a “friendly” talk with the 11th graders about some of their ridiculous complaints. Vuthy and Ratana require attention, I am almost positive they both have some kind of ADD. But I need to be more “personal”. I will now approach them at their desks, bend down, touch their shoulder, and ask them nicely to be quite and stop their yelling outbursts. From now on I will “patiently” listen to Phalkun and the girls as they ask ridiculous questions they already know the answer to. I will smile and be attentive, even when they talk about my weight or how much they miss their last teacher. I will yell less and be patient more. They are all learning English and I need to remember that.”

Alas, the week seemed much better. I had more intentionality to what I was doing. I didn’t yell. I talked quietly to students one at a time. I smiled when I wanted to put my hands around their throat and …whoops! I just couldn’t imagine Jesus smiling happily from the back of my classroom as I tried desperately to control and maintain order in 7th grade. These really are God’s children; they just might not know Him yet. What I am doing to introduce Him?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"First" Impressions (before I forget)

The longer I live here, the more things become “normal” to me. So I want to tell you about them before I forget.

The first thing you may notice upon entering any public place is that, men are very affectionate with each other. I assumed they were all gay. But according to the locals, this is completely normal. Men are just very close. They walk through the mall holding hands or rubbing each other’s backs, as their wives walk behind them. Actually, I can count on one hand how many times I have seen a man and a woman holding hands. It is very rare. Public flirting is practically breaking the law. It is a disgrace to the family.

So people are close, in more ways than one. Cambodians feel very comfortable sitting, standing, and walking very close to you. It is awkward for me. Americans are good at calculating steps so they don’t intersect at an awkward moment with a stranger. Not so here, not so.
I like to walk or jog each day to relax after a long day. And people on motos and bicycles will pass so close to you, you might as well be sharing oxygen. A car actually nudged me as I was jogging the other day. It makes me want to randomly swing my arms in circles around me so maybe someday I will “accidentally” clothesline one of them who is passing way too close. Is that mean? I guess I have a bubble and they don’t.

Everyone here rides motos. They are not motorcycles, they are more like mopeds. You can pay a driver to take you anywhere you want. Apparently, it is inappropriate for women to straddle the motos. So we have to ride with both legs on side, side-saddle. Today as I juggled two bags of groceries on the back of a moto I realized, I have incredibly good balance, because there is nothing to hold on to back there. Very often you will see a moto driver holding an IV bag for the passenger sitting behind him. The people here are convinced that an IV in their arm can cure anything from the common cold to a headache. So if they can afford the doctor, they all get IV’s.

Cambodians are incredibly image conscious. The other day a Cambodian teacher asked me what medicine I take to make my eyelashes grow so long and lovely! I tried to explain the phenomenon of “mascara”. I soon gave up. Cambodians will comment on your zits, the dark circles under your eyes, and your figure. My usual uniform for school is a pair of Croc’s, a black skirt, and a top. My students do not like my Croc’s, my headbands, or the gym shorts I wear when I teach PE. I know, they told me. They tell me when I have gotten “fat” over the weekend. But they call each other “fat”, “chunky”, and “ugly” too though. Not much is taboo with them. The American taboos such as a woman’s age, weight, or appearance, don’t exist here.
My first time at the grocery store left me stunned. In the beauty product aisle I was looking for some face lotion. Of 10 different lotions, 9 of them were not for me. Almost all of the lotions were whitening creams. The women want so badly to be white like the Western women they see on TV. They buy these bleaching lotions that promise to make them look like American beauties. They avoid the sun, not for their health or comfort. They do not want to get any darker than they have to. A teacher here went to the beach, came back tan, and her family nearly disowned her. Whiter is better, or so they tell me. At least I’ve got that one covered. Thanks mom and dad.

And because I am white, I get looked at, everywhere, all the time. When I ride my bike to school, motos passing by will nearly crash, turning around to examine me, the funny looking foreigner. People walking on the street do double takes. It is like having an everlasting booger! People are always staring at me. I am not exaggerating. My roommate Trina, who is a Chinese-American, was walking with me the other day and said, “My goodness, do they always look at you like this? I’m sorry.”
Sometimes I feel like a caged animal. Groups of people will see me a half mile down the road and continue staring the entire 3-4 minutes it may take me to get out of sight. Sometimes they are silent, most of the time they are not. Sometimes I know what they are saying, sometimes I don’t. People will take pictures of me or capture the “walking white girl” on their video phones. It is so hard to not feel completely isolated, unwelcome, and frustrated by all of this. I don’t look like them, talk like them, or live like them. No matter how comfortable I may get here, I will always be the “foreigner”. It feels awful knowing that I will never just blend in. I can’t.
Considering all of this, I compared it to life back home. When I see a “strange” looking person, do I take pictures of them, stare, and laugh as they walk by? Of course not. That is horribly rude and inappropriate, in the states! Did you catch the keywords: “in the states”? I am not in the states. The way people act here is different that the way people act in the states. This is called culture. Again, if I wanted American culture so badly, why didn’t I just stay at home? Our thoughts are the same: See something strange, acknowledge that indeed they look different! But our actions are different. Americans look away, Cambodians keep on looking!

It is hard to find the balance here between, accepting and living in this culture and fighting the differences. I suppose until the culture is of direct harm to my health there is little I can do. I wasn’t shipped here. Yet, it is hard to actually admit sometimes, “Yeah, I signed up for this. I actually volunteered to come here.” This is not “my” year. I gave it to God a long time ago.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Where do I even start? I am way behind and have so much to tell you about. I will have to summarize.
Being that my biggest struggle here is loneliness and the need for relationships, I made that my focus this last week. The Scott’s are such genuine and kind people. They told me their home is my home and even offered me a key.
I have been toying with the idea of getting a cell phone. Monday I was convinced by a few teachers that it would help me feel better connected. Indeed I thought that sounded like a marvelous idea. Being connected? Sign me up! J.C, a young and friendly teacher at CAS, took me into town on his moto. He knew of a shop where he usually went and we got everything I needed for about $40. You pay as you go, so there are no messy plans or anything. Here, there are also no traffic rules. So the motos go wherever people can walk. So as we stood on the sidewalk outside the shop, a moto came out of nowhere, hit a woman off her bike, and tossed chairs several directions, one hitting my leg. Everyone screamed and there were a few moments of chaos as everyone realized no one was sitting on the moto. We looked in the direction it came from to see a girl, about my age, turning red and looking horribly embarrassed. The moto had been sitting on the sidewalk, still running, and she pressed the gas as a joke not realizing it was one. It lurched forward about 10 feet thus creating the commotion.
The woman kept rubbing her shoulder but seemed ok. Her bike was bent and mangled. The basket of roasted snails she had had on her head were now scattered all over the sidewalk. J.C’s moto was also sitting nearby and got hit as well leaving an obvious chip out of the side. All eyes went to the girl as everyone obviously wanted some kind of reimbursement. If the perpetrator was a male, he probably would have run off already. But with no insurance, traffic rules, of police really to speak of, everyone just started yelling and fighting. Being the only foreigner nearby, I just sat on J.C’s moto and watched.
Tuesday after school I went over to have supper at Mama’s house. Mama, whose name is Parveen, is a short, feisty Pakistani woman I met one day while I was out for a walk. She is 61, but she looks 45. She has black hair, dark skin, and beautiful friendly eyes. She likes to smile. I like Parveen. She told me to just call her Mama. We had seen each other 2 or more times and one day she invited me over for some “real, authentic” Indian food. I was not about to pass it up. I arrived. She showed me pictures of her family back home in Pakistan. We ate chipati’s (spelling?) and curry. So, so good.
Wednesday I was informed that I had mail! Yay! I love mail. Correction: I love feeling worth someone sending me packages or letters half way around the world. I feel less forgotten and love seems to pour out of the box each and every time. I usually open it up and immediately sniff whatever is inside. It always smells like home no matter where it came from. It was sent by someone who loves me and I hug and hold everything they sent me. I made the trip to the post office and could hardly wait to get back to open it. Indeed it was letters and packages from my mom and friend from home. Happy “belated” birthday? Who cares? I am just spreading it out for longer than a day and that is fine with me.
Thursday I was also told I had packages. Some of the missionaries here have never gotten mail in 10 years. I have received more than 7 since I got here and 4 in the last week. I am not complaining. I am overjoyed. I went again to the post office. This time it was from my sister Ashley and a friend from Union. In the package from my sister was a card and a DVD that said, “Happy Birthday Heather”. I should’ve better prepared myself for what followed. My sister had taken a video camera to Union and filmed some of my really good friends talking to me. I sobbed for the next half hour. Each new person that came onto the screen brought new tears. I cried and cried. I laughed. I giggled. I remembered. I felt loved. I felt important. I felt like me. Each person reminded me that I am normal and good and special. I need this. I am afraid to watch it again, because honestly I just felt horribly homesick the next day, but either way, it was so good to “see” friends and family. My sister and Ben even gave me a tour of their new home, complete with “my” chair at dinner and “my” bed in the guest bedroom. I felt loved.
After watching the video, I walked out of my apartment and something just felt different. I thought about it and tried to put my finger on what it was. Seeing people from home, hearing their voices, seeing Union’s campus, being reminded of familiar people and places, was good for me. Sometimes I feel like Cambodia is this strange “never, never land” sort of place that only exists as long as I am here and will cease to once I leave. It doesn’t seem real. But I am beginning to forget things about home too. I am stuck in between worlds, trying to make Cambodia feel more like a reality. Watching this DVD really helped with that. Because as I sat in my apartment, in Cambodia, I was reminded that I am still “me”, just relocated. I walked down the stairs and whispered to myself, “You do not have to become Cambodia”. I don’t have to be as immature as some of the people here; I don’t have to be uncompassionate. Living in Cambodia doesn’t destine me to become a litter bug, a carnivore, lazy, or rude. This environment doesn’t have to “make” me into anything. But often I feel so overwhelmed by this new reality that it is easy to forget who I am how, how I deal with situations, and what is important to me.
I got perspective in box on Thursday. Mr.Blake counseled me, Rachael sang me a song, Stephanie jumped around and said “Happy BIRTHday” just like she used to. Union looks the same. Apparently it is not falling apart without me. Pastor Rich is still kind and fatherly, so encouraging. My sister and Ben still love me and look forward to hearing all about my life here. I guess everyone is ok without me. I don’t feel such desperation to come home. I miss it, yes. But if the people I love and care for are okay and haven’t forgotten about me, what am I “really” missing back home?
I don’t miss America. I don’t miss my overflowing planner with events and project deadlines. I don’t miss classes. I don’t even miss the frigid cold weather. I’m missing relationships. So “that” is what I need to find here to be truly happy.
Friday we had a day off from school, again. Fay and I made a date to go to a used book sale. I found a bookstore the closest to a Barnes and Noble I will ever find. The magazines from home cost $18.50. So I won’t be buying much there. From here we went to the market and to run some of her errands. It was just nice to get out and “be” with her. I got some groceries and we back late afternoon. I did some schoolwork, went for a walk, and went to vespers. I lit my Sabbath candle in the apartment and went to bed.
Sabbath morning I went to Sabbath school #1, the young adult version. Then, I skipped Khmer church to prepare for Sabbath school #2’s lesson. I volunteered to lead it, so I thought maybe I should know what I was going to say. It went well. This weeks lesson, we follow the Adventist quarterly, was about struggling to hold on to God, even amidst the hard things in life. I saw this as a perfect opportunity to share my struggles. I think I shocked some people. I openly told the 40 or so people there about my prayers of desperation since coming here, my loneliness and my struggles with anorexia. The room was quiet. I told them that I don’t see the point in keeping out burdens to our selves. I have problems and it is through these problems I am learning about desperately hanging on to God.
I have no secrets. This is liberating. Later I went for a walk and realized, I am more of an open book than any time in my life and I am ok with it. Everyone who knows me on planet earth knows I am human. Wow, what a relief! No surprises here. It feels good.
Saturday night I went with Angie, Sokcha, Dina, Chingly, and J.C. to a documentary showing. I had read about it somewhere and it turned out pretty good. It was held on the cozy rooftop of an art gallery. There was a bar and couches and a projector set up. The documentaries were about Cambodia and its history. Really interesting! After the boys got a late night snack and I couldn’t pass up that darn-good sugar cane juice, we got back after 10 sometime.
Today has been nothing but grading and lesson plans and quarter tests. No really. For the last 8 hours I have been doing nothing else. So today has been uneventful and long. But back to school tomorrow, now we start 2nd quarter. Wow, one-fourth of the way there! I can’t keep up. I can’t blog fast enough. I know I am leaving a lot out, but bear with me.
This week has been different. God is showing me so much about myself, this country, and what my purpose may be here. I am keeping my eyes open.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


First off, THANKYOU! Sunday was my birthday. I am offiicially 20 years old. It is really strange having a birthday here. Just different. But all of your emails from home made me feel so special. It really was an outpouring of love. I felt it. I can't ever respond to everyone's emails, but I suppose that is a good problem to have. I am not complaining. So keep sending them.

I have had an epiphany. (Isn't that such a fun word to say?) Yes, an epiphany. Don't ask me to give the exact difinition. I think it has something to do with a lightbulb turning on or, as Oprah calls it, an "ah-hah" moment!

Sunday night, I sat at the Tim and Fay Scott's house. That evening I had invited a few people over and we played UNO and ate banana splits. Everyone had gone and, as usual, we just sat on their couch and kept talking. I am very open with them about my struggles here. They know about my eating disorder. They know about my frustrations at school and feelings of absolute loneliness. The Scotts know it all.

Fay began talking about how their house feels so empty this year. Apparently last year, the SM's spent almost every evening at their home doing school work. I have never taken them completely seriously about this until now. I am desperate. After such a rough weekend, they have given me hope. They have offered to be my escape. They are "someone" I can talk to. They are exactly what I need.

I have continued praying for a friend in Cambodia. Maybe God's picture of a friend is different than mine. But I am not about to pass up the warmth and friendship I feel with them. I have always related better to people older than me anyway. The Scotts are no exception. After speaking with them I felt rejuvinated and more at peace than I have in days.

My Mom made mention of some fun looking picutres on my Flickr photo account online. It felt as though she was saying, "Come on. You are having 'some' fun over there!" True. So why the depressing blog entries huh?

This is the epiphany part. I write blogs about the hard times because I haven't had anyone to voice them to here. When no one is interested in hearing about the hard days, I store them up and then blog about them. My blogs are serving as a way of counseling because I am not being supported much here. The more I feel actually cared about here, the more I can write about the good things, because I will have another outlet instead of always using the blog.

Picture this: a computer. Even in this fast-paced world, computers have limits to how much they can store. If information is only entered, entered, entered, it will eventually run out of space.

That is me. I am constantly taking in culture differences, language miscommunications, living arrangments, teaching, homesickness, new people, new experiences, and a completely new way of looking at the world. Until now, I really haven't had a way to "back-up" if you will. All that stuff has to go somewhere. It is usually poured out into my blogs.

Think about your own life. Do you have a boyfriend, a girlfriend, husband, wife, roommate? Do you have ONE friend? If so, you are miles and miles ahead of me. My blogs and emails from home have been my friend here, my source of encouragment, my reminder that I am normal, and God forbid, a good person. When you no longer have someone to talk to, the devil chimes in. I know. I deal with him daily. We all need friendships. We need someone to care that we are alive.

God is slowly opening my eyes to my friends I may have here. I have felt such peace this week knowing I have an escape. At the Scott's home I can just "be". I have been trying to "be" everything to everyone here and failing miserably. I have been "shoulding" myself to death. I want to relax, live, and enjoy here.

Who knows what tomorrow may bring? I am not about to promise I won't have difficult days. I am not about to guarantee that everything is fixed. I am human. I will have rough days. I will be honest and write about them.

Sandy Tallman made me consider one of the 10 commandments. "Do not lie". Could that also mean, "Be completely honest". I can do that. I am doing that. I have good days and bad days. You have good days and bad days. Either way, thanks for listening. Thanks for supporting. I am headed somehwhere. I continue to pray for purpose. I have to have come to Cambodia for something.

"God, show me that 'something".

Saturday, November 3, 2007


I am a flake. I’m up. I’m down. You have no idea. This is the last two days of my life, in summary.

Friday morning I went to school as usual. I really do not care for Fridays. There is too much time to think. I still fear down time. But I tried to make plans to make it easier. So first, a half day of school. My 8th grade students “surprised” me with a little birthday party during one of the breaks. The last two weeks they have been asking me what periods I have off on Fridays, my favorite kind of cake, what Americans usually do for birthdays, and so on. So yes, they “surprised” me for sure! It was sweet. They all chipped in to buy me a cake that said, “Happy Birthday Ms.Bo!”. It had two candles and after I blew them out they sprayed silly string all over the class room. I cut the cake while other students poured soda and took pictures with my camera. In the end I was left with a very sticky class room and a very sticky face from the frosting that was smeared there during a brief frosting fight.

Friday was my day to clean the apartment, but after I finished cleaning I went to the internet shop. I sat down and was immediately overwhelmed by all the emails in my inbox. I am not about to complain that people actually want to write to me. Sometimes I feel that is how I survive some days, just knowing “someone” hasn’t forgotten about me. I was overwhelmed because I realized some emails had been sitting in my inbox for over a week. So I felt guilty and started thinking about how quickly I am probably losing friends the longer I am here. My Mom has been so earnest in planning a great trip out here to see me with my Dad. She has been asking a lot of questions about where to go, where to stay, and how to get there. I can’t answer all of them. Thus, I started thinking about how my Mom is probably giving up on me too. I started crying just sitting there. My inbox is full. But somehow I still feel everything back home is just slipping away.

I left there and went for a walk. I stepped onto the street and started to cry. As I said, I am a freak. It is as though every time I am alone with my thoughts, they take control: rational or irrational, it doesn’t matter. The problem is, too often I can’t tell the difference. I don’t function normally here. I feel frantic and not at all myself. So I walked and cried my way past foreign eyes as that watched me as I passed.

I returned to the mission where I live for my allotted time at the church when the pastor lets me in to play piano. I had been asked at school that morning to do a special song at vespers that night. So I hadn’t chosen anything with about an hour before it was supposed to start. Pastor Garth passed me on his way home and asked, “How are you?” I did not lie; my blood shot eyes wouldn’t let me anyway. I told him it was a rough day. He kept walking. I sat down at the piano and “You Cannot Lose My Love” by Sara Groves came to me, so that is what I sang. As I practiced Pastor Garth came up behind me and asked me if I wanted to come over for dinner. I almost started crying again. Of course I wanted to come over for dinner! Real human interaction? Friendly conversation? A home environment? Not another bowl of cereal? A relaxing Sabbath evening? But oh wait, I promised to sing at vespers. I declined and hated myself for agreeing to sing that night.

I ran up to my apartment, grabbed my things, ran to Fay’s house, called the vespers coordinator, asked if I could move my song to the end of vespers, then asked Fay if she would take me to vespers after dinner. Whew! I was desperate. It just doesn’t happen regularly that people reach out to me here, so I just had to try and make this work. I showed up at Garth and Sylvia Anthony’s house, they were surprised but kind and invited me in. I explained I could only stay until I had to leave for vespers, but I enjoyed every minute of my time with them. I expressed my gratitude to them and thanked them profusely before I left. I told them that time with them makes Cambodia a little more bearable.
Fay quickly drove me to the school just in time for my song. It went fine. It was a very up and down sort of day.

Today was Sabbath. I don’t really look forward to Sabbath’s here either and I hate that. I was up at 7am because I was headed to a small church outside of Phnom Penh with 3 ADRA workers to put on the church service. Actually this week I was observing. The church was a small, but nice room with chairs and even a PA system, about 15-20 people gathered there. They sang and then Mark and Anne used a felt board to tell the story of John the Baptist. The “sermons” they do are really just adapted children’s stories. They are new believers and they seem to really appreciate when ADRA comes. The whole morning, sitting through the Khmer songs, the Khmer “sermon” and Khmer conversation, I was just reminded of my isolation. Tears filled my eyes on the drive home. I spoke with the ADRA workers about what it takes to be a volunteer and whether I am even built for this kind of work. I am just not convinced.

We got back to the mission about 15 minutes before the English Sabbath school started. I used this time to escape to my empty apartment and cry. I cried from loneliness. That is usually the source of my tears. I’ve never been surrounded by so many people and yet felt so horribly alone. I went down to Sabbath school. The topic was suffering and how God doesn’t wish suffering upon us, but uses it to build our character and make us stronger. Yup, I’ve heard that before. It doesn’t make my situation any easier. Everyone says, “It will get better! Just wait, soon you won’t want to leave!” Yeah, I hope that happens too. But try living here now!

Some Adventist nurses came here from South Carolina to do medical work. So we had a potluck for them. I forced myself to go and be around people. I sat down in the Anthony’s living room where potluck was and shoved the tears deeper inside. Kamrong, a Cambodian doctor here, leaned over and said, “How are you?”. I started to say, “I am a bit homesick.” But instead, I said, “I….I…” and started crying again. I quickly stood up and walked out. Fay followed me out.

Don’t worry, it is exhausting just writing about my absolute whirlwind of emotions. I know, I think I am pathetic too. We sat down on her couch. She already assumed what was wrong. It is the same thing that is always wrong: people here just don’t care. And when they do show signs of compassion, I break down from the shock! I am not homesick for my house, Union college, my car, my cell phone, television, or American life. Day to day, the hardest part about living here is the absolute loneliness. I have come half way around the world and for what. No one cares that I am here. No one ever says, “Hey, thanks for coming! This is kinda tough huh?” No one ever thinks, “Wow it must be kinda tight in that little apartment. I wonder if she’d like some space.”

Maybe I am asking too much. But in all honesty, I am shocked by the people here. I thought it was human nature to care. I guess I am just spoiled. I thought humans took care of each other. I am so tired of reaching out to people, asking how they are doing, helping them with things, praying for them, and compromising for them. When will someone return the favor?

I have never felt so invisible, unappreciated, unimportant, uninteresting, empty, lonely, depressed, lost, pathetic, and homesick in my whole life. I continue to pray that God will send me a friend and a purpose. But as I told Fay today, I just don’t think I can last the whole year here feeling so worthless.
Tomorrow is my birthday. I am nearly 20 years old. I never thought I would be in Cambodia on my 20th birthday, but here I sit. What do I know for sure?

I know I am much stronger than I thought I was two months ago.
I know I am tough, yet vulnerable.
I know I am human.
I know that I value family and friends more than anything else.
I know God is here. But I also know that God is testing me.
I know living here in Cambodia is the hardest thing I have ever done.

Please pray for me here. I sound desperate because I am. The only thing keeping me here right now is my pride.

“God, please send me a reason to stay.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Hey everyone. I have posted some new pictures on my Flickr photo account. The link should be on the left side of this page. Something like, "View Heather Bo's pictures"? Anyways, check them out!

Also, have you read the book, "First They Killed My Father"? I am almost finished. My sister got in on It paints such an incredible picture of the people here. I better understand why the people are the way they are. There are still so many fresh wounds in this country. But that is for another blog...


“I am on a bus bound for Sihanoukville. The Cambodians call it Kampoung Som. Either way, “it” is a beach town four hours away from Phnom Penh. We had another holiday from school, so my roommates and I really wanted to get away.
The Cambodian countryside passes me by; shelters on stilts above ponds of sewage water, white emaciated cattle, naked little children casting fishing nets, and towering palm trees dotting the rice fields. A Khmer movie with Chinese subtitles plays loudly on the bus as I watch soldiers shoot and yell at each other. I think this is the Cambodian version of “MASH”. A woman behind me has answered her cell phone and talks very loudly in a foreign language I don’t recognize. The bus driver spends most of his time honking at motos and trucks packed with garment workers headed to the factories. My roommates sit in the row ahead of me and watch “The Office” season DVD’s on Trina’s laptop. My experience is completed by Jill Phillips and Fernando Ortega as they sing to me through my headphones.
As we pulled out of Phnom Penh an hour ago, I began talking to a Spanish gentleman named Manuel. He grew up in Spain and now he travels for business that has taken him to over 70 countries. He is going to Sihanoukville to visit friends. He is in and out of Phnom Penh regularly. We talk about how lonely it can be to travel, places I should visit in Europe on my way home, and the yoga classes has found in Phnom Penh. He mentions how cheap they are at $5 a class and I nearly gasp. There is no way I could afford that on my income!
He seems comfortable as a traveler. He has seen so much of the world. He has perspective. I can’t always understand everything he is saying in his broken English. So I focus on his lips and nod my head and smile. He asks why I came to Cambodia. He says it sounds like I was at a crossroads in my life. I think I agree. He tells me about breathtaking landscapes on the coast of Greece and beautiful country sides in Florence, Italy. At this I say, “That sounds gorgeous! It can be very difficult to find beauty in Cambodia especially in Phnom Penh!” He says, in many words, that the beauty is there you just have to look for it. He mentions character, values, culture, and smiles. Honestly I think this all sounds a bit cliché because I was hoping he would tell me about some hidden park or waterfall I hadn’t found yet. But he didn’t.
The beauty is harder to see. In America, ideal conditions, beautiful landscapes, and easy living has been handed to me my entire life. Is my situation here completely devoid of beauty or am I missing something?
Do I have such strict standards for blinders that I am missing the point? Am I fighting my very reality? Am I seeking changes that are just part of the experience? Am I missing out on a great adventure because part of me refuses to adjust?
This is my life right now and will be for 10 months. I will not live in Cambodia for the rest of my life. I am not trapped. I am not suffering. I did not sign-up for easy, ideal, or beautiful. I signed-up for Cambodia and everything that entails. I can’t pick and choose. I may never find this place to be charming. Heather, accept what is and start living!
I have plenty of things I do not like about Cambodia. But faults are too always easy to spot. That is too easy. What do I like about my life here?

-wearing less make-up, spending less time on my hair, my wardrobe
-doing all my grocery shopping
-riding motos around town
-Asian pears
-fresh sugarcane juice
-being called “Ms.Bo”
-a simpler life
-the funny sounds Cambodian make when they really laugh
-the kindergarten girls when they come out of the bathroom with their uniform tucked into their underwear
-less focus on being skinny
-the beautiful Buddhist temples
-watching my students perform, get up front, sing, anything
-playing volleyball with the dormitory students
-travel is cheap
-food is cheap
-clothes are cheap
-how my 6 year old Pakistani neighbor calls me “Baji Heather”, which means “sister”
-fellowship at potlucks
-wearing Crocs every single day
-seeing monks riding motos
-knowing I live where ADRA works
-the smiley cook in the kitchen at CAS, we don’t speak the same language, still we communicate
-Cambodian dancing
-dragon fruit
-not living on much
-meeting people from all over the world
-the random herd of goats that wanders around my neighborhood”

-my journal entry from October 28th
(This list is only a few of the 92 things I wrote down that I like about Cambodia)

We arrived in Sihanoukville. We found a guesthouse on the ocean, dropped our things, and went swimming. The beach wasn’t awfully crowded. But we are in Cambodia, so it is a little dirtier and all the locals wear jeans and long sleeve shirts to swim. This made my one-piece swimsuit look a bit risqué! That night we saw the town and ate some good ‘ol Western comfort food at a restaurant called Holy Cow. They had this yummy Pumpkin soup and apple pie with ice cream for desert. The next day we relaxed at the beach in the morning, visited some waterfalls, and even splurged $4 on foot massages!
We only spent 2 days in Sihanoukville because we had to get back to do schoolwork. Still, it was an incredibly relaxing and much needed getaway.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


This summer, when I was home in Colorado, my parents and I went out for lunch. As usual, my Dad started talking to the waitress and making conversation. He always found a way to bring up the fact that his daughter would be going to Cambodia for a year. She was shocked and impressed that I was going alone, for a year, to a foreign country, to teach!

As I told people of my plans to come here, I always got about the same reaction. Apparently, serving God for a year in Cambodia is bold, life-changing, awesome, incredible, daring, adventuresome, crazy, risky, scary, a huge commitment, radical, and inspiring. Or so I hear.

Apparently, what I am doing here is a big deal. I need reminding. Of course my reality is nothing special to everyone here because it is their reality as well. There is nothing special to them about "another" student missionary. But this should not make what I am doing here any less important.

Ths "suck-it-up and move on" mentality, is not one I favor. Yeah, I prefer to feel. But truly feeling isn't necessarily a bed of roses. Feeling can be horribly painful. Before I came here I had no idea that such absolute loneliness could actually cause physical pain.

On Saturday night, I was lonely. Having an eating disorder means that I often substitute food for feelings. I ate so much my stomach felt like it would explode. Walking back to my apartment, I had decided I was going to throw up, just this once. I haven't vomited in over a year, but I figured I could just this one last time, then I wouldn't ever do it again.

The apartment had been empty all day, but of course, now my roommate Liz was there. I was frustrated. She was headed across the street to watch a movie with some friends and asked if I wanted to come. Of course, I declined. I had other plans.

I sat on the couch waiting for her to hurry up and leave. She went into the bathroom and I continued the battle inside my head. I prayed, "Dear God, I don't want to do this. But I feel so powerless to stop. I feel so empty. I won't throw up if Liz shows even a bit of concern and asks how I am doing." The bathroom door opened, "Hey. What's wrong?" she said. I buried my head in my hands, explained what was "really" going on, and asked her to take me with her to the movie.

Sometimes I feel like I completely lack perspective. I don't always think very clearly. I can quickly forget that I was very brave to come here. I can just as quickly feel worthless and resort to old habits dealing with ED.

When I was suddenly dropped into a foreign world without friends and family to help me through, I lost myself. I forgot how I usually deal with situations or even what used to bring me peace. I forgot I could be funny. I forgot I liked to sing. I forgot that sometimes I like to just sit and read. It is like starting all over again. Only now, this week even, do I feel like I am slowly remembering.

The real me is coming into view and I think I am ok with what I see.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Good Book

I have started reading a book called, First They Killed My Father. The author is Loung Ung.

I really, really encourage you to check it out. It isn't very long. But it tells the story of the very recent Khmer Rouge invasion. This country lost half of its population. Every single one of my students lost someone or know of someone who died during this time. Some of the people I know here are fatherless because their fathers were tortured by Pol Pot less than 10 years ago.

It is interesting to read because the author talks about going to places in Phnom Penh that I go to now. Her description of daily life in Cambodia is accurate to what I see outside my window.

So pick it up if you get a chance!


Have you ever heard of the Pyramid of Basic human needs? Ok, imagine a triangle. This illustrates what human beings need to survive.

At the least, humans need food and water. We have to have energy to live day to day. So at the base of the pyramid, we have physiological needs.

Next up, we have to have somewhere to sleep at night. We need an environment. But more than just a roof, we need to feel stable. I wouldn't be very comfortable or at ease sleeping in a cardboard box everynight. This doesn't ensure very good rest.

Ok, then on the next level, humans need to feel love. We need to feel like we matter. That we have support and that someone cares about us.

Now, the fourth level from the bottom is purpose. We need to know that there is a reason we wake up everyday. Not just that people care we are alive, but that "we" care we are alive. We need to know that there is a reason we are here.

The fifth and top level of the pyramid of human needs is self-actualization. I would call this complete and total peace. Knowing who you are is everything you need to be at all times. Knowing and fulfilling your purpose, living with meaning.

I may have slaughtered the exact explanation, but that is what it means to me.

I learned about this Pyramid of Human Needs when I was in counseling. Eating disorders put all its victims at the very bottom of the pyramid. Fighting ED is just fighting to eat everyday. There is no chance of even approaching things like "love" or "purpose". People with ED are just trying to eat. When I first got to Cambodia, that is where I sat. Now I sit somewhere between pysiological needs and a stable environment. That is what I am working on. My apartment is small and crowded. So I am trying to find a safe environment elsewhere: the Scott's, an afternoon at a coffee shop, a walk, or just waking up before my roommates to pray. As I get more and more comfortable here in Cambodia, the days get easier. I caught myself singing the other day as I walked to class. It has been too long. I am slowly finding where I fit and it feels so good.

On Saturday I spotted white people walking into Khmer church. I was instantly curious. Afterwards I was told they are from Mission College in Thailand. They are the Tennyson's , an American couple with 4 daughters. They both work at the college and really like it. I immediately liked them. The teachers here who graduated from Mission College knew them. On Sunday night they were all headed out to eat and invited me to come along. It was so sweet of them to invite me because it was a Mission College get-together and I am definately not in that group. I jumped at the chance and I got back late. I promised my 8th graders homemade cookies for their good behavior last week. So Sunday night I was up at 11:30pm doing just that.

The next day, the we had big party at lunchtime complete with cookies, music, and indeed, dancing! Monday night, the Tennyson's invited me out again. It was so good to talk to them. They just sat there and listened to me talk about life in Cambodia. They even brainstormed ideas of how to feel better while I am here. It was so sweet and much needed.

Last week, I prayed 3 bold things of God. I prayed that God would help me to leave this eating disorder in Cambodia, that He would have someone care about me, and that I would see my purpose. I felt very cared for this weekend. My prayer was answered almost immediately and I am still in awe as to how He did it!

I am finding my place. I am moving up that darn pyramid. I am sick of hangin out at the bottom. There is so much more to me. I promised God a year of my life here in Cambodia. The devil is using any method he can to distract me from that promise. But still it remains.

"God help me. This year is yours."

Saturday, October 20, 2007


On Thursday I prayed to God that he would send me someone who would care. I feel like I am asking big things of God by telling Him how much I want someone to ask, “How are you?” Less than 12 hours later, my prayer was answered. Thursday afternoon Sylvia Anthony, who lives and works here at the mission stopped me and said, “Heather, how are you?” She is a God-send and I have never meant that more than I do about her. She and her husband Garth are from Britain and have the most adorable English accents. She asked and then she actually listened. We shared stories and I shared some of my struggles with her. Yesterday (Friday) she invited me over for “tea” at 5:30pm, which apparently means dinner.
I arrived and instantly felt at home. Their home is nicely furnished, air conditioned, and peaceful. I miss being in a home. We lit Sabbath candles, prayed, ate supper, talked, sang, read bible passages; this is exactly what I needed. It was so calming to just “be” with them. There was real conversation that mattered to me. I didn’t talk much. I just listened to them tell me mission stories. They have been in Iceland, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and the list goes on. The peaceful atmosphere was so good for me. There isn’t much peace in a one-room apartment with two other girls. There just isn’t. This felt like home. I sincerely hope they will invite me over again sometime.
Today may have been the best day I have had here in Cambodia! It was Sabbath. I was up at 6:30am. I went for a walk. I came back as my roommates were headed out the door to go to a local church. As soon as they were out the door I realized that same calming feeling I had felt the night before. I was alone! I am never alone in our apartment! I had every intention of going to Sabbath school, but nothing about that peaceful apartment could get me out the door. I showered, enjoyed the quiet, praised God for His answer to my prayer, and did some journaling and reading. Ahhhh!
I went downstairs to the Khmer church service which takes place just below me. Have I mentioned that my apartment is in the steeple of the church? I found familiar faces and sat down. My 11th graders were leading song service. I feel so proud when I see my students doing something up front. The service was surprisingly interesting and applicable. First of all, it was translated into English. Second, the talk was given by a very energetic CAS teacher I really like! I sat at church with another CAS teacher named JC. He is 27, friendly, kind, and an all-around good guy. After church I went up to the apartment and changed. Then I met JC downstairs. We rode his moto (the moped-like bikes everyone rides here) to another province about an hour away and visited a zoo. It felt so darn good to get out of the city. I never see greenery anywhere. You may think I am over exaggerating, please come visit. I am serious! Phnom Penh is all concrete, dirt roads, and chaos. The room to breathe was noticeable and needed. It was a long ride, it was hot, my helmet was heavy, my butt was sore, I was thirsty, but I was so content. It was nice to get away. I didn’t have to think. I didn’t have to entertain, please, teach, communicate, or mediate. I just sat and rode along.
The countryside was nice. There were a lot of rice paddies and palm trees. JC told me about the people who live in the countryside he calls them “Kampoung” people. They are usually uneducated, illiterate, simple people who would never get along well in the city. They live in wooden shacks on stilts and farm the land for all their food. He said they live such simpler, quiet lives. Hearing there was an even simpler version of the Cambodians I have already seen made me chuckle. I told him Americans aren’t good at relaxing, myself included. Still I felt a little proud because I know I am getting so much better the longer I am here.
Finally we made it to the zoo. It is more of an animal reserve. Do not picture American zoo’s with sidewalks, labeled exhibits, and clean conditions. Here you can reach into the cages and the monkeys can in turn reach out and grab your hair! This happened to JC, I just laughed because he was stupid for getting that close anyway. The cages are small and people throw their trash at the animals. Little children taunt the animals and some of them are limping or missing limbs. Some cages didn’t have labels, so we had no idea what was inside. Still, JC was thrilled and I was just happy to get away.
On the way back, we stopped at a roadside stand and I tried Jackfruit. Good stuff! I passed on the fried frog legs and hanging pigs, complete with dripping blood and flies. My butt was sore so I made a few excuses to stop and take pictures. I captured a few malnourished cows and naked children. On we went, through the countryside, then into the city again. This time we rode along the riverside, which is always a busy place with street vendors and people playing games. Our last stop was insisted upon by JC. He said I had to try sugar cane juice. They literally take the sugar cane rods, press it between metal rollers and out comes the fresh juice. It was really sweet, but cool and refreshing after a long day in the sun.
Now here I sit on a Saturday night in Cambodia. It still feels like this all can’t be real. It must be a dream. Yet, for the first time, I mean that in a good way. This is becoming less of a nightmare and more and more of a reality to me. I always keep in the back of my mind that I can go home any time I want. But today, I actually thought about staying.
You see no matter how long I am here, I will always be a “foreigner”. Even the missionaries who have been here for 10 years still get stares. Cambodians don’t know or care how long you have been here. You look different, you are a foreigner. But I am learning my way around the city. I am learning words to get around. “Sooseday. Tly bonman pamello? At loy! Psa Tomei? Akoon” I just said, “Hello. How much for that pamello fruit? Nevermind, I have no money. Take me to another market? Thankyou”.
I may never fit in or look the part. I will always be white, but my head and my heart are being filled with incredible experiences I will never forget. It is neat to see the foreigners who are obviously tourists and feel like I am not one of them. I am here to stay awhile. I can get around this place. I work here. This is my reality. I am not coming and going. I am not visiting. I am becoming a local as much as I ever can be. I am finding my place.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


This morning I woke up feeling sick for the second time this month. I feel like my immune system is definitely lacking. My hair hasn’t stopped falling out since I got here. I feel weak. My legs have to really fight to make it up the stairs at the end of each day. No amount of sleep ever seems to be enough.
I read Genesis 22 this morning. This is the story when God tells Abraham to sacrifice Issac. As he is about to kill his son, an angel appears and says these words, “Now I know how fearlessly you fear God; you didn’t hesitate to place your son, your dear son, on the altar for me.” As a result of Abrahams faithfulness to God, the angel of the Lord continues, “I swear- God’s sure word!- because you have gone through with this, and have not refused to give me your son, your dear, dear son, I’ll bless you- oh, how I’ll bless you!”
I thought to myself, “Geez I would love to hear those words from God at the end of this experience.” THAT would make it all worth it! To hear God say, “Heather, because you have gone through this painful experience and have not refused to dedicate yourself to me- oh, how I’ll bless you!” Which brought the thought: What am I willing to place on the altar for God? What will I have to endure this year? It scares and exhausts me to think that there is no guarantee that the hardest part of this year is behind me. I have no idea what lies ahead of me.
I have been talking about the prayer of Jabez with my 8th graders. Some mornings I read to them about it. I have been daring them to ask big things of God. I tell them that they will only get big results if they ask big things of God. Vitya said he wants a helicopter. This is when I started talking about God’s will. We can pray for anything, but God know what we really need.
I don’t think I am asking enough of God. I pray with desperation, “Please get me through today!” or “God, just get me through this meal. I don’t want to eat.” So I started thinking more specifically about what seems like an extravagant request of God. What would seem silly or ridiculous to ask God for? I quickly thought of three requests.
First, I want to leave this eating disorder in Cambodia. I can’t continue my life this way. It is easy for me to imagine ED always being a part of my life because it is familiar to me now. Too often I imagine fighting this all year and having lonely night, after lonely night crying myself to sleep. “I can’t do this alone Father. I have tried. I’m not getting anywhere. Please take this away from me. I have hopes for such a better life. But I can’t have it without you.”
Second, I want people to care about me. I need to feel support from someone, anyone. “I can’t get through this year feeling like no one cares that I am here. Please, send someone. Send anyone who will care.”
Lastly, I want to know there is a purpose I am here. I want to matter. I want to know that I am doing something important. “God, I need to know that this is all worth it. I need to know that there is some reason you have brought me here.”
I am being bold with God. What if He has just been waiting for me to ask for these things? I will pray and do my best to make the changes I can along the way. But, the rest is in His hands. I cannot do this alone. “Please come through for me God. Please.”
Thursdays are my busiest school day of the week. Some days I have a period or two off. But Thursdays are non-stop. Mornings are generally cool. So my ride to school is doable. I like the cool mornings, it is still probably 70 degrees, but my kids pile on the layers and talk about their goods bump! Today I had an English class or two, 7th grade PE, Geography, Drama, and a few others.
My third period class everyday is 1st grade Reading class. The 7th graders and the 1st graders are probably tied right now for the “most difficult class to teach” award. It is hard enough teaching 1st grade anywhere, but only 2 of my students speak understandable English. They know some words like: teacher, bathroom, finished, and their own names. They are perfect little parrots! They can repeat anything I say to them. But understand? Oh that would be too easy? Today I wrote on the board “On your paper write the word “man” three times.” So as I collected papers, many of them had written “Man three times”, all over their paper!
As I walk around the class room, each and every student says “Teacher Heder” as I walk by their desk. They don’t have a question. They don’t need anything. They just say, “Teacher Heder”, grin, and usually point to a picture they are coloring. I reply, “Oh, how pretty Sohkapol! Keep coloring!”.
There is a student in first grade named Lassa. He is the tiniest little boy. He hardly fills his, already small, plastic chair. His head just barely peeks out over his desk. All Cambodians have dark black hair. Lassa’s hair is dark brown. The principle tells us this means they are malnourished. She says it is the best indicator they know of to tell which students are the poorest. He always seems so tired and weak. It is hard to help him focus and I feel bad asking him too. Most mornings the students don’t get breakfast, which explains why they are so irritable and ravenous all morning. If we see students without a lunch, we are in for an even tougher afternoon. Of course, they are difficult to teach. Some of them may very well be starving.
It is so overwhelming to know I can’t possibly help all of them. It is heartbreaking to realize some of my students haven’t eaten all day. It is exhausting watching my students with learning disabilities struggle through class everyday. It is hard to see them sit in class feeling hopeless. I see students slipping through the cracks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Almost daily in my journal you can find the words, “Well, God I am still here.” Often times I cry my way through many prayers pleading with God to show me that “he” is still here.
My day begins each morning at 5am and today I saw the most gorgeous sunrise. It was golden as it shone in through our apartment windows. I stepped outside onto our balcony, the shop houses and other buildings surrounding me looked almost charming with the warm glow that was covering them. I turned my back a moment and the light behind me had changed to a pink grapefruit color. Another turn the other direction and the sky had turned a brilliant blue with a few black clouds dotting the sky. I felt like God was saying, “Yup, here I am.”
This weekend was pretty good. On Saturday we went to an area in the middle of Phnom Penh called Wat Phnom. It is a central park area with a big pagoda in the middle. There are big trees and shade. Sounds good right? But parks here are different. This is where most of the beggars and vendors come. So you can’t relax with friends or throw around a Frisbee. The overgrown grass has food wrappers and used diapers strewn throughout. If you’re lucky you can witness grown men relieving themselves there too. Yeah, there isn’t much greenery in Phnom Penh and what you can find isn’t the kind you want to run barefoot through. Either way, this is where the monkeys are. I took quite a few pictures at the request of my brother. I got really close to most of them. My roommates were making fun of me saying I was acting like those dumb tourists back home that get attacked by bears. They are probably right, but I am okay with it.
Sunday I got to chat on Skype with both my parents in Colorado and my brother in Tennessee. Isn’t that incredible? I feel like I am cheating compared to the SM’s who received one letter during their entire year. I keep a regular blog, I can call home, and I have email. I am so spoiled. Yet, I would not still be here were it not for support from all of you back home.
Later in the afternoon we got a volleyball game started at the school, then came back and did some work before going to bed.
Today, was the first day back at school after vacation. I came armed with a few new rules. From now on everyone will call me Ms.Bo. Most of them do anyway. But the problem comes when every teacher is simply called, “Teacher”. So every time a student calls, about 20 people turn their heads.
I also figured out that, of the 36 hours each week my 8th graders spend at school, only 6 hours is spent with me. So as much as they complain and complain about my “No Khmer” rule during my classes, they are only being asked to speak English 16.6% of the entire week. I told them that if they can go 5 days in a row doing their best to speak only English, I will reward them. I wasn’t specific about the reward because I have no idea what it will be. But today they did really well. I heard them helping each other, “Hey, please don’t speak Khmer! Remember what Ms.Bo said?” I’m worried. I may just have to actually have a reward for them by the end of the week. We’ll just wait and see.
Oh and lastly, no complaining! I am sick and tired of it. If I hear one single complaint the assignment immediately gets doubled, no questions asked. I already got to use it today as we were picking roles for the Christmas play. The first girl who complained about it, Tulip, will be playing Mary. Congratulations. Strange, she didn’t seem very thrilled at all!
In English class I had my 10th graders do presentations on books they had read. They could draw pictures and tell us about it, write me a song, or just give an oral presentation. I purposefully added the drawing option for a student named Vibol. He is an incredible artist but horribly, painfully shy. I was excited to see his art so I called him to go next. He walked to the front, looked directly at the floor in front of him and began to mumble. I asked him to please speak louder and look up at the class. He held his drawings behind his back. As soon as his hands were visible the students started laughing. His hands were shaking so uncontrollably we couldn’t even see his drawings. He seemed equally surprised. He was so embarrassed; his bottom lip began shaking as well. I thought he might cry. Still, he managed an uncomfortable smile and continued muttering something as the students tried to contain their chuckling. At one point a boy asked if he could go up and hold Vibol’s drawings for him because he really wanted to be able to see them. I stopped everything. I interrupted Vibol, told the students to be quiet, and asked Vibol to look only at me and take a big deep breath. We took a few exaggerated breaths together and I asked him to continue. His hands continued to shake, but he made it through. When he was done I applauded, thanked him, and reminded the students how hard it is to get up in front of their friends. I also gave Vibol, and no one else, permission to laugh hysterically at the worst of the hecklers when it was their turn to present. I doubt he will. But still I winked at him and he gave me a smile of relief.
After school I was grading papers and a very large rat scurried above me on the rafters. I secretly hoped it would fall and be chopped up into a hundred pieces by the ceiling fan below. Then I realized that that would be gross and I would just have to clean it up anyway.
Some days are more interesting than others. Regardless, for the first time today I actually considered staying here the entire 10 months. I am trying to relax. I am trying to just be. I am trying to trust that God is still here with me. I am trying.