Friday, August 31, 2007

Pastor Rich

I feel courage today. I feel strong. I feel like maybe I can do this.

I am sitting next to Pastor Rich Carlson (chaplain from Union College) at the internet shop. He "might" have something to do with my stronger spirit. Huh! He has "everything" to do with it. This morning we picked him up from the airport. I gave him a big, fat hug. And I smiled a "genuine smile" I'm not sure I have used all week. It is somewhat surreal to see him here. It is as though I feel I am living such a separate life. But time is still moving. Life goes on. He brought two checked bags and a carry-on. One bag was for him and one bag he transported all the way from Lincoln, Nebraska where my sister and friend, Sandy, filled it with goodies, encouragment and notes from home. I cried. Of course. I seem to be getting really good at that. Ash sent me homemade cookies! She sent books and good music and love. I felt love pour out of that suitcase the second I opened it. I don't know how to describe it. I just felt it.

School starts on Monday. I am not a teacher. I have never made lesson plans. I have never set-up a grade book. So as soon as we dropped off Pastor Rich's stuff at the mission where we stay, I took him to the school where I will work to help me with some things. I don't know why I worried. He was more than willing to help me grapple with how to teach 8th grade History and how to make Reading class fun. He has been such an encouragment to me all day. He talks about things that matter: things we feel, how we struggle, how we cope, but how we live. When he arrived, I showed him my classroom. It has tile floors and a whiteboard. It is several open windows. The wall and ceilings are thatch. It is ghetto. Just like you see in pictures in a missionary magazine. That is me. That is where I will teach. He helped me clean up a bit, then we headed to the library to work on lesson plans. But of course, everyother sentence was encouragment and affirmation that it is ok that this is hard. Maybe I should cut myself some slack.

It is so interesting to see Cambodia through the eyes of Pastor Rich. My stories are no less accurate, mine you! But he has been helping me to realize that, my struggles at school, with people, with a new environment are what makes Cambodia, Cambodia. If it was just like home, why wouldn't I just stay there? There is something to be said about learning to accept and God-forbid, "learn" to love the people and the culture. I may never ever want to return again. But this is where I am now. This is hard, yes. But he promised me, promised me!, that I would come back like all other SM's saying, "It was the best experience of my life!" I am holding him too it. God, I hope he is right. Pastor Rich has traveled all over the world. Everywhere! Nothing is new to him: the awful traffic, the horrible heat, the water, the people, the dirt, the vendors downtown. Nothing is new to him, but he could fool anyone. He has seen it before, but he still lives in the moment. After some work at the school, Rithy (said, "Rit-tee), a Cambodian teacher at the school took us downtown to see some sights. We went to a Khmer Rouge Genocide museum. It is basically an abandoned school that was used by Pol Pot's regime to torture and kill Cambodians for the last 30 years. It was dreadful and sad. Rithy's father was killed in the war, along with half, HALF, of Cambodia's population. It has been 30 years of war. The people are only now beginning to smile. The memories are too fresh. The killing only ended 8 years ago. When Rithy visited the museum last, there was still blood on the floor. Every family lost someone.

After the museum, we went down by the riverside downtown. The Mekong river is the largest river in Asia or something. So big, but really not glamorous. This is where the beggars know to come and the vendors with all of their food and trinkets. There is a huge Buddhist temple where, every night, people come to get their blessing by burning incense and buying birds to set free. It is so interesting to watch.

All in all. This has been the best day since I have been here. It has been one week. I start repeating days. Pastor Rich says not to think about. Don't keep a calendar counting down the day. Go one week at a time. Get into a routine and focus on how to get through that week. For some reason I trust this man. I adore Pastor Rich. God knew that I would need him here so soon. He is helping me to set my mind straight.

Tommorow morning we are flying to Siem Riep (said, "Seam Rip) to visit the famous Angkor Wat temples. I am thrilled to have some down time with him to sort out my thoughts. I know his presence doesn't immediately solve all of my problems. But he has so much wisdom, I am soaking up every bit of it.

Mom and Dad I hope we can "call" or talk soon. We'll be in touch.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I sit here with a little bit of hope today. Thankyou to everyone who is praying me through this and email encouraging me through this. I may not ever be able to explain how much your comments and emails have saved me even thus far. Every single time I read them, I cry. I go to the same internet shop close to my apartment. The owner always looks at me very sadly, I'm sure he is thinking, "Why does this girl keep coming here and doing that to herself?" I miss the community I have back home, that I have obviously taken for granted for so long.
The other morning on my way to school, I swung by this internet shop to, basically get encouragment to get through the day. I got it. So many of you are praying for me. It was then that I realized, there are many, many prayers coming from America and none from Cambodia. I share a teeny apartment, with two very giggly, talkative, extroverted girls. I have no time alone. I can't find a time or place to be alone and pray. As I left, I started praying on my bike ride to school. All day I chant to myself, "We can do this. Just get me through the next five minutes. We can do this. God, help me. Please help me through this." All day. It wasn't that God wasn't there, I wasn't asking for His help. It was your prayerful reminders that brought me to prayers myself. Reading emails from previous SM's or travelers is just what I need. It is still hard. But it is so good to hear that what I am feeling is normal. I am not a downer. Many, many SM's hated it for awhile. Many felt lonely. Still, I never could've prepared myself for this. Never.
Yesterday, after reading your emails and comments, I could finally catch my breath a little bit. I have had such a hard time breathing. I am so overwhelmed and scared. But I smiled yesterday. I think I laughed. I was more keenly aware of God's presence. He was always there. I just wasn't noticing. Throughout the day I noticed things. I noticed a Cambodian teacher, Savoon when she held my hand while talking to me. A woman Kim, from Burma held on to my arm. I didn't realize how much I was craving physical contact. During our lunch break from teacher orientation, Tim Scott (Fay "the angel"'s fabulous, God-send of a husband), was sitting and reading. I asked him if he had ever left home on his own or had to travel all alone. Boys don't seem to favor the "feeling" side of conversations, still he was helpful. A few minutes later, the principle, Sharon, came and started talking to him. I just sat there about to sob. As she started to leave, she said, "You doin ok?" I could not hold it in. Not possible. I cried. I figured I wasn't doing anyone any favors by just holding it in, more! She sat back down and she, Tim, and I talked for at least 20 minutes. I told her I was not doing ok. I told her I felt overwhelmed. I told her I was having hard time where I was living. I didn't know how to begin teaching. I didn't hold much back.
Talking felt good. Over time I have become more and more ok with showing what I am "really" feeling. I am so glad for this, or else I would be suffering so much more.
Here is what I have recently written in my journal. "I am currently living my greatest testimony. Of course, this is hard. But it has only been 5 days. I'm not giving up yet. Keep perspective. I can do this. I am strong. God is stronger. I need to live in this moment, right now. I am sitting at a picnic table at the school in Cambodia. The emails and comments I read this morning were so encouraging. They helped me to breathe. Pastor Rich, Lisa Kemper, John Winslow, Katie Lechler and others sent emails about their SM experiences. They were all lonely. They all hated it at first. I have to get through the next few months. I will.
I am still breathing. I am living a great adventure for God. I am living in a foreign land with foreign people and foreign experiences. God get me through.

Monday, August 27, 2007

I have only been here 4 days? I cannot believe it.

Today we had teacher orientation. I saw the school for the first time. The dormitories are two big rooms, one for girls, one for boys, full of bunk beds. The cafeteria sits in the middle. Then, the school building really is what they told me it would be; thatched/bamboo walls and roof, all stuck tightly together. There will be some hot classrooms. There is a big open grass area that I figured would be ideal for playing on. But I was informed that the principle doesn't want the grass getting torn up. So they have no where to play.

There are 40 staff at Cambodia Adventist School or CAS for short. We are expecting 360 students. I came expecting to teach 4th grade, but was also informed that now I won't be. I think I may be teaching 7, 8,10 and 11 grade English, maybe drama, maybe bible, also, maybe kindergarten! Some of orientation was helpful. I enjoy concrete facts and routine. But sitting outside in the hot sun talking about anything was just plain exhausting and miserable. I think I fell asleep. One of the staff told me that any American student that comes to teach is guaranteed to be better than the Cambodian teachers. It is an English speaking school, but they continue to speak Khmer. The principle is frustrated. I think people have a lot of gripes, but no one wants to do anything about it. There is a lot of miscommunication and no follow through. So while the handbook says; speak English, no chewing gum, turn off your cell phones and wear a tie, very little of that is actually done. I figure the students get confused and just take advantage wherever they can.

I am very nervous to teach. I am not too concerned with being consistant and having good classroom management, but I can't speak their language and I see them using that against me. Have I mentioned Fay Scott? Fay is the education superintendants wife. Fay and Scott live on the compound. They are angels. Fay is real and kind and actually shows concern. After calling home to my mom for the first time yesterday, I was at her house. She asked if the connection was good enough to call. I said yes, if mom could understand me through my sobs and tears. Later last night, she invited me to come over. I unloaded. I sobbed. I told her this is really hard and I can't seem to find my place. She talked more than listened realistically, but she is a mission veteran so I shut-up and listened. She and Scott have been overseas in different countries for more than 16 years now. She reminded me that, I have only been here 3 days. She asked if I had ever had a hard time adjusting to anything else. It is hard to remember now, but yeah, I cried and sobbed my way through my first few weeks at Union too. It was hard to meet people and fit in there too and they all spoke my language. I can't get over the feeling that I am somehow missing out on something at home. I've done the Union thang. I've done the Colorado thang. Now, I suppose I am doin the Cambodia thang. I actually pictured today my family and friends erasing me from photos and putting in new people they like better. Isn't that awful?

I got back from orientation and just wanted to be alone. I wonder if I am becoming slightly depressed. I am just so overwhelmed and stressed. I still can't sleep. This morning I was up and tossing and turning at 4am. My roomates apparently went and rode motos and ran errands with some other mission couples. I can be such a goober. I feel like I can't stop looking ahead into the next 10 months long enough to even live in my current life. This is my reality. I need to live now. But gosh, it is going to be really difficult. I sorta invited myself over to Fay's house later tonight becuase I needed some room to breathe. The apartment can get crowded. Can "get" crowded? Nevermind. It is crowded with one person living in it. I need some space.

I won't lie. I still want to come home. I feel such distance from people and from God. This loneliness is unbearable. Please pray for this poor soul in Cambodia.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Disclaimer: there is so, so much going on right now, I am not doing my life any justice inmy writing, but I will try.
On Sabbath morning we woke up at 6:30am, wide awake becuase we are so jet-lagged still. We had a few hours before church so we unpacked a little more. Then we went to the Khmer church service. The service is completely in Khmer: song service, testimonies, sermon, everything. So needless to say, I didn't get a whole lot out of that. But it was neat to hear them singing and speaking their language. To be perfectly honest, the entire service I was on the verge of tears. I am trying so hard to live in the moment and enjoy the experience for what it is, but I can't help thinking: this is not what I expected.
I can't fully describe this feeling of absolute isolation. It is awful. I do not know anyone here. We have no inside jokes, no history, not much in common but geographic location, it is really hard. I'm not sure that I am strong enough for this. I wish I was the kind of person who could just put emotions aside and live in this moment. But I am so horribly lonely. I crave real relationships. I desperately need a connection with "someone", anyone who would make this more bearable. I was journaling during church, here is what I wrote: "I feel like I could burst into tears at any moment. I feel so dreadfully alone. I do not feel particularly welcomed or understood. I wish somebody would ask, "How are you doin?" If they did, I would completely break down. I need to just vocalize, "This is hard. I don't want to be here right now. I am so scared."I want someone to care. I am having a hard time breathing."
After writing this and realizing that I wouldn't stop feeling this way unless something changed, I did. I know that the people here have no reason to immediately care about me, relationships take time. So I had to make the first move. I vowed to smile way too much, to ask questions about people, everyone's favorite topic is themselves. I vowed to get to know them and care about them, so they would in turn, care about me. Later we had English sabbath school, a potluck and English church. I made every attempt to get to know the people. My smiles were forced, but I had to hold back the tears.
There is something so completely isolating when I realize that even if I could call home, everyone is asleep. While it is 6pm here, it is 5 or 6 am at home. Communication is scarce. I am really struggling. I didn't think it would be this hard. I don't want to give up, it has only been 3 days. But I won't lie, if someone offered me a way home right now, I would take it. I have nothing really waiting for me back home, I have spent a year at Union, no suprises there. I know I would regret it if I left, but currently, gosh this is so, so hard.
I am a very independent person. I like to get up early and go running by myself, I like fresh air and room to breathe, I like having time to myself to journal and pray. None of these are options for me for a long time. The church compound where I live has a guard, strict security, and 3 locks to get to my apartment. I cannot walk anywhere by myself. There are dirt roads everywhere so it is always sticky and dirty. I am sharing a teeny tiny apartment with two girls who run on different hours than I do. Time alone is a joke. I need time alone. I can hardly think. The internet cafe I'm sitting in is 300 yards from the compound and it is not safe to walk there at night, even in a group, even with men. There have been several recent gang rapes and robberies in the area. The police don't really do anything but receive bribes. Being a white, blondish American, I can't really hide. Everyone has something to say to me, not always kosher. There is so much homosexuality, I actually see more gay couples than straight couples. HIV is a huge problem. No one but the wealthy can afford it, but the wealthy are'nt the ones who have it. One my walk here I see a big majestic mansion, much like you would see in Beverly Hills in California. Right next to it will be a shack. I saw a family outside today, the husband and wife running a vendor shop with dead pigs and shrimp, the two children playing naked sitting in puddles on the street. It is so dirty. The puddles had used diapers floating in them. Their shack consisted of a metal sheet and wood, filled with wet moldy mattresses, trash, and a stray dog.
I think this is part of the reason I am so sad. I can't believe people live this way. It is hot and gross, but everyday I return to an airconditioned apartment and cold shower. It makes me sick. I am having a hard time sleeping because I can't begin to understand the world around me.
Our apartment as I mentioned is teeny. There is the front room with a stove, a refridgerator, a desk and a couch. Then a bedroom just wide enough for a three-tiered bunkbed. The bathroom is just crazy. I can sit on the toilet and take a shower and brush my teeth. There is not separate shower area, it sprays on the toilet. So there is just a drain on the floor and no good place to hang a towel, it will be wet by the time you are done.
I am really doubting whether or not I can do this for a year. I wish I could say that I am strong enough and a great student missionary who can withstand anything, but I am not sure I can. I thought I was the SM type. I feel so pathetic. Just sucking it up sounds awful, this is so hard.
I am doing circles. It is established: this is hard. I am determined to get through a month, at least. Other than that, I am really not sure I could last much longer.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

So, this is Cambodia...

Well, here I sit. I made it to Cambodia.

I am actually surprised to be sitting here. "Talking" about going to Cambodia and "going" to Cambodia are very, very different. I found this out when the reality of leaving the country truly set in: walking out of my house, talking to my sister for the last time till, who knows when, leaving my parents in security at the airport. It's true, I am here. I can't go back now.

My parents were on the other side of the glass as I glided down the escalator at the airport. I sobbed uncontrollably as soon as they were out of sight. I waited for the train and sobbed. I boarded the train and sobbed. I rode the train and sobbed. I am sure most everyone around me thought my boyfriend had just broken up with me or something. I felt a little comfort knowing this was much, much harder.

Traveling was an adventure in itself. My first flight was to Los Angeles. From there, I flew 13 hours to Tai Pei, Taiwan. Then, Taiwan to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It is very unnerving traveling around the world by yourself. If you haven't done it, I am telling you, it is hard. It is tiring and confusing and scary. What if I miss my flight? What if I lose my passport? What if I forget my name? What if I get lost? And even more realistic to girls; what if I get abducted or harassed? After realizing I probably had a terrified look on my face, I pretended to look confident. Inside, all I kept thinking was, "What the heck am I doing? Why did I ever think this was a good idea? Cambodia? You iddiot."

I met the other two girls I would be living with this year in Taiwan. Trina and Liz are both from Walla Walla: really normal and kind, down-to-earth and friendly. I had bad dreams about getting stuck with some girls who had mistakenly confused "student missions" with "student vacations". Not so. These girls are smart. My fears are at rest.

When we arrived at the airport and got through customs, we were met by Tim and Fay Scott, staff from the school I will be working at. I have emailed and spoken on the phone with them several times, so after arriving in a foreign land, they both got big, huge hugs! They are so sweet. Fay is basically the student missionary "mom". They are smilers, I like that. They welcomed us and instantly made me feel at ease. We (me, Trina, Liz) loaded up in the van and we headed onto the street. First observation about Cambodia: it is really hot here. Second observation about Cambodia: it is really dirty here. I don't want to sound so pesismistic but, I couldn't help but notice I was instantly hot and dirty. There is more direct sunlight than shade and more dirt roads than paved. If you watch the video on the sidebar in this blog, you can have a better feel for what it is like to drive here. There is constant, and very dangerous, traffic. Everyone seems to think they have the right-of way if you actually sit at the red lights and wait for the green lights, you may never move. No one obeys the stoplights, they are just for show, like pretty flashing lights to make the streets more interesting. There are more "motos" buzzing around than cars (small motorcycles, basically Cambodian taxis).

Friday, the first day, Fay said she was assigned to just keep us awake until atleast 6pm. Because if we fell asleep any sooner, we would go to bed and then wake up at 1 am, wide awake. She succeeded. We went out to lunch, we visited the markets downtown, we saw a few Buddhist temples, we people watched, we absorbed. Later that night, about 5 o'clock, we were zombies with no personality and only one thing in mind: sleep. Thus ended the first day.

It is thundering outside and the group I am with must think rain is poisonous or will hurt us in someway. So I gotta go. I will hopefully be able to write tommorow.