Thursday, September 27, 2007

Visitors

Today I feel like I had visitors in my classroom. I was keenly aware of just how much of myself is a direct result of someone else. I am blessed. I have an incredible network of friends and family who have taught me, prayed with me, and lived with me. The distance does not separate us as much as it may feel sometimes.

I woke up with a sore throat and a sinus headache this morning. First thought, mom. She put together a little First Aid kit for me that included, Airborne, Vitamin C, and cold capsules. I remembered her making me gargle with salt water whenever I had a sore throat. I cringed my way through it as I always have, but it worked.

I made it to school. I promised my 8th graders that I would teach them the Macarena. I was reminded of a time at Union when Mr. Blake had us "dance", or more like march, in a circle as we sang "King of Kings". Mr. Blake has never been afraid to be who he is and enjoy it in the process. I enjoyed myself.

I went to my 11th grade English class. I caught myself saying, "You are in the 11th grade. You are almost Seniors now. I expect more responsibility out of you". I heard it and nearly pinched myself. I remember my 8th grade teacher, Mrs. Shockley saying, "Come on. You are the oldest students at this school. You need to act like it." I was half-mad, half-laughing as I finished my speech.

From here I went to my newest class, 1st grade Reading. There are 32 little 1st graders wiggling around in this class. Very few can actually read, but all of them can repeat what the smartest kid in class just said, so they do. I have to work with them one-on-one to actually assess where they are in their reading skills. Today, we learned words like; mat, sat, let, bet, all the good'ol short vowel sounds! As they practiced writing out these words, I kept walking by and noticing Udom, a pudgy, quiet boy in the back, really struggling. As the class was coming to and end, I checked on him and he still hadn't finished. I knelt down next to his desk, I put my hand on his back and said, "How are you doing? All these big letter A's, need to little letter A's." He looked at me exhuastingly as he reached for his eraser for probably the 50th time this class period. I said, "Here, let's do it together." As we struggled our way through writing a lower-case letter A three times, he eventually did it. I clapped my hands, I smiled, I praised, "Good job Udom! You are such a smart boy! I am so proud of you." I hope he was proud of himself too. At my excited and encouraging reaction to his success, I hoped I was doing for him what Ben and Ashley do for me. Everyone small accomplishment deserves praise. They have lifted me up by their encouraging words more times than I can count. They have taught me about the power in the words, "How are you?" They have shown me the compassion in the human touch.

I went from here to my 10th grade English class. Today, their final personal narratives were due. A big deal! A full-page, typed, paper about anything they wanted. They have really struggled with it. But as the deadline approached I was still missing 6 papers. A collection of excuses rained down on me; computer glitches, empty printer cartidges, forgotten at home, lost on a jump drive. Two girls looked as though they were about to cry. I said, "Do any of you know the meaning of the word 'grace'?" They shook their heads 'no'. I said, "Grace is something that we don't necessarily deserve, but we get it anyway. Have you heard of the grace of God? Amazing grace? I am giving you grace. If they are in my hand tommorow, you haven't lost any points." I made each of them pinky-promise me that I would have them tommorow. I continued, "Now by grace we are changed. If your papers are late the next time and the next time, then you are abusing the gift of grace. I will be more hesitant to give it to you if it doesn't change you behavior in some way." As soon as I started the "grace" conversation, I knew where it was headed. I didn't even have to think about it. I myself, have be "gracified" before. My highschool Chemisty teacher, Mr. Harold Williams "gracified" me on more than one occasion. I was changed. Obviously.

I went to 8th grade Geography. In all honesty, I was not prepared for this class. The material I was supposed to cover, I hardly understood myself. How in the world do equinoxes and the 365 and one-fourth day revolution of the earth around the sun affect me anyway? Dumb question. I know, I live on planet earth too. But it is so darn confusing! As I quickly realized some of my students may know more about this than I did, I just started asking a lot of questions. We had fun. We simulated the sun and the earths rotations as Aliyah walked circles around Vanny, and Vanny occasionally tipped Aliyah off his axis by nudging him out of orbit. I think they got the picture. Mr. Nobuhara, my highschool Biology teacher made learning fun so it never felt like "learning". I can only hope for Mr.Nob's kind of results.

As I said, I felt like I had visitors to my classroom today. I owe so much of who I am to those who have influenced me in my life. There are no shortage of times when I am reminded of one of you at some point in my day; a song on my ipod we sang together, a lesson in school we didn't get then and I still don't get now, or maybe just something someone says. I receive some sort of inspiration from one of you everyday. I didn't get to this point in my life by myself. Thanks for getting me here.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Who I Am

This is what I wrote in my journal this morning.

“I feel sometimes like this can’t be real. I assume I feel this way because I rarely feel like myself. Sometimes I have a hard time remembering what makes me, me. Let’s see. I am human first of all. I am a good listener and communicator. I like to smile. I am good at reading people. I am strong, independent, intelligent, curious, and somewhat adventurous. I can spend time with myself and still like myself. I like to read and journal. I like to explore. I have a good sense of direction. I like to try new things. I am okay with who I am and I am willing to fight for it too. I stand up for myself and rarely do I leave things unsaid. I have never thought after a conversation, “Oh I wish I would’ve said…” I am open and honest. I don’t mind confrontation, so long as there is a good reason behind it: justice, peace. I like to laugh. I like relationships with history, not floating between groups and constantly making new “acquaintances”. I like community, consistency, and routine. I am talented, athletic, willing and able, playful, creative, and silly. I am capable. I can find my way. I can ask for what I need. I am relatable. I like to talk about things that matter, how about something besides the weather? I like to learn and discuss. I like debates and real conversation. I like quotes. I like free thinking. I like new ideas, those who think outside the box. I like who I am. Yes, I think I am okay.”

(I wrote that during the Khmer church service that had no translator. Then, I went to English Sabbath school.)

“Today, I met the Timmins family at Sabbath school. They are AFM missionaries who will be here for the next 6 years. They’ve already been here for 9 months. There children are 4 and 6.

I immediately felt comfortable talking with them. I started tearing up just speaking openly with people I knew were actually hearing me. We talked about how gosh darn hard this is! They’ve struggled too and they have each other! But the more I spoke with them, the more I gained perspective about my current situation. They mentioned that when you are far from home, who you are is no longer supported and sustained by your friends and family. Suddenly, you are whatever you want or whatever the culture turns you into. It is difficult because, only I know me and I feel like I forget the longer I am here. So journaling about it earlier was so good and so interesting to reinforce by talking with them only minutes later.

We continued to talk openly about the struggles of living in Cambodia. For the first time since I have been here, I realized that many of my struggles I have experienced are exactly why I chose to come here in the first place.

I decided to be a student missionary in Cambodia because, I am not an island person and being with 20 other American college students seemed too easy. I came to a city because I didn’t want to feel bored and isolated in a hut somewhere. So thus, it is hot and there is no cool water nearby. I am in a city in a third world country so; it is dirty, stinky, congested, polluted, and not entirely safe.

I decided to come alone. I could have come with a friend. But I felt like this was something I needed to do by myself. This was an adventure for me and God. So thus, I feel lonely, because, I came alone! My roommates came together, so I can’t get too frustrated that I don’t have inside jokes with anyone. I came alone for a reason.

I came to Cambodia because I was sick and tired of the American way of life: fast paced, impersonal, media saturated, selfish, scheduled, and non-stop! So thus, here I am with lots of free time on weekends and vacations and I am complaining? I see the Cambodian people just standing around all day. Honestly, they are up at 6am to do absolutely nothing all day long. But instead of learning from or embracing their way of life, I get frustrated because they are never doing anything.

I came to experience something new, a new way of life. Thus, there are going to be some adjustments. I guess I just assumed the adjustment quicker or easier. This isn’t immediate. It will take time. I have to be patient. I have to keep living.”

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pig Food

I like teaching today. Let me explain.

Last night, after posting my blog about how I didn’t like teaching, I had a rough night with ED. I didn’t sleep very peacefully and I didn’t really want to eat this morning. As I talked to God, I pleaded for a good day. Just one good day, to remind me that they exist and to get me through any more rough days headed my way. I got what I prayed for.

Today was a busy day. On busy days I have less time to think about home and ED. I had PE with the 7th graders who I was so frustrated with yesterday. I realized that I was “letting” them decide whether I was going to have a good day or a bad day. My feelings had very little to do with whether or not I was a good teacher and everything to do with their behavior. So thus, I was always disappointed. I want to help them, yes. But I am not a bad teacher. I am a tired teacher. So today, in PE I wore them out instead. We ran, a lot. Kids were crawling around the track by the time I was done with them. I’m serious. I didn’t ask them to do anything I wasn’t willing to do, so I know they weren’t actually suffering. I ran every lap that they did. I raced some of them again. This time, one kid beat me. They were tired and I was satisfied. They were much calmer all day, funny!

From here, I also got to deal again with the 8th graders. Lunch time was spent in their own desks because they spoke Khmer all through Study hall and they knew better. But I said, “Ok, let’s play a game!”. They all said, “No!” (at least they spoke English!). I told them they could ask any questions of me that they wanted. So of course, they asked about my family, if I had a boyfriend, and how old I was. I asked them questions too. I asked them if any of them were dating, we got into religion and age too. Apparently, none of them are dating, but two are going to hook up for sure, they flirt constantly. Flirting crosses any language barrier. There is only one Adventist in my class, about 12 Buddhists, and a handful of unknowns and uninterested’s. In my 8th grade class, I teach a 17 year-old, a 20 year-old and a 23 year-old. But being that I just found this out today, obviously they could all pass for 14. After I found out there ages, I was glad I answered my own age question with, “I am in college. Period.”

We talked. I asked questions about them. I have done this before. But today, they took interest. They all gathered around my desk as I ate and laughed at my weird American food. They called it “pig food” because no Cambodian would ever eat it apparently. I was eating fruit and rice. I know, “so” strange right? We laughed. I wasn’t chasing students around saying, “No Khmer!” It felt good. They felt good. I know it.

Another nice thing, Tyler Henry called me today. I was in the middle of my 10th grade Drama class and the vice-principle walked in, handed me a cell phone, and told me I had a phone call from the US. I was immediately terrified, “Why would someone need to call me at the school, in the middle of the day?” My mind started to race. I answered and it was Tyler. My whole class went, “Ooooohhhhhh!”, in that annoying little kid crush sort of way. I didn’t care. He had gotten the number, who knows where, but I was talking to him and it made me so happy. I quickly ended class and stepped outside. Where do you start? I think we both just wanted to hear each other’s voices. I needed to be reminded that I am normal. I give so much of myself to these students and, of course, they are never going to ask, “How are you doing?”. But Tyler did and it felt good. We talked only a few minutes. This can’t really become habit. There are better ways to call each other. But still, I sort of floated through the rest of the day. Yeah, I floated.

I prayed. I received. It is easy to take this good day God has given me and assume that I did something to earn it. Maybe I have stumbled upon some magical method of teaching. I know better.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

SO GOOD! SO GOOD!

Mornings are hard for me. I suppose it is in the morning that I have the most time to think, so I do. I think about why God has sent me here. I think about how much my back hurts from sleeping on a too-thin mattress on the floor. I think about home. Especially this morning. I slept in past my alarm because I sleep with earplugs and I am deaf in one ear, so that doesn't help. I was rushed. Sometimes I dream about home. This morning I had a dream about my brother Chris. He was wearing a white tank and jeans, we were at a lake. We were talking about Cambodia. I started crying into his shoulder. His response? "Well, isn't this what you signed up for?" Not the comfort I needed. Still, my brother is very matter of fact. He was an SM in Palau for a year. So basically any previous SM's are huge mentors to me. Either way, I dreamt about home, but I woke up in Cambodia like I always do.

I ride a bike to school. Well, I ride something you might call a bicycle, but I am beginning to wonder that if I walked it might be faster. The gears don't shift beyond the hardest one, so it really is a struggle just to pedal. I got to school. My 8th graders are always waiting outside when I arrive. But, I just put my things down and go to staff worship, so they don't come in until later. I can't get over the feeling that they don't much care for me and they make fun of me in Khmer. So it is always uncomfortable. Still, I smile. I say goodmorning. I head to worship.

At flag raising I learn that, apparently I am beautiful today. Cambodians are incredibly image conscious. So, if I don't look so good, they tell me. One of my students told me that he knew I must be young, but the scarves I wear make me look 30 years older. Apparently, their last teacher was beautiful everyday they tell me. The girls comment on what I wear and how "slender" I am. But today, they told me I am beautiful. Everyone, the girls in particular, were so much friendlier. It drove me crazy. I have to be pretty to get respect? They are so in awe of Americans. It makes me sad. It feels like what I say has very little weight compared to what I look like.

We came to the classroom for worship. It was at this time that I reminded the students that, today at lunch they were all to sit in their assigned seats instead of clustered in groups like they prefer. The reason is, my rule is that only English is spoken in the classroom during my classes or time with them. This is what divides us. This is what makes them seem to hate me. This must be why I only get disinterested glares from half of them. Some would prefer not to talk to me outside of class. They became irrate as soon as I introduced the rule. I tried to explain that this is an English school, thus we should all practice it. The problem is, I seem to be the only enforcing this rule. Half the teachers "teach" their classes in Khmer! The kids aren't learning English because no one is teaching them. They took my rule as a very personal attack on their culture. They hate this rule and they fight this rule everyday.

The first day, they sat in complete silence for a half-hour while they ate lunch because they refused to speak English. The next day, they "spoke" in grunts. They pointed and grunted and laughed hysterically. Anything to avoid English! The next day, one-by-one they asked to go to the bathroom after they ate and didn't return until lunch time was over, 20 minutes later. Yesterday, 3 students set up their desks just outside of the classroom in protest and told me that since they weren't "in" the classroom, they shouldn't have to speak English. Today, after they hadn't eaten their lunches, they huddled in small groups, far away from my desk, and whisphered in what they swore was "only English". They come up to my desk and ask if they can read their Khmer textbook outloud to eachother, or talk about Khmer food, or sing Khmer songs; only because there is no English translation. The rest of the time they could care less about Khmer grammar, or anything else Khmer for that matter. But they are rebelling so indignantly, that they will do anything to avoid English. Anything!

I am tired of chasing them around. I am tired of yelling. I don't know what to do with these kids. Something has to change. I won't last with this endless disrespect.

My second big struggle, the 7th graders. Today, we had Reading class. I suppose you could call it that. They don't much care for quiet. I'm not sure they have ever experienced it. Maybe there is no Khmer word for it. Either way, Ratana, a student in the front row, is a yeller. He doesn't speak, he yells, and quite randomly too, just to get attention. The other day I sang, "I feel good, I knew that I would. I feel right..." and so on. He loved it. So randomly, throughout class in the middle of reading, he will yell, "SO GOOD! SO GOOD!" Another student, Hang Por, is a bit more sneaky. Any time I take my eyes off of him, he will hit someone sitting next to him or crawl under his desk, or just refuse to do whatever I ask of him. So today, I put the students in groups of 3 to read a story, then answer questions on a worksheet. Ratana, had a piece of cord he kept whipping the students with in his group and he swore he forgot his book, again, so he couldn't read. Hang Por was drawing pictures instead of reading and he decided to justg talk to anyone who would listen. He can't sit still. All the while, some students are working quietly and others are falling asleep or cheating on their homework.

I wish I could report that I am a fabulous teacher, with excellent strategies and good classroom management, but I am not. I feel like I failed today. I lost my patience. I yelled. I got a headache. These kids don't like me. I know I didn't come to Cambodia to make all my students fall in love with me. I didn't come to Cambodia to be perfectly pretty for my 8th graders. I didn't come to Cambodia to fight with my students for respect. So why am I here?

I ask God that question everyday. I am still waiting for an answer.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Every Ounce

Awwww, another day. I am slowly getting into a routine here. I thrive on routine. This is good. It is comforting to know what I can and cannot do, where I can go, where I can have some “me” time.

I have started waking up earlier than my roommates. I take this time to do yoga and pray. At about 5:30am I wake up Liz so she can get going. Then, Katrina likes me to wake her up at about 6am. We all go to and from school at different times of the day, so each day is different. Either way, it is nice to have a little quiet time in the mornings.

I start every day in my 8th grade homeroom. The students follow me to our class room; I unlock the door and turn around to welcome each student as they walk in. They sit down, eventually, and I have worship. This is usually pretty informal, just what is on my mind that morning. I try to be honest with the students and show them that God may not be everything they’ve grown up being told. I ask them questions like, “Why do we close our eyes when we pray anyway?” and other things I feel are rarely addressed but widely accepted. I have no idea how many Christians I have in my class; I would guess no more than 10%. This morning after reading to them, a student desperately wanted to demonstrate his new found recorder playing skills, so he played a song for us. As he played, I twirled; I gracefully frolicked in front of the class room. They all started laughing so hysterically, he had to stop playing! A girl named Ratana asked me if I was a ballet dancer. If only she knew.

From worship, I went to 11th grade English. Between both 10th and 11th English, there are about 45 students; and probably 10 of them speak easily understood English. The rest of the students speak very softly in a mix of English and Khmer and mumbling. We are starting to write personal narratives. This is “personal”. This is what “you” think, what “you” feel, what “you” want to say. This is harder for them than I ever would’ve expected. Free thinking, opinion, and objective thinking isn’t very popular or encouraged among these students. The first week of school I asked them to write a journal entry about anything they wanted. They didn’t understand why I would assign this. It wasn’t in the text book and I wasn’t even going to mark them off for incorrect grammar. I told them their journals are personal and I will not share what they write with anyone. I want them to grow as writers and maybe even enjoy it! They only know rote repetition and memorization, right now.

From here I went to teach 7th grade PE. We started playing follow the teacher. I marched with my knees high in the air, I did jumping jacks, I jogged around the swing set, I spun in circles. The students enjoyed watching me, more than actually imitating me. We did relay races and soccer skills. I ended by challenging them to a foot race, to the fence and back. I totally won.

Next was 10th grade Drama. These kids are painfully, horribly shy. They are so embarrassed to be silly in front of each other. This class has 32 students so it is really hard to involve each of them. I selected, practically at gunpoint, 10 students to help me act out a bible skit. They made it seem like I was physically hurting them! When an action was supposed to be done or enthusiasm was expected, I got blank stares and several disinterested glares. So, if they didn’t do it, I demonstrated. One part called for laughing and dancing, so I laughed and danced. One part called for fear, I did my best absolutely terrified face. They lightened up a little bit. I explained that I had only known them 2 weeks and “I” was making a fool of myself. So I encouraged them to just have fun with their friends. We are expected to put on a Christmas program and I highly doubt that all of the student’s parents want to see a one-Heather show depicting the entire Christmas story. I’ll ask around. This may just be what it comes to. We will see how it goes.

Next, is another English class. Then, 8th grade Geography. It is hard for me to zest up a subject I personally have no zest for myself. I am trying to not let it show. English class I can excited about, but teaching latitude and longitude to death isn’t my idea of fun. I made up a game. There are two teams. I call out vocabulary words about geography and the students have to run up to the globe and point out the feature. This was all fine and good until Vitya trampled petite, little Ketty on his dash to the globe. Maybe we will lay off the aggressive group games for awhile.

First grade has been having problems. Katrina, my roommate, teaches them. I went and helped her during last period. I could not have lasted the last 2 weeks as gracefully as she has. She has 32 little grubby hands grabbing at her skirt all day long: “Teacher, look I drew an apple”, “Teacher, do you want this spider?”, “Teacher, I am bored”, “Teacher, I have to pee”, or like the other day, “Teacher, Vessna made me throw up. It is in on my desk”. I spent one class period with her. I was exhausted. She was exhausted. The difference is, she does it everyday.

By the end of the day, I am exhausted. I feel like I have given every ounce of myself to teaching these students. I was planning on going for a run, but now I am too tired. Instead, I come back to the apartment, sit, and stare at the fan spinning above me. Awwww, another day.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Guilt Runs

In my continued attempts to be the open book that I believe Jesus Christ was, I write.

This morning I went running. I woke up at 6AM on a Sunday morning to run off the calories I ate last night. These are called “guilt workouts”. I know exactly how many calories I ate yesterday, thus, a long, hard run is all I felt that I “deserved”. I used to exercise because I enjoyed it. Now, I have to ask myself, “Why do I “really” feel this undeniable urge to go work-out?” Unfortunately there is very little convincing me otherwise when I feel this way. But it is not as though anyone would’ve even tried to here anyway. Last night, I came back to my empty apartment and sobbed, uncontrollably. I hate that I think this way. This isn’t normal. I am so tired.

Yet, at 6AM I was off and running. I used to just run and get it over with. But as I gain awareness that I never “deserve” to be punished for something I have eaten, I run and cry. I put on my ipod, start running to Andy Gullahorn’s “You Never Let Me Down” and cry. Deep down I am thinking, “Why am I doing this? I hate this. I hate that I am the way I am.” But I cry because I just keep running.

Guilt runs are different in a foreign country. As I left the compound this morning, the local people were already awake as well. But they weren’t running. They don’t think about calories. They think about how they are going to feed their children. They aren’t thinking about what they ate last night. They are just grateful they ate last night. ED is such a selfish disease. The people just sit and watch as I run by. It has me wondering, “Am I the only person in Cambodia with an eating disorder?” Thinking that in America would be ridiculous. And unfortunately, ED is here too. But these are the kinds of things I think about as I run by.

I walk back into the compound listening to, “You Cannot Lose My Love” by Sara Groves. I prayed to God this morning that He would open my eyes to someone, anyone here I could talk to about this. I don’t know who that is. My roommates are awake when I get back. I take a shower, get dressed and move on with my day, just like any other day.

PICTURES!!!
































These are my roommates, Trina and Liz. They came together from Walla Walla. They are fun.


This is a local market called, Psa Mnoung. This is where we buy our produce, as we wade through mud puddles, step over dead rats and dodge pigs hanging by their tails.


We were driving and saw this elephant. We had to stop.


My Apartment. I live right above the church. We go up about 5 sets of stairs. Yup, in the steeple. There is a balcony area, with a view....of more buildings. But still, a view. It is a bit teeny for three girls. I have actually started just sleeping on the living room couch. It is cooler there than on the top bunk. The bathroom itself is and adventure as well. I really, truly can sit on the toilet, take a shower, and brush my teeth at the same time. Amazing!















This is the church mission compound where I live. It is surrounded by a fence and there is always a guard on duty. So I feel reasonably safe.

















Thursday, September 13, 2007

Anorexia II

I am overhelmed with love. My eyes keep tearing up. Every heartfelt email I receive gives me hope, gives me strength. I keep getting beautiful words of encouragement. I feel such a strong need to apologize to every single person I have interacted with for the last year-and-a-half. This is not me. I feel like now I can explain.

I felt like I had an identity I had to maintain. I was happy, pretty, health-nut Heather. Thus, I found myself unable to admit if I was ever having a bad day, I was "supposed" to be happy. I felt unable to leave my house without looking just right, I was "supposed" to be pretty. Several times I reached for a slice of pizza and someone would say, "Heather, you don't eat pizza!", I was "supposed" to be a health-nut. My counsellor has helped me realize that too many "should" themselves to death. She says people often "should" themselves to death. Jenny did. She stopped eating. She said things we have probably all said, "I shouldn't have desert. I should exercise. I should make people happpy. I should be a happy person".

I hate the word "should". I don't use it anymore. Everyday I have to ask myself, "What do I want?" I have spent too many Saturday evenings running off the calories. I have spent too many nights crying myself to sleep in my dorm room, clenching my teeth to avoid waking up my roommate. I have missed out on too many good times with friends because of the guilt I felt about something I ate. Afterall, if I was ever anything other than "happy, pretty, health-nut Heather", who was I? I had no idea and it scared me.

Incredibly supportive family and friends have brought me here. Literally. Sometimes they helplessly sat and listened to me cry. Sometimes they literally held my shoulders, shook me a bit, and brought me back to reality. I would not be sitting here if it weren't for them.

My counsellor, Teresa has probably helped me the most. I will never again step on a scale. You couldn't pay me to. At the doctor's office I ask them not to tell me what I weigh. I have promised Teresa, and myself, that I will never again find myself staring down at the bowl of a toilet.
In counselling we call it ED (eating disorder) for short. I get emails from the girls back in Group, asking, "How is ED? Are you keeping him under control? Is he picking on you? Be strong. He has been abusing you for far too long. You can do this."

In closing, ED followed me to Cambodia. But I am gaining perspective. Awareness saves me. When I am most aware of the presence of God and my worth as a person, beyond my appearance, I thrive. After writing my blog the other day I felt liberated.

I am going to thrive. "God help me to thrive".

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Anorexia

“God, help me to get through the night. Give me the strength to post this blog. No more secrets. Here goes.”

If I don’t write this now, I fear I never will. No nice introduction. No frilly pretense: For the last 18 months I have been fighting an eating disorder, anorexia to be exact.

Every week for the last year-and-a-half I have been seeing a counselor and attending group sessions for other girls with eating disorders. I say I have been “fighting” an eating disorder. I mean it. This has been an uphill battle everyday since it first started my senior year. There are no vacations. It is a battle every single day. There hasn’t been a day in 18 months that I haven’t thought about it. Anorexia is the hardest battle I have ever fought. Comparing it to my current situation in Cambodia is tricky. Is my experience so far in Cambodia harder than battling an eating disorder? I’m not sure. But battling an eating disorder alone, in Cambodia, without a counselor or my support back home, sure tops the list right now. I am so tired.

Fighting anorexia has been the most isolating experience of my life. This was “my” battle and I didn’t want to share it. I was so horribly ashamed of myself; I just kept it to myself. I imagined people finding out and saying, “What? Heather isn’t the type to have an eating disorder! I thought she was a good person. I thought she had more faith in God than that.”

In all honesty, if you were to walk into one of our meetings you wouldn’t guess it was an eating disorder group. We all look normal. We come in different shapes and sizes. You can’t always “see” health. In group I met a girl named Jenny. Jenny looked the part. She had been fighting her demon of anorexia for 20 years. Jenny was 30 years old. She knew nothing else. Jenny was boney and thin, fragile and pale. Her hair was falling out, her skin had turned yellow and you could see the veins pulsing beneath her transparent skin. No amount of makeup could cover her hallow complexion. She always looked exhausted like she hadn’t slept in weeks. Really, she just hadn’t eaten in days. During the harsh Nebraska winters she had to use a blow dryer in her apartment to keep herself warm because she didn’t have enough fat on her body. That is how they found her. Her parents walked into their daughter’s apartment to find her face down on the floor with the blow dryer still running. Jenny never woke up after that day. I went to see her in the hospital. She existed in a coma for a week. She died a few days later.

After that weekend I realized, I don’t “look” like Jenny, but I “think” like Jenny. This scared me. Something clicked. I realized I was sick and tired of pretending like I was okay. I wasn’t okay. I believe that if everyone talked openly about their struggles, half of our problems wouldn’t exist. Everyone has “something”. I am much more honest and vulnerable with people now. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I began opening up to a few more people. That is what I am doing right now.

Being able to admit I am human has saved my life. I am human. I am living in Cambodia and I am struggling. On nights like tonight, I want nothing more than a big hug from my parents. I want to cry to my sister, Ashley and her husband Ben. I want to cry myself to sleep. I don’t want to be this way anymore. Still I can’t fight the urge to get up extra early to “run-off” the calories I ate yesterday. I want to go for a long and painful run in the morning, which is what I feel I “deserve” sometimes. Honestly, I wish I didn’t have to eat tomorrow. I wish I didn’t think this way. I wish I felt normal. I wish I could wake up tomorrow at home. But here I sit. It is very isolating knowing that anytime I am awake and sobbing into my pillow, everyone back home is sleeping the night away. I feel so horribly alone. No one here knows about this eating disorder. I’m not sure if they ever will. I have no one to talk to.

There is so much more to me than this, still I wouldn’t give this experience away for any amount of money. I refuse to have gone through all of this for nothing. If I don’t help someone else or make a difference as a result of my struggle, than it has been completely wasted on me. I want to matter. I want to know there is a purpose for things in my life. I am waiting to find out what that is.

I am no longer ashamed of this anymore. I am worth so much more. If you want to jot me an email, please, please do! Don’t be afraid to talk to me about this, in fact I invite you to. It is so isolating if we go on pretending like we all don’t have something we struggle with. I have had enough of the secrets. I am ready to move on. That is somewhat why I am here in Cambodia. I have run away with God to reclaim and discover who and what I can be now. The past is the past. Here I am. Please continue to pray. Please pray.

“Thank you God, for getting me through. You have brought me this far. Don't leave me now. Amen.”

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Teaching in Cambodia is...different

Teaching in Cambodia is just “different”. I will do my best to explain.
My day starts early. I woke up at 5:30am because my first appointment is 7am. I put on my uniform: black skirt, black shoes, solid colored top. I retrieved my bike, a greenish old-fashioned bicycle complete with basket and gears that are just for looks, trust me. I put on my headphones. On my way I pass Beverly Hills-worthy mansions with marble tile, uniformed guards and beautiful green landscaping. I also ride by shacks with 2-3 small children running through puddles completely naked. I navigate my way around the huge potholes that are full of reddish water. One Jill Phillips rendition of “Nobodies Got It All Together” and I am at school.
School may not start for an hour, but half the students are already waiting for us. I open up my classroom: tile floors, 27 wooden mostly broken desks, a white board, thatch walls and roof, window panels that swing open and are suspended by metal hooks.
I am already sweating. We have flag raising with all 370 students, raise the Cambodian flag and sing the national anthem that nobody seems to know or respect for that matter. It is just a formality. I lead my 8th grade class to our room. This morning I had to enforce the “No Khmer Speaking” rule that no one was happy about. I reminded them that Cambodia Adventist School (CAS) is and English speaking school. If anyone speaks Khmer they will be warned, then dealt with further if needed. One teacher has his students paying a fine every time they slip up. I used this as a threat I’ll be honest. They already hated me today. At least I started them off early today. Right after me a Cambodian teacher who doesn’t speak a word of English teaches 8th grade, so most of my efforts are completely in vain. There is no consistency at school. I do one thing; another teacher allows it the next. No wonder the students are so confused and troublesome.
Gladly, I escaped to my next class. The 11th grade classroom is the picnic tables across the way. Fortunately there aren’t 27 of them, only 11. This class likes me. They say I am “pretty”. I’ll take what I can get. In my next class the power goes out. So we have no lights and no fans. There are windows so we have natural light, but I definitely feel the absence of the fans. No moving air and 32 sweaty bodies in 10th grade English is a nasty combination!
During break, I go to the restroom. I walk in on a man fixing the doorknobs to the stalls. He quickly leaves to let me in. The stall I enter has a circular hole where the doorknob used to be. I shut the door behind me. I try to open the door and, duh, there is no door knob. I am locked in! I am now standing on the toilet seat in my skirt, waving my hand over the stall door with a string of pink toilet paper flitting in the breeze, as I yell, “Hello? Hello! Is anyone out there?” My voice just echoes. This goes on for at least a minute or two before 4-5 male maintenance workers quickly come to my rescue. None of them speak English. I assume they are all thinking, “Geez, I am glad she can’t understand us”, because they were probably saying to each other, “What a silly American! I can’t wait to tell the others about this!”.
It is lunch time. The cooks are Cambodian and, of course, do not speak English. They cook vegetarian food and it is actually really good. Vegetarianism is a joke anywhere else in Cambodia. The head cook, a little wrinkly woman with a big grin, shoves something brown and fried towards me. I think I offended her. I figure it is “something” vegetarian. But then again, the other day, she handed me something brown and then made antlers above her head with her hands. I declined that as well.
Later in my 8th grade homeroom, my broken storage closet was being moved out. Underneath my students found a few baby mice. They swiftly swept them up and pretended to push them towards me. Ha ha. Then the power went out again. No water either apparently. I am thirsty and hot. Complaining is just dumb, some of these kids didn’t eat breakfast this morning.
My last class was 7th grade Reading. I raised my voice more than I wanted to. I made three boys stay after class for talking during my quiz. I was not the teacher I wanted to be. As the last student walked out the door, I stood at the podium, dropped my head and began to pray. A few students walked by, “Look, she is crying!” Nope, couldn’t give them that satisfaction. I gather my things, dodge a lizard on my way out the door, and turn off the lights.
Teaching in Cambodia is just “different”.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

First Day of School

Oh boy! Today was the first day of school at Cambodia Adventist School. There are 30 some teachers and 370 students! We have staff worship every morning at 7 am. This morning as I sat outside at worship, I watched 370 red and white uniformed students flood the gates. They might as well have been an approaching army. I was terrified. I wasn’t thinking, “Oh I really hope I get these kids to like me!” I was thinking, “How will I ever convince them that I know what I am doing?” The longer I sat, the faster my heart rate became. I know, I counted.
From staff worship, I clenched my “8th Grade” sign in my hand and trudged towards the enemy. I half-walked, half-stumbled up to them. It was hard to keep my stern posture when some members of the opposing army were only 3 foot tall and sporting pig tails. Regardless, I recognized their plot to “catch” me and I lined up with my class and led them to our classroom.
The rest of the day was less scary when I saw them as the children they are and not the enemy. I am a teacher right? Right?! They call me “Teacher Heather” or “Ms. Bo”. I guess that solves it; there is no turning back now. I had worship with 8th grade and then I went and “taught” drama class to 10th grade. Later, I “taught” 10th grade English class. I finished up the day with 7th grade Reading class. In all honesty, the 10th graders were fabulous. They were well mannered and receptive to what I was saying. Fay says, “It won’t last. They will get used to the fact that you are white and pretty, and then they will really start pushing your buttons.” She is probably right. The shock factor that I am an American will wear off. Then I will be left with, who knows what!
The most challenging part of my day were the 7th graders. Those little pests must all compare notes on how to “get” to the teachers. Maybe they have little pow-wows outside the gate before school. Fay says, “They really do their best to make each teacher cry at least one time during the year”. She isn’t kidding. If any class were going to make me cry it would be these kids. They are overwhelming. They are…a small cage of monkeys! They are practically bouncing off of their desks and onto each other. They love the sound their mouth makes when they talk. They think they are hilarious. They don’t really come to school to learn. They come to make teachers cry. Part of my plans for tomorrow involves a seating arrangement for the 7th grade creatures. I tried the whole, quietly waiting for them to be quiet and refusing to continue until they were. But that only made them happy because then they could better hear themselves. I may be over exaggerating, I may not. Ask me in a few days.
All-in-all, I feel fairly confident after my first day of teaching ever! I am teaching 10th and 11th grade English, 10th grade Drama, 8th grade History, 7th grade PE, and the principle mentioned something about having me help out in Kindergarten in my free time! Yeah, my “free” time. I think that is what I used to call “sleep”. Time will tell.
Routine is so good for me. I am such a creature of habit. I need something regular. Something dependable. Something that makes sense. The last week has not been any of that. It is so helpful to begin to feel like I have a purpose. Today, I really did have to keep telling myself, “Step. Ok, another step. Breathe. These kids won’t attack you. Now, say something intelligent. Are they still watching? Darnit. Say something, say anything! You dork. God, get me through.” Here I sit.
Do I only notice God in the huge, miraculous answers to prayer and overlook that, somehow, I am still breathing? Yes. I prayed for strength to make it through today and here I sit. How is that not an answer to prayer? Did I half expect I would survive today anyway but praying about it just made me feel better? I give myself way too much credit. Period. Thank you Jesus. I am alive and so much more.
As I started to walk home from school today, it rained. Most of the roads are dirt and full of pot holes. The road in front of the school is the worst. I waded through the brown water full of food wrappers and garbage in my flip flops. I actually half-way chuckled as the reality set in: I am wading through germ infested muddy water, in ridiculously, uncomfortable shoes on my way “home” to my too-tiny apartment in Cambodia after a long day at school. It wasn’t a complete turnaround that made me fall in love with my situation here. I muttered a few, “I hate Cambodia’s” before I made it back to my apartment. But, dear God I am still breathing. Thank you. I am still breathing.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Pastor Rich II

It is Sunday. School starts tommorow. Tommorow I will stand before 22 eight graders and teach. Teach? I speak English. They may not. I am white. They are not. I think my name is "normal". They think their names are "normal". Less than 24 hours from now I will standing before them taking attendance, "Sporak...War...Sopheck...Vanarak...Him...", oh boy!

Pastor Rich and I just got back from Siem Reap this morning. We flew. Yesterday we saw the famous Angkor Wat temple complexes. It was incredible. These temples are thousands of years old, built only by hand, no machines, even bigger than some of the pyramids in Egypt. I can't begin to explain, but hopefully I will be able to post pictures online sometime soon. Soon! PR and I wandered around the temples in the morning, took a break at lunch, then wandered back out to see the biggest one at sundown. Half the day was spent sight-seeing. The other half was spent talking to begging children. They want to sell things, anything! Bracelets, shirts, postcards, food. If you say, "no, no, no". They say, "Where you from?" Anything to get your attention and make you talk to them. One girl just asked if I would play a game with her. This I stopped for. All the kids "work" at Angkor everyday begging. So, if they didn't want money, I was happy to oblidge (oblydge? ablidge? obliedge? oh boy). I played with them! It was sort of a take on hacky sack in America. We headed back to town at the end of the day and later went to a free concert put on by a Swiss doctor at his children's hospital. Incredible! Every single Saturday night he holds these concerts, where donations are accepted, to raise money for his hospital. This is a huge, impressive hospital. But it is completely free to the children. If you want ot check it out, I really, really encourage you too. Just look-up, "Beat Richner" on Wikipedia.com. Incredible!

It was nice to sight see. It was a God-send to talk to Pastor Rich. All day we never ran out of things to talk about. I asked about his SM experience. He went for a year to Peru. He landed at the airport and no on showed up for three hours. He lived in a hut and was unable to communicate with anyone in English for 7 months! In his time there he got malaria, was bitten by a posionous snake, broke both legs, the list goes on. I told him to write a book. Someone else tell him to do the same. He is helping me to put things in perspective. He is helping me to cut myself some slack. I am only human. It is ok that this is so hard. I need to take it one day at a time. I can't predict the future. I can only live for now.

Pastor Rich leaves this afternoon for Bangkok. Then, I am really on my own. I wrote down as much of what he said as I could remember. I really needed his wisdom. Maybe I am going to be okay. Maybe I can get through this. But, right now. I am just trying to get through tommorow. Tommorow, I will wake up. I will surrender the day to God. I will say, "God, I am so weak. I have no idea what this day holds. I need you to get me through. Please, get me through." Then, I will breathe and walk and teach and interact and listen and live. Not for the next day, or the next week. This is my plan for tommorow. I will let you know how it went. Pray for me until then.

Some have been asking, here it is, my address.

Heather Bohlender
P.O. Box 488
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

No zip code. I know, it is weird. But I doubt they will confuse "Cambodia" with anywhere else in the world. I never will.