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 Amazon.com. 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.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Well, my break from school is coming to an end. It is Saturday night. We go back to school on Monday. I thought this holiday might be difficult. But I’d say it was good to, really good.

As I am learning to relax and just be here, the days are a little bit easier to get through. The first day, Wednesday, we had a relaxing morning and then we went to a place called, Russian market. We wanted to take Katrina’s friend there who is visiting from Thailand. His name is Phil. He is a great guy. On the tuk-tuk ride there we were talking excitedly about the clothes, the art, and the other gadgets they sold there. Turns out it was closed for the holiday and we were really bummed. So I suggested we just walk around the area because we had already come this far. We found this great little coffee shop called, Jars of Clay. Phnom Penh does not have cozy hang out spots like Barnes and Noble or Starbucks where you can just be. The area around the Russian market is heavily populated by NGO’s or Non-Government Organization workers. So this is where you see white people. Other than the Russian market area, we are the signature whites and we feel it everyday. In fact we have started playing “Who can spot the white person first”. Kind of a foreign version of slug bug! So we went into Jars of Clay. They had things like “sandwiches”, “iced tea”, and “muffins”! I know crazy right? You don’t see these things in Cambodia. There was nice modern décor and a few large chairs and couches. There was even air conditioning, a real treat! After we sat down I spotted, you will never believe it, an O magazine (the magazine Oprah Winfrey puts out). I dove for it. It was dated March 2005, I didn’t care. I read it front to back. We stayed awhile and talked about an upcoming break and how we may travel to Vietnam together.
When we got back we went and started a volleyball game at the CAS dormitory where at least 15 students were stranded with not much to do. It was fun to play with them. Being the sports fan that I am, I was excited. But they play volleyball differently here. I can be fairly competitive and very stuck to how the game “should” be played. I shut my mouth and just played.

Thursday, we went to Soriya market, a 6 story mall where all of the “cool” Cambodian teenagers hang out. We mostly just do grocery shopping. But I had a few things I needed. Every time we go, my roommates buy pirated DVD’s that cost about $2 each. We dropped Katrina and Phil off at the bus station and they spent the next few days in Siem Riep (where Pastor Rich and I went to see Angkor Wat). That afternoon, Fay Scott had invited me to come over and cook. Apparently she loves cleaning and hates cooking. I told her I would be thrilled to help. We went to the market to get a few ingredients, then came back and I made chocolate chip cookies, bread, and carrot cake. Some days I just hate food. I get a bit panicky. I hate being around it, smelling it, talking about it and especially eating it. Unfortunately, this was one of those days. So I was miserable, not much fun, and pretty boring. Fay was content just cleaning her refrigerator. So she did.
I got some fresh air by leaving and playing volleyball. But turns out a change of scenery doesn’t immediately make everything better. I take me with me, unfortunately. Sometimes I feel toxic to myself. That is a horrible feeling by the way. I can’t just run away from my thoughts. They consume me some times, as they did the rest of the night. I hid in our apartment until Liz got back later that night. I told her that I shouldn’t have left the group considering the thought of throwing up was first and foremost in my mind all night. I told her that sometimes I will need her to force me to stay around people. I will have to ask for what I need from her though. She agreed. Turns out she had a friend who also battled ED last year. That was incredibly encouraging to hear. It felt as though maybe I wasn’t so crazy because she has heard some of this before. We talked awhile and I really appreciated it.

Friday, I went to a wireless restaurant with intentions of just getting some school work done. But I saw that my sister was online so I said, “Hello”. I was in pretty good spirits and just intended on a quick conversation. We chatted for quite a while and an hour later I was crying as the waiters watched me uncomfortably. An hour later I was miserable. Why did talking to her make me miserable? She pointed out that I sounded fine when we started talking. So why the change? During the course of our conversation I had brought up the option the principle gave us of coming home a month early in May to attend graduations or get back for summer jobs. They asked me if I actually thought this was what I needed to do or if I was just looking for excuses to come home. I knew the answer to that question.
Part of me does not want to ever fit in here. I rarely think about staying here for the whole 10 months I signed up for. When I constantly compare Cambodia to home, home always wins, understandably. I have been here for less than two months. I am not patiently living, relaxing, or taking things as they come. Chilling out does not come naturally to me. I can be so uptight and I really hate that about myself. So I continue to try and live in two places at once. I lay my head in Cambodia, but I dream about home. I work in Cambodia, but I work even harder staying in touch with friends back home. I talk to God in Cambodia, but usually I am praying that everyone back home doesn’t forget about me. I laugh in Cambodia, but usually I am just reminded something funnier or better about my friends back home.
Picture this: two rugs. I am most comfortable with the rug I have lived on my whole life, my life in the US. This other rug I call Cambodia. As soon as I boarded the plane to come here, the US rug was ripped out from underneath me. Then, 20 hours later, I was plopped down on this ratty, foreign, ugly rug where I live now. As soon as I had email, I could just grab a hold of that old familiar rug the more people I kept in touch with back home. So I find myself daily trying to keep one foot on the “home” rug and one foot on this new rug. I cannot have both. I know I can’t have both because when I think I can, both rugs are swiped away and I land on my butt, hard. I have landed on my butt when there are days that I simply can’t stop crying. I have landed on my butt when I am so horribly depressed it is hard to breath and hard to just get out of bed. I have landed on my butt when I feel so lonely it physically hurts. I can’t live this way all year. It isn’t possible. I will never be fully here the more I desperately try to straddle both worlds.
I have yet to fully embrace this country, my work, my co-workers, the church, the locals, the environment, Cambodia. If I am so desperate to fight this reality, why did I come at all? Good question. I have been pondering that for the last day or two.
As a result my thoughts have been a little more content. I don’t know if any of this makes sense to anyone else. But this is my reality right now.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


This has been an incredible week. So much has changed since last Tuesday. If you need reminding, last Tuesday was a very low day for me, I cried most of my way through it. But since that day, I have been praying and I know that others have been praying for peace. I am beginning to feel it. I am beginning to see it. I am slowly learning how to live here.

I got an email from my brother, Chris, the other day and I wanted to share:(Copied and pasted directly! Christopher, your English teachers would be appalled!)

"heather bohlender!! I just going to come out and say it, im angry at you... I was looking at your pictures... YOU SAW A MONKEY UP CLOSE!!! are you kidding me?? hello? and a elephant!!! really?? how come you have not been writing about that?? I want to hear about the MONKEYS!!! Heather I know that things are not going as well as hoped. but lets not forget that you are in a spectacular place doing amazing things!! MONKEYS!!! I found that the things i remembered most where the good times and not the bad. those will be the memorys you will treasure! Heather you saw a elephant walking down the street and did not mention a thing... thats so cool!! I never got to see that!! so chin up sis!"

Mr.Practical himself, that is my brother. I have been wondering if men are just better cut out for the mission field. Because, in general, men are practical doers and women are emotional feelers. I am not about to say I have been feeling "too" much or thinking "too" much, but I think he has a point. I have not turned into a pessimist since I have been here. But reading my journal I am reminded that I came here to see and experience and live and ADJUST! The adjusting part has been the hardest. Because really, what is the ideal or recommended "settling in" period of time? It takes awhile to feel comfortable in a foreign country, surrounded by foreign people, doing foreign things! There is nothing comforting about it. Still, I am beginnging to see glimmers of hope that make the day to day a little easier. Thankyou God and thankyou all for your earnest prayers.

Today I have no school. This week we are off for the annual Pechum Ben holiday. Most of the holidays here are Buddhist. So Pechum Ben is this: at 4am every morning all the Buddhist people wake up, walk to the pagoda (temple), and throw rice at it. Yup, they are feeding their dead ancestors who are hungry. They come out once a year to feed and if they are not fed, they will curse the family they came from. At staff worship yesterday, the principle recommended staying close to home and she was serious. Pechum Ben is a holiday to worship the dead. The spirits are invited into Phnom Penh and worshipped. This morning as I took a walk in the rain and it was eery and quiet. I wondered if I really would've noticed had I not known about this holiday. Either way, it was eery. Most of the shops close down and there were very few people outside. It was a noticeable difference and a bit unsettling. I realize there is no shortage of spirit worship everywhere in the world, but feeling surrounded by it is just different. A teacher at the school told me about a woman just last week who vomited up a diamond for him. She was proving that through the spirits she can have anything she desires. Some of the children here wear spirit strings around their wrists, ankles, and waists, to ward off evil spirits.

From what I can gather, being Buddhist here is alot like being American. You don't have to know the 14th president, the Constitution, and the Pledge of Allegiance backwards to be an American. It is just where you live. Cambodians are born into Buddhism. Out of 27 students in my classroom there are 5 Christians. When I ask what Buddhists believe, none of them know or really care. In the same way, my students ask me about places in America that I have never even heard of but they show me and they do exist! So the kids just see this as a break from school and I'll bet they throw rice at eachother at the pagoda when their parents aren't looking!

Down time, weekends, and holidays can be hard. So I am praying for peace. I am making plans. I am trying to do things I would normally do at home. I wasn't always so uptight and stressed out all the time. I am really trying. At home I would watch Oprah, cook, read, spend time with family and go to Barnes and Noble with friends. So obviously, a few of those things are impossible for me to do here. But I'll find something. Hey, I have written emails to Oprah before. Just a thought: If I sent an email from Cambodia, wouldn't that make me a much better candidate to get on the show? I think so. You watch. I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, October 7, 2007


Thank you all for your encouraging emails and kind words. It was a rough week. But recently I have felt peace. I could actually feel a blanket of hope as it settled upon me this weekend. How does God do that? I have been feeling a little more at ease.

I spoke to the Cambodian pastor of the church a few weeks ago and requested a time when I could get into the church to play the piano. Finally, on Friday afternoon I was able to. I walked into the empty sanctuary and immediately realized this was the first time I had been alone in a room for a long, long time. I am constantly surrounded by the grubby little fingers of students, the locals outside, people at the mission, my roommates. I have no place to call my own. I sat down and just looked at the piano awhile. The song, “It is Well” came to my head so I played it. I honestly feared that maybe I had forgotten how to play. I kept playing a few hymns and some of my own songs. I stopped playing and just sat for awhile. It was beautiful and peaceful and calming. I was able to just “be” for probably the first time since I have arrived. I felt that blanket of peace begin to touch my skin.

From here I went to the Scotts house. I knocked on their door and said, “Can I just sit on your couch?” Their answer? “Of course you can.” They worked in the kitchen as I sat for awhile and read my journal. It is so interesting to read my journal entries from a few months ago. I had many reasons to come here. I thought Cambodia would be many things. One part really jumped out at me. On June 22, 2007 I wrote these words, “I want to be uncomfortable. I want to be uneasy and displeased. I want to feel out of place. I want to feel homesick. I want to live for something better to come. I want to live like a traveler or a drifter searching for a home, because this isn’t it. I don’t want to fit in and I want people to notice. This is all just temporary. Do I really believe it?” At this time I was talking about heaven. But I suppose I got exactly what I asked for. I am all of the above here in Cambodia. Maybe that blanket of hope is also giving me a better sense of reality along with it.

The reasons I wanted to be an SM still stand, yet I struggle daily with them at the same time.
I wanted to run away with God for a year: check.
I wanted to go somewhere un-Americanized: check.
I didn’t go to an island with 20 other SM’s because I didn’t want my mission experience to be about just meeting other Americans: check.
I didn’t come with anyone because I felt this was something I needed to do on my own, with God: check.
I came for a different, more simple way of life: check.

Yup everything I hoped for is being fulfilled, so why I am so anxious, restless, and struggling? I could never have been prepared for this. How could I?

This last summer I worked for Buell Fog as part of the U-crew team. It was me and 4 other college students traveling around the mid-west doing youth ministry and recruiting. This was really difficult and long and sometimes miserable. But in more ways than one, U-crew helped prepare me for this. But I can only see it now.

This summer, I was on the road, away from family and friends, now I am half a world away. I only saw my ED counselor Teresa twice; I haven’t yet made contact with her here. I had no control over the food I was eating or how much I could exercise; it is much that way here as well. I wasn’t always spending time with people I wanted; I can’t choose my friends here either. This summer I felt homeless, now I feel it more than ever. U-crew was like the training wheels for this mission field.

Looking back and reflecting was so good for me. It was as though I was instantly morphed into “old” Heather. Ya know, the Heather that may have been thinking more clearly, more at peace, more realistic and not so anxious and hysterical. Maybe I am not so far removed from myself. Maybe I still have some sanity; it just takes more work to find it sometimes. Awareness is going to save me. I have no one here to remind me how I would “usually” act or how I have handled similar things in the past. I only have myself, my memories. I have no one to tell me, “Heather, you are being ridiculous. You are a tough girl. This isn’t the first time things have been hard for you.” The people here don’t know anything about me: my Oprah fetish, my love for Barnes and Noble on a rainy afternoon, my favorite kind of music, how much I enjoy thrift stores, my love for art and crafting things with my hands. Any history from my past is irrelevant here. Starting over is exhausting. I have history and personality and things that make me, me. I feel like an empty book.

If I have one prayer request it is this: Please pray for peace. Pray that I will be able to relax and live. I want to enjoy the ride. This is what I have signed up for. I am experiencing many things I hoped I would. I am not taking the “suck it up” approach to life. But I am trying desperately to be realistic about what is going on around me. I want the hope that although things are not perfect or ideal, I am here. I need prayers to help me relax and live.

“God I want to give you the reigns. Help me to relax and just live here in Cambodia. It is not easy. But I promised you a year of my life, not just the last month when I finally decide I will start living. Help me to see my purpose here. Help me to thrive.”

Friday, October 5, 2007

Ok, a bit repetitive. But you get the idea. Sorry, obviously I tried several times to post my picture link. There it is.

Turns out if I sit on the balcony or our apartment overlooking the city, I get a wireless connection. How grand is that? Grand! So it is Friday night here. Usually, I can't get to a computer at night. So this is so nice to be able to connect with family and friends on Sabbath when I am thinking about all of you the most.

Thursday, October 4, 2007


Hey I have pictures. Check them out. YAY!

http://www.flickr .com/photos/13612397@N02/


Hey! I have finally set-up a Flickr account so you can all see pictures. Whoo-hoo! Check it out at the link below. It is disorganized. But atleast you can get a better "picture" of what life is like for me here.

http://www.flickr http://www.flickr .com/photos/13612397@N02/


We have a lot to catch up on. This week has been one of extremes.

I think I have mentioned once or twice before that, being an SM is hard. But being an SM half way around the world, while fighting an eating disorder, and feeling completely insignificant to the people around you; was more than I could take on Tuesday. I broke down. I really did.

After a rough night feeling so horribly alone, fat, ugly, pathetic, disgusting, unable, incapable, inadequate and everything in between, I cried myself to sleep. I woke up Tuesday morning weak and exhausted. I prayed a desperate prayer for strength and headed down the stairs to my bike. I was really dreading the day. I got on my bike and started to cry. I rode past the guard and cried. I rode past the waiting moto drivers and cried. I went past all the locals, just starting their day and cried. I didn’t just have tears in my eyes. I was, all out, holding nothing back, sobbing. The Cambodians always stare at me anyway. At least Tuesday they had a good reason. I was a sight to see and the topic at every family’s dinner table that night for sure.

I made it to school. I tried to gather myself together. I walked towards my classroom, but the thought of standing in front of students terrified me, and I started crying again. There were 4 students waiting outside that day. They got very quite. I walked in, shut the door behind me, and wept so bitterly, it actually hurt. Thatched walls make up my classroom, so no doubt, my students heard me. But I could not stop. I nearly fell over as I reached my desk. I caught myself with both hands and bent over at the waist. I think I started hyperventilating. I could not catch my breath. I was gasping for air. I sat down. I forced myself to breathe. It was time for staff worship.

I quickly passed my students on the way out the door. I met a teacher on the way and asked, “Do I have anything under my eyes?” At her look of concern, I started crying again and just walked away. I tried to sit in the back at worship, but I didn’t last long, so I half-ran to the bathroom. I found an empty stall, sat down, and cried. A few minutes later, Fay found me. She held me for several minutes before I could actually form sentences.

I told her how horribly lonely I felt. I told her that I felt invisible to most everyone here. I told her I needed someone to care that I had come half-way around the world to Cambodia. I told her how empty, lost, and insignificant I felt. It felt good to talk, but it didn’t make me feel any less alone.

I had to go on with the day. Looking back, I wonder if there is some reason I could not stop crying. Because as the day progressed, people saw me as human. They saw me cry. I couldn’t hide it. My students asked why I was crying. A few Cambodian teachers tried to communicate with me through kind smiles and a few words. I talked to the principle for awhile. Until I “asked” for what I needed, people didn’t know how badly I needed support. I can’t complain and exist in a life I don’t like until I have done everything possible to change it. I didn’t intentionally cry my eyes out on Tuesday. I can’t just break down every time I need something. But that was my feelings at that time. That was real. That was everything I was I feeling in that moment. I could’ve stuffed it inside, sucked it up and gone on with my day. I did try. But I feel like I truly allowed myself to feel that day.

Back at our apartment, I asked my roommates if we could talk. I told them I needed to feel like somebody cared that I was here. I told them I regularly felt like the third wheel. I told them that once in awhile I need them to say, “Heather, how are you doing?” I even told them why. The words just flowed. I told them I am fighting an eating disorder, that I don’t expect them to mother me through this. But I asked them check in with me once in awhile. I want to have bad days and actually have someone I could talk to.

Only time will tell if I ever get the support I need here. But I feel like I am at least headed in the right direction. I have planted a few seeds. I have asked for what I need and I will continue to do so. My good friend Troy Beans often reminds me, “Your life is your fault”. I am doing what I can, with what I have. I will continue to remember that I cannot blame anyone for my life. I have to be an active agent in my own life, not a spectator. I can’t let situation, circumstance, people, or places, decide my life for me. I am trying desperately to live with purpose. Maybe I am on my way. God help me.

Monday, October 1, 2007


Today is October 1st. How long have I been here anyway? My goodness. It is October?

I woke up this morning and thought to myself, "Yeah, I don't really want to be in Cambodia today." I think I had another dream about home.

Yesterday, Sunday, was kind of a lonely day. Most Sundays I call home. I was at the internet shop at 9am, trying to figure out Sype to connect with my sister, Ashley and her husband, Ben. It worked and it was so good. I talked to them, my dad in Colorado, and Tyler in Washington. I can't complain. The technology I have at my fingertips is nothing to complain about. Compared to SM's 20 years ago, I am probably cheating! It is always good to call home. My family reminds me I am human. My family asks, "How are you doing?" My family knows my history, my strengths, my weaknesses, they know me.

After leaving there, I was feeling really good. But alas, Sundays are grading days. I always have schoolwork to do, lesson plans to write, and papers to grade. So I buried myself in work. On days like this, it is hard to feel like I have much purpose. When I feel useless I get homesick. When I get homesick, it makes it very hard to keep living and breathing and teaching and giving to my students and being compassionate with people. I pray every day that God will help me to love this country and the people in it. I'm going to keep praying.

I know now, that I sought to be an SM because I wanted to say, "I was an SM in Cambodia for a year". But now I am not so sure. There is a huge difference between wanting to be an SM and actually doing it. There is a huge difference between being anxious to serve after seeing and ADRA video and actually serving. There is a huge difference between vowing to love people and actually loving them.

There is a 1st grader here named LyChard. He actually lives across the street. All in all, he is a good kid with decent English and a big, toothy grin. He is a little shrimp and prefers to go shirtless and cammando under his pants most of the time when he is at home. He likes to play and have attention. Sometimes I have the energy and sometimes I don't. When his sweaty little body wants to "airplane" and jump off tables into our arms, I don't always want to play. He wears a paper crown that says, "Today is my birthday", every day. On the inside is written, in very good English, this note: "LyChard, Happy Birthday. Here in America children like these sorts of things. Hope you enjoy it too!" LyChard is a sponsored child. Ya know the children you can sign-up for in foreign countries and write letters to? That is LyChard. I have no idea how many of my students have American sponsors. Several I am sure. But this made me remember, there is a difference between writing a child letters and sending them gifts, and loving them.

Sometimes these children aren't so loveable. Cambodia is not a beautiful place. It just isn't. There is nothing glamourous about teaching in a hot classroom surrounded by 30-some sweaty bodies. There is nothing particularly "cool" about walking past beggars without legs and children without clothes. The language barrier is awful and isolating. Being labeled a "foreigner" get's old, fast. But I am. This world I have entered is foreign to me. It isn't always exciting. It isn't always an adventure. It isn't a nice mission trip experience and I won't be returning to the comforts of home any time soon.

This blog is not meant to demean. I do not write to discourage people from sponsoring children in other countries or send money to help ADRA. But I have just come to realize that the things I thought would be rewarding because I was doing them for God are not guaranteed to be easy. There is a difference between talking and doing.

Henry Ford says, "You cannot build a reputation on what you are going to do."

Preach it Henry. Preach it.