Tuesday, November 27, 2007

11-27-07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2007

11-19-07

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"First" Impressions (before I forget)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 11, 2007

11-11-07

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

11-7-07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"God, show me that 'something".

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Twenty

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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