Thursday, January 31, 2008

2-1-08

Today I leave for Kuala Lampur, Malaysia. But indeed I survived senior survival, somehow!
What an experience it was! We left Sunday morning at 6am. The crowded, red, CAS bus arrived right on time with 22 very excited seniors. There were 5 sponsors, myself, Tim, Fay, and two others. The students all screamed, “Good morning, Ms.Bo!” and a few boys joked, “You can sit with me teacher!” I took a place in the front to avoid motion sickness which is multiplied by 10 on these Cambodian roads. We departed after prayer and the journey began. Maybe my senior year is just too far away, but I never remember being so darn noisy and I’m almost positive we weren’t. You see Khmers only have one volume level: loud. So thus our next 4 days together were just that. There are some very musical seniors in this class and one of them just bought a new drum set. So, of course, the full trap set had a seat on the bus as well. Also came 2 guitars, a recorder, a harmonica, and some very vocal students. We spent about 8 hours in the bus together with no air conditioning, no room to breathe, and enough floating dirt to fill a sandbox.
About 2 hours into our trip we got a flat tire and pulled over in the little town of Skun (Skoon). This village has the nickname of “Spiderville” because they specialize in very large, fried spiders. Cambodians admit, they really will eat anything! So we spent some quality time together in the heat while they fixed one tire, then another tire that had also gone flat. Three hours later, we were on our way again. We stopped in Kompoung Thom (kom-poong tom) for lunch. I was already sick, so I didn’t eat much. From here we had 4 hours left to go and those hours were spent on a dirt road with potholes, or what Americans would call “craters”. I’m not exaggerating. Some of the “dips” went down 4 feet before we barreled up the other side. The bus rumbled on as the students continued screeching, singing, and banging that darn bass drum. I politely asked if we could pull over briefly and I threw up along with a few other students. We continued north further and further into the less and less populated countryside.
We finally arrived at the adventure camp set up by ADRA just at dark. It is staffed by 6-7 Cambodians who run the activities and cook for us. We split up boys and girls into cabin type bungalows. They were just little, wooden shacks with pads to sleep on and mosquito nets. So I took 5 girls with me and we first went to bathe. Oh, if there were only showers! No, here we use dip showers. Being naked is a big no-no in the Khmer culture, even with the same sex. So I wore a krahma, or a large sarong and followed the girls down to the cement slab where we bathed each evening. There were two large, cement troughs filled with brown water and a few plastic dippers. So, I watched and followed. They squat down next to the trough and just start dumping the water on their heads. Getting clean with clothes on is quite difficult and you never feel completely clean, but it better than nothing. Sleep came easily. I was exhausted and glad to have some peace and quiet.
But apparently one shower is not enough and my girls were up at 5am to bathe, again! I passed up on that one and just laid there thinking, “Why of why must they get up and start yelling so early?” It was about this time that the drums started too. Even so, I felt surprisingly rested and headed down to the picnic/kitchen area for breakfast. They cook vegetarian so that solved a lot of my usual problems. It was alright, a lot of rice, but nothing to complain about. While I could’ve been just fine with a bowl of cereal, they seem to eat basically the same thing all three meals. We started each day with worship and then the ADRA workers led us through the day to different activities. We did all kinds of different group games and activities: blind walk, rappelling, a zip line 600 meters long, trust fall, and so, so much more. It was extremely well organized and kept the kids busy and interested all day long. There were a lot of challenges that involved critical thinking, communication, and working together. It was fun to watch them work through all the tasks. I probably missed a lot because they tend to slip back into Khmer before long. But that is regular and expected. I am used to feeling confused and left out by now. It is also forcing me to learn some Khmer just to understand what is going on.
One night we hiked a little ways and slept outside for the night. We had a campfire and roasted sweet potatoes. We slept in hammocks. The next morning we were all very sore and grumpy because a few boys had decided to stay up all night long talking and laughing. The noise and consideration of others was a big topic of discussion between the sponsors and the kids on more than one occasion. The drums were banned between 9:30pm and 7am. But then they started banging away and singing after lunch when most people went to take a nap. On the last night of the trip the rules were obviously kept the same and I listened to some very frustrated boys who felt their rights were being taken away by the noise curfew that was being forced on them. They just don’t get it. Whenever they all get together they turn into animals. One night while playing a game, they ended up tackling each other, jumping up and down, howling like monkeys, and banging their hands on the wooden floor. They really can get out of control. But I tried to listen as they all said, “Ms.Bo isn’t this ridiculous? We just want to have a good time on our last night here and they are restricting us!” I wanted to say, “Yeah, this is preposterous! Can you believe those awful adults?” But instead I said, “Well boys, it is nearly 9pm. I’m sorry you are frustrated, but you can sit here complaining about it all evening or you can actually enjoy yourselves! It is up to you.” I really don’t enjoy this “teacher” title some times. Especially because I had flashbacks to my senior year and similar complaints that now seem absolutely ridiculous.
Either way, they endured and the next morning they were in reasonably good spirits as we loaded the bus to return home. Of course we got away late. Of course the bus got another flat tire. We made it halfway and stopped for lunch. But of course a few miles down the road we lost our brakes in the middle of nowhere. It was approaching dark and we still had 4 hours to go until we reached home. I asked Rithy, the bus driver, what we were going to do. He just kinda chuckled and said something about everything being ok. I told him I had a plane to catch to Malaysia the next day and asked him what I should do. He put his arm up in the air, flagged down a passing bus and said, “Well, just take this!” I didn’t have much time to think or any money. He loaned me the $2.50 I needed to get to Phnom Penh and I gladly got on the bus. I didn’t really have much time to think. I just knew I didn’t want to miss my plane and he seemed confident in the decision. But as I boarded the bus full of Khmers and realized I could not communicate with anyone and I was still reasonably far from home, I started to question this decision. A few young men looked at me very excitedly as I boarded so I avoided eye contact as much as possible. I sat there thinking, “Wow, it would be a really long time before anyone realized I was missing! Darnit!”
I traveled the four hours home and arrived after dark. As we pulled over to stop, the moto drivers always start running along side the buses to catch the weary travelers and take them wherever they need to go. A few peered inside, pointed and looked at me smiling and started making kissing noises. I picked the oldest, weakest looking one that I imagined I could beat up if I needed to. Gratefully, he got me home, no problems.
I came back to an empty house, started my laundry for my next trip, took a shower, and eventually fell asleep.
Well, besides the constant headache I got from constantly being surrounded by 22 very loud Khmers, I really enjoyed the trip. I will never forget it. I have realized that I thoroughly enjoy any opportunity I have to be with the people here and not stick out like a sore thumb. The kids are used to my “whiteness” and “foreign-ness” by now, so I just get to be. When I brave the streets outside, the shock factor still exists so I get the stares, the pictures, and the shouts. When I teach class I am also the center of attention. But here with them I was able to just watch and learn, an opportunity I rarely get when I just can’t blend in. I often wish I could be Cambodian just for a day to better understand what goes through their minds and how they think. I want to be a fly on the wall. But anytime I am spotted all the attention is on me and they stop whatever they were doing and I lose the chance to just be with them.
It was nice to observe how they interact with each other and learn a few things too. I was also reminded how much I greatly miss the outdoors, the trees, and the fresh air. I got to “rock climb” up a huge rubber tree and rappel my way down. The closest thing to mountains I’m going to get for awhile.
So on to the next trip, I’ll let you know what I learn.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

1-23-08

It is Wednesday, January 23, 2008 and I have been living in Cambodia for 5 months. I signed up for 10 months. I am exactly halfway.
While it feels like I have been living here a lifetime, logic reminds me that it really has been only 5 months, and soon enough I will be home again, wishing I were somewhere else. Why the discontentment? Will I always feel this way? I like to think I am longing for heaven. I like to think that I have realized this world is not my home. I don’t know that I am to that point yet. But either way, I know I haven’t truly found home and I guess I will just keep searching.
Today began semester tests at Cambodia Adventist School. All 400 students showed up ready for the next three days of testing. I separated the desks in my classroom as my 8th graders have a serious problem cheating. The biggest problem is, they don’t think it’s a problem. They think I am ridiculous for not allowing them to “share”.
I spent most of the day with the 8th graders unless I was giving a test to one of the other grades I teach. So I spent the first three class periods doing a lot of sitting, watching, and pacing between rows as the students took Math, Geography, and Spelling tests.
We have three days of testing and then first semester is officially over! Next week, I am going on the senior trip to Prhaya Vehea province. I am a sponsor, chaperone, whatever you want to call it. Either way it sounds old and very, very unlike me. I just want to go and have fun with the seniors. But if I can do that and wear the title, “Sponsor” that’s ok with me. Every year, the senior class travels by bus, 5-6 hours to a province up north to a “camp” set up by ADRA. Many non-Christian groups use the area. I guess there is a zip line, a ropes course, and some hiking trails. Either way, I am excited. This is the closest thing to the Colorado mountains I am going to get. We will be sleeping outside with mosquito nets and bathing in sarongs by way of “dump showers”. You get the picture. No where to hide. So you gotta get clean with your clothes on. I had heard the SM’s went on the trip last year, but I hadn’t been asked yet. So I went and talked to principle Sharon. She said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t think you were the type!” I asked her what she meant. She said, she didn’t think I would be able to handle it. I took this as a challenge because I felt a little put down. I am hoping to prove her wrong. But a small part of wonders if I can really endure Cambodia’s wilderness. Well, it’s too late now. I have to do it. I will do it darnit!
I will leave Sunday and return Thursday. Then, Friday afternoon I will be boarding a plane for Malaysia. We have a week off of school. Dina, the third grade teacher and Mission College graduate, and her husband, Chheangley, invited me to go with them. She is going home to visit family for Chinese New Year, apparently a very, big deal! It is like Christmas for us. So we will arrive in Kuala Lampur, or KL, as everyone here calls it, and stay there for 3 days. Then we will fly to Borneo where Dina’s family is. I don’t really know Dina that well, and I have no idea what we are going to do, but I have become a bit more of a free-spirit since arriving here and I am still really excited about the trip. We will stay in Borneo from Monday until Sunday, and then fly back to Phnom Penh.
School will start again on Monday. So I am expecting to be exhausted, but I think it will be totally worth it. I was looking at the calendar, and I have quite a few things to look forward to.
I have these two trips the next two weeks. Then I have the regular school schedule for a quarter or so. Then, in April, I am hoping to meet up with Ross and Kamrong, a married couple from Phnom Penh, in Australia. I have always wanted to see Australia. So I have been looking at ticket prices and it looks doable. After getting back from Australia, I will teach for two weeks, and then hopefully visit Mission College in Thailand for the weekend. I think JC and I are hoping to go.
This takes me to the beginning of May. We have another holiday in May, the Kings birthday I believe. During this time, I would really like to see Vietnam. I figure I will never be so close to all these great places, so I should see what I can, while I am here. After this break mid-May, we have a few more weeks of school and then semester testing again.
The seniors will be preparing to graduate; the others will be taking tests and anticipating being one grade older. And what will I be feeling by this point? That will be mid-June. Still a long way off, but closer today than it was yesterday!
I don’t want to get too ahead of myself thinking that it is all downhill from here. But today Fay and I were talking, as usual, instead of working, and she said, “Well time really flies when you are happy.” I told her that that is unfortunately, so backwards. Why does time fly when you are having fun and drag when you are miserable? Shame, shame. Because indeed I am happier now than I have ever been living in Cambodia, and yet, it will come to an end. I am very grateful for that and will not hesitate to come home. But, at least it is now a little more bearable being able to see home on the distant horizon.
So I never respond quickly to emails anyway, but I definitely won’t the next 2 weeks or so. It is fun to talk about traveling to all these amazing places. I’ll fill you in on all the details when I get back.

Monday, January 21, 2008

1-21-07

I feel like I am living in fear. Some days I feel like I am just waiting to get hit by a car or get in a moto accident. Other days I am practically just waiting to get groped or worse. I actually imagine the exhaust filling my lungs and giving me lung cancer, which is incredibly common. I live in the fear of the title that has been plastered on me “foreigner”. I will never blend in.
There is a bible verse, “God hath not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” That is 2 Timothy 1:7. So that should just solve all of my problems right? What am I missing?

I continue to have such a difficult time loving these people that I just don’t understand. Today, in the middle of the afternoon, a man walking in my direction reached out to grab me and I had to run to get away from him. He was no doubt just trying to get a rise out of the “white girl” and make his friends laugh. I walked away whispering, “Don’t cry. Do not cry. He cannot make you hate him if you don’t want to.” No these people can’t make me hate them. But it sure feels like they are trying really hard.

I tell my students about it. They say, people stare and grab at me because I am so beautiful. So I shouldn’t get mad.

I am little more than a sexual object to the men here. Foreigners have been kidnapped and locked away in hotel rooms with men for several days. So the men will lick their lips and make kissing sounds at me as they stand holding their infant children in their arms.
So no, God has not “given” me a spirit of fear. But does that mean I can’t be scared? Yes, God is powerful. Yes, God is love. If I really believed wouldn’t that be enough? I guess I just don’t have enough faith.

Today I sat and talked with a man named Jamie who feels so much passion for the work to be done in Cambodia. He is incredible. He is originally from Switzerland and has to return there every 3 months for throat cancer treatment. He wants to help here. He sees the needs. He is trying to turn some Vietnamese prostitutes into teachers and help another girl who just found out she has HIV. I sat and listened in amazement at all the things he is doing and still wants to do. Is my fear and hurt standing between myself and the work I came here to do. I am not the first person in the world being asked to love the unlovable. But what is the difference between Jamie and myself? He sees and lives with the same culture that I do. How does he thrive while I continue to be paralyzed? Is this all really easy and I am just horribly weak? He asked me today, “Heather, what do you think God is trying to teach you in all of this?” I couldn’t answer.
I am not oblivious that God is trying to teach me “something”. But I have never felt as far from God as I do right now. I am used to being spiritually fed. I come from the college life where people acquire Jesus “points” by attending vespers, chapel, and so on. There is no shortage of spiritual activities to go to. I am used to having God served to me. I hate even writing that. But it is true. I have no such programs or community here. Do I really have the spiritual life I thought I did? Or did my relationship with God revolve solely around meeting Him at the next vespers, singing at the next nursing home, and sitting through the next Sabbath school?

No, I didn’t sign up to save prostitutes. So, really all I have to do is teach my English classes each day and I will have fulfilled my purpose right? That is, after all what I said I would do.
It doesn’t seem good enough anymore. I see the needs of the people here. But it is proving difficult to serve a culture I am increasingly afraid of. Is there just a missionary “type” and I am not it? Maybe I am just not strong enough for this? Did I misread the signs? When I prayed for God to show me where to go, did I really listen long enough? Did I stop to listen at all?

I really do not enjoy talking about God’s will. No matter the conversation, there never seems to be a resolution. I always get a watered down answer. How do we know God’s will? Are our very lives God’s will? Were each of these keystrokes predicted thousands of years ago? Or does God let us decide? He has the best way that He hopes we will take, but in the end it is up to us? I don’t get it. Because it is easy to say that, “Well, you prayed for an answer and now you are in Cambodia so that must be God’s will.” That is silly. I could pray that I not stub my toe all day. Then, stub my toe and say, “Whoops, I guess that was God’s will.”

I suppose I shouldn’t be talking. It is hard to know the answer to a question you are not asking to the right person. I can’t remember the last time I prayed. If I did, it was probably, “God, when will all of this be over? What do you want from me? I don’t get it!”

I don’t want to come home a very bitter person who claims that this has been the absolute worst year of my life. But this week Fay told me that maybe I am just trying too hard. She continues to remind me that maybe the “Super SM” I came here to be just isn’t realistic. “But “Super SM” loves everyone”, I tell myself. And while I wish I could, I’m just not there yet. I wish I was, but I am not.

When I was learning to drive, my Dad told me the same thing my Grandpa told him, “Assume everyone is an idiot.” Good advice because honestly you never know if someone is going to turn into your lane or speed through a stop sign. In the same way, am I unfairly assuming all Cambodians are idiots? Some are, that has been proven. But how do I reach those who desperately need and want the help I came here to give?

I am asking a lot of questions. Twenty-one questions to be exact. I counted. But all are rhetorical. I don’t actually expect answers from any of you. How could you? You aren’t here.
I suppose I am “again” asking for prayer. As repetitive or obvious or typical a request that might be, I really don’t know what else to do. I myself have never had the prayer life I wish I did. So, I can’t go making any promises on my end and don’t demand commitment from you either. But I am determined that if God is going to move in a big way in my life, I need to start talking to Him about it. Each week day morning I am up by 4:30am and will be intentional about praying at that time. So that is 3:30pm in Nebraska and 2:30pm for the Coloradoans.

I want to believe. I want to work for God. But I just don’t seem to have the strength or the compassion it takes. This is what I’ll be praying for too. Each morning at 4:30am I will be praying for strength for another day and an open heart to be able to better love these people. Join me?

Friday, January 18, 2008

1-17-07

Random wanderings from my small part of the globe.
On Thursday morning I found a little kindergarten aged girl squatting in the showers going to the bathroom. I pointed to the shower and said, “No.” I took her by the hand and led her to the toilet and said, “Yes”. She looked at me like, “Yeah, but have you tried climbing up on that thing?” Honestly, she would have a point. But I still found it humorous. As I thought further, in Cambodia, we have a lot of squat pots that actually flush. In India, where this little girl is from, they just have a hole in the ground. Her reasoning made sense. The shower drain probably looked much more familiar to her than the huge porcelain monster. I felt like maybe I understood.
Same day, I am sitting in the back of my 11th grade Morality class listening as Navy teaches the lesson. Suddenly, from the front row, Reachany is screaming and shaking violently. I look to the other students, they don’t look very surprised. But they stand up curiously. She is crying and now lying on the ground squirming. I am not too horribly alarmed; I didn’t hear gunshots or anything. I’m just confused. Now she is gasping for breath and taking deep sobs in between. So as she continues this, I ask Leeta what is going on. She explains that Reachany is angry. Ok. So? Leeta says that Reachany is so frustrated she is now nearly hyperventilating. Like good friends, the other 9 girls are by her side, rubbing her ears, fanning her face, massaging her legs, and talking rapidly in Khmer. She could’ve been giving birth by the look of it! The two signature boys sat in their seats, uninterested in the whole thing. I told the girls to back off and explained to Reachany that she needed to try to take deep, deep breaths and try to calm down. But she didn’t.
The girls just crowded back around her. I told them to back away again as Reachany continued thrashing and crying. I reached down and scooped up all 105 lbs. of her bony frame and made my way to the library a.k.a. nurses station. I had followers. As I made my way up the stairs, I ordered the overly concerned girls to return to class. I plopped the overreacting junior in high school on the pillows in the library. Gladly, Fay and Sharon soon took charge.
Apparently, these outbreaks aren’t horribly uncommon here. I witness them in different levels: tempers, complete silence and refusal to talk, physical violence, and more. Sharon explained that, because Cambodians are from the culture that says, “Suck it up and move on”, they stuff it all inside. They don’t talk about how they are really feeling. They don’t admit when they are having a rough day. They don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to disappoint anyone.
I have often thought about the mental health of Cambodia ever since I got here. Cambodia has had a brutal and horrendous past, but no one talks about it and if they do they chuckle their way through. Cambodians saw their families murdered before their eyes, they watched their children starve to death, they watched their own selves seemingly dissolve. And afterwards? No group counseling, no moral support, no national apology, no immediate international aid or support, nothing. So they moved on. They stepped over the dead bodies in the streets; they washed the blood off of their clothes, and went back to work.
Post-Columbine massacre found parents with grief counselors and pastors and any support they might need. Post-Columbine! Not post-“2 milllion human lives massacred”. How do they deal? They don’t.
As I watched Reachany’s exhausting episode I was reminded of my own a few months ago. On my way to school one day, I just could not stop crying. My experience wasn’t quite as public or attention producing. But I was hyperventilating, scared, homesick, and in a lot of pain. I cried and cried because I had no one to talk to. I needed a friend.
So for a moment I felt like maybe I understood.
Whether it is culture or otherwise, this silence isn’t helping anyone. Some people deal with stress more violently than just tears. They rape, they steal, they murder, they just try to cope.
So today was my turn to give the chapel talk to the high schoolers. My 10th grade drama class wrote a skit about being honest. I saw this as a perfect opportunity.
I asked what they thought the commandment meant when it said, “Don’t lie.” Pretty straightforward right? Tell the truth. Be honest. I talked about several things, but I brought up the fact that, “If someone asks how you are doing and you say “fine”, but you aren’t “fine”, are you lying?” They all agreed that that wasn’t being completely honest, but I doubt any of them actually thought, “Hmmm, maybe it is ok to be human and admit when I am having a bad day!” It seems to be a culture thing. I doubt it will click that easily. It didn’t for me and continues to test me.
“An honest life shows respect for God, a degenerate life is a slap in His face.” Proverbs 14:2.
I’m not sure on all the biblical theology associated with lying. Maybe I am just making this all up. Maybe there is some hidden meaning that says, “Don’t lie” was only used in such and such Hebrew era and really meant, “Don’t wear green”. But, so far, the biggest and greatest changes in my life have come from living my life striving to be honest with the people in it, God in heaven, and myself.
I still haven’t mastered love, joy, peace, patience, understanding and what are the other fruits of the spirit? I’m just trying to take it one day at a time.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

1-15-07

Catching the flu is awful. Catching the flu in Cambodia? Nearly unbearable. Let me paint you a little mental picture of my weekend.
Sunday morning from 12-4 am was spent running up and down the stairs to puke. There is a bathroom right next to my room, but it is being torn apart and fixed up. The mosquitoes definitely come out at night and like to hang out in the downstairs bathroom. So while I am vomiting, I am swatting away the little pests, then groggily making my way back upstairs. But because I am now hot and sweaty and there is no air conditioning I am hot and now very itchy too. So falling back asleep is nearly impossible. At least until I have to run back downstairs.
Sunday I had so, so much schoolwork to do, it was ridiculous. But of course, I was sick. So I slept, I sat, I stared, I tried to grade papers, I tried to write my semester tests that were due the next day, then I sat some more. The bathroom is under construction so this brought half a dozen Cambodian men in and out all day. They played their loud music, they yelled, they drilled, they cut stuff. Either way, there was no quite to be found anywhere. I called Sharon and told her I just couldn’t teach the next day. Tim and Fay kept me company and we watched Oprah episodes until I fell asleep.
So today, Monday, I sent my lesson plans with Tim and Fay and tried to rest. But again at 7am, the faithful bathroom crew was here to work. The dust from their work is all over the house and it is driving all of us nearly crazy. All the furniture is covered with sheets, fixtures have been temporarily torn out, and the smell of cigarette smoke is nauseating. I tried to venture outside, but there is not relief there either. Where do you go? I think I graded a few papers, sat, slept as much as possible amidst the drilling down the hall, and counted down the hours until I could go to bed. They have been working since I moved in 2 weeks ago, so I have been taking some pretty frigid showers in the bathroom downstairs that has no warm water. I felt pretty miserable, unproductive, lonely, and pathetic.
I just have to go back to school tomorrow. Semester tests are next week and they can’t review without me.
But funny, on Sabbath I wrote the following in my journal. Silly Heather!
“I think I’ve had a breakthrough: I have my best and most peaceful days when I am sick! Why? Because when I am sick, I give myself permission to just be. It is like I am now allowed to ease up on myself, not try so hard, and not be everything to everyone. It seems like I have a valid excuse that people can actually see, so therefore, I lower my standards of what an SM “should” be, at least temporarily. Honestly, who expects a sick person to be perfect, or put on a happy face, or be super productive?
I have been sick 5 times in the last 4 months. Do you think God is trying to tell me something? “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.” From Corinthians I believe.
I can lie around if I want to. I can sit at home if I want to. I can be unsocialable if I want to. I can be Heather if I want to.
Wow, that sounds so silly, but it’s true. I too often force myself into being something I am not: overachiever, people pleaser, night owl, super student missionary, perfect. Whatever picture I have painted of what I “should” be, is only going to hinder my time here. May expectations can be unrealistic and ridiculous. I would never, ever force these standards on anyone else. Why should I be any different?
I can promise to get out of bed every day. I can promise to go to school. I can stand before my students and share what I know. I can take care of my health, every kind. I can promise to do my balanced best each and every day, which may be different each and every day. I am at my best even when I am not.”
As I said, silly Heather! See I wrote that when I had a sore throat and a cough, not the throwing up, diarrhea, achiness, headache, and fatigue. But I suppose it should still ring true. I still believe being sick is God trying to tell me to just chill out.
One of the best lessons I am learning so far is this, “I am at my best even when I am not.” Did you catch it? Your personal best changes each and every day. Your personal best today may not be your personal best tomorrow. Don’t look back 2 years ago and say, “Well, I was so much happier then. I had more friends then. I got better grades last year.” It isn’t as though the bar is set at the absolute highest point in your life and every day you aren’t touching it, you are failing! Your personal best changes everyday in accordance with health, support, your work situation, your classes, the weather, and so on. We are human. We are finicky. We are changing. All we can promise is our balanced best and nothing more. I believe Mr. Chris Blake told me that. Thank you.
So today, I sat around, I fumed inwardly at the obnoxious work crew, I slept, I sat some more. I was sick. That was the best I could be today. Tomorrow I will hopefully be feeling better. But if not, I am still doing my balanced best with what I am facing right now. I am only capable of so much. And thank God, he doesn’t ask for much more.

Friday, January 11, 2008

1-11-07

JC and I went for a ride on his moto yesterday. I often feel very claustrophobic in Phnom Penh. I need open space. I am desperate to see something green. He feels this way sometimes too. I think JC is more of an introvert than he thinks, so we get along well. So we headed east to the huge and muddy Mekong river. We crossed the Japanese friendship bridge and went to the other side. The humidity in the air makes it sticky, so thus, everything sticks: bugs, dirt, and who knows what else. JC tends to drive pretty fast, so on top of the humidity and the wind, my already big hair, got bigger. We were never unsurrounded. There were still people, motos, and buildings. But there was less traffic and there was actually open space between restaurants where we could watch the sunset. Once in awhile we caught whiffs of fresh air. Ahhhh, so nice.
I don’t always know what to say to JC. We come from such different places. Somehow we always find something. Usually our conversations revolve around my many questions about Cambodia. I told him about being groped the other day. He didn’t seem surprised. As I told him about it, I realized I was kind of fishing for an apology. Why? JC didn’t grope me, but a Cambodian did. That’s not fair to him or to anyone. I realized that pretty quickly and just moved on. Sometimes I wonder if he really understands half of what I say. He showed me a badminton racquet the other day that was $240 and I whistled in that way we do when something is big or expensive. It starts high and ends low. Ya know, that whistle sound that says, “Wow! That’s expensive!” He kinda just looked at me like, “Why are you whistling right now?” My students have about the same reaction when I say things like, “You guys are really on the ball!”. They looked at me blankly and said, “What ball?” Sarcasm is lost on English learners too. So that eliminates about 25% of the things I have to say.
After dark, we went to this carnival thing. They have it every night of the year. There was maybe 100 people there. It consisted of a teeny train ride for kids and about 15 game booths of the exact same game and the exact same prizes! You’d think someone would say, “Hey, what if my booth offered a different game?” So we threw darts at balloons because that was all there was to do. The prizes included used stuffed animals, cans of beer, and bottle of dish soap. Unfortunately, neither of us won (See who would I be without sarcasm?)! After playing we went to a “restaurant”. Yes a Cambodian “restaurant”. No roof. No walls. No chairs. No tables. Just hammocks, a blaring big screen T.V playing a Khmer comedy, and very questionable food. Compromising to my vegetarian-ness, JC got us some corn on the cob and papaya salad, while everyone around us ate half-grown chicks still in the egg, frogs, and meatballs on a stick. I felt very Cambodian as I realized none of this really fazes me anymore. I was dirty, there were naked children brushing up against me, I couldn’t understand anyone, most everyone was staring, and I definitely encountered “something” not vegetarian in my papaya salad.
We headed home. The road we were on used to be called the “Red Light District”. It was very famous for its prostitutes, drunken fights, and crime. It is safer now, but JC said, this is still where the men go to find sex. I said, “How do you know? How can you honestly tell a prostitute from any other girl?” As he began pointing them out, I could recognize them without his help. They stand outside of wooden shacks, with neon lights inside. They don’t wear particularly scandalous clothing or wear signs that say, “Yup, I’m a prostitute.” They don’t have to. There eyes spoke of exhaustion, defeat, and worthlessness. They were all about my age or younger. It was difficult to look at them after awhile. They weren’t talking or laughing with each other. They were just sitting. Waiting.
I asked JC what he thought would happen if I walked up and offered one of those girls a job instead of prostitution. He said, “I don’t know. I think some of them like what they do.” I told him I strongly disagreed. I said, that they probably all came to prostitution for different reasons, but I hope any of them would take a better offer if only they had one.
I couldn’t stop thinking about those girls today. I keep wondering what goes through their mind on any given day. I wish I knew what they were feeling. I wish there was some way I could talk to them. I just want to better understand how they got where they are and what life is like for them. I keep picturing their faces in my mind.
Yet still, I feel asleep in my bed, in my room, surrounded by my “things”, and thought, “How did I get it so good? How am I so blessed?”
What’s the point of coming to Cambodia, living and experiencing what I have, and then going home to re-adjust and pretend like it doesn’t exist? I’ve stopped viewing the luxuries of my life as mere luxuries. They are distractions. I enjoy air conditioning to pretend like it isn’t dreadfully hot outside. I live in a safe, clean, and supportive home to pretend like it isn’t dangerous, dirty, and unwelcoming outside. I listen to my ipod when I walk the streets to pretend like I don’t feel the loneliness of being a “foreigner” in another country. I read books and watch movies with friends on the weekends to whisk myself away to a better place, if even temporarily. Back home my distractions are different, but just as destructive. I think I live in America to pretend like there isn’t a horrible world out there in desperate need of some help.
The people here cannot afford the same luxuries I have. So they live without them. They live in the heat, the corruption, the filth, and the chaos and will continue to long after I am gone. I’ve said before, “Living with the Scotts makes Cambodia bearable.” The country hasn’t changed, my luxuries have.
They don’t get it easy like I do. I just can’t stop feeling like, “What’s the point?” I wonder if the Cambodian’s less than friendly reaction to me comes in-part from this fact: I am just another white person. I am just another girl who came and saw and left and might never come back. Do “they” feel like the circus freaks? Like the ones I have come to “save”? Did I come here just to make myself feel better? Because if I just leave, knowing full well that this country won’t just heal itself, why did I come at all? Am I only willing to be a missionary for 1/90th of my life (assuming I live to be 90)? I am not saying that missionaries only live in foreign countries. There is work to do anywhere you go. Not everyone in America is selfish, un-Godly, and uninterested in spreading the gospel. America itself does not destine us to failure or lack of salvation. This is not a prideful blog from an SM feeling very proud of herself. This is a blog from a human being feeling confused, desperate, and very frustrated with herself.
Where did I miss the point? What needs to change so I can really understand why in the world I am here, on this world? Loving people just doesn’t seem good enough in such an awful, broken place.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

1-9-07

It has been a week of firsts. As if this whole experience hasn't been all firsts, here are a few that happened recently.

Last Sabbath, I got together with my Mission College friends. We went to Dina and Cheangley's home where we usually end up creating things in the kitchen. Don't imagine a typical kitchen. Really, imagine your garage; cement floors, not much light, bad smell, holes in the ceiling. There is a small cabinet with food, a table, and a charcoal fire pit. No refridgerator, not sink, no stove, no oven. Yeah, picture cooking in your garage. Cheangley sprayed repellent for the mosquitos which apparently attracts cockroaches. So as I sat on the concrete stirring my pot of rice, I was swatting cockroaches with my flip flop! Gratefully, the pudding was free of roaches though. My ignorant mind thought that "rice" pudding must be Asian. But none of them had ever had it before, so that's what I made. Cheangley likes pizza, so he tried to create it at home. They mixed bread flour and water, than friend it in oil for the crust. Then, they butchered a chicken and sauteed it with carrots and finished it all off with ketchup. It isn't pizza, they call it "pitzo". They can't bake the crust so they fry. They can't afford cheese. And there are tomatoes in ketchup. Same thing right? It was interesting. So for the first time I ate less brutal, vegetarian version of "pitzo" instead.

After our afternoon together, I went home, which is now the Scotts. I sat on the couch. I laid on the couch. I took a nap! This is the first nap I have ever taken in Cambodia and it was grand. So nice.

The next first isn't quite so fantastic. Tuesday morning I went for a walk, as I usually do. On the side of the road I came upon a 14ish year old boy just standing there. I thought that was strange especially as he started approaching me. He held out his hands, with a sad look on his face like he was begging for money. But as soon as he closed in, he quickly reached down and grabbed at my crotch! I was so shocked, I didn't know what to do. He ran a little ways behind me and just stood there, laughing. I said, "No. Very bad." in Khmer. As I turned to go he mimicked me and started cursing at me in English. I continued walking, half-crying, half-praying. I kept glancing over my shoulder and listening intently. I heard him running at me again. So I whipped around, pepper spray in hand, and said, "Go home!" He started walking towards me as I backpedaled. I stopped, told him to leave me alone and turned around again. He walked about 20 feet behind me laughing for awhile then gave up.

I went back home frustrated, scared, and hurt. Why is it that the very people I came here to help are the ones making me feel the least wanted? It isn't fair to speak for all Cambodians. But it is hard to step outside of the house or outside of the school because anywhere in between I am reminded each and every day that I am a "foreiger" and always will be. They continue to take pictures, glare, point, stare, laugh, and make jokes.

What causes people to be so cruel? What did that boy really get for grabbing my crotch? Did that really satisfy him sexually or was he just out to scare a foreigner? I was somewhat paralyzed all day just imagining that every Cambodian I came in contact with hated me and wanted to hurt me in some way. After feeling this way I realized, that boy is getting just what he wants by traumatizing me, scaring me, and making me feel miserable. The power is completely in his hands. What if I decided that ALL Cambodians are bad and awful and perverted? I'm already having a hard time loving a culture that I just don't understand, but this is just icing on the cake! I will NEVER be able to love them until I believe that they deserve to be loved.

I guess you could say, "It was my fault". In all honesty, I should not have been out that early in the dark and I was not aware that all the other exercisers had disappeared. But whose fault is it that women can't go wherever they darn well please at any hour? I'm not about to protest this fact by continuing to venture in such dangerous circumstances. But I am also not about to pretend like I am ok with it. How can I teach these people that I am more than a circus animal and human just like them? Where they treated like animals first? I think there is a lot more to this than what is on the surface.

I have gone 4 days now without binging! Whoo-hoo! That is not a first, but the first time in a long time, that's for sure.

Well, 10 seconds ago I also witnessed my first moto accident while sitting in an internet shop. No blood. But scary and a lot of yelling.

I started my first happy journal. It's just a little book I had nothing better to do with, so I started writing down the things that day that made me smile. A few things include: In English class, Chamrong formed the past tense of the word "sneeze" as "had snozen". I watched "Becoming Jane" (Jane Austen) with Angie and Dina and felt even more inspired to write. The kitchen at school served tofu curry, my favorite!

For some of these firsts, I want seconds. For some of these, I wish they had never happened. But I guess I can't be picky. Aware for change, yes, but not picky. We gladly take all the good days from God, but never the bad days.

Please keep me in your prayers.

Friday, January 4, 2008

1-4-08

Well much has changed here in Cambodia. My parents came and visited me, and I moved out of my apartment and in with the Scotts last Sunday. So let me describe a typical day, now.
I’ve been waking up at 4:15 each morning. I know it sounds crazy, but Cambodia runs on a different schedule, trust me. I am not the only one awake at this hour. I wake up in a room, alone. Hallelujah for some room to breathe! Then I stretch and go running. No worries I jog with pepper spray and only one headphone in my ear. But there are quite a few people out exercising at this time and all the creeps are probably still asleep from their late night of being creeps. Honestly, you don’t hear much about early bird creeps. Being outside at this time is much more pleasant than the early evening when it is hot, there is tons of traffic, people staring, and plenty of dirt and pollution filling my lungs. No thanks.
Now I actually have a place to be alone with God. So I take advantage of it, get ready for the day and leave at about 6:30 for school. I have a freaking awesome, bright red mountain bike that has never seen mountains. Either way it is a good little bike and it gets me to and from school each day. I brave the traffic with one of those masks you saw a lot of Asians wearing during the SARS outbreak. The pollution and dust is really bad, so everyday I look like a dentist about to clean someone’s teeth.
We start each day with staff worship in the picnic area which also serves as the 11th grade “classroom” once we move out of the way. Flag raising is at 7:25 and has all the classes in neat little lines as they sing the Cambodian national anthem.
From here I have morning worship with my 8th graders. This proves to be difficult, yet interesting. Of my 25 students, 21 of them are Buddhist. I wonder if they even hear me. I wonder if they care. I wonder if after an entire year of hearing about a loving God, they will feel even the slightest bit of interest.
From here the days is basically chaos. Usually I spend two hours with the 11th graders in English and Morality class (it’s Bible class, but we call it Morality so the Buddhist parents don’t get mad). I teach Geography, Drama, and work in the Library too.
There are about 400 students at Cambodia Adventist School. We teach in thatched buildings that are really close together. So class is just a yelling match against the students and the other classes for that matter. There are 10 minute breaks between classes that involve the students running outside, kicking up dirt, tackling each other, playing games, yelling, screaming, causing trouble and so on. I seem to be one of the few teachers who even notices. No one seems to mind. Life in Cambodia is, in a word: chaos.
Example? Ok. Yesterday I was going for a walk and came upon a big group of people standing in the middle of the road. As I approached I saw a motor bike on its side and a body on the ground. I looked closer and it was a boy about 20 years old. He was coming in and out of consciousness, his arms and face had cuts on them, and his head was lying in a pool of blood. Nobody was helping him or touching him. They were all just standing around him yelling at each other. I couldn’t understand them, but it just didn’t look good. I couldn’t ask what happened or if someone was calling for help. But I saw them begin to pull on his arms and make him walk to his moto, but I rushed over and motioned to keep him on the ground. White people get a lot of attention, so they didn’t really resist me. I tried to show “dizziness” and “broken neck” and pointed to him. Living here is like a long game of Charades: no words, just actions, go! I tried to illustrate that I needed help carrying him to the side of the road. By now, there were about 50 students and teachers and onlookers. Cars and motos were lining up behind the crowd honking and yelling at everyone to move out of their way. Yet, still no one expressed concern for this kid, they were just there for the show, believe me. People were laughing and pointing and motioning their friends to come over. As we went to pick him up, they wrinkled their noses and refused to touch his head where most of the blood was coming out. It seemed like none of this was real to them. It wasn’t tragic enough I suppose. Most of these people have seen much worse. So I cradled his bloody head in my hands and we moved him to the side of the road. I knelt down beside him, fanned away the flies, and tried to keep him from getting up. I had no idea if someone had called for help and something was being done or if they all thought I was a doctor and were just waiting to see what I would do next. After at least 30 minutes, I heard an ambulance. The ambulances are all privately owned, so if you call one there is no guarantee they will want to drive there especially if they are eating lunch or you are too far away. They loaded him up, the people walked away, and I continued my walk. Just another day in Cambodia I suppose, but not to me. I will never know how the accident happened, what they were all yelling about, or if he is even alive.
The school day ends at about 3pm. Afterwards I stay to help students with their English or grade papers or work on other projects. I ride my bike home and usually just sit for awhile, but not long. All those papers don’t just grade themselves. Tim and Fay and I just sort of do our own thing. Fay hates cooking. We just find whatever we feel like and do our work. This week my evenings have involved baking cookies for my 10th graders, slug hunting with flashlights in Fay’s garden, and Tim and I perming Fay’s hair. In all honesty, this week has been the best since I have been here. Fay is constantly fretting about how they are boring, old people. But I don’t need entertaining, I need peace. I don’t need someone to constantly be watching out for me or making sure I am ok, I just need to know I am safe somewhere. I like feeling more accepted and less tolerated.
Yes, things are changing, slowly. I know if I went home today I would have so many regrets. I don’t like that. I’m ok with making mistakes and learning in the process. I am not okay with merely existing in an environment where I literally have so much to offer these people. I have a lot to learn. I have a lot of growing to do. But I feel a little stronger today.
Going into this Sabbath, I feel peace, thank you Jesus.