Tuesday, April 29, 2008

4-30-08

“By 2010 Prime Minister Hun Sen say dat Cambodia be the exporter of rice, number 1! He is good minister of Cambodia. If you Cambodian, how you feel?” As Vitya finished a long speech I didn’t much understand, he looked at me expecting a response. I opened my mouth to talk, he cut me off. “America start many war. President George W. Bush is ok, but prime minister Hun Sen is best. He talk to all people and he take his helicopter to get their fast. He shake their hand like this”, as he abruptly shook my hand, “and he a good, good man”. I got a word in, “Vitya didn’t Hun Sen cheat on his wife with several different prositutes?” He wouldn’t look at me and said, “I dunno what you talk bout!” I continued, “I read in the newspaper that he cheated on his wife and then his wife became jealous and had acid dumped on the woman so she wouldn’t be attractive anymore.” He just stared at me in disbelief, “Yeah, well I want to bomb America!” and stomped away half-bothered, half-jokingly as he grinned back at me over his shoulder.
This was lunch time today and very similar to other days when I believe Vitya just wants to talk to anyone who will listen. As he talks he illustrates as best he can and draws pictures, and does actions, and gets louder for emphasis. He may hate me tomorrow for some reason, but as moody as he is, I’m going to miss Vitya.
Today was alright. I was more tired than usual so I will be going to bed soon. But I taught my usual classes and the added 12th grade English class that was dumped on me last week. Either way, I made it through. Still after 8 months here, I sat in the library grading papers and thinking way too hard. I had to stop, close my eyes, and whisper, “Relax. It is going to be ok. Just breathe. Take a real rest.” Last week in bible study we practiced the spiritual discipline called, Lectio Divina. We read the same verses of scripture several times, noting words that jumped out at us and asked questions as a group, such as, “What is God trying to tell me through this verse?” and “How will what I have heard change today?” After reading Matthew 11 this way, the words, “I’ll teach you how to take a real rest” attracted me as I was reminded how difficult it is to relax in an environment of constant chaos. I am actually quite good at it by now. But I have had help.
Meeting Polly Yoder is the 3rd best thing to happen to me since I arrived here in August. Number one was having Tim and Fay Scott here. Number two was moving in with Tim and Fay back in January. Polly and I met at the end of February and she has been a blessing to me ever since. For example she stopped by a few minutes ago on her way home from school just to see how my day was! This is the kind of friends I have back home and have missed dearly since I’ve been here. She is an incredible answer to prayer. She comforts, she challenges me to think, she prays for me and means it. She invites me over to do absolutely nothing, but knows how much I just need company. She listens, she is honest, and she is funny. We are going to Vietnam together in 2 weeks with another friend of ours Megan. There is whole community of great people she has introduced me to from the school where they teach. The principle’s wife invited me for coffee the other night. Marie, another bible studier, offered the help of a counselor friend of hers. One of Polly’s roommates offered me her English lesson plans to help with my classes. Polly brought me along with her to ICF, or International Christian Fellowship, the church she attends. This is community. This is having more than one person to talk to. This is comforting. This is what I have needed for so long. This is the closest thing I am going to get to home. This is what will carry me through.
Christian churches are different here. The needs are more prevalent and in your face. There is instant community because we all face the same struggles every day. We all look so tired and burnt out. But even amidst the chorus of old hyms, people raised their hands in praise, closed their eyes, and worshipped God. It seems that the praises and the prayer requests flow more easily because we all have them. No one ever says, “I’m peachy. Not much going on here!” Yeah right. We all live here. We all see the same pain on the road every day. The message is more direct and applied because that is the only way people will make it through another week. I suppose all in all, it feels more real, honest, and absolutely necessary.
Today I was giving an example of the prepositions “to” and “from”. I was thinking of examples to help them better understand and I said, “I am from the United States. I came to Cambodia. But in 2 months, I will leave from Cambodia and go to the United States”. The room got really quite as if they hadn’t ever considered what I had just said. They all looked at me, like, “You don’t really mean that do you?” I was aware of the feeling, I sensed it, I got it. Whether they will feel the same way when a new, fun student missionary arrives in August, I don’t know. But I won’t have to witness it, so I’ll just remember this moment and remember it often to get through the rest of my time here.
Because indeed, come August, a new SM will have to listen to all their obnoxious stories about, “Ms.Bo this…” and “Ms.Bo that…”, just like I did. Muah-ha-ha!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

4-25-08

“Beauty is dangerous” –Gerard Manley Hopkins

I totally agree. Beauty is dangerous and risky and scary and controversial and much more. I am obviously relating from the female side of things. But hear me out.
I notice a significant difference in the attitude of my students if I wear a new skirt or wear my hair down. It is a big deal. The boys are more quiet and shy and just look me up and down. The girls are more worshipful and giggly. It is kind of obnoxious because they will make such a big deal about what I look like, as if that is my primary focus in life. They will talk on and on about how beautiful or “sa-at” my hair is or how stylish my clothes are. If being the most beautiful person in the world was my only goal in life, then I would be so flattered. But living in a country where white skin is favored and adored no matter what you look like, it doesn’t feel so special anymore. I thought I was escaping shallowness by leaving the States.
I believe that beauty is dangerous because the same thing happens on the street. My usual uniform for town is a white Hanes t-shirt, boy-cut khaki shorts, and Crocs. Many times I’ll pull my hair back tight like an uptight librarian or just wear a hat. I wear my SAR’s mask and big sunglasses. I hide in my own body. I don’t wear a moto helmet to be safe, I wear it to hide. I wouldn’t dare wear high heels in fear that it would attract more attention. Heck, I don’t even have high heels! I have only worn sports bras since I got here. Nail polish is not an option and I haven’t used a blow dryer or curling iron since I’ve been here. I never wear my hair down, because the men give me extra attention when I do. I never show my shoulders, much of my legs, or anything low cut. Granted, it is good to modest no matter what country you live in. But I live in Cambodia where I fear looking like a woman because when I do, I get the curses, the stares, and the touches. I fear looking like a woman because in many people’s eyes, I am “just asking for it”. That makes me sick. The moto drivers say I am lucky because I am beautiful. Does he really mean I am lucky because I am white? If they call me beautiful, they must be confused.
I guess I really noticed this the other day when preparing to go out I purposefully changed into baggy clothes, I pulled my hair back tight, and put on my “I am completely uninterested in you” face. Doesn’t really sound like a good missionary does it?
I don’t think dressing like a woman has to mean showing a lot of skin, dressing provocatively, or wearing a lot of makeup. I would just like to wear a flowy skirt, or pink, or something pretty. But I usually don’t. Too risky. The attitude is, “Suck it up and move on”. There is not time for peace or beauty.
I don’t feel feminine here. But why would I want to? The only thing that femininity gets me is being treated like a prostitute. Do you see how a girl’s very feminine spirit is attacked here? Do you see how feminine spirit is being attacked everywhere?
I’ve thought a lot about how this relates to my eating disorder. I know that back in January when I was attacked one morning exercising, I binged more than usual because I didn’t want to be attractive enough to be touched that way ever again.
My ED counselor back home told me that she substituted as a counselor for an alcoholics group session one time. She said you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between our eating disorder group sessions and the alcoholic’s session. Same issues, same conversations, just a different weapon of choice. At one point, one of the members turned to her and said, “We know you aren’t an alcoholics counselor, why do you think you can understand us?” She explained that the core issues of control and self-hatred and escape were the same with one major difference. Alcoholics need to wean themselves away and eventually go cold turkey from their addiction. Those with eating disorders must indulge in their addiction several times a day and still get better. That is like forcing an alcoholic to become sober while drinking three times a day. My ED counselor was optimistic that people can fully recover from eating disorders. I am really not so sure anymore. There is more support for the opposite, unfortunately.
My ED has definitely gotten worse since I have gotten here. I am not back to where I started or anything like that. I am always making progress and I will at least agree that being here has made me stronger. But I wonder if being stronger has also made me steel. I wonder if being stronger has made me insensitive. I wonder if being stronger has made me cynical. I wonder a lot of things I just can’t answer right now. Mostly I feel attacked on all sides with no chance of relief until I get home. Still, 10 months is a long time to keep fighting. I’m really tired.

Monday, April 21, 2008

4-21-08

I write from Cambodia. Today was my first day back at school. Things that made me laugh today? Well, because you asked, I’ll tell you.
This morning I asked my 8th graders what they did during their vacation. Vanny said he has a new girlfriend. Then in worship I taught them how to sing that song, “I’m gonna sing…/ This train is bound for glory…/Swing low, sweet chariot…” And as we did Pagna started waving his hands like he was directing a choir. I laughed.
We had Geography class and afterwards Vitya, who is over shunning me, came up and said in his broken English, “You went Aust-trail-ia and what did you bring me?” I looked a bit flustered and responded, “A big hug!” He grinned and continued, “You leave Thursday, what you do? Not whole thing. Day-by-day.” He then bent over put his elbows on my desk, his chin is his hands and fluttered his eyelashes. He looked genuinely interested. I tried to be complete. But he would stop me at times and say, “You skip something? I want all. Don’t skip.” Then he would make me go back and tell certain parts again. I laughed.
I went to Drama class and we practiced our play for this weekends Easter program. I know it isn’t Easter, but Cambodians don’t really celebrate it anyway so who cares what weekend it falls? We are practicing the part when Jesus, or Lim Sear, is healing people who came to him (I picked Lim Sear to be Jesus because no one wanted to be, but I knew Sear would complain the least. Is it wrong to punish the good kids to avoid a fight? I think so). So one girl I have pretending to have a broken leg. Apparently he likes Nov Sovathavy so the action of “healing” her by touching her leg made the whole class go, “Ohhhhhhhh!” but I just laughed.
I went to Morality and they asked if I brought them back a kangaroo. I said, “Well I tried” and then went into an elaborate story about catching one and trying to stuff and force it into my suitcase while it kicked me and pleaded for mercy. Navy looked completely convinced by my story, so I laughed.
Later in the afternoon at English time, the construction crew was drilling 12 feet from out classroom. I was trying to teach about double negatives to no avail. They just couldn’t hear me. So I am now yelling, almost at the top of my voice, as the students looked at me like I was crazy. I just stopped. We laughed together. I started writing things on the board because that is the only way to be “heard”. After wards, David told me about a triathlon in Kampot province and Rithea who wanted to be in the conversation told me he can now dunk a basketball. This is completely unlikely because he is shorter than me and not many Cambodians play basketball. But I listened politely and acted impressed. But as I walked out the door and out of view, I laughed.
It feels good to laugh. But unfortunately it isn’t a daily occurrence. I thought today would be rough because of it being my first day back. But it was ok. No, it was fun.
Last week as I walked the streets of Sydney, completely in awe of all that surrounded me, I could not, and still do not, understand how places like Australia and Cambodia can exist at the same time. Cambodia is about 20 years behind the rest of the world. Yes, we have computers and occasional Escalades cruising the streets. But their maturity and intelligence is way behind. So going from Australia to this is strange but eye opening. Since I got here months ago I felt like the outside world must have stopped. Because how can these people be so far behind? Amazingly, upon reporting from both countries the last two weeks, I can confirm: Life goes on. Differently yes! But it goes on. I sat and looked at the busy road today and realized this is just another neighborhood on the globe. As I sit sweating in the heat and chaos of Cambodia, the busy trains of Sydney continue to run. As I watched a new mother hold her naked child on the road side this morning, Starbucks in Sydney served up another cup of coffee. As I dished out my 50 cents for lunch today, a shopper in Coach purchased a $4000 bag.
No it doesn’t make sense. Isn’t there some way it could all balance out? Is that socialism? I’ll do more research before I confirm it. I am reading, “50 Things that Should Change the World” by…a woman whose name I cannot recall. It talked about how 20% of the world lives on less than a dollar a day. That makes me want to secretly dive in to the other 80%’s bank account and with draw just a dollar or two to even things out. Because I am convinced that is what it would take. If everyone was actually aware that there is a big world out here, they would do something.
But instead, just as I have done and fear doing upon getting home, we create comfortable environments to distract ourselves from the fact that the world is an awful, hurting place. Guilty. I suppose I am just overwhelmed at how to solve the problem that people have been trying to solve for decades. It seems so hopeless.
But today I laughed in Cambodia. I am still frustrated at the world’s situation and confused by the people I deal with everyday. But part of me felt proud to be helping, at least right now, in a small way. I did what I could amidst the heat, contruction, and chaos. I laughed because it was all I could do. For now.

HEY: I just posted Australia pictures. Check them out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Autralia III

Today was a pretty uneventful day. But after my last two in the city, it was a welcome change.
Sleeping in past 4am has been nice. So we usually sleep late and then get going about 10 or 11am. Today it was raining, again! We tried to see some Australian wildlife, with no success. But we tried. I’ve done my best to spend as little money as possible because I don’t make much and Australia is really expensive. When I say expensive I mean it may cost $5 for lunch. Crazy!
So I’ve been taking in the sights and taking pictures. Tomorrow I hope to see the Art Gallery of New South Wales which has free admission and free Aboriginal dances at noon. I’ve already seen the free outside of the Opera house, the free Sydney observatory, and the free botanical gardens.
I have been taking in a lot of things around me without much time to fully understand. So here are my random thoughts in no particular order:
-Everyone ignores me hear and it is beautiful.
-I’ve been riding the train every day. Yesterday I saw a man, sitting alone, eating 2 huge chicken legs and a gallon of whole milk. He looked really lonely so I tried to smile at him. But just as any big city, no one makes eye contact, so instead, I just went back to my book.
-I feel skinny here. I’ve been living in a country where the average size for girls is a 0. I’m back in a country where people look healthier and capable of possibly not collapsing if asked to jog a quarter mile.
-Are the trends in the States as crazy as those in Australia? Everyone here looks like they got dragged straight out an 80’s music video kicking and screaming. Everyone wears leggings or tights or those jeans that are tight around the ankles. The boys have mullets and mohawks. Everyone is wearing these long sweaters that look like bath robes. What is going on?
-Can we please talk like the Australians? “G’day this is my mate Geoffrey. Would you like to have heaps of laughs and join us for tea?” (Ok so I can’t illustrate the accent but it’s great!) Tea is not tea. Tea is supper. If someone invites you for tea, you don’t need to eat first. I know now from experience.
-Lemmingtons, the famous Australian cakes, aren’t that good. But I do like that Vegemite stuff, a brown yeast spread.
-Australians are smart to have one room for the toilet and another room for the sink and other things. Yet another thing the Australians are doing right! I think I could live here, with friends or family of course.
-It is kinda cool that I have 4 different currencies in my wallet. I have US dollars, Malaysian money, Cambodian money, and Australian money!

I fly out Saturday morning. I’m not sure if I can blog before then. But indeed Monday will find me right back in 95 degree temperatures, teaching, and sticking out in a culture I still don’t understand. Pray for me. I feel a bit cultured out. Between the US to Cambodia, Cambodia to Thailand, Thailand to Cambodia, Cambodia to Malaysia, Malaysia to Cambodia, Cambodia to Australia, and then back again. I feel like I have no home. Today I sat at the train station, alone, and watched a woman return home from her commute to a warm, waiting car I assumed was driven by her husband. I watched as they kissed and no doubt headed home. I want a home.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Australia II

Well, last I blogged I was in Gosford, Australia. Now I am in rainy Sydney a few blocks from the Opera house.
Sunday night we went to Hillsong church a very famous Christian congregation I suppose for their music and I think they have put out several CD's. It was interesting to see and fun to experience. The music was loud and rock-concertish, but the speaker was pretty good. Then again anything is better than sitting in a hot, fanless church in Phnom Penh being given an unemotionless sermon in another language. Have you ever heard how grocery stores set up their stores to ensure that you never leave with only what was on your list? First, they play certain music, use certain color schemes, and position products and sale items at the easiest convenience. They even position the level of the products to attract the kids. That is how I felt at this church. Almost hopeless to leave as I came. They had Barney size costumed characters dancing with the kids at Sunday school, hip graphics, funky lights, a coffee shop in the foyer, and all the attractions that would attract people just like popular club. It was interesting.
Yesterday, we took the train to the City Centre where we walked in the rain. Did I mention it is really cold here? Well, I can't tell exactly how cold, I'm probably just a wimp becuase I am more accumstomed to 90 degree weather. Another thing: Why oh why does the US have to be so stubborn? Why can't the whole world just use the metric system? I never know gas measurements, distances, nutritional information, temperature, or anything else requirig numbers. Can't we all just get along? Either way, I don't know how cold it is 20 degrees celcius, whatever that means. So, I bought a sweater, a sweater! I need a sweater! I brought tank tops and flip-flops, I am ill prepared for this weather. We walked to the Opera House (Ha, I wrote Oprah house the first time, I wish!). We took some pictures. I dragged Ross and Kamrong to the Modern Contemporary Art museum. It was nice to see beautiful and creative things. We walked through the botanical gardens, we watched street performers. It was a nice day.
Today, I am on my own. I kinda needed a getaway. I spotted a book store yesterday that I fully intend on inhabiting for several hours.
I know, I know, "Heather is in Australia and instead of seeing the sights she is sitting in a bookstore?". Yeah, well you would too if you had been deprived for months. If I was coming here from the states, my itinerary would be different. But coming from Cambodia, all I want to do is sit and loook at people walk by. I want to soak up the clean streets and the beautifully kept lawns. I want to take pictures of flowers I have seen hundreds of times back home. I want to just sit on the train and listen to people speak English, a language I understand. Strangely enough, all I want to eat is Asian food, but that is another story!
As I rode the train the other day I thought, wait no, I wrote, the following, as I absorbed my new environment: "Places like Australia do still exist! The whole world hasn't turned into Cambodia! I don't have to live like this forever. Istn't that the problem? I find comfort in knowing that better places exist. Places I obviously prefer. So have I even learned anything? Is it okay I can't live like the Cambodians do for the rest of my life? Because I can't. Can I live a more comfortable life, but still not forget that not everyone does? Do I have to live in poverty to understand poverty? Do I have to live miserably the rest of my life to truly help and understand those less fortunate? Ist there really balance or do we just say that as we sit in our wonderful homes and fine education? Will I feel guilty the rest of my life if I don't?"
It is nice to be here and forget about Cambodia if only for a week. I hate that I feel that way. But I don't want to go back. I like organization and familiarity and safety and understanding. I appreciate beautiful sights, nature, and convenience. This is like culture shock before the culture shock. I feel homeless and overwhelmed, again.
Traveling alone without any of you to share this with is, not the best. I wish I could share these experiences, giggle at the street performers, and just sit and absorb the sights. But alas, I turn to share this with someone, and I all can do is say, "Well, I'll blog about it later I suppose."
So until the next blog, I will do my best to enjoy the experience and realize I may never be back here again.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Australia

Wow, I am writing to you from Australia! I arrived on Friday and have been here almost 3 days already. This will not be a long and detailed description becuase I do not have time. But for the sake of concerned friends and family, I made it. I am pretty darn proud of myself for booking my tickets, for applying for a VISA, for figuring out travel details, transfering my money, using a AU payphone, getting train tickets, and riding the train to Gosford where I finally met Ross and Kamrong.
So I made it and I consider this, culture shock, before the culture shock. Indeed, it was shocking to suddenly be surrounded by people who look like me and people who talk like me. We drove to Avondale Adventist college where I met up with Bryce Durham and we had a really good time. We went to church, checked out the campus, went to the beach, I fed kangaroos, and he showed me an Australian football game. It is a cross between rugby, socccer, football, basketball, and...a wedding? There is one part where the referee tosses the ball over his shoulder and whoever gets it has the next possession of the ball. It was fun.
I went to a Target. I ate in a McDonalds. I drove in an air-conditioned car. It is clean. People are friendly. I am ignored on the street. I am understood. I spent all day Sabbath with Bryce and his college friends. It felt good to laugh. It is nice to be funny. I am not funny to Khmer people and they are not funny to me. There are just some things about our culture that are just really hard to understand. So it was nice to feel understood.
I was able to call my parents and two of my best friends in Lincoln, Rachael and Katelyn. In trying to explain the experience so far, I'm not sure I can. But either way, the most common thought that has been running through my head is, "How is it possible that a world like Cambodia and a country like Australia exist simultaneously. That maybe a concept I never grasp. Because until now it has been easier to believe that they just don't. The rest of the world must just halt, while I am here. This can't be real. These two extremes just can't be. But they do and I do not understand.
I still have much to experience and much to try to understand. I'll write if and when I can.

Monday, April 7, 2008

4-5-08

A few recent thoughts on culture, Cambodian culture to be specific.
The language here is Khmer. Sixty percent of Cambodians cannot read or write it. But all can speak it. And without fail, there are certain sounds that apparently are mandatory when speaking Khmer. It sounds very nasally and whiney. They all talk to each other with frowns on their faces and they raise their voices louder and louder as if they are fighting. What they are saying, I have no idea. But their nonverbal communication makes me cringe. They might be very happy people, but their faces don’t show it. They are not the smiley, warm, cuddly type.
Most Asians are extremely loyal to their family. And most Asians believe that Americans aren’t. I try explaining to them that what they see in the movies is usually very far from the truth. But trying to convince them that I am very close with my family is basically impossible. They saw it in a movie after all. They are close in different ways. A Buddhist Khmer marrying a Christian will most likely be disowned for fear they will ditch the family. A Khmer marrying a foreigner is good because they will have more money, but it is only allowed if they promise to take care of their parents when they are old. Arranged marriages are more common than those made by choice. A girl living across the street is engaged to a man here, but she currently lives in the States and is pregnant by her boyfriend back home. But she is marrying the man here in Phnom Penh so her family will have honor and most importantly, money. It has very little to do with love. One of my 10th grade girls was at school one day and sent to be married the next. We haven’t seen her since.
Most of my exposure has led me to believe that Khmers do not have a high pain tolerance. They get a sniffle and they stay home for a few days. They trip and scratch their knee; they lay there, beg for attention and wait for someone to carry them to safety. They are overall pretty lazy. Nothing gets done because they just assume someone else will do it. Except no one ever does.
Children pretty much run free here. Sometimes if I am out at night, I will see 2 or 3 little children playing in the light of a billboard darting barefoot between cars. One time I saw a little girl, no more than 8, just sitting alone in the dark as the passing cars whizzed by. I wonder if her parents knew she was gone. I wonder if she has parents.
As I’ve mentioned, whiter is better. Foreigners get the most attention. But there is a lot of racism towards black people. Because if the whiter the better, people with dark skin get either tormented or ignored. Dark Cambodians get lower paying jobs. A little Indian girl, a kindergartener, the only non-Khmer at school, gets ignored and none of the other kids even acknowledge her presence. I tell my kids often that I think they are beautiful and women back home actually pay to lay in uncomfortable hot beds just to make their skin darker. White people want to be tan and beautiful. Cambodians want to be white and beautiful. I’ve become much more content with what I look like as an obvious observation that our discontentment over beauty just depends on what part of the globe we are on.
Foreigners get a lot of attention. So whenever I sneeze, itch my ear, or yawn, it is talked about and laughed at. This happens whether I am on the street or at school. I am constantly being watched and observed. So, I just pretend that I am at peace with feeling like a zoo animal and sneeze away. My students are very conscious of how often I wear certain things. They tell me when I look beautiful and when I don’t. They’ll say “You are wearing a brown skirt” very smugly and expect me to say something back. I respond with, “Yes I am and you are wearing a red skirt. Good, ok, let’s start class.”
So they notice certain things. But once they get over the fact that I am white and in their presence, I encounter more oblivious Khmers than observant ones. When walking down the street, they won’t move or acknowledge you until you are about to trip over them. If I am passing someone in a narrow area they won’t move aside, they just expect you to rub up against them when they could just as easily scoot over just a little bit. Maybe I am bit extreme but I think we all tend to predict situations and avoid those we can. Like if two people are approaching a corner, I would slow down a little bit or speed up so we don’t bump into each other or walk right next to each other. Nah, that’s all fine here. So they do it to me and I start walking faster to avoid that uncomfortable feeling that they are obviously not feeling.
Still oblivious as the majority tends to be, one of my 11th grade students surprised me yesterday. Her name is Nika. She came up to me and said, “Ms.Bo, I think now you a good teacher. Because when you gave chapel talk about been attacked by Cambodian boy, you isn’t make us feel bad like it is all Cambodians. You not biased because of one bad Khmer. You weren’t look at us like you might see people on street.” I could’ve cried. First because of what she said and second because I had taught her the word “biased” in English class and this was the first time she used it correctly. She was perceptive in noticing that based on how foreigners are treated by Khmers here it may be difficult for me to teach them everyday. She said, in many words, that she was glad that I noticed Cambodia is not a bad country, but that we just live in a bad world. We have problems all around us.
Apparently it is much more interesting to write about the differences in culture. They are more obvious for sure. On Thursday I am flying to Sydney, Australia. I am really excited. We have a 10 day break from school, so I figured I better see as much as I can on this side of the world. This will be my first time out of Asia in 7 months. I’m sure I’ll encounter many more culture differences there. I’ll let you know what I find.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

4-2-08

Never mind TODAY is my new favorite day in Cambodia. Today blows Thursday out of the water. But two fantastic days in one week? Unheard of.
Today, I only taught a half-day at school so that might have a little, no, a lot, to do with it. The fact that I didn’t have to spend all day with the stresses of school was comforting. So I reported for duty at 6:30am, as usual, went through the motions: dealing with the moodiness of the high schoolers, the frustrations of the language barrier, and the intensity of the heat. Today it was 99 degrees Fahrenheit, in the shade.
So school was normal. I started reviewing with my kids for their 3rd quarter tests that are next week. Third quarter, can you believe it? I helped Fay a bit in the library and then left before lunch.
Last week I got an email from one of my brother’s friends from Tennessee. His name is David Sanner. He is backpacking through Southeast Asia and asked what he should see in Cambodia. I gave a few suggestions. Yesterday morning he text me and said he would be in Phnom Penh today, so I talked the principle into letting me show he and his friend around town. So I picked them up, by tuk-tuk from the ghetto guest house they were staying at and took them to a good restaurant by the riverside. Sure we don’t know each other that well, but he and his friend had some great stories to tell about their adventures in Hong Kong and it felt good to just sit and talk and laugh with nice people.
After lunch, I took them for a walk along the riverside. It is the Mekong River which is not clean or beautiful, but it is a river and many Cambodians, sellers, and local flavors gather there. We just walked and talked until we were all dripping in sweat and I took them back to their guesthouse. But of course, I shared with them the wonders of sugar cane juice, and they were happy. Overall, it was fun to escape even briefly and act like a tourist, if only for a day.
I got home when school was getting out. Wednesdays are my favorite day of the week because that is when we have bible study. My new friend Polly invited me after we met and I haven’t missed a week since. Five or six women meet in a fellow teacher’s house at 4 o’clock every Wednesday. We are studying Mark. Today was about the rich, young ruler and giving up material possessions for God. The bible and my thoughts on God have changed a lot since I’ve been here. Bible verses I’ve read numerous times have totally new meaning. Most of us mentioned that it already felt like we had given away most of our material possessions already, just by living here. But we all thought of things we could still stand to give up and live without. I sat and just listened more than usual. I’m usually one to pipe up with questions or comments, but today I just didn’t have much to say. After the study we go around and take prayer requests. Now, a men’s bible study might speed right through this part, but women are just different. So this is where we spend the most time. We are highly relational. So we don’t say, “Pray for my student.” We give all the information and truly listen to each other. So when it got to me, I couldn’t seem to nail down one specific area, so I said that. I told them that I felt like whenever we get together to talk about the bible it is hard for me to focus because all I am thinking about is, “Yeah, but where is a bible verse that will tell me how to survive in Cambodia?”
So I admitted that I have felt incredibly selfish since living here because it seems like I can only muster enough strength each morning to pray for myself. People email me asking for prayers and it is a big struggle to actually follow through with it. Because by the time I get done crying desperately to God with my list of woes and frustrations, it is practically time for school. I don’t think it is a time issue, it is a trust issue. Sheryl, our group leader, asked if I had ever tried only praying for others and not praying for myself. I said no, because if things are already difficult and I am praying for myself everyday, what would happen if I stopped? Sheryl said, “You need to trust that there are people who care for you and pray for you everyday. You are being lifted to God’s throne whether you want to be or not. You have to believe that. If you don’t pray for you, someone else will.” I told her that it is easier to believe people are praying for me when I can reach out and touch them or give them a hug. So maybe I don’t believe in their prayers at all, I just want a friend and saying they are praying for me is just a formality.
Yet, I get card after card from my Mom telling me she is praying for me, emails and emails, Skype calls and Skype calls, prayers from the bible study group, prayers form Fay. What will it take for me to believe that that is enough? I guess I just don’t want God to forget I am still here.
I mentioned to them that I two big reasons I came to Cambodia was to find God for myself and beat this eating disorder. Neither has happened. In progress? Yes. But success? No. The girls told me that while I may have had expectations of what I had hoped this would be, those aren’t always realistic. And while I may still want those things, maybe Cambodia is just the starting point for a journey that will continue the rest of my life. Honestly I am the organized, scheduled type who wants goals and deadlines. But maybe my idea of success isn’t God’s idea of success. Still, I’d had hoped to come home with all my problems solved and all my ducks in a row. So much for that.
Sheryl is a mother of 9 children, number 10 en route any day now. You could not pay me to be pregnant in Cambodia, nonetheless raise children in Cambodia. Interestingly enough, Sheryl and her family moved from Colorado five years ago. We both lived in my hometown of Greeley for several years, but had to come to Cambodia to finally meet. She invited me over for supper. I haven’t turned down an invitation since I got here. They have a pretty large house for all 11, almost 12 of them. They run an orderly household. She home schools 3 girls, the two youngest toddlers stay home with her too. Then the older four children go to Logos school where Polly teaches. We ate spaghetti around a big dinner table. I haven’t been in a family environment since I got here. It was so nice. Once they knew I was from Greeley, Colorado we started talking Buffs college football, how flat Nebraska is, and why anyone would choose to live there. We talked about how much we missed the mountains, extracurricular activities, and feeling safe outside. This family of 11 has its own little micro-culture of family values, laughter, order, and love. After supper we watched American Idol on their TV, another item I haven’t used since arriving here. It was fun to be in Cambodia, but still feel a little closer to home.
Today was good because I was reminded that I am more than just what Cambodia has made me. When I go to teach day in and day out, my life is school. My students’ emotions and feelings are my emotions and feelings. If all my classes are cranky, it is hard to not follow suite. If it is hot and noisy, indeed, my stress levels soar. I haven’t had a social life outside of school until now. I have lived and breathed me, me, school, me and more, me. I have had no one else to talk to or laugh with until now. So whatever school was that day, I was that day. With no one else to hang out with or talk to, I feel like I become whatever they want me to be.
Now I am not a complete pushover, but I dare you to leave everything and everyone you know and try to maintain a sense of self, when no one knows or necessarily cares who you are or where you came from. The only person left to remind me is me. That has proven to be a struggle, but at least not today. Today I was a little more me and little less Cambodia. I was able to live here and still enjoy myself. The people I was with let me be myself and were interested to get to know me.
Yep, today was my new favorite day and I am hoping for many, many more.

4-2-08

Never mind TODAY is my new favorite day in Cambodia. Today blows Thursday out of the water. But two fantastic days in one week? Unheard of.
Today, I only taught a half-day at school so that might have a little, no, a lot, to do with it. The fact that I didn’t have to spend all day with the stresses of school was comforting. So I reported for duty at 6:30am, as usual, went through the motions: dealing with the moodiness of the high schoolers, the frustrations of the language barrier, and the intensity of the heat. Today it was 99 degrees Fahrenheit, in the shade.
So school was normal. I started reviewing with my kids for their 3rd quarter tests that are next week. Third quarter, can you believe it? I helped Fay a bit in the library and then left before lunch.
Last week I got an email from one of my brother’s friends from Tennessee. His name is David Sanner. He is backpacking through Southeast Asia and asked what he should see in Cambodia. I gave a few suggestions. Yesterday morning he text me and said he would be in Phnom Penh today, so I talked the principle into letting me show he and his friend around town. So I picked them up, by tuk-tuk from the ghetto guest house they were staying at and took them to a good restaurant by the riverside. Sure we don’t know each other that well, but he and his friend had some great stories to tell about their adventures in Hong Kong and it felt good to just sit and talk and laugh with nice people.
After lunch, I took them for a walk along the riverside. It is the Mekong River which is not clean or beautiful, but it is a river and many Cambodians, sellers, and local flavors gather there. We just walked and talked until we were all dripping in sweat and I took them back to their guesthouse. But of course, I shared with them the wonders of sugar cane juice, and they were happy. Overall, it was fun to escape even briefly and act like a tourist, if only for a day.
I got home when school was getting out. Wednesdays are my favorite day of the week because that is when we have bible study. My new friend Polly invited me after we met and I haven’t missed a week since. Five or six women meet in a fellow teacher’s house at 4 o’clock every Wednesday. We are studying Mark. Today was about the rich, young ruler and giving up material possessions for God. The bible and my thoughts on God have changed a lot since I’ve been here. Bible verses I’ve read numerous times have totally new meaning. Most of us mentioned that it already felt like we had given away most of our material possessions already, just by living here. But we all thought of things we could still stand to give up and live without. I sat and just listened more than usual. I’m usually one to pipe up with questions or comments, but today I just didn’t have much to say. After the study we go around and take prayer requests. Now, a men’s bible study might speed right through this part, but women are just different. So this is where we spend the most time. We are highly relational. So we don’t say, “Pray for my student.” We give all the information and truly listen to each other. So when it got to me, I couldn’t seem to nail down one specific area, so I said that. I told them that I felt like whenever we get together to talk about the bible it is hard for me to focus because all I am thinking about is, “Yeah, but where is a bible verse that will tell me how to survive in Cambodia?”
So I admitted that I have felt incredibly selfish since living here because it seems like I can only muster enough strength each morning to pray for myself. People email me asking for prayers and it is a big struggle to actually follow through with it. Because by the time I get done crying desperately to God with my list of woes and frustrations, it is practically time for school. I don’t think it is a time issue, it is a trust issue. Sheryl, our group leader, asked if I had ever tried only praying for others and not praying for myself. I said no, because if things are already difficult and I am praying for myself everyday, what would happen if I stopped? Sheryl said, “You need to trust that there are people who care for you and pray for you everyday. You are being lifted to God’s throne whether you want to be or not. You have to believe that. If you don’t pray for you, someone else will.” I told her that it is easier to believe people are praying for me when I can reach out and touch them or give them a hug. So maybe I don’t believe in their prayers at all, I just want a friend and saying they are praying for me is just a formality.
Yet, I get card after card from my Mom telling me she is praying for me, emails and emails, Skype calls and Skype calls, prayers from the bible study group, prayers form Fay. What will it take for me to believe that that is enough? I guess I just don’t want God to forget I am still here.
I mentioned to them that I two big reasons I came to Cambodia was to find God for myself and beat this eating disorder. Neither has happened. In progress? Yes. But success? No. The girls told me that while I may have had expectations of what I had hoped this would be, those aren’t always realistic. And while I may still want those things, maybe Cambodia is just the starting point for a journey that will continue the rest of my life. Honestly I am the organized, scheduled type who wants goals and deadlines. But maybe my idea of success isn’t God’s idea of success. Still, I’d had hoped to come home with all my problems solved and all my ducks in a row. So much for that.
Sheryl is a mother of 9 children, number 10 en route any day now. You could not pay me to be pregnant in Cambodia, nonetheless raise children in Cambodia. Interestingly enough, Sheryl and her family moved from Colorado five years ago. We both lived in my hometown of Greeley for several years, but had to come to Cambodia to finally meet. She invited me over for supper. I haven’t turned down an invitation since I got here. They have a pretty large house for all 11, almost 12 of them. They run an orderly household. She home schools 3 girls, the two youngest toddlers stay home with her too. Then the older four children go to Logos school where Polly teaches. We ate spaghetti around a big dinner table. I haven’t been in a family environment since I got here. It was so nice. Once they knew I was from Greeley, Colorado we started talking Buffs college football, how flat Nebraska is, and why anyone would choose to live there. We talked about how much we missed the mountains, extracurricular activities, and feeling safe outside. This family of 11 has its own little micro-culture of family values, laughter, order, and love. After supper we watched American Idol on their TV, another item I haven’t used since arriving here. It was fun to be in Cambodia, but still feel a little closer to home.
Today was good because I was reminded that I am more than just what Cambodia has made me. When I go to teach day in and day out, my life is school. My students’ emotions and feelings are my emotions and feelings. If all my classes are cranky, it is hard to not follow suite. If it is hot and noisy, indeed, my stress levels soar. I haven’t had a social life outside of school until now. I have lived and breathed me, me, school, me and more, me. I have had no one else to talk to or laugh with until now. So whatever school was that day, I was that day. With no one else to hang out with or talk to, I feel like I become whatever they want me to be.
Now I am not a complete pushover, but I dare you to leave everything and everyone you know and try to maintain a sense of self, when no one knows or necessarily cares who you are or where you came from. The only person left to remind me is me. That has proven to be a struggle, but at least not today. Today I was a little more me and little less Cambodia. I was able to live here and still enjoy myself. The people I was with let me be myself and were interested to get to know me.
Yep, today was my new favorite day and I am hoping for many, many more.