Thursday, April 3, 2008


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.