Saturday, May 31, 2008

6-1-08

Stella is a short Indian woman. She has a wonderful accent and a nose ring. She is 49-years old. She wears bright, silk garments that make me wish it would somehow be normal for me to come back from Cambodia and start dressing like an Indian. Stella is warm and her voice is calming. Stella is my counselor.
I used to have a counselor back home. But we lost contact. Through meeting Polly and the Logos group, many good things have come into my life, including Stella. I ride my bike to her house once a week and we just talk. I’ve needed another friend.
After returning from a painful trip to Australia and telling my bible study group about it, they recommended I see Stella. I might not have consented telling myself I’m close enough to going home and, do people really need counselors? But that would’ve been a big lie. I needed help, as I’ve needed all year. But I’m glad to have found her or more so for being found, however you want to look at it.
I’ve learned a lot from this woman. I want to believe what she says. I want to live how she does.
She tells me it’s ok to feel anger towards the men who continue to torment me on the street. Anger is a symptom that I do not deserve to be treated this way. She tells me that my experience in Cambodia has been far from normal. She says I’m very brave. She tells me that having an eating disorder is not a sin. The last one is hardest to believe, but it’s all still soaking in.
One of the best things I have heard from her is this, “Heather, why don’t you give this god-stuff a break?” (Stella is a Christian). I tell her about constantly striving to see and understand a God, whom I just do not see or understand. She told me to stop. She said it wears her out just listening to me. She said, “If God is God, isn’t he big enough and caring enough to find you? If you admit you are sick and tired of trying so hard and coming up with nothing, don’t you think he’ll see that?” The idea sounded sacrilegious and atheistic. I asked her if doing this would just take me farther away from ever finding God. She told me that she thinks God wants me to rest in him, not fight day in and day out to experience him. So as oxymoronic as it may sound: I’m on a God fast.
There are things that come naturally to me that I’m not avoiding. Like, I tend to hum Christian songs throughout my day. Sometimes I whisper a, “God help me get through this” from habit. I have to pray before my students several times a day and I have to teach a bible class. I’m really good at “sounding” spiritual. I’ve been doing it on and off for a long time. I almost completely stopped singing in church almost 2 years ago. I didn’t feel comfortable saying those words on the screen to someone I didn’t even know. Stella encouraged me to chill out in the God department.
I haven’t binged or purged in almost a week. Stella has been helping with that too. I feel better, yet lost at the same time. It is a journey.
I have felt more normal this week; normal meaning, more like myself, whatever that means. I can see the end of this experience, I think that helps. I looked at pictures on my laptop this week: pictures from my senior class trip, my graduation, going to Union college, and basically the last 3 years of my life. It was surprising and educational. I think I used to play basketball and I wasn’t too bad. I think I used to enjoy playing the piano. I am pretty sure I used to enjoy cooking. I used to scrapbook. I used to have quite a few friends around me. I think at one time I would go sit at Barnes and Noble for hours and be completely content.
This may sound ridiculous. After all, how could I just forget? Easier than you think. When I got here 9 months ago, nobody really cared about my past or where I came from. So anything before August 22nd 2007, no longer mattered. I started from scratch. Some of my favorite hobbies, habits, and tendencies could no longer exist in my new environment. And obviously the people I used to be surrounded by weren’t here either. I’ve been absorbing, learning, and changing since my plane landed, which makes me anxious about home. I don’t recognize the wrinkly, defeated-looking girl in the mirror. I look so tired. I am so tired.
I’m basically just waiting to exhale. It is a journey.
Last night I watched The Killing Fields. It is a movie about the war in Cambodia. I hadn’t ever seen it before, though I know they have it at Blockbuster. I know because I had intentions of renting it last summer, but it paled in comparison to Raising Helen. Watching this movie in Cambodia is quite an experience. It is interesting to see what Phnom Penh looked like several years ago and to somewhat comprehend the language they used in the movie. It also reminded me of the remnants of war that still exist in this country, if you know what you are looking for.
Liver cancer is a big problem among Khmer Rouge survivors because of the starvation they endured.
The mind your own business and toughen up attitude comes directly from the years where it was dog-eat-dog and still is. People don’t stop when they hit foreigners riding bicycles. People don’t care where the trash gets put, because it is not their problem. Cheating is taught in families. Let me repeat, parents teach cheating to their children. Success and making money is so crucial, they don’t really care how they get it.
Khmers can’t be trusted and in turn, do not trust others. Why would they? They’ve seen how quickly evil can manifest into genocide.
There are still Khmer Rouge officers living in the humongous mansions that dot this city. Some officers are tried in court and sent to jail. Most others pay the court system enough money to avoid the penalties they deserve. What court system?
Land mines continue to detonate in the countryside. Some explode from NGO de-mining groups, others explode on farmers.
Watching The Killing Fields last night reminded me that I am still living in a very broken, war torn country. The fighting here only ended 8 years ago. I’m reminded of why I’m here.
Check out the movie. According to my Khmer friends it is fairly accurate, yet cut short. What the movie shows was only the beginning of a horrific 25 year war.
The weekend is here. Ahhh, I don’t have to stand, sweating in the 90 degree heat, surrounded by chaos and screaming children, until Monday! Just writing that makes me wonder how I did this for 9 months. I’m still not sure. The time did not just whiz by like ex-SM’s swore it would. Ha! There has been no whizzing! I’ve felt each day.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

5-27-08

I’ve decided I’m a good teacher.
I’m a good teacher because I’m fun. Sure, I may teach English grammar everyday and we get through those darn lessons, but we have fun doing it. I’ll admit I don’t always have the most creative ideas for teaching noun clauses, but I do what I can. I sing parts of the lesson, I find ways to incorporate dancing or wiggling, for much needed emphasis, and I make up funny examples to keep them interested. Yeah, if they are talking I ask them to read out loud for us to keep them focused, but it usually isn’t too much of a struggle. I smile a lot. I laugh a lot. They are still popping their collars and making me laugh in return. In speech class last week, I was trying to imitate Mr. Blake’s method, so as the first student finished his speech I started cheering and clapping and hollering and doing my best to show him he is awesome. They all looked at me and laughed. I was shouting, “Yahoo” to which many started mimicking me by cheering, “Gmail!” and “Hotmail”. A few more daring boys, started clapping and squealing, “Internet Explorer!” They were really just mocking me, but it was still hilarious!
I’m a good teacher because I’m tough. I never got away with late papers and laziness in high school, why should they? Oh, they would argue, that none of their Khmer teachers expect so much. But I expect papers to be in on time and I take off points if they aren’t. I expect work to be done well and without cheating. My classroom is quiet and when it isn’t, I am just as annoying as my teachers were, I pause, look at them and say, “Oh, I’ll wait. Are you finished?”
I’m a good teacher because I’m easy-going. Sometimes my kids are just having one of those days and there is nothing penetrating their brain except the seemingly huge problem on their mind. I encourage them to meet me after school and we can work on it together. If the kids are honest about their struggle to complete something or didn’t understand, I do my best to help them. I make deals with students who I know are hard workers. If they never slack off at school, yet had one rough weekend, I give them the break they need.
I’m a good teacher because I care. I do not humiliate my kids. I don’t criticize them in class or announce grades up front. I do my best to be fair and kind, even though I often want to just give the obnoxious boys F’s, I don’t. I’m learning every day how to read them each a little better. Vibol can’t look me in the eyes, so I kneel next to him when I talk and always end up whispering like he does. Everyone fears arrogant Vandeth, including me sometimes. So, I do my best to ease the tension he creates in class every day. One student describes him as “destructive”. Monita is painfully shy about the kids railing her about an apparent romance with Sear. So when 10th grade starts going I just change the subject and start joking about their love lives. This always works. Vitya likes to ask painfully obvious questions when he is lonely. He just wants to start conversation in any way possible. I flatter him and try to be patient even when I am late for class or dead tired.
I’m a good teacher because I’m honest. I don’t unload on my kids or anything, but I tell them what they need to know. I tell them what I need from them and encourage them to be equally honest. The other day I was sick and was dreading going to class. I admitted at the beginning of class I just felt crummy and needed their help getting through class. They were really good. I figure if they don’t see me as human, I’ll never see them as human either. I figure this is how Kagna and I have become pretty close. After her last panic attack when I had to force her to let me help her, we just get each other now. She had a really rough day last week. She just kept her head down on her desk, with tears in her eyes the whole time I taught. She wouldn’t talk to anyone. So today I asked if she had time to talk after school. I told her that I was so glad that she allowed people to see her in pain. I said, “Kagna, if you are mad, be mad. If you are overwhelmed, be overwhelmed. Let people see that you feel. You will get help if you ask for it”. She said, “Well, if I do that I will make people around me sad” (a very, very common belief in Asia. They pretend their way through life so they aren’t a burden on anyone, including close friends and family members). I told her that I couldn’t attest for everyone she knew, but her sadness doesn’t force me to be miserable. I will be sympathetic and want her to feel better soon, but I hoped she’d feel comfortable knowing I could take her including her struggles.
This is the part of teaching I love, love: really connecting with my students one-on-one, knowing she got it! She was just quiet as she soaked it all in. She said “Thank you”, several times before leaving, a very un-Khmer thing to do. So I’m not convinced that I can have experiences like that very often in a classroom of 30 students which leads me to believe that, I’m a good teacher, but I am 75% sure I won’t be teaching for the rest of my life.
First of all, this isn’t real teaching. Well, not “real” by American standards. So granted, I’m not really a teacher, I’m a volunteer posing as a teacher. Getting a degree would sure make this easier though. Still, I hate, hate grading papers, writing lesson plans, and calculating final scores. I just want to spend time with these kids. They’ve taught me several of their strange jokes and fun games. They’ve taught me patience; oh they’ve taught me patience. They’ve taught me that helping others is fabulous medicine for a selfish soul. They’ve taught me that I don’t know the first thing about “hard”. They’ve taught me that I can always be more flexible. They’ve taught me that maybe I could slow-down a little bit. Maybe I can just sit and be with them instead of talking so much.
So, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I came to Cambodia to take a break and figure things out. And now I still don’t know what I want to do with the rest of my life, but it turns out Cambodia had a few things to teach me, that Nebraska never could. I’m taking these lessons and holding onto them for dear life.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

5-25-08

Yeah, I remember that feeling. Has it been 2 years?
This afternoon I sat and watched 13 seniors from Logos International School, where Polly teaches, wave childhood goodbye and step into the future. They were graduating.
I sat watching their grinning faces; the wanting to get it over with, yet, at the same time, savoring every moment. They looked so optimistic and excited and energetic. I looked that way then. I honestly thought I had everything figured out at that point in my life. Eighteen years old, seemingly happy, anxious about the future, but ok. At that point I was already waist-deep in an eating disorder I didn’t understand then, and still don’t fully understand now. I was not about to admit I had a problem, because I honestly didn’t think I did. Everyone just kept complimenting me on how great I looked and how beautiful I was. The compliments kept coming the longer I starved myself. I didn’t know who I was, but apparently I was pretty, headed to college, and everything was good.
That seems so long ago. Now, I look beat-up, tired, calloused, and weary. What I thought the future held for me after high school has been lost somewhere in all the traveling. I guess my expectations weren’t incredibly specific, I just never thought I’d be here. Not necessarily here, in Cambodia. But here, tired, confused, frustrated, lost, and feeling homeless.
Much has changed. Not that I want high school back. I was more than happy to exit that chapter of my life. But much has changed and I don’t know who Heather is anymore. It is terrifying.
Reminded of a sermon I heard about worries, I made a list today of all of mine. The list was long, lengthy, and a bit overwhelming. Heck, I share everything else, here it is:
I’m worried about…
-binging and purging tonight, this weekend
-leaving Cambodia bitter and angry
-always letting people down
-home not being the heaven I expect it to be
-finding a roommate for next year
-getting a job for next year
-re-adjusting easily and forgetting everything that I’ve learned
-what I’ve turned into
-never finding God, or worse, living the rest of my life pretending I have
-bulimia sticking with me the rest of my life
-having lost friends since I’ve been gone and our relationship never coming back

There it is. Yeah, none of these worries existed that day I graduated from high school. And today, I can’t do one single thing about anything on that list, which is annoying. Apparently, it holds true, “This is a journey. Let life happen”. This is my daily mantra. Much has changed.

This is a warning: If you are of the male gender and are happily ignorant to the fact that women are breathing human beings stop reading. No really, last chance. Some men choose ignorance to maintain the image of the models in magazines. But really, I’m just going to break it to you, they fart just like you do! If I am supposed to be ashamed of being human, I guess I missed that lesson in school (Note: I had a girlfriend in high school who swore she NEVER farted. What a liar).
Ok, to the women and brave men: living in Cambodia as a woman, is different. First of all, Asia does not believe in tampons. A shy, high school girl approached me at school awhile back and said, “Umm, Ms.Bo, I…uh…have a problem.” I understood, reached into my backpack and pulled out what I thought she needed. She looked confused at the tampon in my hand and said, “What is that?” possibly assuming it was a colorfully wrapped candy. I slowly put it back in my bag and said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t have anything!”
Surprisingly my skin is pretty clear here, I’m not sure why. Quite possibly it is the lack of make up. Note to self: Something to consider.
I’ve never liked letting other people cut my hair and am not about to break that tradition here. The “barber” shops are stools on the side of the road with broken mirrors and a very questionable “stylist”. No haircuts for me. I was warned shortly after arriving that, if you go somewhere to get your hair done nicely for an event, watch out. If they can’t get the hair to do what they want, they very well might just chop that piece off. So huge chunks of your hair might be missing or drastically shortened. This may explain some of my student’s hair styles.
My toothbrush turns yellow here, quickly. Ha, ha, I promise, it is not my teeth. It is the water. Which isn’t necessarily comforting, but either way, I don’t drink the water out of the faucet, it just does interesting things to my toothbrush and my hair, which has been falling out all year.
Sports bras are the way to go here. Going to school each day and teaching in 90-something degree weather, is the sweating equivalent to running a mile or two. And it sticks with ya, all day. Not the most glamorous job, but I think I gathered that when I read the description of where I was coming. Two showers a day is completely necessary.
They sell bras and underwear at the market, right next to where I buy my carrots and tomatoes. I assume that is like scouring garage sales in the states for your delicates. Do people do that? Oh, I hope not. Either way, I am so glad I brought a year’s supply with me.
Is there some reason that a hotter climate would slow the hair on my legs from growing? I swear it does.
I think I’ve worn my hair down 4 times all year. My students always beg me to wear my hair down. They say that with my hair up, I look like an old woman. I remind them, still, that “I didn’t come to Cambodia to win a beauty pageant!” After explaining what a “pageant” is, the meaning is lost and they’ve forgotten what we were talking about. Huh.
Ok, ok, yesterday I tried durian. It is a cream-ish color and looks as though it has already been digested once. Honestly, it looks like an animal brain in a Fear Factor competition. I could smell it first, but I’ve been smelling it all year. Eating it was different. I put it in my mouth, it landed on my taste buds a few seconds before every fiber of my body was preparing to vomit. I saved myself the embarrassment and spit it out in front a dozen or so of my Asian “friends”. They were laughing hyseterically as they thoroughly enjoyed and nearly enhaled their portions. Yeah, I’m sure that was not my cutest moment. But I at least tried it. That was good enough for me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

5-21-08

A few random thoughts from my corner of the globe:

-I consider it amazing that the mosquitoes here bite me while I am in the shower with the water running. I mean, I can hardly get frustrated, that is darn impressive!

-Today, I had jackfruit for breakfast. Have you ever had jackfruit? It is amazing. It must be a tropical fruit, because I’ve never seen it before coming here. It is this huge, watermelon-size fruit that is green and spiky. Inside there are yellow sections with white, slimy threads you have to remove before eating. Most tropical fruit is just plain difficult and time consuming to eat, but so incredibly worth it. I still have not tried the infamous, durian fruit. Yet, I just feel like I should, to say that I have.

-Since I was very young, I have had lists of things to do before I die. Is that morbid? Heck I’ve had a will since I was 8 (it says nothing important). Well, one thing that has always been on the list, is to punch someone in the face. I have obviously seen way too many movies. I’m not a violent person. But as I walked on the streets yesterday I was tempted more than ever to just sucker-punch this creep who was heckling me. I have always said, “I want to punch someone to defend something I believe in”. But yesterday, the thought occurred to me that, violence is not something I believe in. So the very act of punching someone would actually go against what I believe in. Darn. Never mind then.

-I wonder if the bottoms of my feet will be black like this forever.

-Sitting happily on a bus to Vietnam last week with Polly, I thought about another time I was on a bus in Cambodia. But that time I was alone and annoyed and bothered. Why? Because it seems that Khmers are the loudest, most oblivious, inconsiderate people I have ever encountered. I didn’t feel that way on my last trip to Vietnam though, because I had company and I realized, it is not the Khmers who are annoying, just whatever you are surrounded by and defensive towards. I was alone on the first bus ride, so I was a minority and defensive. But suddenly when the tables were turned and I could speak English and be understood, Khmers weren’t so bad. Strange. I wonder how a Khmer would interpret the wonderful America I talk about.

-The girls here think,
pretty skirt+ pretty top+ pretty shoes+ pretty accessories= pretty!

Not true. They end up wearing polka dots, stripes, and plaid in one outfit. It is something to be seen. There are high school girls I teach who will wear stuffed animal size creatures in their hair as pony tail holders. One girl wore a pink headband with large bunny ears to school, not as a joke mind you. She is in fashion here. So when I wear black shoes, black skirt and a colored top, I am just plain boring!

-I’m reading a book by Melody Beattie called, “Finding Your Way Home”. For obvious reasons the title caught my attention. But it doesn’t talk about a physical home as much as the feeling that your life has purpose and you matter. Really we can feel at home anywhere as long as we know we are important and doing what God, or some greater being, had in mind for us. She asks the question, “If money, security, and power didn’t exist - weren’t real – what would you be doing now that you aren’t doing in your life? If what others thought of you wasn’t important – if the only thing that mattered was how your heart felt about your life – what would you be doing differently?” So, straight from my journal, here is what I hope to do:
I would write wonderful stories of all kinds. I would compose beautiful music. I would try painting. I would provide free counseling services to women (money wouldn’t exist after all!). Maybe I would start a non-government organization to educate and heal the women in other countries who have been affected my domestic and sexual abuse. I would come back to Cambodia and save the 14 year old prostitutes I pass on the street. I would start a “Clean-up Cambodia” campaign to encourage people to pick up the trash and live more sanitary lives.
It was truly eye-opening to consider what my spirit longs to do if only I cast my fears aside long enough to do it. Is there a nice little major that summarizes all the things I want to do? I’ll find it.

-I’m glad I woke up this morning…
…to follow through with my threat that anyone who forgot their homework had to run
laps outside on the track. It was hilarious to watch 8 of my 10th graders reconsider their
laziness or “ka-chull” in Khmer.

…because remarkably I am still breathing.

…to steal Vanny’s shoe while he was taking my Geography test, because he always
steals mine. He didn’t know who took it, but started complaining to which I scolded
him for talking during the test. He looked hopeless, I told him to be quiet. I returned it
without him noticing and then smartly asked, “Vanny, look your shoe is right behind
you!” We all laughed, hard.

…because all day Darithea kept snapping his fingers pretending he had a super power
that controlled my every move. He would snap his fingers and say, “Stand there”. Then
snap them again and say, “Keep wearing your backpack”.

...to realize that talking about going home isn’t as insane as it was 9 months ago.

-Today, for the first time in 9 months, another adult stepped into my classroom (assuming I am the first adult). Upon arriving in Auguest, I was set lose with about 100 different students at CAS for several hours a day. Who knows what I could have been teaching all year? What if I was teaching atheism and how to get drugs? Tim Scott, the superintendent, decided to drop by our classes for evaluations. It is a good thing I am a darn good teacher. Fay always says that because we have an American education we are bound to have a leg up even on Khmers with a degree! It is true. I have fabulous teachers back home to follow. I was proud of this when I was reminded that I am not actually a teacher. I am a volunteer, acting like a teacher. Still, I think my kids are very lucky to have me for a teacher. Turns out, I am not so bad.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

5-18-08

Whew! I am back in Cambodia. Just got home from the bus station with Polly. No more holidays, no more traveling, no more leaving Phnom Penh, until July1st at 10:55am. Roughly 6 weeks, oh my.
Well, before that, I will tell ya about the last two days in Vietnam. Well, Thursday night after posting my blog, we took Katie, the girl we met who was traveling all alone, and treated her to a movie. We were treating ourselves too! None of us had been to a movie theater in nearly a year. So, we splurged and wasted two hours on some Jackie Chan movie, The Forbidden…something. Obviously not memorable, still nice to do something familiar.
Friday morning Polly and I slept in a bit. We took our time getting ready, then headed out. The hotel where we stayed was close to just about everything so I clocked a lot of miles on my Crocs. These things have been everywhere! We first sat in the park and did our devotions. Then, we made our way to a very popular market we had read about, Ben Than. It was much like other markets in SE Asia, but much cleaner and more organized than ours in Phnom Penh. We weren’t stepping over puddles of dirty water and sleeping children so we considered that a plus and really enjoyed it. Plus, Vietnam has other products that Cambodia doesn’t. I bought some great lacquer jewelry that Vietnam is famous for and a North Face backpack for $10. Not too shabby.
Of course it started raining in the afternoon. We waited awhile, then got impatient so we just started walking. We were headed for a Gloria Jean’s coffee shop I had spotted the day before. I just wanted to sit and enjoy something familiar and read a book. We were both excited to relax after a long day. We sat there for 2-3 hours. The weather was clear while we sat inside, but of course, as we stepped outside, it started pouring again. We took our time walking in and out of the rain. We eventually made it back. We felt reasonably safe being out at dark. It was so nice.
There are plenty of restaurants in the backpacker area where we stayed offering Western style food, but we found one that worked and went there every single night. They had Mexican food, which is basically nonexistent in Asia. They don’t understand. Beans in Asia only go in deserts with sugar and Mexican food doesn’t usually involve loads of white rice, so they aren’t interested. But we were. I got vegetarian fajitas, quesadillas, and other great stuff. Actually, we didn’t try Vietnamese food once while we were there and I’m not even sad. I am Asian food-ed out. I am cultured out.
Between learning new words to get around in different languages, learning exchange rates, learning what is ok and definitely not ok, how to get around, how to find clean water, and how foreigners are viewed, oy, I am tired! Cambodia is at least more familiar now. Yes, we say, “Oh, when we get home let’s…” and we are talking about Cambodia.
I was told a day before leaving for Vietnam that my final tests were due when I got back from vacation. There isn’t much forewarning here. I have to write two different tests for the end of the year for every single one of my classes. Apparently they have had problems with teachers helping their students cheat by giving them answers. So this is supposed to solve that, but if you think logically it really doesn’t solve much. Either way I have a lot of work to do in the next 2 days before school starts again. But when school starts on Tuesday, I have 6 weeks of school left and 42 days until I am home. Wow! That is doable!
Being the ridiculous list maker that I am, I’ll share my to-do list for the next 6 weeks.
-Act like a tourist and take pictures of all that is now normal to me
-Get a photo of myself to give to the students who have been asking
-Buy crafts at Rajana an NGO teaching Cambodian women skills to support themselves
-Take Tim and Fay out to dinner
-Throw a party for each of my classes
-Write a letter for next years SM’s. A few helpful do’s and don’ts
-Write letter to principle Sharon making a few recommendations

Not a complete list, but the most important are the last two. Afterall, what’s the point in the struggle if it doesn’t some how help someone else? It would be easier to shut my mouth and go home, but there are a few things that just can’t go unsaid. I’ll feel much better after I do.
Please pray. If it sounds like I am begging for prayer I am. I am almost home, but not yet. I have been kept safe for the most part. I am not dead yet, even though I was absolutely sure Cambodia would have killed me by now. That either means God has protected me and made me strong or the devil has one last attack planned once I get comfortable with the idea of leaving. Either way, prayer is needed, appreciated, loved, felt, welcome, comforting, and necessary.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

5-15-08

The rain just started pouring, for the 4th time today. It is rainy season in Southeast Asia. I write from Hoh Chi min city, Vietnam, or Saigon, if you prefer.
What is going on in the world? Cyclones in Burma, and earthquakes in China? I feel kinda surrounded by craziness, which is nothing new.
I left Tuesday morning from Phnom Penh with Polly and our friend Megan who also teaches at Logos. We took the bus, which was air-conditioned so we were happy. It was a 6 hour bus ride, but crossing the border and such it took more like 8-9. So we got in and by that time, I was sick, sick. I don't travel well. So a Vietnamese man came up and offered a hotel, "Cheap, cheap" he said. But he didn't mention, "Scary and dirty" when he was telling us about it. So feeling a bit overwhelmed we sat down and gathered our thoughts. We had no idea where we were and we stick out as tourists everywhere, so everyone wanted to help. We eventually found a nice, clean place for $25 a night. It had two beds, air-con, and a t.v, we were happy. Later we braved the streets in search of any food, not-Asian. We found it. There is quite an impressive smattering of Western eateries, including vegetarian, we were happy. We just relaxed and then went out just walkin around and absorbing the differences between Vietnam and Cambodia.
So, we've noticed a few things. Vietnamese speak better English, are lighter skinned, are friendlier, and have a better preserved culture. The streets are cleaner, there are trash cans, there is public transit, and everything is more organized. The biggest thing I have noticed is that tourists aren't such a spectacle and I am ignored more here then in Phnom Penh. The men don't look as long and I don't fear I am always about to get jumped. There are parks here and plants and statues and pretty things. I have a picture of me hugging a tree I was that excited. Beautiful. Still a dirty country in SE Asia, but not Cambodia and I am happy to get away.
Yesterday we went on a tour of the Cu Chu tunnels where the Vietnamese constructed this incredible tunnel system where they lived for months at a time. It was pretty cool. But I must admit after I listened for 2 hours to a very bitter Vietnamese man blab on and on about the war, women only being good as baby makers, and how much he hates American food, I had had my fill. I felt like he was trying to brain wash me into thinking that I actually spread Agent Orange and murdered his girlfriend. The pain is obviously still there. We were pretty tired after the long tour and being bogged down in the rain, but we found a place called The Cantina with Mexican, Italian, Vietnamese, and all kinds of food. Nice to have options. Then we went to an authentic Vietnamese water puppet show, I've never seen anything like it. I can not figure out how they did it. But all the puppets were in the water, moving around like they were alive. There was a band and music and more languages we can't understand, but still fun.
Today, we walked really far all over the city. We saw the Opera house, the Cathedral, this huge post office, the War remnants museum (pretty gruesome), and the Fine arts museum. We were tired and made our way back to the hotel to lay around. We just met a girl traveling all alone through SE Asia and invited her to hang with us. She is from Pennsylvania where Polly is from, crazy!
Tomorrow, Polly and I are going to go go-carting, to relax and drink coffee, and to the market to get cheap stuff you just can't find anywhere else in the world. I mean, who doesn't want a hot pink, lacquer coaster set that says, "Good morning, Vietnam!"? Sign me up.
We'll probably take the bus back on Saturday morning in time to get school work done before the holiday is over. Can I mention just one more time how cultured out I am? The money here is duong and is 16,000 for every dollar. My brain hurts from all the math. Their English is kinda difficult to understand too. All of their "g" sounds are "sh" and they kinda slur words together to get 'em out quicker I guess. There are a lot of old, white men just sitting around at outdoor cafes, we haven't quite figured that one out yet.
Polly asked me today as we walked down the street, "Are you just ready to go home?" She knows. She leaves in 3 weeks, I leave in 6. The newness and excitement of experiencing new cultures and countries really dims when the one I hunger for seems so far away. Six weeks is not forever.
Thanks for the concern about the bike accident too. I have a cut on my chest that is healing and the bruises on my leg are turning green. I'll be okay. No recent hits and I'm not planning any either.
More later, thanks for the prayers.

Monday, May 12, 2008

5-12-08

This weekend was important for me. I would even go so far as to say, ‘crucial’. This weekend I gained perspective and peace and hope and…well, I’ll just tell you about it.
On Sabbath, after awakening with a sore butt and some impressive bruises from getting hit by a car in my last blog, I wanted to do something a little different. I had nothing pulling me to Khmer church, sitting next to sweaty bodies, and feeling invisible. So I had heard about a prayer retreat through Polly’s church. That sounded like what I needed, prayer. So I braved the streets, with a helmet mind you, to seek out the location of the retreat. Indeed, it took two different moto drivers, more money than they deserved, and a few language miscommunications, “No, I said, ‘Bat shveng’ not ‘Bat sadam’! Chowp!” before I arrived. The location is called Potter’s Place. Basically it is a woman’s property on the edge of town. She knows the difficulties to find solitude, beauty, and peace so she opens the upstairs of her home, a small chapel, and the surrounding grounds to anyone who needs to get away. What a ministry! Needed and appreciated. There are many trees, shade, grass, and flowers, I repeat, flowers!
A 60ish woman named Jocelyn welcomed the 8 or so of us who had gathered. The day was to go from 9am to 3pm. I figured that was way, way too long and I would possibly last till noon. I was wrong. I needed some solitude by choice. I needed to show God I wanted to listen. I stayed there for 6 hours. We didn’t talk. We just read, journaled, drew pictures, relaxed, prayed, and thought. I kept wondering, “God, what do you want to say to me?”. I didn’t hear God. I kept hoping God would show up, though nothing short of him tapping me on the shoulder probably would’ve been noticed. Maybe I am missing something. Either way, I stuck with it, reading, journaling, thinking. Much of what I have been doing all year. But the same thought kept coming back to me, “How do I want this to end? What do I want the conclusion to be?” because this isn’t it. I often find myself bitter, overwhelmed, tired, restless, discontent, and pessimistic more than I ever could have expected.
So I hoped to awaken my artistic genius and headed for the paper and markers. The picture came easily. I drew a sort of treasure map starting from the beginning of life tracing my steps to the present and beyond. The important part here is, “beyond”. I have been stuck here thinking this will be my reality forever! There is no escape! I don’t have friends here. I must not be loveable. Basically, feeling horribly hopeless. It is good for me to think about the future, returning to more classes, papers, silly drama, and lame movies on Saturday night. Thinking about the future reminds me that what I am doing right now is pretty darn cool.
Drawing the journey helped me to see that there is life beyond Cambodia. I’m not sure yet what it looks like, but it is there and closer than it was yesterday. I illustrated each important step in my life with a new pair of shoes: barefoot at birth, cute tennis shoes in school, high heels beginning the eating disorder, flip flops now, and hiking boots when I get home, to continue the journey I have started here.
Seeing this experience as a journey helps me relax, because this hasn’t been what I had expected or hoped for. I can leave here very sad that I didn’t accomplish all I had hoped. I can leave here bitter about how I have been treated. I can leave here unchanged, stubborn, hurt, and angry. But I don’t want any of that. Instead I am choosing to see this as another pair of shoes, another step, another chapter.
This morning Souphea came to clean. She was wiping shelves in the kitchen and forgot about the large lizard that lives in the spice cupboard. She jumped and the bottle of red food coloring broke on the counter, on the stove, all over the floor, and all over Souphea. This is when I walked in very scared and confused about the seemingly bloody student standing in the kitchen. She was flustered but explained. I just laughed. Later, I got two girls out of the dorm and invited them home. I made them mango smoothies and muffins. I let them watch a movie on my laptop. We laughed, they poked my bruises and acted surprised when I shrieked, it felt natural to be with them, which will make it hard, hard to go.
I have school tomorrow and then I leave for Vietnam with Polly and Megan on Tuesday. I am excited to get away again. I think I have been horribly spoiled to travel where I have this year. I have seen northern and southern Cambodia, including the beach. I have seen the bustling streets of Bangkok, Thailand at Christmas and the secluded island of Koh Chang in the south, with my parents. I have experience Chinese New Year in Malaysia and stood under the towers in Kuala Lampur. I have fed kangaroos in Australia and strolled Sydney harbor at night. I have seen and done some incredible things this year, alone.
So a fabulous journey as it may be, I am more than ready to continue it with people, friends, family, and community. This isn’t a lesson I thought I needed to learn. But if we could choose our lessons, we would never learn anything worthwhile anyway.
Today, I sat in a cute little cafĂ© in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The motos grumbled by, the sellers shouted their products, the pollution threatened my respiratory system, and a few Khmers tried to look up my skirt. Still I thought to myself, after nearly 9 months here, “I think this is real.” More real, I suppose because I can finally make some sense out of it all. Far from figured out, but at least more easily understood.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

5-10-08

Well, let’s add to the list things I have done in Cambodia. I just got hit by a car.
I could leave you concerned and wondering until the very end, but I won’t, my parents are reading. I’m ok. Nothing serious, just a bit shaken.
Today is Friday. Fridays are easy and not too stressful. So I left school, because we have half days and came home to clean. Tim and Fay are gone to Thailand and I always miss them when they leave. They are my roommates and support. But I was ok and made plans so I wouldn’t be lonely.
I had things I wanted to get done, then I was going to run some errands and get a foot massage. I ride my bike just about everywhere. So I got to Kanya massage and a Khmer woman speaking very little English greeted me, “Jim-ripsooah. Soosday bong srey!” Kanya massage is an NGO started for acid burn victims who can’t get work anywhere else. People who are disabled or who look differently are treated horribly. This woman is obviously a burn victim with shiny-looking skin covering her a face, yet she is honestly beautiful. I told her “srey sa-at” which means “beautiful”. She put her head down and chuckled. I hope she believed me. I thoroughly enjoyed the $2 massage. Just as I was about to leave, the rains came. It is officially rainy season and when it rains, it rains! It dumps. She ran off to the back of the house. Then started screaming, “Bong srey! Bong srey! Which I assume is “sister” or something. I followed the voice and I found her outside the back door with her hand waving through the window like she was waving a white flag in surrender. She had apparently locked herself out and was giggling and screaming even as I opened the door. I laughed too. She handed me the poncho she had run off to get. She helped me put it on over my backpack.
I braved the always busy streets through the 4 inches of rain that had already accumulated. The poncho hood was tightened so, there was only a narrow space that I could see through. I was immediately soaked, but was still glad for the poncho hopefully protecting my lap top in my backpack. I was headed to Logos to meet Polly to watch a video with her kids. It isn’t far. Still, it seemed to take much longer in the rain.
Ben, a teacher at CAS, waved to me from a passing moto. Just as I was approaching the entrance to the school, a car came from behind me and hit my left hip. I tried to correct myself but the combination of water, surprise, and nerves sent me tumbling onto my left side. I screamed as I fell. But that was only nice entertainment for the dozen or so Khmers sitting along the road. A few of them started laughing, but none of them moved and the car just drove off. As I laid there in the dirty, flowing water, with my bike piled on top of me, I just wanted to cry. I just wanted to somehow be magically teleported to my warm, cozy bed at home. Not my Cambodian home. Home, home. But that didn’t happen and instead I looked up to see Ben running back towards me. I got up, surprisingly able and ok to stand, realizing my lap top must have padded my fall. He approached me sputtering, “Are you ok? Here you take this moto home and I will ride your bike! Oh my gosh, can you walk?” I was right in front of Logos school, but not really thinking I said, “No, I’m meeting Polly to watch a movie!” He looked at me like, “You’re kidding right?” As I stood there with my pink poncho stuck to my wet body, my now-broken pair of favorite black sandals, dirt on my face, and my once trusty, now mangled bike, I hobbled into the school past the snickering guards.
In the time it took me to find Polly I realized I should’ve just gone back with Ben. He was so sweet to offer, but I was obviously confused and stubborn. I told Polly what happened and that I just wanted to go home. It was a short ride back to the compound, by then the rain was letting up. I shuffled to the door, walked inside, locked it behind me and really wished that the Scotts were home. But they aren’t, so instead I took a shower and cried.
Now, I feel surprisingly peaceful. Maybe this is shock. Maybe I won’t be able to walk tomorrow. My butt is bit sore, I have a headache, and my right shoulder doesn’t feel so good. I’ll let you know.
All in all, I feel like, getting hit by a car is just another part of the Cambodian experience. I’ve almost been expecting it all year. I might feel differently if I was lying in the hospital right now, but I am not. So I am going to do my best to focus on the positives the devil is talented at hiding from my memory.
I woke up today. I laughed with my students. Joanna asked, “Ms.Bo, what does ‘Oh bloody hell’ mean?” (sad, but still kinda funny). I got an email from my sister. I taught the high schoolers “The O Song”, ya know, from summer camp? I have become physically immune to Cambodia because I haven’t been sick the last two months. Yay! I didn’t binge last night. My 10th graders taught me how to play a Khmer game called “sey” much like American hacky-sack. Yup, I’m ok.
Getting hit by a car and sitting in the middle of the street, humiliated is never fun. But I’m ok. Being groped by that creep back in January was awful, awful. But I’m ok. Continually fighting depressive thoughts and an eating disorder is painful and exhausting. But I’m ok.
So when someone carelessly asks, “How are you?” and I say, “I’m ok”. I mean it. I’m not great. I’m not fantastic. I am not loving this. But I’m ok, and right now, that is good enough for me.


NOTICE: I also just posted new pictures on my Flickr.com account. Or just click the link on the left.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

5-6-08

Sunday we had our CAS Food and Fun fair, another fundraising attempt for the school. My 8th grade class isn’t the most creative group, so basically it was up to me to decide what our booth would feature. I suggested spaghetti because it was simple to make and everyone here loves Western food. We also had a game, basically dodgeball, where people could have chances to try and hit my kids with balls. It was really fun. I am rarely able to enjoy my students outside of the classroom and so, this was a welcome change. I spent all afternoon in the kitchen making spaghetti sauce, but I made 60 servings and they were all gone by the end. The kids also got bored throwing balls at my students, so I challenged anyone who dared to try and hit me. So it turned into kids spending tickets and tickets just to throw balls at me. My dodge ball skills from middle school came back to me and I had so much fun! The prizes were all things that people have sent me in packages: Union memorabilia, pencils, balloons, and so much more. They were thrilled.
Overall our booth raised $13.26. So I thank you, thank you for the generous donations on your end because otherwise we would hardly raise anything. My dad reports $8,000 from home and I just want to cry realizing how much this school needs it. Thankyou.
I don’t have this all figured out. Not this, meaning Cambodia, but this, meaning life. More specifically, after the 20 years, 6 months, 2 days, 3 hours and 11 minutes I have spent on planet earth, I know surprisingly little.
Some things get continuously better the longer I am here. Others get continuously worse. I feel as though my very spirit has been carelessly torn up like paper and pieced back together with scotch tape more times than I’d like to remember. Really, how broken do I have to get before I am simply unfixable? How many counselors does it take? How many prayer meetings and spiritual retreats must I attend to feel whole? Is there a magical number of desperate prayers I need to conduct? Because I lost count months ago.

“I saw what I saw and I can’t forget it.
I heard what I heard and I can’t go back.
I know what I know and I can’t deny it.
Something on the road, cut me to the soul.
Your pain has changed me. Your dream inspires.
Your face a memory. Your hope a fire.
Your courage asks me, what I am made of and what I know of love.”

Sara Groves wrote those words. This is what I feel, she just wrote it first. Darn.
So now what? I’ve seen what I’ve seen. I’ve heard what I’ve heard.
A wise friend asked me that if I were to write a book about all my experiences here, how would I want it to end? Easy. I would want to have accomplished what I came here to do: to know God for myself and to get rid of this darn eating disorder. But the other day I realized I may have promised this year to God, but I’ve had my own agenda all along. God never promised to show himself to me just because I fled the country and I certainly haven’t recovered from the ED I tried to run from either. Instead, I have taken up depression, binging, purging, a few extra wrinkles, I have been violated, cursed at, ignored, isolated, and broken. So since complete healing seems to be out of the question for me in the 2 months I have left, a continuing journey seems like my only option.
I don’t like that this is a journey. I’m not keen on the idea of one long life of continuing struggle and pain. As much as I’d like to appear strong and willing to keep going. I’m not. I’m tired.
But since I was never asked if this was the life I wanted, I’m kinda stuck with it right now. Maybe that’s the idea. Because if we had the choice, who of us would choose the pain? Yeah, I’m not sure I will ever be the SM who says, “Yup, I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat!” But ask me again in 10 years and maybe I will have forgotten how miserable I was.
The great ending to this book may never be what I thought it should have been. But our shoulds and our expectations always ruin things anyway. This is where I am now.
I am on a journey I never imagined I would take. I am in a place I never thought I would be. I have seen things I hope to never see again. But I am being changed and stretched and I am ok. I am still breathing.
I can only expect so much from a 10 month excursion half-way around the world. I suppose if figuring out life was an easy 10 month process, the advertisement agencies would be all over it by now pushing an easy 7-step process with a money back guarantee.
They will, you wait. Until then I’ll just work on finishing my book.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

5-3-08

This week I bought a tube of Colgate toothpaste. I left the store happily knowing that the next time I run out of toothpaste I will be at home.

Fridays are half-days at school. So I disappeared and acted like a tourist all day. I was ripped off by moto drivers, but didn’t pull the, “I live here. I know that isn’t fair” line. I carried my camera around and took pictures of things that are completely normal to me: crazy traffic, a dirty street filled with children, and a few funky looking trees that just make me laugh. I went to an expensive book store I can’t afford, but sat there for several hours pretending like I could. I even treated myself to an expensive bowl of yummy mushroom soup for $3! I met Polly at a Khmer drama production. These are not common, but are started by NGO’s, non-government organizations, trying to help the native people preserve their culture. It was pretty darn cool! It was all in Khmer of course, so Polly and I kept whispering what we thought they were saying, like, “Hey get away from my girlfriend!” and “Why are you so ugly?” A good time was had by all, two of us.

Today I got out my box of letters and notes I have received since I got here. The box was really full! I just slip in the cards as they come and had no idea how many were in there. A lot! I read each one over again. I read cards from my mom and my sister. I read letters and looked at drawings from Tyler Henry. I had almost forgotten a few notes that had come from Carissa Jordan. Her notes always came right when I needed them. I got “I’m praying for you” reminders from Union students and teachers. Even my little cousin Oriel sent me a few notes and drawings, one saying, “you or my sunshin My onle SUNSHIN you mak me hAPe wiN skis or GRAy you wiL NEVR no der HAW much I Love you pLes dot. tak my sunshin uway”. Yeah, honestly why don’t we spell words how they “really” sound? She is a smart girl. This an unofficial huge thank you to so many who have sent their love in letter or package form to help me feel a little less forgotten.

In the box I also found a letter I wrote to myself on April 21, 2007. I wrote it before I came to be sent to later. I reread that too. A few parts jumped out at me, “I want to get away from the American way of life: go-go, accomplish, be connected always, material. I want to run away with God and no one else, get to know myself and God where I can actually hear him. I want to work for God and unselfishly help others, reach out. There has to more to life than how I am currently living, I am sure of it. I want to get away from everything familiar and comfortable, the things that hold me back and hinder me from embarking on a great adventure with God…Eventually, I will return. Then what? I hope I will have a bigger, better, more real, world view. I hope I am more compassionate and I can love better. I will find the true God for myself, instead of the god too often portrayed in church. I want joy and peace. I want real, honest relationships with friends and family. I want to love my life because I have one, not because of all it contains. I want to always be vulnerable with people, just like Jesus was.”

Leaving the U.S. has helped me to see my faults. America is just another country on the globe. We, as a culture and on a spiritual level, need more help than any country I have seen since I left. I have met people from all over the world Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, England, Laos, and Burma, to name a lot. Some of these countries, including others in Asia, have started sending missionaries to the States. Why? We are the hardest to witness to. We think we know everything. We think we have heard it all. We are “unreachable” as they call us. They say that we think we have it all together, so we don’t need a Savior.

I have learned much in Cambodia. I understand a little better. I do not understand fully. I understand “better”. I understand “better” about .000001% of what a rape victim feels when after being assaulted, they are ashamed to tell someone. That never made sense to me until after the morning I was attacked, I considered never telling anyone. I understand “better” why women end up with abusive men. They want to feel love somewhere or even once-in-awhile compared to, never. I have been desperate for love. I understand “better” why people use drugs. We all have our own weapons of self-destruction and drugs seem awfully appealing when the pain that surrounds is just too much to bear. I understand “better” why people become alcoholics. I have wanted to be numb to the poverty on the street as well. Some days it is just too much to take in. How many times can someone wake up to the same miserable existence, unable to quite their screaming, hungry children, and unable to tell them where they will sleep that night? There is little hope. Suicide isn’t uncommon, especially among parents with many children. I understand that a little “better” now. In the provinces mothers will prepare meals with poisonous plants and berries, on purpose, to end it for all of them. I have more compassion on beggars. I have a “better” understanding for the children that curse at me. The story of their short lives thus far would cause most people to cry. But I get it a little “better”. I’m beginning to “better” understand why Khmers are always late, why they have such extreme loyalty to their families, and why they don’t seem to get road rage when there seems to be no way you couldn’t!
I am no saint. I don’t have this all figured out. I write on a good day, from a good place. It would take several more years for me to fully understand why things are the way they are (No, that wasn’t a hint that I’ve decided to stay a few more years).

I talked to my cousin Angie a week ago. She is smart. She is the mother of “smart” Oriel after all. I told her about my many fears about coming home. How I want this to matter somehow and how “blending in” or “re-adjusting” seems completely counterproductive to all that I have learned here. I feel guilty wanting to come home when my kids here will never experience the comforts that I do. Do I have to live in poverty the rest of my life to fully understand pain? She said, “Heth, you shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting some of the comforts of home. But we have to build our lives in a way that reminds us daily that other people don’t live as well as we do”. I told her about a magazine ad that made me want to scream. It was a picture of a beautiful man and woman sitting on the deck of a beautiful home, on a beautiful lake, somewhere in Colorado, I’m sure! The ad was for some wine company and the lines read:

“A ’99 Pinot. Bare feet. A sunset. All is well in the universe.”

I wanted to rip it out and scream and yell and basically try to solve a problem that couldn’t be solved by a tantrum. I wanted to say, “NO! All is not well with the universe! Have you ever heard of AIDS? Have you seen the homeless people in our cities? Have you ever witnessed injustice?” We have. But we try to pretend like we haven’t to create a universe where all is “seemingly” well, indeed.

Ugh, this doesn’t make sense! Now I am frustrated and cranky. I’m going to bed.