Saturday, May 3, 2008


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.


Julie said...

This kinda reminds me of a thought that I had a few days ago.
I was eating at a restaurant with Sergiy and we saw this guy at a booth near us. Sergiy nudged me and pointed to him and at first I thought he was just nodding his head to the music, but then I realized that he had some type of problem and he kept doing this weird head-bobbing thing. I would look at him every now and then, and then Sergiy told me not to watch.
Then I was thinking about how when we're children, our parents tell us not to watch people who are different because it's rude. Ok, so maybe they say "don't stare," but same thing. So I was thinking about how that's good and bad. Because it teaches us not to look at others. Not to look at people who are different and suffering. We're supposed to act like we don't see them. And then when we grow up, we're supposed to help others. But we're still not supposed to look at people with problems. The people who need the most help. Granted, it's not polite to stare, but if we were taught to help instead of turn and pretend "all is well in the universe," what would the world be like?
The thought isn't completely developed yet, but that's ok. I think it's a good starting place for me. :)
I'm praying for you, Heather!