Monday, June 30, 2008

6-30-08

Well, I got sick on Wednesday and by Sunday, Fay dragged me to the hospital. Yeah, I was not doing good at all. But I am really stubborn and don’t care for hospitals. I figure they’ll just name the illness, but can rarely do much to help especially with things like flus. Plus, hospitals are different in Cambodia and I’d rather lay in bed suffering than have a non-English speaker stabbing with needles unable to explain what they’re doing. She convinced me to go because there is a new hospital nearby that looked reliable.
It was clean, most people spoke some English, and I felt ok there. I described my symptoms. They took my vitals. They did a blood test. I had a low white blood cell count, so apparently that shows a viral infection. Again, they named it. But I guess the doctor did tell me everything I was taking was outdated and probably doing me no good. So as I proudly brought forth my pharmacy of pills I was sure were helping me, he told me to stop taking all of them! He gave me some simple electrolytes, nausea/vomiting pills, and Tylenol. I’m feeling better this morning. But here is we both missed since Wednesday.
I laid at home on Thursday trying to conserve energy for the last day of school on Friday. I was still feeling awful, awful Friday morning, but knew I had to go because it was the last day I’d see some of my kids again. As soon as I got there all the teachers were saying, “Ughh, you look horrible! You should go home and rest.” I said ‘thankyou’ and trudged on through the day. My kids definitely noticed I was not myself. The last day was just partying and games anyway. So I set them loose and they were happy anyway. But mid-morning, I was dizzy and made my way to the library where I proceeded to fall asleep for the next hour. When I woke up there were a few notes and cards scattered around me and school was out. My kids were gone.
I cleaned out my desk and caught a ride home with Fay. I got home and slept for 5 hours. Then I went to bed, ya know, like at night, when people are supposed to sleep.
I woke up on Saturday morning, wanting to go to church, but couldn’t make it. I slept for 6 hours straight, getting up only to vomit. Then, it was nighttime so I went to sleep.
Sunday morning was graduation. I really wanted to go because any of the kids I missed on Friday would be there. So I drug myself to school and sat through most of the service until Kagna said, “Ms.Bo, let’s go.” She didn’t even ask. She took me by the arm, got me a pillow, and acted as my personal fan as I feel asleep in the picnic area. After awhile, I knew my presence at graduation was quite pointless, so I opted to go home. Upon arriving home, I feel asleep for 4 hours, and this is when Fay took me to the hospital.
I was so bummed I had to get some “viral infection” the last weekend I was here. I missed out on quite a bit. My girls wanted to hang out, I couldn’t. The teachers got together for lunch, I couldn’t. And I suddenly found myself crazing really greasy food, I knew I couldn’t eat, and wouldn’t normally eat anyway, just to add to the frustration! The goodbyes were not what I had hoped for, but I’ve said everything I wanted my kids to know. I have no regrets.
I’ve been living on 7up and Ramen noodles, when they stay down. I’ve been thinking about tragically dying my last few days in Cambodia, and it doesn’t help when everyone is joking about it too, “Wouldn’t it be sad if we had to call Heather’s parents and tell them Cambodia finally killed her?” Umm, yes! Please, I just want to come home!
But I write on Monday June 30th, 2008 and I am almost, no wait, 100% positive, I am going home tomorrow! The pain isn’t so bad today. I am finishing up my packing, laundry, and tonight I’m going out for dinner, or watching a few friends eat dinner! Either way, it’ll be good to say goodbye.
Tomorrow morning, I’m walking out the door, and braving the street for the last time. Locking up my bike for the last time. Driving past the school for the last time. Haggling with Khmers for the last time. I’m leaving Cambodia. For the last time? Who knows?
Really, what was I thinking coming to Cambodia? I had no idea what I was going to face. I guess it is that ‘ignorance is bliss’ factor that gets us to do almost anything. Sorting through all the mail I’ve gotten since I’ve been here, it all says, “Cambodia”. Which I know is a country, in southeast Asia, on the other side of the world from home. So I am pretty darn sure, that’s where I am at! I don’t see how the mail seems to so effortlessly arrive here, because my arrival here was much bumpier. And now that I’m ok, with some ground to stand on, I’m coming home.
I am no longer ignorant in thinking, “Give me one year with someone, I’ll have ‘em all figured out!” How silly was that? Oh the things I have yet to learn! I’m putting my hiking boots on; I’m ready to continue the journey.
Bethany Dillon wrote these words,
“Lead me on. Lead me on. To a place where the river runs into your keeping.
Lead me on. Lead me on. Lead where the deliverance comforts the seeking.”

I’m seeking.


I'll be home soon. Mom and Dad, I got copies of my blood tests for you. Oh, and if you "forget" to pick me up at the airport, I'll never, ever forgive you!

Ever.

Friday, June 27, 2008

6-26-08

It’s Thursday afternoon and I am at home. Why? That’s right. I’m sick again. Ridiculous! I got a pretty awful flu back in January and I’ve had pretty regular colds all year. But I think I have the flu again. Is that normal to get the flu twice in 6 months?

This week of testing has been pretty slow and boring. I just hand out the tests to the 8th graders, then sit, watch, grade papers, walk around every few minutes, and do more grades. So yesterday, was yet another day of testing. I was working up in the library while my kids were in the classroom at study hall. I hadn’t been feeling that great all morning and felt like I needed to throw up, but couldn’t. Then, I suddenly felt the urge and went scurrying towards the bathroom. I nearly collapsed on the sidewalk on the way there. I was really dizzy. I didn’t think I’d make it all the way there, but knew it would be a big deal and the talk of the school if I collapsed on the sidewalk. So I took a few deep breaths and made it to the bathroom stall where indeed I couldn’t throw up, but I passed out briefly. I was sweating and breathing really hard. I sat in there awhile listening to the giggles and screams of 2nd graders echoing off the tiled walls. I wanted to scream.

I felt stronger after a few minutes and went into the library to sit and catch my breath. I fell asleep for a few minutes while Fay puttered around the library. Then I had to go back to class. I was ok in class, but again, later in the afternoon, I was feeling dizzy and laid down. I could hardly sit up when it was time to go, so I opted to leave my bike at school and caught a ride home with Fay.

It felt like I had sprung a leak somewhere and the blood was slowly draining out my body. But after searching and finding no hole, I was back at square one. It felt like any energy I did have was being sucked right out of me. At home, I ate with Fay, but then up in my room, my whole body started aching and I was so weak I could do little else but lay around. I threw up later and crawled in bed at about 5:30pm.

So, I didn’t go to school today. I think I’ll be ok for tomorrow, not 100%, but better than today. I would be so sad to miss the last day of school. I will never see these kids again. This morning as I laid in bed I thought, “People used to die from the flu. Oh my gosh, what if I died of the flu 4 days before I was going to go home?!” Tragic! Good news: I think I’ll be ok.

Yesterday, I was talking to some of my 8th graders. They were telling me about the fear they feel living here. This is the first time I’ve heard them talk like this. A few of them have seen people get stabbed while riding past someone on a moto. They’ve seen kids getting beat up. They’ve seen gangs with knives on the hunt for their next victim. Last week a Khmer teacher at a government school was stabbed to death by some of his students. My kids have all had run-ins with what they call the “gangsters” in Phnom Penh. If you dress nicer than them, if you dress worse than them, if you look at them, if you don’t look at them: you are always at risk. So I said, “What can you do to be safe? Is there any way to avoid them?” They said, anything could make them mad. There is really no way to protect yourself. One of my kids won’t be at school tomorrow, because I gave him permission not to come. He was warned that a local gang was mad at him and would be meeting him after school. I can’t imagine living this way.

They are scared. I am scared. I asked them if they thought Cambodia would always be this way. “I think Prime Minister Hun Sen will change Cambodia and everything will get better” Joanna said as she looked intensely at the ground. I didn’t believe what she said, and I don’t think she did either. I wasn’t about to contradict though. I think the hope that things will improve is all my kids have to hold on to. I can’t take that away from them.

Stella came by with medicine for me today. We talked awhile and I told her about this. She agrees with me that, after Cambodia’s violent past, it will probably get worse before it gets better. Right now it is just chaos and ‘every man for him self’.

The facts about Cambodia are sad enough, but leaving my kids here is even harder. I worry that my girls will be mistreated and abused like many of the other Khmer women. I worry that my boys will get into drugs as I know some of them already are. I’ve talked to several of the high schoolers about drinking, I’m not sure they hear me. I’m scared that my kids won’t see all the great things I see in them, and they’ll give up, settle, or compromise. They’ll forget how wonderful and talented they are, so they’ll become absorbed in the prostitution, drugs, or worse. I worry.

I can’t rescue them. I can’t protect them from everything. But their entire culture is working against them and I feel it is stronger than my 1 year of service could ever save them from. I fear they’ll look back on our year together and the memories will slowly fade. As much as I tried to help them feel important, loved, valued, and appreciated, how far does that really go? I can hope for the best. But I know for the rest of my life, any time I hear the word “Cambodia” these kids will come to mind and I’ll wonder: “Are they ok? Are they successful business men or druggies on the street? Are they teachers, preachers, and doctors like they wanted to become, or did they give up on their dreams and become what they never wanted to be?”

I wonder if there will ever be a resolve to these questions. Probably not. If we had everything figured out, we’d stop learning. If I could answer all these questions now, I’d stop asking. It is when we lose our sense of wonder and questioning that we lose our love of life too. If I knew for sure what the lives of my students hold, I’d find it easy to forget about them and move on. I’d be more likely to forget all that I’ve learned. But I will forever feel that urge to keep in touch and pray and wonder, “Are they ok?” If I can’t hold on to hope that my kids will turn out alright, I’d stop hoping in other things too. I have often felt hopeless here. But I suppose if I had no hope at all, I wouldn’t have lasted this whole year. Because it is in the hope that my kids will indeed ‘be the change’ that has given me strength to stay.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

6-24-08

I have 3 more days at Cambodia Adventist School and 6 more days in Cambodia. Right now the students are taking final exams, taking lots of pictures, and slowly saying their goodbyes. Right now they are the nicest they’ve been all year, which is fine by me.

While the fears of going home are always fresh in my mind, I’ve been trying instead to think about all the things I’m looking forward to. In fact, big surprise, I made a list.

First thing I’d like to do upon returning home is to roll in the grass. Then, I’d like to lie on some carpet. Neither of these were things I ever anticipated missing, that is, until I got here. Everything is dirt and tile. There isn’t much warm and cozy about Asian homes. They need to be functional and really, carpet just isn’t. Dirt just gets ground in there and it stinks if you have animals. But with tile, they just hose it down and it’s clean. So I understand the rationale, but I still really miss comfortable things like that.

Second thing I am really looking forward to is winter, a change in climate, cold weather, snow! More than just the cooler weather though, I am looking forward to the need for warm cuddly things like a big blanket, slippers, a cup of hot cocoa, or a bowl of soup. There is just no need for the warm and cuddly in Cambodia. I don’t even want to touch people, we are all so hot and sticky. When it is even mildly cold, my kids will come with jackets. They don’t really need them, but they never get to use them. So when the sun is behind a cloud, the jackets come out. I see girls wearing turtle neck sweaters. Why? Because they want to look like the models they’ve seen on TV. There is a stall at Toul Tom Poung market that sells really cheap Northface jackets. I wonder how they stay in business? I want to curl up in a blanket, with a book, and a cup of tea and just relax. Oh yes!

Ok, after I roll in the grass and then, put on my slippers, I’d really like to get some Mexican food! Taco Bell, Casa Bonita, 3 Margaritas, I’m not picky! Asia is getting more and more daring with branching out past rice, but Mexican just has not caught on. There is one Mexican restaurant I’ve been to. It was, ok. Still, when I try to explain to my students why Westerners look like giants compared to them, a few things come to mind. First, most Asians don’t have an oven, which eliminates cookies, muffins, cinnamon rolls, and most bread from their diet. I am not a carb-phobe, but they probably benefit from less sugary snacks in their diet. Another thing is that dairy products are non-existent in Asian food. Cream and cheese goes in Mexican, Italian, German, and other European foods. There must be something to all this, because these darn Asians are so tiny. The last thing is, there is very little fast food in Cambodia. That is obviously a factor to the Western world’s increasing waistbands. KFC recently staked claim on a busy street down town. I told my kids to avoid it at all costs! Yet, still, I love my Mexican food! And I just cannot live on rice alone! So I would be more than happy to journey down to Qdoba any time once I’m home.

I’m looking forward to safety, freedom, and justice. This all may sound so dramatic, but until you’ve lived without, you just won’t appreciate it. I hate, hate being outside here. I never feel safe. I don’t feel like I am protected by any one or any law. I miss the freedom of feeling protected and having rights as a human being, much less, a woman. And along with that, I miss the feeling of knowing that if something were to happen to me at the hands of another, they would be punished. Forget the correct ruling in a court case: life sentence or death penalty? Just knowing there is a penalty regardless of how much money I have in my bank account is just plain comforting. I will never again flippantly accept these as my rights as a human, because really, they are only rights because I am American. They are only rights because I live in a developed country with a democratic government and justice. Whatever you believe of America is fine. I know, we’ve got our problems. But they are few compared to the corruption that seeps into the most innocent of this country. I am grateful for that and still aware that the whole world does not live in America and doesn’t have to either.

I am very, very excited for the day when I can walk down the street and be completely ignored! I can’t wait for people to look right past me like I don’t even exist. I am tired of feeling like a freak show or an animal in a cage. I am tired of being treated that way.
Lastly, I am awaiting the moment when I am in a room, surrounded by people, and all of them are speaking a language I understand, can relate to, and can hold a conversation in. Here, I can be surrounded by 30 kids or a few dozen adults, and I always feel excluded. I am rarely a part of conversation or jokes. I am the one always saying, “Huh? What did he say?” It really stinks to hear a Khmer conversation that goes, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, Ms.Bo, blah, blah, blah!” It is even worse to hear my name among Khmer curse words. Those are the times I pretend I don’t know those words, smile, and walk away. I want to be able to use words with people. I want to feel understood. I want to understand.

Six more days of all of this, then I am home free. There are many more things I am anticipating, but these are the few that made the top 10.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

6-22-08

"I don’t want to be in Cambodia. This hurts too much. I feel so horribly alone. I feel empty, useless, pathetic, invisible, and uninteresting. Last night was another rough evening because of this awful eating disorder. I wrote a desperate email to Ben and Ashley as I let out a few sobs that my roommates never heard, or chose not to. I fell asleep between tears. I woke up feeling pretty hopeless.
I am at the bottom. I have food, oxygen, and water; that’s it. I am lacking a stable environment, support, self-respect, and any sort of wholeness or purpose I might’ve hoped for. I am lacking. I am struggling."
The above (or below, if you are reading this upside down) is from my journal on October 2, 2007. This was the day I broke down at school and couldn’t stop crying. I hyperventilated and think I had a panic attack. It is interesting to read now, because at that point I didn’t think it could get much worse, but it did.
That was October! I hadn’t yet started binging, I hadn’t been violated by that creep when I was out walking, I hadn’t been hit by a car yet. That was before the children started cursing at me on the street. I have broken down to Fay in gasping sobs at least a dozen more times since that day. The last three months I have fought purging episodes where I feel so hopeless I find myself throwing up seeking comfort that is yet to come.
I don’t say this to dwell on the trials. I say this to focus on the triumph.
Yup, no surprises here: This has been hard. This has been painful. I have yet to laugh about the rough times from this year. I am not celebrating the awful pain I’ve had here. I do not love Cambodia. At this point, no, no, I would not do this over again! I’m glad, ecstatic, joyful, and relieved to be on this side of it, but you could not pay be to do it all over again.
Do I have to be one of those obnoxious people that say, "I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat" for it to be considered a good experience? Do you believe them 100% anyway? I don’t always. Can’t I take the lessons I’ve learned with me and still be grateful it’s over?
I don’t write this from some mountain top where all clarity has been granted to me. I write this from a still painful place with 10 days left to go. Thursday night, I binged and purged, again. I am not proud, but I am not ashamed. This isn’t the life I want, but I am not scared to talk about it or admit that I am human just like everyone else.
Yesterday, in desperate need of perspective, I escaped to a bookstore to sit and think. I will not binge or purge for the next 10 days. This eating disorder is the evil that has made me its prisoner. On bad days I am not present in my life and I am merely existing in it. So as I near the end of this experience, I know that going home could be a very stressful time of adjustment. I do not want to slip into the bad habits I have found here, I am very determined to feel healthy leaving this country. I am seeking to forgive and move on with the lessons I’ve learned.
I realize I am talking about an eating disorder I have only written about. Besides close friends and family, no one knew about it until I got here. I have not actually spoken to many people about this. I haven’t had the chance to yet. But please, please do not think this is a ‘Cambodia thing’ and I am ashamed or unwilling to talk about this once I get home. It is the silence and isolation that feeds it. Please don’t pretend with me, or anyone, that we can’t talk about what hurts us. This is what hurts me. I will be as honest as I can and invite any of you to do the same. I assume the reason I keep writing is because as we grant each other permission to be who we are, our true humanity is what comes out. I’ve received incredible emails from people sharing their own struggles. We will never have those kinds of life-changing conversations unless someone is willing to start it.
I am afraid to come home. I’m afraid to stay here. I fear what I’ve turned into. Will these habits follow me forever? Will what I have learned here affect me negatively or positively for the rest of my life? I can’t answer these questions until I get off the plane. I have no idea what the next few months of my life will be like. I am hopeful, but really anxious.
I’ve been talking to missionaries and reading books about the process of re-entry after working in the mission field. There are a lot of horror stories! For some it is easy, for some it takes years. The most repeated information I’ve heard is, upon re-entering your "home" country, most people won’t be that interested. They think it’s cool you went overseas and may ask, "What was the food like?" or "So, did you have fun?" They will be pleased with a few words and will not likely ask anything else. Coming from a crazy, life-changing, intense experience, this seems to most like a huge slap in the face. Does anyone care at all? No, they just won’t ever get it. And this, I think, will be very frustrating. The books don’t offer much help. They say, "Just prepare for the fact that your experience can be important to you, even if most people back home could care less."
So with this information in mind, I’ve come up with different responses to the question, "So, how was Cambodia?" Because different people will want different answers and I’m trying to prepare for that and not be offended by it. Not everyone wants to hear the whole, lengthy story and that’s ok. But I will be willing to tell it to anyone who does! No number of blogs or pictures or stories will ever fully explain or do this experience justice. That’s hard to swallow because this has changed my life forever and no one back home will ever really get it.
I imagine it will all feel like a dream and I will wonder, "Did that really just happen? Am I exaggerating? Was that real?" I may not feel understood. I may not feel heard. But I will cling to those people I am really counting on to help me through this.
I’m no fortune teller. I can’t predict the future. Maybe things will be just peachy and I will adjust no problem-o! But I’d rather be ready for anything than slapped in the face with the changes and difficulties that are bound to accompany me at home.
Ten days. Five days of school. Three days of testing. Seventy-one good byes. One Sabbath candle. Home.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

6-20-08

I’m running out of time with my kids. They know it and I know it. We all deal differently. I’m expecting some to just ignore saying, ‘goodbye’ and walk out of the gate. Some girls have already admitted they will cry. I will try to be somewhere in the middle between weepy and cruel. ‘Goodbyes’ are just plain hard for anyone. But I assume they are easier if you have no regrets and you’ve said all you need to say.
Today was one of my last full class periods with my students. Yesterday I made over 80 servings of banana bread for them. I think they enjoyed it. I told them that we have covered all the information and finished all the books, we’ve persevered through grammar lessons and assignments, but they were about to hear the most important lesson of the year.
I wanted them to know the most important things I have learned thus far. If we aren’t constantly sharing what we know, then what’s the point? I figured we’ve been learning from each other all year, but these were the things I would’ve always regretted not telling them. So, I did.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about where you guys are in your lives and when I was there too. High school wasn’t that long ago. I have happy memories and I have regrets.
I regret that I didn’t work harder. I could’ve gotten better grades. I could’ve focused a little more in class. I also regret that I’ve cheated before (“Oooohhhh!”). I’m not proud of that. And just so you know, your teachers are smart. They know when you cheat. I know when you cheat. How do you feel about it? Do you want to graduate knowing you earned it, or knowing your friends earned it for you?
Don’t make enemies, in school, or anywhere. You never know when you will see these people again.
Appreciate your teachers. Your teachers work very, very hard to help you. Sometimes they don’t feel like anyone notices all of their effort. When I was in high school, I wrote many of my teachers letters, thanking them. I know you guys really appreciate Sokcha and Dararith. What if you walked up to them and said, ‘Hey, I just want to say ‘thank you’ for helping me this year’? They would be so surprised. Do it!
Ok, how many of you are dating? (No hands) Oh, put your hands up! I know some of your girlfriends over there in 9th grade! (The hands slowly went up) I dated one guy in high school. I don’t regret it, but I also don’t think dating in high school is the best choice. How many times have you been ditched by your friends as soon as they get a girlfriend? And more importantly, you should have your own self-confidence before you involve someone else. Do you understand? If you think you are ugly, but you start dating a guy who tells you every day that you are beautiful, you will believe it. But what happens when you break up? Are you still beautiful? Of course you are! But if you didn’t believe it before he started telling you, then you are giving him full control of your self-worth. Know who you are before you give your heart to someone else.
After I graduated high school, I made a list of things that would make the perfect husband (“No way! Ms. Bo, you are crazy!”) No, I did! Here’s why: If you don’t know what you are looking for, how will you ever know when you’ve found it? (One boy “Ms. Bo, can I have that list?”) No! And until I have met the guy who fulfills everything on that list, I’m not wasting my time with him. Never settle! (“Huh?”) The word ‘settle’ is like ‘compromise’. Don’t give up until you’ve found the perfect person. You deserve the best.
Boys, don’t date a girl who is ‘only’ beautiful! Because you know what you’ll have in 40 years? Not much. She’ll have wrinkles, gray hair, a few extra pounds, and you won’t be able to stand her. You need to find a girl who is much more, a girl you will want to be with forever.
What did you want to be when you were kids? (“A swimmer! A dancer! Prime minister!”) Ok, I wanted to be a lifeguard. (“Ha, ha, ha!”) Really! And my ideas have changed since then, but please, please do not pick a job for the money. Pick something you will love doing for the rest of your life. I will never be rich and that is ok with me because I know what I want. Do what you are passionate about, what you were made to do.
Ok, I have a question: True or False? Your life is your fault. (“False. No, true! False, false!” They decided on ‘true’) I agree. One of my favorite teachers in high school told me that, and I’ll never forget it. There are certain situations beyond your control. But how you react is up to you. If you tell me you got a D in Algebra because you have a bad teacher, I won’t believe you. If you tell me you are bored because your friends are boring, make new friends! If you want a great life, make a great life. By the time you are 80 years old, do not call me saying how unhappy you are, because you made all the decisions in your life that got you there! (Lightbulbs. Lightbulbs.)
Let’s say you forget everything I just said, don’t forget this: You could die today. Wake up every morning and remind yourself of that. What if you walked out of those gates today after school and got hit by a moto? Would you be ok with that? (“No!”) Yeah, none of us want to die! But if you did, would you have regrets? Did you start a fight with your mom this morning? Did you ignore a friend today who needed someone to talk to? Did a teacher catch you cheating? Have you been ignoring God? Only you know the answers to all those questions. Remind yourself every day that you are not guaranteed tomorrow. How do you want to be remembered?
So did you get it? Did you capture the most important lesson I’ve ever taught you? I’ve taught you a few things, but you’ve taught me even more. Thank you for being great, great students. I’ll miss you all.”
I gave the same basic talk to all three of my classes today, with a few adjustments here and there based on age and maturity. I could say, “They were probably just listening because they had nothing else to do!” or “They were just glad it wasn’t English class!”, but I know better. They heard me. They were listening because we respect each other. By now, I know their handwriting, how they walk, and how they laugh. I know what makes each of them laugh and what hurts them too. I know when they are just looking at me and not really listening. I also know when they are actually learning from me, and today was one of those days.
I confirmed my ticket home. Indeed, I am leaving on July 1st. That gives me 11 more days to learn a few more lessons, have more laughs with my kids, and a few more cups of sugarcane juice. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures of ‘normal’ things, because they really aren’t that normal. I’m spending extra time with Fay. I’m trying, with difficulty, to remember what life is like at home. I suppose I’ll know soon enough.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

6-18-08

Hat? Check.
Sunglasses? Check.
Sunscreen? Check.
Ipod? Check.
Mask? Check.
This morning I went for my weekly bike ride.
6:35am found me leaving the mission where I live and braving the streets, yet again. I have never seen another foreigner riding a bike where I do. I’m not sure if I’m stupid or just very comfortable. Sometimes I feel like I am the only non-Cambodian living here. Sometimes I feel like I am turning into one.
I headed south towards the red light district. I would prefer quieter, less-busy roads, but those don’t exist in Phnom Penh, so crazy traffic is my only option. I listened to Lenny Kravitz’s version of ‘American Woman’ which gave me courage to face the chaos. I stick to the right side of the road because that is where my ipod is tucked under my shirt, less likely to be grabbed by a passing moto. I pass women balancing pots full of noodles on their heads. I pass people sitting, men loading trucks, and children playing in the mud. As I breathe harder and harder in the heat of the sun, my face gets sweaty from the mask covering my nose and mouth. My sunglasses start slipping off my nose as I push them back on. …pedal, pedal, pedal, deep breath… hack! hack! Ugghhh, no deep breaths!
Phnom Penh has recently grown fond of round-abouts. The first one I pass has a statue of a revolver hand gun in the middle. Apparently, after the war, everyone was asked to turn in their guns and they were melted into this memorial as a symbol of peace. Really, it’s just a joke because the statue is really small. If there were no hard feelings and ‘everyone’ turned over their weapons, the statue would be much, much bigger. I turned right and headed towards Wat Phnom. I passed a few markets on my way. Everyone was yelling and buying: chickens (dead and alive), lotus pods, coconuts, soda, and vegetables. I realized this morning that the city is suddenly doing a lot of renovations. There are little statues and common areas, with trees and grass, popping up all over! It’s a good thing.
I turned left at Wat Phnom, a bell-shaped statue on a small hill. Apparently this is where the founder of the city, some ancient goddess, was buried and now monks live there. It is rainy season, so my legs are all splattered and muddy from the water on the road. I glance left and right to avoid getting hit by any cars. If I did, it would be my fault and they’d most likely charge me money! This happened last week. JC and I were out on his moto and he scratched a car with his handlebar. But we didn’t scratch any car, no, we scratched a gold Lexus with a very angry Khmer government official inside! After at least 2 hours of arguing I gave JC the only money I had, $30, encouraged him to use it, and headed home. I wasn’t really helping anyway. The guy said that because JC had a rich American wife, he should pay the $200 he felt he deserved to fix the scratch. JC ended up finding someone to fix the small scratch for $1.25, but was forced to pay the driver and the police officer $100 for their trouble! We hardly make that much a month! It makes me sick really.
I kept pedaling my way towards the King’s palace. Apparently Cambodia has a queen, something I didn’t realize until someone told me that today is her birthday which is why we have a holiday. Fine by me. So her picture is blown up all over town surrounded by pink flowers and gaudy flashing lights. Uggh.
I got to the riverside. Usually this part of town is thriving with tourists and chaos. But at 7am it was strangely motionless. Well, I have yet to witness ‘motionless-ness’ in Cambodia, but maybe ‘less chaotic’ would be more appropriate. The riverside really stinks because this is where many people dump their garbage and the oil ships come in. I held my breath past a few smokers and pressed on.
My legs were getting a bit tired. But I know that if I stop, even for a minute, I’ll be surrounded by people very quickly. Moving on a bike, I am a passing thought, which is what I prefer. It is easier to watch the Khmers and observe them this way. People spend a lot of time outside, so as I turned towards home I took a few back roads and saw people coming out to set up their shops or just step outside. A shirtless father was standing holding his small daughter. He pointed at me and waved, I smiled and waved back, but felt stupid because it’s not like they could tell if I was smiling under my purple mask.
I didn’t really know where I was going or what road I was on, but I just sorta followed traffic awhile until I got back to streets I recognized. I rode past pagodas with monks chanting inside and police officers doing absolutely nothing, which is what they’ll do all day! Even now, with 12 days left in Cambodia, I find myself shocked that I am still here experiencing this, and so sad none of you will ever see it.
As I neared home, the smell of gasoline was making me dizzy. Just leaving home in the heat, the chaos, the combination of sights and smells, it usually ends up giving me a head ache. But that’s just me. Cambodia is not my home.
This works for them. They are ok here. This is all they know. So as much as I struggle to adjust and as frustrating as their culture can be to me, it isn’t supposed to fit me. It fits them.
Imagine if someone said to you, “America has serial killers and druggies and prostitution, so you must be a serial killer, druggy and prostitute. Hi, nice to meet you!” That doesn’t make any sense does it? It isn’t fair to label or judge someone solely based upon the country they come from. Wait, is it fair to label or judge anyone anyway? Well, the thought occurred to me as I rode past Cambodia on my bike this morning, “What if they are ok?” What if they don’t dislike their lives as much as I assume they should? My country isn’t perfect either. What if some of the Khmers don’t support prostitution, human trafficking, or corruption? What if they aren’t ok with it, but they live with it? I’m not ok with America’s problems, yet I am pretty content there.
It is wrong for me to say, “I don’t believe in God”. I do. But what I don’t understand is how God affects my life today. What is prayer? How is God working today different from how he did 2000 years ago? I want to make sense of what I’ve seen. I need help doing it and living with it and learning from it. If God is God, I hope he’ll help me.
I believe learning from Cambodia has given God a platform for me to learn from Him, without knowing it. How does God use people and experiences? If God had to use Cambodia to teach me about life, I must be pretty stubborn and difficult to teach.
I turned onto the street I’ve called home for almost a year. I passed the creeps playing pool. I smiled at the guard I can’t communicate with any other way. I parked my rugged, red mountain bike that has loyally carried me through this year. I stretched my legs out a bit, thinking, “Ok, what is God trying to teach me from all of that?”

Friday, June 13, 2008

6-13-08

Two weeks, 3 days left in Cambodia. Things are wrapping up. I’m taking a lot of pictures and reflecting, even more than usual.
Today I woke up and was very glad it was Friday. I’ve been having a lot of dreams the last 2 weeks. I probably dream more because I am sleeping more. In all honesty, I sleep more so I don’t have to be awake as long. There is little to do anyway. Evenings I spend alone. But the dreams have been exhausting. All of the dreams find me failing to adjust at home or getting raped in Cambodia. I often wake up in tears. Walking out the door to face another day is that much more difficult.
I am done teaching new lessons, so reviewing has started for final tests. My kids understand I’m leaving soon. I will definitely miss some more than others. For my kids last journal entry I asked them to write me a letter. I wasn’t specific as to what it had to say. For one of the first times they didn’t complain about the assignment.
A few favorites:
“Since I studied in the CAS I have met three foreign teachers. Some were so strict I felt scared of them, but you were a teacher that work and laugh with the students. Sometimes, you also danced and sang for the students.” -Tok Siv Heang
“It was very hard to getting to know you, because I didn’t know you before, and in the first 2 months I also hated you so much. But many times passed away, I felt that my thought has been changed. Many times that I tired or bored, you encouraged my mind and I felt that you liked me and you gave the warmth to me anytime I needed.”
-Chan Mariya
“All the times you sang, I felt sleepy but it not mean that your voice is horrible but because your voice is soft like a canary.” -Rachana
“You are a good teacher and you are so friendly. Sometimes act like a kid and sometimes like an old person. All of these words is from my heart, and it is not mean that I want to get more points from you.” -Ngov Sonita
“In the time for studying you always have teached student by friendly and happy everytime. Eventhough, that student always disturbed, speaking with eachother, and talked a bad word to you. You never angry to they, you always smile and talk to them by soft word.” -Angelina Ros
“Last year my class was a big problem or virus for school. We made a lot of troubles but this year, we all were changing because of you. You are changing us. Now I know that you by which the environments around me have changing me and all of us. I never have a good teacher as you since I studied here. You’re my best teacher ever and ever.” -Rattanack
And a personal favorite…
“Ms.Bo, to be honest, I didn’t like you very much at the beginning of the year. But day by day, I realized that are a great teacher and I started to like you. Ms.Bo, you might think that you are not a great teacher, but that isn’t true. I enjoyed every moment you spent with us. I just want to let you know that words alone cannot express how great you are to be our teacher and how much we love you. God bless you and your whole family. May He also protect you on the way back home.” -Pen David

I have read and re-read the words of my students, believing what they wrote some days more than others. If I had this encouragement all year, it might’ve been a little easier. But, as noted, they didn’t feel this way about me all year! From their perception though, I’ve done ok.
I thought back to my years of high school. One day I was talking to a bible teacher at Campion, Steve Carlson. He told met that teaching preschoolers is instant gratification, they hate you one second and love you the next. But teaching high schoolers is delayed gratification. Why are we so darned stubborn letting people know how great they are? I thought hard about this and committed to writing letters to the teachers who had honestly changed me in high school. One of them approached me in tears, thanking me for the encouragement. Now I understand why.
I have never taken an education class in college. I’m just a volunteer “acting” like a teacher. But I obviously learned a few things about teaching from how I have been taught.
It is not possible to encourage someone too much. So, on that note:
Thank you Mrs. Dorothy Simpson, you taught me that I did not have to fall in love with math, I just had to pass. So at 6:45am most weekday mornings you offered help with Algebra II and help with life.
Thank you Mr. Harold Williams, for your patience, your kind heart, and your sense of adventure in a Chemistry class you’ve taught over and over again for more than 20 years.
Thank you Benjie Maxson, you brought God into view and taught me about a different side of Christianity, a side I desperately needed.
Thank you Mrs. Johnson, for showing me how to communicate well and how to live well.
Thank you Mr. Beans, for the coaching, for the debates, for the dating advice, and for still not giving up on me, even half-a-world away.
As the world threatens to diminish the human connection to only cell phones, email, and myspace comments, I dare you to remind someone how important they are to you and I dare you to do it face-to-face. Maybe you’ll keep them holding on a bit longer in world where we all just feel like giving up.
My kids have kept me hanging on, which is why I am still here.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

6-8-08

A good friend wrote to me yesterday and said, “Heather, if life were an orange, you squeeze out more juice than anyone I know!” I think that was a compliment. I’m choosing to take it as a compliment. Either way, it made me laugh.
I’ve been thinking much about this year: the good and the ugly. I have noticed humans in general, but myself indefinitely, tend to dwell on the bad instead of the good. For example, to sum up my time in Cambodia it sounds like it has been an eternal dark, grey cloud. With the help of depression and a mental illness or two, it has seemed like little else. But I know better.
It is the rays of hope that have kept me here. But it is also the rays of hope that have been shoved to the back of my mind whenever something else is thrown at me. Negativity is a defense against hard times. When they come, instead of being thrown for a loop, I started expecting them so they were easier to deal with. So if I brace myself for the tormentors waiting on the street, it is easier to bear. But often I brace myself expecting difficulties, and they never come. But instead of rejoicing or being grateful, I just hold my breath expecting a harder blow.
My time in Cambodia has been many things: ‘easy’ is not one of them. But this time has been important, crucial, and necessary. I have learned. I have stretched. I have grown.
When I first arrived, the Scotts welcomed me with open arms and have continued to support me better than anyone here. They’ve been a listening ear, a source of wisdom, a help, a comfort, friends. I have had a great place to live: clean, safe, comforting, and a refuge from the chaos. I have met some incredible teachers at CAS. I connected most with those closer to my age. JC, for example, said I looked miserable and he had to help me! That he did. He helped with the loneliness by getting me out on the weekends and, in turn, I was adopted by his own friends. I had somewhere to go on weekends when I was truly lonely and that meant so much. We don’t always understand each other, our cultures are so different, but we have learned.
Teaching was torture. I had no idea what I was doing or where to start. I’m not sure what I taught or what I did those first 4 months. I figure I was a very sad looking zombie. This is where my kids came through. At first, they were the enemy. Now, they are friends. I can think of about a dozen fellow classmates in high school that I would have hated to teach. They are not here. These kids helped me along, forgave me when I didn’t know the answers to all of their questions, and basically, they taught me how to teach. Their humor and easy-going attitude made class less scary and more so, something to look forward to. When I was having awful days, and home was the only thing on my mind, I was forced to put that aside, walk into the classroom, and be present with them. They eased the homesickness by being the laughter and the smiles I needed.
I have had the privilege, no honor, of meeting and learning from people from all over the world: New Zealand, Pakistan, England, Malaysia, Australia, India, Vietnam, and even Greeley, Colorado! I have listened intently to their stories hoping to gain just an ounce of their wisdom that far exceeds my own. Stories of flying bricks, fires, anti-Christian movements, and true persecution will stay with me always. They’ve taught me what pain really looks like.
The Cambodian culture has been a source of stress all year long: the way they are, the things they say, the things they do. Yet, I have been forced to examine my own culture. We aren’t perfect either and am I really doing all I can to make it better? What am I expecting of them? That is a huge task not easily accomplished. I’m still learning to relax and take it easy like they do. Road rage is not an issue for them, but nearly every time I go out, I want to hit someone. There are still things to be learned.
I have been blessed with even more. The fact that I can use Skype to simultaneously talk to my parents in Colorado, my sister and Ben in Nebraska, and my brother in England, still amazes me each and every time. I have been able to receive encouragement and strength via email from people I never expected would notice I was gone. But the letters come, the postcards come, and I have received more packages than any other SM Fay has ever seen. You have helped me raise over $8,000 dollars for Cambodia Adventist School and Khan’s Vietnamese school where I tutored. That is a huge amount of money! I am proud to give the acknowledgment to very supportive friends and family back home. Thank you.
I have not contracted any vicious diseases; bird flu didn’t get me. Yahoo, I’m vegetarian! I could have really been injured badly when I was hit by that car, but I wasn’t. I could’ve been physically harmed just about any time I took to the streets, but I haven’t been. I could’ve never met Polly. I could’ve never met Stella. I could be poor. I could be an orphan. I could be so many things, but I am not.
I write this more for myself than anyone. But I post because I continue to get encouraging emails from home, in response. We are all still learning. Isn’t it an incredible cycle, the way in which we learn from each other and the information is just recycled, waiting to be passed on to the next person? Shouldn’t we run out of jokes? When will there be no new information to learn? Nope, the process is flawless. We live, we learn, we die. You can tell a child to pull your finger and they’ll still do it. Ah, perfection!
So for whatever it’s worth, this is where I’m at right now. I know at least 2 friends headed out to be student missionaries next year. Part of me wants to say, “Don’t do it! It’s gonna hurt.” But the human soul buried deep down inside of me says, “Go”.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

6-4-08

I think the frequency of my blogs says one of two things: either I am so used to Cambodia, the day to day, is no longer worth blogging about or I am in a peaceful place. Maybe both. But let’s be honest, the most interesting blogs are when something crazy happens to me.
So the newly found pessimist in me is pretty much expecting Cambodia to throw me one last punch before I leave. I know, it sounds awful. But I’ve gotten pretty good at timing these things. As I rode my bike home from school today, I was trying to guess what crazy thing might happen next. I considered malaria or being imprisoned for being white. As I wondered, a teenager driving his moto way too fast came within inches of knocking me off my bicycle. I swerved; I corrected, and immediately wondered if my pessimism is somehow bringing bad things my way. I don’t know much about karma, but I imagine it says something like: “If you assume everything bad is going to happen to you, it probably will”.
My mom cross stitched this poem that hangs in our bathroom. I know it well because after 10 years on the same toilet, I’ve spent a lot of time reading it.
It goes:
“If you think you are beaten, you are.
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you like to win, but think you can’t, it’s almost a cinch, you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose, you’re lost.
For out in the world we find, success begins with a fellows will,
it’s all in the state of mind.
Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man,
but soon or late the man who wins is the one who thinks he can.”

I used to take pride after reading that poem, I have had a pretty optimistic attitude for most of my life. Now, that person seems much farther away. I don’t advertise this attitude to any of the people I encounter here. But inside, all I’m thinking is, “Ok, what’s going to hit me today?” Some days I’ve been hit with sickness, cars, men, insensitive words from my students, and more often, I end up beating on myself.
But as mentioned in the first paragraph, not much has happened recently. Well, nothing bad at least. My conversations with my family on Sundays are, short. The phone calls have been much less desperate and I don’t think I’ve cried to them in at least 3 weeks. I suppose this is the happy ending I might wish for. But not all is well. I’ve just learned to adjust and I don’t even flinch to the chaos I encounter anymore. I’m numb and I know it.
Yet still, I’m glad I woke up this morning…
-to go for a long hard run and listen to Coldplay
-to listen to Tulip for over an hour as she finally opened up and admitted she is not as happy as everyone thinks she is
-because I haven’t binged or purged in over 8 days
-to get an incredibly thoughtful email from my sister
-because I only have to do that 28 more times before I wake up at home
-because Phalkun hugged me and squeezed me tight for no reason at all
-because Joanna peeked over my shoulder at my lunch and said, “Oh, garbage huh?” I corrected her and said, “Almost, it’s called, ‘cabbage’!”

A friend of mine from home got me a subscription to O magazine here in Cambodia. I did not order it, but I am more than happy to receive it. Principle Sharon gives me my mail and whenever I get one she tosses it to me, rolls her eyes, and says, “Here is your Oprah magazine!” I assure her I am not so desperate….but, blah, blah, blah, she doesn’t care.
Anyways, I look forward to any connection to the rest of the world and last Sabbath I sat, thoroughly enjoying every page. I read one article about Umoja, an all-women’s village in Kenya. It was such an incredible story about these women who fled their abusive, circumcising husbands in search of a better life. I read it and I thought, “I want to go there. I want to help with this.” My own jaw dropped. I pushed my heart aside, my head kicked in, and I thought, “Are you crazy? You can’t even handle Cambodia and Africa is even tougher!”
Still, the thought has stuck with me all week. I don’t want to be forever turned off to missions because of this experience. I just don’t think it has to be a, one-size fits all, kind of thing. Maybe Cambodia just isn’t my nitch, as Polly suggested. Maybe I have yet to find it. Often I talk about traveling, because I may never be back on this side of the world again. Fay says, “Oh, never say never Heather!” And I very strongly and confidently say, “Never”.
Time will tell who is right, but I won’t put money on either side quite yet.