Tuesday, June 17, 2008


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?”