Friday, June 27, 2008


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.


ashes said...

You are so beautiful.