Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Always Learning

Several things have happened over the last few days that once again have made us feel like we are back in Elementary school. By this I mean, the many things that were once daily tasks are now events full of stress, anxiety, and sometimes frustration.

Event One: Chris went to the dentist last Tuesday to get his teeth cleaned. While driving to the dental clinic your mind runs of thoughts of, "what if they do something to really mess up my teeth" or "is this going to be clean and safe?" However, the fears quickly subsided once he stepped into the office and realized it is nicer than the dentist we went to on Blake Street in downtown Denver. A pleasant surprise and comforting to know that next time we need to have our teeth cleaned we don't have to go into the day fearing what might happen.

Event Two: I got my first Cambodian haircut today. Over the past week I had done my homework, I printed off photos, asked numerous other foreigners where they go and what they thought of the place they went. Back in Colorado, getting my haircut used to be an event I loved and looked forward to, but here I was anxious with what I would come out with. Well, it went ok, about 2-3 extra inches came off, mainly because I couldn't get across to my Khmer-only speaking hairdresser that I didn't want it that short. She just kept cutting away (at what also seemed to be a haphazard toss of the scissors to my hair every time she made a cut) until one hour later I had chin length hair again. When I asked for my hair to be shampooed, the reply I got was, "no have, sorry" which really only made me laugh at the situation, until I found out the cut was going to be done on dry hair. All in all the cut is fine, I have never really been too particular, but I think I will try a different salon next time.

Event Three: Learning to read and write. We have finally started with our private tutor to learn the sounds of letters and also how to write them. Chris and I just finished an hour of practicing writing 10 different letters. Mine looks like a 5 year old wrote it, and I can barely remember all the twists, turns, and accents that each letter contains. Below you can see my color-coded sound sheet and then also my writing practice sheet. It's frustrating to know that we are far from being able to read, write, and communicate despite 7 months of going to class. I guess learning to speak a language of sounds the American tongue has no ability to say, or letters that are not of the Roman alphabet is as difficult as we thought it would be.

All of these things remind you how much work and time it takes to try to integrate yourself into a culture that is 180 degrees different from what we have known for the past 26 years. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I get mad, but most of time I just remind myself to keep trying!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Where are the days going?

We wanted to blog tonight to give a recap of the last week for us. Like most, the days are slipping by faster than we can keep up. Our week was full of the normal working tasks for each of us as well as some that are out of the ordinary. The Head of the Board for Asian Hope flew in on Wednesday making for the week to be full of meetings and fundraising talks for me. For Chris it was supposed to be the first week that he wasn't coaching or having to host a school fundraiser. But of course the HS basketball coach was out all week and Chris stepped in to fill his absence. Saturday morning was no rest for the weary as Chris had to play in a badminton tournament at the school. My thought was, "What? How many people signed up? Nobody plays badminton." I was wrong, this was a big event with many students all eager to show off their skills. Sunday came and did provide rest. We enjoyed going to church, I finished giving a desk a new makeover (more to come on that), and Chris spent time reading some newly received magazines.

We wish the chaos ended there but on Thursday of this week we will begin our weekend-long move. We are moving into a new apartment starting in March and get the chance to move in a little early. We are really excited about our new place, and feel more than blessed with the deal we found. Our 2 bedroom place will be much nicer and more Westernized than we ever imagined we would be able to live in. And it only gets better, it has many amenities that most don't have so we are VERY thankful for the hot water heaters, aircons, fridge, oven, and washing machine that comes with the place. It will be a great upgrade for us, and we can't wait! Once we are all settled in we will post pictures. Our visitor this past week also brought us our Wii from home, and I can't wait to set it up and beat Chris in Wii boxing again! Once again, another great gift of getting this package this past week.

Soon the true rest comes, we are taking a 4 day trip to Singapore for the first weekend of March. It is International Women's Day here and we will take full advantage of the holiday. Since we are not coming back to the States this summer we wanted to head to a place to get our "Western" fix. We have full intentions to indulge in it all...they have a Starbucks, McD's, Taco Bell, and even Chili's. Yes we will hit all of them, and yes we did google what American fast food chains were in the city several months ago. We recognize that most travelers when headed overseas try to avoid all of these spots, but this time we can hardly wait to eat chicken soft tacos, a Big Mouth Bacon Cheeseburger, and sip on a few lattes. (Maybe we should think of a running a few more times this week). It has been about 8 weeks since we have had a day off and you may be thinking, "that's not that bad." However, the stresses of life here of grocery shopping, driving, the heat, and some of the hard sites you see on the side of the road make you crave time away pretty quickly. So we look forward to the clean, modern, and westernized city of Singapore.

Our last update is that we started our personal Khmer tutor last Thursday. We will only meet once a week, but are excited to learn more of the Khmer language. I will continue in my 3x a week class, but this one-on-one help with help both of us immensely. Chris is a quick learner and amazes me everytime we learn a new sound or a new vocab word how quickly he says it right. I have some more language than him because of my class, so Chris calls me "teacher pet" in tutoring because I ask questions he doesn't know yet. I respond with, "I am just better at Khmer than you." All in all, we are enjoying it and one day look forward to not being illiterate, and possibly being understood in our day to day world.

Please continue to pray for us as we build relationships with those around us in the hopes to walk alongside them in their faith in the times that are good, bad, and confusing. We also ask for strength as we regularly witness heartbreaking sites of lives being lost, children offering themselves as sex workers, and the overwhelming difficulty that most Cambodians face in just trying to get by from day to day. We covet your daily prayers.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Survey Week / Service Week / Super Bowl

This past week was a big one for both Leanne and myself for many reasons. As Leanne wrote about before, Asian Hope has identified the community in which it hopes to initiate its trafficking prevention program. For the past few weeks, Leanne has been working diligently with the Asian Hope staff to create and organize a survey that could be used to assess the needs of this particular community. The goal of the needs assessment was to ask the people who live in the community what their needs are instead of Asian Hope walking in and establishing programs that are not needed. After hours of meeting with the village leader, translating her survey from English to Khmer (with the help of many great people) and back again, Leanne finally pinpointed February 7th as the day to give her survey to the community.

While Leanne organized the survey, I worked with two other teachers to create a week long service trip for 35 high school students. The goal of these trips was to take the juniors and seniors from Logos to communities around Phnom Penh and help them learn about and experience servant ship. Students worked the entire week in slum communities cleaning, teaching English, painting and interacting with children. This is where the stories collide.

On Monday, my service group had the chance to work with Leanne and about ten other volunteers to survey her community. We walked house to house asking questions about their access to clean drinking water, schooling, latrines, and food. From 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., the students and staff gave over 170 surveys to people living in the community of Prek Pneu, which is about 16 Km from Phonom Penh. This day was an incredible experience as we were invited into the homes of people who have myriad needs. From an inability to receive medical attention, attend school or even access clean drinking water, these families provided great information that Leanne can use in order to provide the right services. The remainder of the week for Leanne was spent analyzing the copious amount of information that was provided on the surveys, a job that is not nearly done.

The rest of the week for me brought trips with my seven students to communities inhabited by ethnic Vietnamese. My students taught English and played games with children in a variety of communities. However, the biggest impact was probably not on the kids that my students played with, but on the high school students themselves. Throughout the week, they received a real glimpse into the realities of Cambodia and its people.

The ethnic Vietnamese we worked with are essentially invisible people. They have not been Vietnamese citizens for generations as they were born in Cambodia. However, the Cambodian government will not provide them with I.D. cards, therefore they are not citizens and cannot receive education or medical treatment. These people cannot own land and all of them, perhaps 1 in 10 Cambodians, are squatters who can be removed from their homes and land at a moment's notice.

The family that took us to these communities is doing incredible work. They have created one-room buildings that serve as schools, churches and community centers that provide education and food to the people in these communities. For many of the kids, it is the only schooling they will ever receive and the only way to hear the Gospel.

My students were often taken far from the boundaries of their collective comfort zones, but it was an experience that undoubtedly helped them learn the importance of service, work and the realities of poverty and need in Cambodia.

Come Friday, Leanne and I were both tired from our weeks, but we accomplished a lot and both feel like, in a short amount of time, we have a significantly better understanding of the country that we live in.

Lastly, on Tuesday we watched the Superbowl and it was awesome. I had a 36 hour internet ban so I would not find out the score. Leanne made 7-layer dip, with only five layers as is normal in Cambodia, we had KFC and an assortment of other football food. We projected the game on a big screen and for 3 hours, I felt as if I was back in the States.

Some thoughts on the game:
1) Just because Christina Aguilera has a great voice does not mean she should get a free pass for blowing the National Anthem. Also, since when is she still a relevant super-star, I was in middle school when the song "Genie in a Bottle" came out and that was when she was in her pop-star prime.

2) I bet Brett Farve feels ridiculous for not retiring two or three years ago. He could be sitting at home a legend and making money off Wrangler commercials instead of iceing his whole body and being hated by the cities of Minneapolis and Greenbay.

3) The Superbowl is not just a game! We watched it with two Canadians who were trying to convince the Americans that the CFL is superior to the NFL. Once the world decides to stop and watch something created by Canadians then we can chat but I think that time passed with Gretzky retired.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Logos Carnival

Last Saturday was the annual Logos Carnival. This is an event for the expat and missionary community and an easy fundraiser for the school. They had it all, over 20 games including tricycles races, darts, bean bag toss, and many more, and then prizes for the kids. The food was great though we choose to have the Johnsville Brat for lunch, being that we don't get that often (or more accurately-- ever). I will say the Korean Kimbob, and the Indian curry did look good (both of which we eat all the time, making the American grilled brat the easy choice). The food, the games, and the excitement in the air brought back floods of memories of my own school carnivals and of the state fair that we attended every year.

One thing unique to the Logos Carnival is that each grade has to come up with a game, and run the booth at the carnival. The Soph class did an arrest and jail game. Anyone can be arrested for a small token fee and then taken to jail. In jail you get your face painted by a student in some ridiculous fashion and then sent out to try to be normal again. Chris was arrested within minutes of getting to the carnival and below you can see his punishment. I on the other hand went several hours. However, my punishment was severe, they painted my face as if I was the main character in Avatar. Yes, my face was totally covered in blue, even complete with the white dots over my eyebrows. We hung around for a bit, had a our lunch and then decided to go home because it was hard to have any sort of adult conversation with anyone when we looked like Avatar and a creepy clown.

All in all it was fun and we enjoyed another relaxing weekend!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Village Chief

Today, I (Leanne) had a meeting with a village chief. Over the years I have had many educational, working, and life experiences that have prepared me for meetings, conversations, budgets, and you know day to day working tasks. In the past when I have been given a responsibility, I can usually think back to another situation and use that previous knowledge to my advantage. Not today. I have no past experience in meeting with village chiefs. No where in any old day planners will you find 9:00 - Meeting with Village Chief. I woke up this morning thinking, "What do I wear?" Today was a first for me.

We were meeting with the Prek Pneu Village Chief in order to get the permission and blessing to work in their community for the years to come. We didn't want to take our first steps without communicating that we want to work in partnership to make Prek Pneu a community that protects its children. The meeting was successful. We got the permission, and the village chief gave us the impression that she was excited to have us working in the community. So from here on out, I will feel more equipped next time I have to meet with a village chief!

Moving forward, on Monday the 7th we will begin surveying the community of over 1,000 families that live in Prek Pneu. One of the joys in doing this is that Chris' school has a week of service projects starting on Monday, and they have chosen to help me as one of their service projects. So we will roll out of Logos at 8:30am with 25 volunteers (half of them Chris' students) and begin our work. You can pray that this survey goes well, as this will give us a clear idea of the utmost needs of the village.

Chinese New Year is tomorrow so trying to accomplish these tasks over the last few weeks (and the next few weeks to come) is a very difficult task, but so far all has been able to be completed. I am thankful every night for this!