Friday, April 29, 2011

Banteay Meanchey

Last Sunday after our wonderful Easter service and lunch, myself and a teammate, Carolyn, headed out to Banteay Meanchey, a province on the northern Cambodian-Thai border.  It is a 6 hour drive, and you don't get the usual stops to pick up snacks and bevies (as our friend Vic would say), but rather bump and bounce your way down the road hoping we don't hit a water buffalo or a bus (which is always a real fear).  We arrived at 10:00pm, checked into our hotel, called our husbands to say we made it safely, and were both pleased to find clean sheets, hot water, and a TV.  When staying literally in the middle of no where you always wonder what you are going to get.

We were visiting some projects with an organization called Kone Kmeng, and on Monday we got to see what they do out in these rural areas.  First we sat in on a training to the village chief, pastors, police, teachers, and community members on child protection and child trafficking prevention.  Then had lunch (again an experience), and headed to the schools, the main purpose in our visit.

We got to visit their catch-up school and supplemental school programs for kids who wouldn't normally be able to attend school because of the poverty that holds them back.  Learning from the pastor who runs this program was great, and we walked away with some incredible resources, contacts, and ideas. We always say things take longer in Cambodia, here is a perfect example, it took 2 days, 15 hours of driving, and 2 tired women to hold this meeting with this man.  This is how things operate here, but at the end of the day it was all worth it.  The things that are happening out there, and the ways God is moving was incredible to see.  We were thankful to witness it.

But the best part of the trip was interacting with the kids, seeing their life, and watching their faces as they laugh at two white, American women trying to speak Khmer.  However, the drive home was the worst part, yet the most entertaining.

We have been told an American road trip is getting from point A to point B as fast as possible, with very few stops.  A Cambodian road trip is part of the journey and they will make numerous stops to enjoy the travel time.  Well this is what happened, and here are our stops:
1.) One hour in - stop to buy eggs (they drill a hole in the egg, empty it out, scramble it, inject it back it, heat them over a fire, and then you buy them to eat as a snack.
2.) 15 minutes later - stop to say hi to a friend and drop off a package.
3.) 15 minutes later - stop to eat a sit down dinner, and this restaurant is no Chipolte.
4.) 3 hours in - stop to get gas. And use the bathrooms of the house next to the gas station.  I was taken to the master bedroom of some Khmer woman and there I used her restroom.  Carolyn was taken to another part of the house.
5.) 4 hours in - Stop at a road side stand to buy oranges (for me and Carolyn) and fish paste (for the Cambodians).
6.) 7 hours in and 12:30 midnight - arrive in Phnom Penh.

Above photos: lunch preperation, lunch, 4th grade classroom, students greeting us as we walked in, 6th grade classroom, and then us talking with the 6th graders.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Easter

With Easter coming up this Sunday, it is hard to believe because holidays always look a little different around here.  Now I know that Easter is not the most celebrated of holidays in the U.S. but at least they have egg dying kits in the stores (which I wanted to do here but all the eggs are dark brown and it just didn't work).  Once again, like Christmas, this Christian holiday will pass without anyone blinking an eye.

However, I was thinking about it a lot yesterday because of a book I recently read called One Thousand Gifts.  This book talks about thankfulness and how Christ sat down with His disciples, broke bread, and GAVE THANKS (Maundy Thursday).  That despite knowing what was about to happen the next day (Good Friday) He still gave thanks.  The book really has me thinking about gratitude and thankfulness when I live in a country where the people have so little and I have so much.  And beyond that I still find the time to complain about the weather, the bugs, the rat that ate my favorite makeup while we were gone (this really happened and I found it when we got back from Khmer New Year), or the rice that we eat everyday.  Why is it that the night before Jesus was crucified he was thankful, and all I can think about is how am I going to get that makeup back?

All to say, I hope you enjoy your Easter with family or friends.  We are going to go to a combined International Easter Church service, then off to a buffet lunch hosted by a local NGO here that works in child trafficking with some good friends.  Then I am headed to the province of Bantay Meanchey for a few days for work.
Easter baskets sent over from Mom, but we already ate all the chocolate!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


These pictures are of our 3:00am summit hike, the sunrise views from the top, the jungle segment that begins and ends the hike, and then our time on the beach as we rest our legs. Legs we could not move from the hours of coming down this amazing peak. Though a little out of order, you still can see how amazing this week was for us!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Khmer New Year in Malaysia


Last week was Khmer New Year here in Cambodia. A week filled with water fights, family and home for Cambodians and a week of designated relaxation for us without Cambodian heritage.

For the holiday, Leanne and I set out on an expedition to hike the 13,400 foot Mt. Kinabalu on the island of Borneo in Malaysia. We wanted this to be a challenge as well as a refreshing experience that would remind us a little of the numerous 14ers (14,000 ft peaks) that we have climbed together in Colorado.

Our hike started on our first full day in Malaysia. After riding to the base of the mountain with some new German friends, we hired our mandatory guide, paid the mandatory fees and ate the mandatory cheese sandwiches. Our hike, as described by Leanne, a 5-hour stair master. We traipsed up nearly 4,000 vertical feet on the first day to find ourselves at a mountain hut called Laban Rata. After we warmed ourselves with some tea and coffee and restored our strength at the buffet dinner, we contentedly forced ourselves to sleep at 6:45 p.m.

At the blissful hour of 2:00 a.m., we awoke for our summit bid. The peak is surrounded by thousands of feet of smooth granite. We knew that when the sun came up, we would be surrounded by brilliant sights. We reached the summit about 30 minutes before sunrise, just in time to catch the first yawns of daylight reach the South China Sea and the Crocker Mountain Range in Central Borneo.

Our descent was not as pleasant as the views because the 6,000 we ascended had to be summarily descended on weary knees and tender muscles. After 12 hours of hiking we finally made it down to the base of the peak and the celebration began.

We could celebrate until the next morning when Leanne and I tried to walk. We were both literally stuck when we took our first steps. The mixture of lactic acid, dehydration and poor sleep amounted to some seriously tight muscles. For the next three days, descending and steps or decline was miserable. I would muster the energy to step off a curb, Leanne would lean against me and the step was conquered. My legs felt like a sack of deflated tennis balls.

Our remaining days were spent on a beach off the coast of Kota Kinabalu. Eating some McDonalds. Seeing Rio (which is excellent!) and enjoying our time off. It was an great break that served its purpose to rejeuvinate and reenergize us for the months to come.

Our legs are healed, our lungs have recovered and we are ready for the months to come of work, new projects and warm weather.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

April 17, 1975

Today is the 36th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge's takeover of Phnom Penh. On April 17, 1975 Khmer Rouge troops, who had long surrounded the capital, defeated the nationalist forces (forces backed by the United States) and "liberated" the city.  The Khmer Rouge took the nation province by province, moving from north to south, enlisting provincial citizens who were eager to support the utopian ideals of Pol Pot and his Marxist part - Democratic Kampuchea.

The Khmer Rouge received a heroes welcome by many Cambodian citizens who believed that the liberation of the city was nothing less than the end of the bloody civil war. However, starting on April 17 and lasting for weeks afterwards, the Khmer Rouge evacuated the city, forcing the population to leave their belongings behind and head to designated provinces in which they would participate in agrarian labor camps.

Pol Pot's goal was to create a classless society in which no citizen owned more than the next. All Cambodians were placed on farms for the betterment of the country. Those were were ethnically different, educated or suspected of being opposed to the revolution were killed and placed in mass graves throughout the country. Religion was outlawed, families were torn apart and marriages were forced as a way to create an ideal Khmer ethnic population. The Khmer Rouge lasted for four years and, after it was forced to retreat back to the provinces by the Vietnamese military, was responsible for the death of an estimated 2-3 million people.

Today is the end of Khmer New Year and most of Phnom Penh's citizens are making their way back to the city from the provinces. Leanne and I went to the grocery store and enjoyed the traffic-free streets and quite round-abouts. It was these clear streets that reminded me of the date and made me remember that not so long ago, these same streets were emptied by the Khmer Rouge and their malicious plans for the nation began to take shape.

Many of the problems facing Cambodia still stem from the genocide. An uneducated majority, families doing whatever it takes to just afford their next meal and a population ridden with the residue of PTSD. This is a fascinating place and today is the anniversary of a moment and time when the history of this country changed so dramatically.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Luke 2:52: Scripture told me to buy a bike!

I bought a bike. I am not saying that as a random, disconnected comment but I am saying that out of pure excitement. One of the great things about Cambodia, in terms of riding around on a mountain bike, is that very few roads are paved. My daily commute from work is often spent riding around on dirt roads that will eventually lead me home. It is great. The bike for me here is not just a bike, it is another way of achieving a goal that I will explain.

Last year my buddy Taylor showed me a verse in Luke. It states that "Jesus grew in wisdom, strength and favor in God and men." I had probably skipped over this verse many times, it is the end of a section and does not seem to pertain to either the scripture before it or after. Taylor, without knowing it, had turned me on to something brilliant.

In my mind and in my actions, a perfect day would be to complete all of those tasks. Like Jesus, if we used our days to grow in wisdom, educating ourselves and spending time learning and using our brains, if we grew in stature, spending some of our day working out, running or exercising in some way and working to gain favor with God and with men through prayer, reading and having quality conversations, I would say that is a perfect day.

When I wake up, I challenge myself to complete these three daily tasks. Sometimes this means going for a run  or a  ride on my new awesome bike,  when I want to watch T.V. Reading the bible when I want to read Outside Magazine. Engaging in a conversation with Leanne or emailing friends when I want to complete my to-do list  or engaging in intellectual tasks, like learning Khmer, that are strenuous and difficult. I do not do it everyday, obviously. Actually, rarely do I complete all of them, but the goal is there nonetheless. This daily goal has served as a great challenge for me in Cambodia as I desire to live a balanced life of strength, wisdom and favor with God and men.

We are off to Malaysia for the next nine days. Tough I know. So we will update you with pictures and stories upon our return. We will be climbing a 13,000 foot mountain and I know our lungs are not what they used to be... it will be interesting.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Winners and Losers, Part II

Spirit House Next Door

Recycle Woman
The view from our back patio
There has been so much going on here in Cambodia that I found the easiest way to do an update would be in my favorite format of Winners/Losers.

1) The Weather: We have been warned for months about this alleged "hot season." A time in Cambodia where time stands still and all the inhabitants of the nation are subject to scalding temperatures coupled with post-shower humidity and absolutely no breeze. A time when the water in the pipes is warm and fans blow warm air like a hair dryer. This supposed hot season has yet to arrive in Cambodia, though I know that when I hit "publish" on this blog, the clouds will part and the sun will automatically become hotter. But, at this point, the weather has been relatively cool and we are so thankful for that.

2) Work: Leanne and I love our jobs. That is not to say that we do not have days that we would rather stay at home, or that we wish the weekend away. However, we moved to Cambodia because we believed in the work. We wanted Cambodian children to have more opportunities, whether that is in formal education like Logos or through protection via trafficking prevention, we believed that this was important. In so many days our jobs are exciting and substantive. So many doors have been opened for us and we feel like our individual projects are going to well. Leanne's work in Prek Pneu is incredible and it has lasting implications for that entire community. We are blessed to be in these positions and we hope that we never take our opportunity to work here in and for Cambodia for granted.

3) A varying definition of Home: We are caught in between two interesting worlds. We live in Cambodia, our home, work and belongings are here. We know the streets, can speak some of the language and know where to get the best burger in town. We can find jazz music on Sunday nights, happy hours at the best restaurants in town and where to go for a run so we can avoid being hit by a moto. At the same time, we are not Cambodian. I am significantly taller than the national average height and my skin is slightly more fair. No matter how long we study Khmer, we will always be told that we talk like foreigners, because we are foreigners. We are making a home here and that is essential to our long-term happiness. We have good friends and a relaxed lifestyle. Cambodia is progressively becoming comfortable - like home. However, we miss the mountains, new country music and the family and friends who supported us before we moved and now that we are here. I miss Target, REI, Starbucks and Friday morning Sausage McMuffins with Egg. We are divided here, between what we see, what we do and the culture that made us who we really are.

1) The Police: For my own mental health, I need to remind myself that not all Cambodian Police are terrible. However, I had an experience a couple of weeks ago that makes me question that statement. I was pulled over, my driving documents were locked in an officer's moto, two officers grabbed me when I tried to leave, my moto was taken away and , after 50 minutes pleading with the police, I had no other option then to give them every cent in my wallet in order to leave. It was terrible, it was frustrating and it made me bitter at the people, their tolerance for corruption and their culture. I had to remind myself, and still do, that not all people here are like those officers, but it is times of stress like that when it takes all I have to forgive them and hope that this type of treatment becomes increasingly more rare.

2) Khmer Vowels: Leanne and I are taking a Khmer tutor. After three weeks of study, we can now write all 33 consonants and we are proud of that accomplishment. However, we were just introduced to the 23 vowels that each have two sounds, according to the letters they are connected to. Many of these vowel sounds are similar to sneezing, wheezing, gagging and grunting. Think of the sounds you make in the morning when you first wake up, those are Khmer vowels.

3) The Question of Why/What?: I am typing this blog in a hot apartment that currently has no electricity. Apparently, our water is not working either. This is typical. So many times during the day I ask what and why.
- Why did you parallel park in the middle of the road?
- Why do you think it is logical to set up a wedding tent in the middle of a busy road, thereby cutting it down to one lane?
- Why do six men have to come connect my Internet, when three of them just sit on my couch and watch the others?
- Why can't we all agree to not play techno music neighborhood wide between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.?
- What if we only honked our horns when we were near someone and not to warn them that we are a mile behind but coming fast?
- What if we paved a road by starting at one end and moving towards the other, not starting in the middle and taking two days to decide which way to go next?

We were told that, as Americans, we think linearly. I have a problem and I need a solution, therefore I will take the appropriate steps to get there. Cambodians often think in a compartmentalized manner.( Do I have enough money for today? Then I do not have to work! OR My daughter is getting married, I can rent a tent, so we will have the wedding in the road). This distinct difference in how problems are approached is exhausting and frustrating at times, and makes for a very interesting conflict in terms of the way we view Cambodians and the way they view us.

Sorry for the long post, I know we write enough to make it a commitment to read. We are happy and healthy. Our jobs are great, we are learning a lot, and we pray that we are serving those who are undeserved each day. Enjoy spring at home and eat a Chipotle burrito for me!