Sunday, December 16, 2012

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Well, as much as Christmas looks like in the tropics.  However, we go all out for Christmas and this year was no exception.  We were staying with the Ketchum girls a few weekends ago and so we had 4 extra helpers this year in getting our house all ready.

After the decorating was done, we all watch Rudolph and ate Schmolie (a special dessert) together.  Megann had great timing and woke up from her nap just in time to grab a spoon and dig in.

Last weekend was our Staff Christmas Party, which is always a highlight for us, and below is us with our dear friends Tepy and Socheata.

This weekend we had our 3rd Annual DeRemer Christmas Party.  We love having the ability to have all our close friends all gathered together in one place during the Christmas season. 

Now we are packing and getting ready to jet set the great Pacific Ocean (around 40 hours of travel...Oofta...) to spend Christmas with Leanne's family in New Mexico, get Chris' brother married off in Philly, and then to DC to see 4 (hoping for 5) wonderful friends who live in DC.

We did take a small break from packing and had a date night last night which included dinner, drinks at our favorite place, Raffles, and then a stop at the US Embassy to see their Christmas light display.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Losing Christmas

This is our third Christmas in Cambodia.  The first was different, the second felt natural, and now the third is upon us.  Life in Cambodia for us is normal, understood, easy in some ways, and what we know and love.  But one day this December, I (Leanne) wasn’t thankful, joyful, or praising God for His wonderful work through us.  I was tired, short-fused, and absent in many ways.  I was defeated.  This went on for a few days, until Chris and I really talked about the emotions I was having.  I was missing Christmas.  Not the malls filled with music, the bows and ribbons, and Santa Clauses; I was missing the miracle of Christ.  I was tired from medical clinics, service trips, meetings, and the aggressive heat of Phnom Penh.  But I then read this excerpt:

"Through Advent, through all these crazy, waiting days, waiting for the Breath of Heaven to come down, we try to remember to just smile, be kind, breathe, laugh, and solve the next problem.  Is this the Gospel?  The Gospel doesn't come wrapped in twinkling lights and satin bows; it comes straight into our pitchest of black of lives.  The Gospel of Christ, it's a baby, and this is how God was born, bloody and vulnerable, and that is how God choose to die, bloody and beaten.  And our God, He knows the coming and going of our darkest battles, and this is exactly how He comes to meet us, through baby Jesus."

The Gospel of the Good News can be seen from the eyes that see the worst of news.  Advent is the believing that God came to us, to heal the pain, and take away the darkness.  He came to be our Emmanuel.  Our Savior came through the impossible to hurl hope upon us and break through the days that go without joy.  He brought us peace.

I learned the way to see the Savior this Advent is to slow down, see the small things, and take note of the wise men, who dropped everything to bring gifts to the King, and be a part of His Glorious birth.

So, we have slowed down.  More time chatting by our tree, having dear friends in our home, and anticipating our time in America with family and friends.  I found my Christmas again, and if like me, you lost your Advent I pray you find it as well...

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Last week we had our week long holiday called Water Festival and we decided to head out of town with some friends and their families.  We decided to drive to Mondulkiri, Cambodia which is called the "Wild East" of Cambodia, and has really only been accessible in the last 24 months because it used to take 20-30 hours to drive there because the roads were so bad, but now it is a quick 6 with the new National Road 7.  We have been once before, and it quickly became one of our favorite spots in all of Asia. 

We love it because it cools off to a cool 62 degrees in the mornings and evenings (which is down right chilly here), has very few cars and motos making for some much needed peace and quite, and beautiful Cambodian countryside.  We love it there. 

It has been a welcome escape from the concrete jungle of Phnom Penh, that is filled with its dirty and dusty roads, and gives us a chance to be outside all day long, something we long for everyday at home in the city.

We brought our mountain bikes in the van and rode them everyday, while also taking trips to the numerous waterfalls around and swimming in the water holes.  We ate good food, cooked over the campfire, and even had smores!  It was a blessing of a week.

 Our cabin.
 Lunch on the porch.

 Chili dinner.
 Bike rides around our cabin.

One afternoon a group of headed to waterfall called Pulung falls to go swimming and hike around.  The water was chilly and it was nice to actually desire to have the heat so it would warm you from the cool water.

Our big highlight was one morning we took a 30 mile ride to a remote village and neighboring waterfall.  We parked our bikes at a local woman's house, and hiked the remaining 4 miles to the waterfall.  In this part of Cambodia the people live in tribal villages and don't speak Khmer, but rather their own local language.  Sometimes I have to think about where I am, and that Cambodia is already somewhat obscure, then Mondulkiri is even more out there, and that when we ride to tribal villages this far out we truly become off the grid.  It was a great morning of our own mini triathlon!

We then ended our time in Mondulkiri with a campfire and smores with dear friends the Ketchums and the Heins.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Our Thanksgiving Play-by-Play

We had a wonderful, yet fully entertaining Thanksgiving so here is the play-by-play:
6:45am: "Happy Thanksgiving" is exchanged and we both head off to work.  It always feels a little off when you work the whole day.
6:50am: We open the front gate to our house to be suddenly surprised that we have knocked over a table.  At this point we realize a massive wedding is going to happen right in front of our house.

7:00am: Chris pulls the car out of the gate, straight through the wedding tent, and we are on our way! Once again we looked at one another and said, "Happy Thanksgiving."

3:00pm: We return home from work early excited to finish preparing our pumpkin, pie, mashed potatoes, and drinks for the dinner we will be attending at 5:00pm.  However, we return to find a large stage, drum set, and numerous speakers being set up once again right outside of our gate.  At this point we realize our evening might not turn out as we hope. Once again we looked at one another and said, "Happy Thanksgiving."

3:30pm: Baking of the pumpkin pie starts and our conversation looks like this:
Leanne: "Should we ask the Matuschkas if we can stay the night after dinner?"
Chris: "The Kees and Ketchums just gave us the memory foam mattress pad, this is the ultimate test of how good it is."
Leanne: "I am going to need more than a memory foam. We can take the new amazing gift to their house?!"

4:30pm: The pie is cooling and we are getting ready to leave as the wedding starts to test the speaker system.  It was safe to say it was working, and working well.  Our house was pulsing with old American rap, and not-so-wonderful traditional Khmer wedding music.  You couldn't hear yourself think.  However, during the speaker testing we watched a special treat of our landlord's grandchild dancing to the music.  At least someone was getting excited about the upcoming party...
Once again we looked at one another and said, "Happy Thanksgiving."

(by the time we saw him and got the camera we missed some of the great moves, but here is a glance of his awesome dance skills).

5:00pm: We leave on the moto, the only thing we can get out of the gate with wine, potatoes, pies, and bags of goodies in hand.

5:15-10:00pm: We enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving with three other families.  We had turkey, gravey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, salad, dinner rolls, drinks, apple and pumpkin pie.  We do it right around here -- the green bean casserole even had hand-fried onions on top! 

 We shared stories of home and of Cambodia, we laughed, we prayed, and we gave thanks. It was wonderful.  We even watched an NFL game. We are blessed.  Once again we looked at one another and said, "Happy Thanksgiving."

10:00pm: We decided to head home and test the amaziness of our new bed. Upon our arrival to our house we were pleasently suprised to find everyone taking down the wedding! We had missed the whole thing!  This was a suprise because they usually go on until 2:00 or 3:00am. Count your blessings. So we headed to bed, and once again we looked at one another and said, "Happy Thanksgiving."

How was your Thanksgiving?  Was it full of suprises, laughter, blessings, friends and family?  Give thanks always for the Lord is good.

"Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." -- Ephesians 5:20

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A broken system...

Hun Sen is Cambodia's Prime Minister. He is the longest standing head of state in the world and is known for his denial of free elections and promotion of human-rights violations.

Yesterday I watched Air Force One leave Cambodia with a brilliant sunset as its backdrop. I could not help but think about how that plane is so much different than the planes that flew over Cambodia three decades ago. This one represented a fair government, free elections and a desire to govern fairly. It seemed fitting that the plane was flying away from a country that would not want any of those things in the first place.  

In the late 1960's and early 1970's U.S. President Richard Nixon initiated a "secret" bombing campaign along the Vietnam - Cambodia boarder. Though official death rates are unknown, it is estimated that the United States killed between 30,000 - 100,000 Cambodian farmers as innocent as they were poor. While the U.S. bombs dropped throughout Cambodia, the young Khmer Rouge soldiers were using the violence to feed the flames of their cause. A revolution was born from anger and outrage and the Khmer Rouge grew into a violent and radical militia that would overthrow the Cambodian leadership, close off the country to the outside world and murder most of the educated class.

Much of the genocide can be blamed on American policy but little of Cambodia's current state can be blamed on anyone else besides the current leadership.

There is no genocide in history that has debilitated like the one that happened in Cambodia. Now, thirty years after the genocide, Cambodia is far less developed than it was in the 1950's and 60's - far less. Imagine making that statement about the United States. Cambodia operates under poor leadership, protracted corruption and an unresponsive government.
On Monday and Tuesday I took my students to a relocation community outside of Phnom Penh. In January 2012 nearly 1,000 people were forced from their homes in the city and forced to the province. They were given nothing but a blue tarp, a week's worth of rice and some poorly functioning shallow wells. It became a notorious community that bred disease, hopelessness and depression. The organization we worked with is in the process of building homes for each of the families that were displaced. They are providing hope and dignity to people who deserve it and their work is unquestionably just. However, I was struck by the thought that, in much of Cambodia, it is the NGO's who are doing the work of the government.

This village was a small example of the bleak situation that so many Cambodians face. They are under a leadership that expects NGO's and missionaries to take care of the people while they take their cut of the aid money flowing into the nation. This is an ugly situation that is exacerbated by a Prime Minister who refuses to allow free elections and discourages education in fear that education for Cambodians would mean forcing the government to be more transparent.

There is a cycle of brokenness that is so complex and entrenched that it is hard to explain in words. Corruption that leads to poverty, poverty that leads to violence and violence that leads to despair. Phnom Penh may have paved roads, a flourishing restaurant scene and growing middle class but much of the nation is suffering under a government that refuses to act responsibly.

The genocide that I mentioned at the start was just the beginning of the nation's suffering. There has been little evidence that the government is willing to help its people and little indication that they care what the outside world thinks. This week, U.S. President Barack Obama must have felt the same frustration we felt when he met with Cambodian leadership. They refused to allow media into the meetings, ignored Obama's speech about fair elections and justified their own human-rights abuses by comparing their actions to abuses happening in Burma.

Before the arrival of the President and other foreign dignitaries. Roads were closed, protesters were imprisoned, beggars and street-children were gathered and locked away and the city streets were polished to perfection. It was a perfect microcosm of this nation. Beautiful on the outside but full of corrosion behind the scenes.

I am blessed to have a U.S. seal on my Passport but even more blessed knowing the truth that we serve the least of these because they deserve that dignity.

For More Reading:

Hun Sen, Cambodia's Prime Minister

Obama's time in Cambodia

Forced Evictions