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