Friday, January 16, 2009

Sights and sounds.

I think I may be developing a slight paranoia in regards to mosquitoes buzzing around me...

I catch myself gazing off to my right or left side intermittently while in our room if I hear what might be the nearly undetectable low hum of one of these potentially disease carrying minuscule insects. Josh and I will stand, like hunters silently awaiting the first glimpse of their prey, racket zapper in hand ( ready to quickly (and understandably enjoyably) dispose of any intruders.

And this, along with some chips, salsa and our first viewing of “The Dark Knight,” comprised last Friday evening's activities...

Aside from my new found hunting skills, I've been realizing lately that even within the adventure of relocating for the first time in my life to a foreign country, the foreign things can still become somewhat "commonplace," regardless of the fact that they might not fit on any previous plane with experiences in my own culture.

This can include such things as the sight of young monks passing by in vibrant orange robes, moving from store front to store front, often in bare feet, and often with an equally vibrant umbrella in hand (to ward off the sun) as they collect their daily alms.
This can also include the sight of 3 (if not more) pigs delicately placed in a metal basket on the back of a moto for ease of transport.
Or anywhere from three to seven (the current record) family members cozily and safely riding together on one moto.
Along with the average herd of water buffalo that calmly but confidently keep you on your side of the road.
Some of the most common sounds we hear waft in either from an early morning Buddhist funeral or late night party/wedding, both of which have the power behind their respective sound systems to make it feel like they are taking place within the very confines of your room. Don't try to shut your windows. It will be futile.

A side effect that exists beyond the sounds of a Cambodian wedding is the quandary you find yourself in as you begin to exit your driveway the next morning and quickly realize that the entirety of your street has been taken over by an oversized festive pink and yellow wedding tent. We have had to actually drive through one of these tents before as they are a fairly common addition to large portions of the street throughout town on the weekends.
The final sound that has become more common these days is the barking noises of this small puppy (whose Khmer name I can't pronounce), a recent addition to the Phnom Penh offices, and a fairly irresistible distraction during morning devotions...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Life at a glance.

I drive through the city of Phnom Penh on a regular basis, my husband and I in our Kia Sportage (which starts now after 3 tries) weaving through the (generally) efficient chaos of motos, tuk-tuk’s, and an assortment of cars slowly making their way to their destination (the exception being the large Lexus SUV’s proudly displaying their signature over sized “Lexus” sticker and aiming directly for you with flashing headlights should they decide to utilize your lane as well as their own for maximum effectiveness of time and space).

We find ourselves venturing into town to retrieve pizza, groceries, or teams from a local guest house. Phnom Penh is a pretty small city that can take unpredictable amounts of time to navigate courtesy of the traffic. Within the confines of a city block we drive past a young woman in tattered clothing who carries a pained expression on her face and a baby in her arms. We drive further and I glance inside a jewelry store window where another woman, exquisitely dressed, adorned with gold and smiling broadly dotes on the small child laughing in her arms.

It’s a dichotomy that exists anywhere you go. None of us are strangers to the idea of poverty, the idea of luxury, and the reality of trying to figure out where the rest of us fit in the middle. I pass the former of the two on a consistent basis and struggle to know what to offer them. Sometimes I offer a small financial token out of compassion, out of kindness, sometimes as a fee to alleviate my own conscience, and sometimes I simply offer an uncertain look of pity with no monetary value attached. I am not certain I’ll ever master the balance of the options together.

There are markets in Phnom Penh that each have their own structure and specific type of feel to them. My husband and I watched the other day as vendors at the Russian Market went through the daily afternoon routine that finds them setting up stalls, slicing vegetables, hanging various meats, and making small talk with the sellers around them, perhaps continuing conversations from the afternoon before.

I would know more of what their conversations actually pertain to if I could ever grasp more than a few of the Khmer words I hear throughout the day. My husband’s advice on this topic? Stop translating. He went to language school while living in Thailand and this was the advice he received from a teacher. It is difficult to not want to follow each word that someone is speaking, to not subconsciously consult the running Khmer dictionary in my head and translate each word with precision. Sadly, by the time I am to the second word the conversation has usually ended.

So what can I do with my current language skill??

I can order you an omelet and bread for breakfast at your local Cambodian restaurant.

And this is how I plan to help change the world. One breakfast order at a time.

"Knyom rian piasaa Khmer, bon-dtae Knyom niyiay min-sieuw lau-au."

Rough translation: I study Khmer, but I don’t speak it very well :)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sua-sdey Chnam Tmey (Happy New Year)

Josh and I are sitting at the King Café in Siem Reap taking advantage of free wireless and the sweet sounds of Mariah Carey, Fastball, and currently a seventeen minute (and counting) Christmas music instrumental medley. A Christmas miracle indeed.

We flew into Siem Reap yesterday with a team of 13 from Medical Teams International who came from Oregon to serve for a week at one of our orphan homes in the Svay Rieng province. They put on a dental clinic that saw over 100 kids from 5 surrounding orphan homes.

Leading the team was a dentist named Dale Canfield who has been to Cambodia several times now to offer his time and skill and then return home to recruit others who might come and do the same. He is a phenomenal leader both in his professional and personal demeanor and it has been wonderful to see the benefits of this for a team comprised mostly of people who hadn’t known each other prior to coming.
Josh and I added our own skill and professionalism in the area of “sterilization.” I say this not to brag but simply to readily admit our very evident giftedness in scrubbing small instruments with a brush and placing them in a pot that will quickly steam them free of grossness and debris.

Ours is on-the-job training that not only keeps things clean but also gives us a pleasant (albeit false) sense of confidence in our dental abilities, eventually leading one of us to pull not one, but two teeth during the course of the clinic.
Notice the confident glint reflecting off of Josh’s protective eyewear, that look of sheer grit and determination that can come only as a result of a team of 3 dental students unrelentingly taunting you until you cannot refuse their tempting offer to pry a stubborn tooth from its snug enclosure within the gum line.
Their verbal affirmation afterward will be all the reward and motivation you need while going in for the second tooth. It is at that point that the aforementioned nearly-qualified volunteer will forever swear off dental school.

Hypothetically speaking..

Other exciting moments that took place outside of the clinic involved some gorgeous scenery, a temperamental one and a half ton flatbed truck, many many water buffalo, nearly hitting a number of farm animals including one very slow moving pig, and getting hit by a cow.

Yes, it is true. For those of you who don’t know, the cow is a fairly substantial animal, formidable in size and stature…occasionally slow in wit and reaction. The problem comes when all of these former factors occur together at once in conjunction with a moving vehicle.

This is where we come in.

Josh was driving along at a slow speed, honking intermittently as a warning to the surrounding people and farm animals (a Cambodian courtesy) and just as we were about to avoid the twelfth herd of cattle meandering alongside the road, a straggler from the left decided at the last possible moment to quickly (for a cow) make his way across the road.

Some slight swerving, some unsuspecting team members settled in for the ride in the back, and suddenly a startingly loud "Bam!" resonated against the driver’s side door, a hollow thunk that would be immediately recognizable by anyone as the sound of an oversized cow’s head making violent contact with a metal car door.

The good news is that as we reluctantly looked in the rearview mirror after the incident, we saw the cow effortlessly continuing to make his way across the road.

It’s a tale as old as time.

We now have a few more days with this team before they fly out and then we’ll meet up with another team currently in country. And before we know it, it will be February! This is the teams vortex we live in here :)

We wake up one day and realize that a month has passed. It’s wild, but a good reminder to be present, not simply letting the days slip away from us but being intentional about finding something within each day that will remain…whether that is a conversation, a moment that gets captured in a photograph, hearing the story of one of the kids in our homes, making a language breakthrough, having good, thought provoking conversations with my husband, sitting in awe at the sight of a sunset that seems to encapsulate a degree of beauty beyond what one can comprehend with colors outside the palette of replication, or something so silly and self-indulgent as really really good Mexican food at a little café in Siem Reap after a week of rice and noodles :)

There are so many layers to my days if I am willing to sort through them all.