Monday, March 30, 2009

Moral Dilemmas.

If you were to visit the Russian Market in Phnom Penh, you would observe rows of "Rolex" watches, "Dior" sunglasses, iPod's, Northface backpacks, best selling books, and vast rows of CD's and DVD's, all offering a wide selection at a very fair price (made more or less "fair" by your willingness to bargain).

And what do all of these things have in common??

They are most likely knockoffs of the real items. They might have the name sewn into them and be crafted so well that you couldn't distinguish them from the real thing, or the pages may be so poorly copied that it's hardly worth paying for, or the girl at the DVD store may tell you not to buy the copy of that new movie because it's not a "good" copy. This usually means that the person recording in the theater had a camera with poor quality, had shaky hands, or that he sat behind people who insisted on getting up and down throughout the whole movie (no respect for bootleg filmmakers these days).

Josh and I ventured into the fancy fake new Starbucks on Sunday. It is located within a plush high rise gym in Phnom Penh called "The Place" where people go to run on treadmills overlooking the lovely Independence Monument. Never before have I thought to myself while in a Starbucks "I feel a bit out of place..." but this thought crossed my mind after using the restroom and passing a man with a towel waiting to wipe the sink when I finished.

I ordered my Americano, noticing the large menu above that counter that read in tiny letters "selling" Starbucks Coffee (with the logo next to it). There was the familiar whirring of espresso machines, bags of Starbucks coffee for sale at the opposite counter, and familiar drink names written overhead. But this was very clearly not an official Starbucks :)

It got Josh and I talking about copyrights and integrity and the decisions we face on a day to day basis that are measured out according to what feels acceptable to us, or to the degree which our culture calls us into accountability. Like if a friend burns a CD of music they purchased and we upload it to our iTunes. It can't be that big of a deal...right? I'm sure the artist is doing fine.

And what if you truly can't purchase legit DVD's in Phnom Penh (believe me, we've tried) and you reason that you'll just watch the movies you purchase while you're in country, leaving them here when you go home.

Same with the books.

But maybe the sunglasses find their way into your bag packed for home accidentally...

So the question is, what do we do with these moral dilemmas?? So far they have found us purchasing the new U2 and Hillsong CD's with our iTunes gift cards from Christmas, but they have not moved us to the point of actually erasing any music we didn't purchase on our respective iTunes....

Oh, and as for the fake fancy Starbucks?? I don't think we'll be going back anytime soon. After being handed my iced Americano, I inquired about some fresh milk for it. The answer: "oh, that's one dollar extra."

I could not mask my disbelief.

Instead, in my noble (stubborn) refusal to be cheated by a fancy fake gym/cafe establishment, I told Josh I could simply drink my coffee at home and put my own milk in (who's frugal?). However, because our home is located a half hour from everywhere (it's true) he kindly offered to buy a small individual size milk at a gas station.

So we did.

And my coffee was nothing short of wonderful caffeine-laden goodness.

And when all was said and done I had saved a full $.20. Frugal is probably not the best description for this scenario..

Looks like it's back to my non-fancy Nescafe 3-in-1 packets for now.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bridge Work.

As I referenced in a previous post, Josh and I and some of the staff from Foursquare in Cambodia had the opportunity to go to a five day conference in Bangkok this past week that featured teaching from a woman named Beth Barone. We joined a group of roughly 75 other pastors and workers from countries including Bangladesh, Japan, Bhutan, Singapore, Vietnam, Germany, the Philippines, China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, and Nepal. It was challenging and sobering to meet people like Pastor Hosea from Bhutan who was recently released from prison after being kept there for 45 days for being a Christian. And Pastor Benjamin from Bangladesh who had three of his fingers cut off and an eye cut out also for being a Christian. It is a valuable reminder to me to be aware of what I take for granted and how often I complain if my comfort isn't met (Phil 2:14,15).

I’ve struggled to know how to succinctly convey the vast amount of information we all consumed in a very short period of time at this conference. And the conclusion I’ve come that I can’t :) But I can try to offer some pieces of what I gleaned (because I value the information enough to at least try). I would say the basis for much of what Beth talked about involved what she referred to as Reality vs. Non-Reality. This is not a matter of reality necessarily equating to what we can tangibly see and touch and feel, but to an eternal mindset that echoes within the heart of every individual. She compared it to being stuck in one room believing it to be the whole world.

The word “revelation” was used frequently, and while I normally somewhat shy away from this word in many venues because it can perhaps be intimidating or appear “exclusive,” I realized that (from what I understand) revelation is simply catching a glimpse of what resonates to the core of me and then living it out. It is a matter of my intellect gathering information as something in me “clicks.” Suddenly I get it. (As a side note though, the information does not come as a free pass to now convince everyone around you to agree with you :)

I also think there is a very real battle for this information to quickly be removed. Just because we hear it doesn’t mean we have learned it. It is a matter of living it out, reminding ourselves of it, crossing back from the “non-reality” of our earthly, temporal existence into the true “reality” of our eternal selves. We were made for eternity. That is our reality. And it is one which involves joy, peace, security, identity, trust. The temporal things would draw us into mindsets of fear, worry, and a hesitancy to live free because we fear ridicule, we fear a misstep. But God isn’t afraid of our missteps :) He is, however, willing to do whatever it takes to pull us back into reality. I do believe this. He doesn’t simply want to “convert” us, but to free us, to delight in us as we rediscover His original intent of relationship with us. We are loved.

I am praying to not walk away from this week unchanged. I am processing much and praying much and reading Scripture (such wild new ideas! :) and will probably offer more here as I continue to pray through these things.

Hebrews 6:1-3. Colossians 1:13. Galatians 5:1. James 1:22-25.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What I've learned in Cambodia. Part 1.

I have been compiling a list of things I've learned during my months in Cambodia and I present it here now for your general information and education. I aim to inform.

Sometimes it’s worth….
-paying to park at the airport so you can eat at Dairy Queen.
-splurging on things like cheese or cereal at the grocery store.

It is okay to….
-wear your pajamas out in public at any point in the day.
-pick your nose but not your teeth (it sounds gross, but it’s true!)
-Honk at cars and motos as you pass them while driving during the day. It lets
them know you're there. (**Does not apply in America)

-anticipate at least one hour of total drive time when you run an errand.
-stack your truck as high as possible. No, actually, stack it far beyond
what any vehicle should ever be capable of carrying. This is acceptable, and common, even if the truck becomes entirely lopsided while in transit.
-move slowly and use “big arms” (elaborate motions that alert drivers and keep
onlookers amused) while crossing the street in traffic. The cars and motos will then weave around you (theoretically).
-let your car “rest” for a few minutes if it doesn’t work right away. Cambodian time-tested wisdom.

-look directly at the sparks when people are welding. It will glue your eyes shut.
-put sugar on your Mangosteen (SE Asia fruit). Sophera says you will die. Is it worth
the risk?? We haven't yet decided...
-rely on the Phnom Penh maps and/or having an address as being adequate enough to
get you where you need to go. Streets will cut off without warning and re-join at locations not on the map, house numbers will be out of order, street signs will most likely be non-existent. You have been warned.
-think that cows will act or respond in a logical manner. They won’t.

-After a while you start to spot the “barang” (white Westerners) around town and you begin conversations about the various ways these people stick out so blatantly within Cambodia. Then you and your husband, as you laugh and continue with your remarks, will catch a glimpse of your own reflection as you walk by a building and realize... you are also a barang.

-Putting the words “candy” or “ice cream” after the word “Durian” do not make it a delicious treat.

Same same, but different.

We arrived home from Bangkok yesterday where we spent the week attending a conference with a woman named Beth Barone. More on this soon!....

But first, one of the big draws for me personally in Bangkok was the alluring aroma of a freshly brewed Starbucks Americano that I had not had the pleasure of consuming in nearly 3 months (the hardships of being a missionary...). The night we arrived in Thailand, my husband kindly forced me to go to the floor with the Starbucks while he and Kris waited for our ride.

I didn't realize how glorious my encounter would be, both with the coffee itself, and the dichotomy I found of being alone within the company of a handful of strangers, all drawn to this same tiny airport cafe for our own various reasons.

I opened my laptop, sipped on my coffee, and contentedly journaled some thoughts amidst the background noise of conversation and the gentle whirring of the espresso machine.

I am an introvert. This has more narrowly come into focus the past few weeks as I realize how prone I am to dismiss this aspect of myself that requires a fair amount of attention. I am entirely grateful to be married to a man who, because he is similarly wired, kindly allowed me more of these "isolated/public" Starbucks encounters throughout our week in Bangkok.

I quickly consumed my last beverage of the week as we left the airport yesterday, thinking it would be my last for a good 5 months. However, I now have photographic evidence that reveals a startling find within our very own city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.....

Could it be?????

It was this glowing beacon of green and white that we passed multiple times today as we drove around the city running errands. And honestly, it all seems just a little too good to be true.

And, yes, indeed, after doing a little Google research I have found that it is. Sort of.. :)

If you zoomed in on this picture more carefully, you would be able to decipher a ring of text surrounding the lovely flowy haired woman that reads " 'The Place' does not possess Starbucks license, is not a Starbucks representative, but merely sell genuine Starbucks coffee bean made coffees."

So what exactly does this mean?

It means that I will stock up on as many Americanos as seems reasonable before the Starbucks without the writing around the sign pulls out scary phrases like "trademark infringement."

For now I will choose not to find out what that statement roughly translates into in Khmer :)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"One Way"

I have started bringing my video camera with me to church at Cham Chao (our Training Center) on Sundays to record some of the great elements they add from week to week in a service.

This week some of the kids did a dance to the song "One Way," and I wanted to share it here (I apologize for the poor video quality, our internet refuses to indulge us with a higher resolution).

They say it's your birthday.

Within the past two weeks we have celebrated Josh's journey into his late 20's, and accepted with sadness on our part Emily's journey back to her homeland (a magical place we like to call "California"). We have created a moving, high quality, high resolution (as always) video montage to immortalize both of these events.

It captures a little bit of Josh's birthday, including a wild party we threw for him yesterday with all of our closest friends, his fabulous "Birthday in a Box," sent from our favorite Ferguson family back home, as well as the free cake we received at Lucky Market (our favorite Phnom Penh grocery store) celebrating their 16th anniversary.

In addition to this are shots of Emily's "Beef and Prahok Party" (otherwise known as "fish cheese," considered a delicacy in Cambodia, though some people with acute senses of smell would argue against this..)

Please enjoy.

P.S. It was also Emily's birthday on Saturday and Josh and I, along with the girls here (Sopheara, Sarom, and Srey Pin) plan to eat Swensen's ice cream at some point today to celebrate in her honor, as well as in honor of "Women's Day" in Cambodia. We are very good at observing holidays here. And this is no small feat seeing that there are approximately 193 holidays in a Cambodian year that typically last anywhere from 2-7 days at a time. Any excuse to bring out the streamers...

Eye of the Tiger.

I aspire to be a runner. I found online yesterday (and if I found it online it must be true) that I am well on my way to this because I eat a banana before my morning workout and oatmeal with fruit right after. This is 90% of the battle people.

I have ventured out on a long, creative, frustrating, addicting quest to be healthy in my remaining months in Cambodia. I began my time here by indulging in a wide variety of “health foods” (as some would define them) including Pizza (sometimes I would remove the pepperoni, which makes it like diet pizza), Pringles, Soda (it’s hydrating), Cookies, Cheetos (made with real cheddar), Snickers (peanuts are good for you), Iced coffee drinks (the cream in them has calcium), and of course Swensen’s ice cream (it’s life changing. and energizing. so you can exercise more. entirely logical).

All of these wise choices, combined with 97.2% (people love statistics) of our meals here consisting of some sort of fried food, has led to my current health conscious resolve.

I've begun by purchasing a sporty Adidas watch (or so it claims) at the Central Market on Saturday for $9. Instant fitness.

And today I did some interval training, alternating 1 minute of low intensity jogging with what should be 1 minute of high intensity running, though for my own abilities could more accurately be labeled "slightly higher than low intensity jogging." After a mere 20 minutes and approximately 4 awkward stares from Cambodian staff, I was finished.

I never thought of myself as someone physically capable of exercising in the morning. I have, in fact, always been skeptical that the outside world actually existed before 6am.

Apparently it does, by 20 minutes at least. And a good motivation for easing into it comes with the help of an energetic iPod Workout Play List offering up classics to get you moving in the morning such as, "Love Shack," "You Are Good," "Kung Fu Fighting," and "Eye of the Tiger."

The other tremendous benefit of exercising at this hour in Cambodia is that you avoid the extreme heat (Hello, hot season) that consumes this part of the world from approximately 6:30am to 11:30pm. You have to seize that window. And granted, you will see (and people who come on teams often comment on) Cambodians riding by on their motos wearing down jackets, a variety of hats (including ones with ear flaps), long sleeved shirts, sweaters, gloves, and long pants. Surprisingly, this is not an effort to beat those fleeting moments of cloud cover or slight breeze, but instead to prevent people from getting any darker from the sun.

If you are feeling insecure about that pale, wintry skin you've acquired this season, come to Cambodia where people will grab your arm in wonder and tell you how "sa-at" (beautiful) your skin is. I try to tell them that in America women and men pay hundreds of dollars to achieve beautiful skin like a Cambodian's, but it is hard to convince them.

Our cultural perspectives are a funny thing.

For me, it's back to my healthy quest, consisting now not of the food mentioned above, but of Fruit (and Cambodia has no shortage of amazing fruit), Honey Nut Cheerios, Cheddar Sun Chips (no sacrifice), Baked potatoes (I recently discovered this as something I could make here at home without a stove. Glorious), Whole wheat bread, little Dark Chocolate bites (the antioxidants are vital to any healthy diet), Trail Mix (courtesy of my mom. and she will be ridiculously wealthy should she ever choose to market it), salads when they are available, and maybe the occasional Swensen's ice cream treat in honor of Women's Day.....

Thursday, March 5, 2009

We aspire to be photojournalists.

After debating for a good two minutes as to whether "photo journalist" should be 2 words, 1 word, or hyphenated, I did what every good researcher does.

I Googled it. And when Google asked me, "Did you mean: photojournalist," I realized that yes, indeed, I did. Thank you Google.

Josh and I think and dream and pray about what life might look like for us as we prepare to transition home in August. Currently there are certain factors we know will exist, like staying with Tom and Ronda at first (and lots of late night rounds of "Fourteen," a Ferguson card game staple), spending time with friends and family who we miss so much, lots of good coffee (not so much for Josh but for me), hikes, Target runs, and getting to grocery shop and have english muffins and Life cereal for breakfast (my 2 love languages).

As we plan toward all of these things, we often joke (dream) about becoming photojournalists so we can have an excuse to travel while utilizing two things we love (writing and photography). So far no one has returned our phone calls asking for an endorsement and complete financial support, but we haven't given up yet (we're banking on Bono).

In an effort to further our career dreams, we submitted a photo/story for a monthly contest that Foursquare Missions International holds for missionaries out on the field. And the story below was chosen for March! So exciting. And good motivation to write :)

She holds tightly to my hand without betraying the fact that it is the hand of a stranger. The little I understand of what she speaks to her friends tells me that her eight year old intentions involve sneaking onto the bus with me when I leave. She has no reason for such trust, such instant connection to a person she’s never met before. I don’t know much of her story. Our limited time together reveals a young girl with a sweet, mischievous smile made broader by the “barang” (the word used for a Westerner, in this case me) attempting to use my limited Khmer vocabulary to communicate. She laughs when I try to repeat what she has just told me is the word for “turtle.” I choose to believe she is laughing at the fact that I have mastered the word with such ease.

I met this young girl at a church orphan home called Bar Kahn in the province of Pursat, Cambodia. I have met hundreds of children like her in the eight months I have now lived in Cambodia. Eight months also marks the amount of time I have been married to my husband Josh. He lived here for 10 months prior to my joining him in the role of coordinating missions teams who have a heart to both partner with and serve the people of Cambodia through Foursquare Children of Promise.

Cambodia is a country that has seen horrific tragedies with the rise of the Pol Pot regime in the mid 70’s. It marked a time of war, destruction, and the separation of families through cruel and inhuman tactics. The country is still in a period of recovery and repair following years of war, disease, and ensuing poverty, all resulting in high levels of loss of life and a daunting number of orphaned children.

However, what was meant for ruin has been given new life, what was intended for a legacy of destruction has been offered a second chance for restoration, for renewal, for hope. And I see the glimmers of this hope in the smiles of the children we encounter at each orphan home. They are living the beginnings of their future, one that brings with it the ability to have a childhood, to receive education, to grow within a family as they were intended to. There is a security within them that only Jesus can bring to any of us and it is a continual joy for me to be taken in as one of their “extended family” with each encounter.