Thursday, April 30, 2009

As we begin May...

In just a few hours, Josh and I and our staff member Jock will leave for the airport to meet Rick Sawczuk and Scott Lang from Everett, WA. We’ll pick them up and then head up the northern part of the country to visit the home that New Life sponsors. This is fun for me on multiple levels, both the chance for Josh and I to get to spend time with people from home, and it will also mark my first time to this particular orphan home!

(And as I enter my nostalgic Cambodia season, it is especially enjoyable for me to drive through the Cambodian countryside :)

In other news, my husband is an amazing photographer :) I love that he does such a beautiful job of capturing our time here. I wanted to share a few of my favorites that he has taken during this season.









Also, I have been following along with this group's current trip to India and it is incredible to hear their stories if you have time.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Time tested.

One of Josh’s and my favorite Saturday afternoon activities in Phnom Penh has become spending time at T&Coffee World, a great little cafĂ© that offers fabulous iced coffee for me, and a wildly sweet caramel blended smoothie for my husband :) Not to mention a $1.25 fresh fruit plate. Ah, yes.

Combine these ingredients with free wifi, a good book, and wonderful conversation with your spouse, and you have yourself a most perfect respite from the heat offered by the Cambodian outdoors. As much as we like painting outdoors on hot Cambodia afternoons, sometimes we welcome an indoor setting as a change :)

We found ourselves there this past Saturday after getting our car washed (and for anyone who wonders what a Cambodian car wash looks like, I offer the picture below. The scary part is always making sure you are aligned properly when driving onto the actual car wash area..).


Josh had picked up a copy of “Asia Life” Magazine and read part of an article to me entitled “Khmer New Year Games.” Often, when we are driving at night, we will see circles of teenagers gathered playing a game that works somewhat like “Duck Duck Goose,” except that everyone is standing, and you play in pairs, holding hands with another person while another pair of two chases you.

The perk of such a game is that, in a culture where even my husband and I don’t get to hold hands (we are so brave), kids of the opposite sex get to giggle and laugh and flirt in a very culturally acceptable fashion. :)

The article from Asia Life speaks to this exact scenario, and provides quotes from college age students participating in similar games for Khmer New Year, who say that games such as these provide a potential avenue for meeting a boyfriend or girlfriend. One of the games they play is a courting ritual of sorts that involves chasing and trying to hit someone with a cloth ball. If the chaser's aim is working for them that day, they get to ask the person they've tagged to dance with them or sing a song.

There is such a part of me, after reading this article and seeing these games firsthand, that hopes Cambodia is able to somehow maintain these aspects, despite the evidence we see here already revealing a Western influence. And I know that no culture is perfect, but there is something refreshing about these social activities that is largely lacking in our Western culture.

We lure in the opposite gender in very different ways (to put it mildly), and would more likely be prone to consider such cultural games as a throwback to what life was like before we discovered the joys of online interaction (and I say this as someone who is a regular Facebook user), and the advancements we are privy to which allow us both new opportunities and new distractions. I don't claim to have an answer or a bridge between the cultures, but I would like to be better at finding a balance between what appeals to me simply because it is "new and improved" and those things that might be worth holding onto.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Beautiful.

This is a video from part of yesterday morning's church service. Part of the ministry at our Training Center (Chom Chao) in Phnom Penh is to teach the girls living there traditional Khmer dance. As you can see they are beautiful, gifted young girls. I sure do love them :)

Reality.

Today, we offered a ride home to one of the church members at Cham Chao (actually, the conversation was more along the lines of him telling us in English, “Today I go with you” :) And as we approached his house, I was struck by the simplicity of his living situation. I remember someone asking me before I came to Cambodia what I looked forward to in my time here. I responded that I wanted to see the greater reality beyond my own in America.

And honestly, I think it may have happened for the very first time today, after a year of being here. I have been what could be considered nearly “overly prepared” in my approach to Cambodia. I received insight from those living here ahead of time regarding what to expect from the traffic, the climate, the people, the food, the culture, the poverty….but perhaps, although this preparedness has been helpful in regards to adjusting, it has also brought with it a sense of being guarded in my observations, always ready for the extremes of what I might encounter. What I find now, as we have a specific time frame for our season here, is that perhaps my guard has come down a bit.

Sometimes being willing to see comes with a cost.

We recently had a guest from Norway in town who interviewed a young man, Thany, who is about 21 and living at our orphan home in Phnom Penh. Thany lost his parents at a young age and while he was able to live with neighbors, he was forced to fish with his two brothers in a nearby river in order to have food for the day (without the convenience a boat may have offered). He and his brothers were eventually taken by the neighbors to a Phnom Penh orphan home which did not turn out to be the best of situations because it found the young brothers out selling newspapers on the street in an attempt at providing their own income.

Eventually they came into contact with the orphan home they reside in now in Phnom Penh (Cham Chao) and as the story progressed, Thany became visibly emotional as he recounted how his life had so radically changed, both by having a healthy living situation, and by his encounter with Christ. He said that now what he is so grateful for is a bed to sleep in, food to eat, and the tremendous opportunity he has to go to college.


This is his reality.

I had a wonderful conversation online with Emily today, who is currently making the transition from 2 and 1/2 years of living in Cambodia to now living back in the states. Hearing about her own process of readjustment helped me consider what I might face in my own.

I think my biggest question is and will continue to be: How will I allow this reality to change me when I leave, when it is no longer directly in front of me? How do I maintain it?

I love the idea of going home, the conveniences and the familiarity it offers, but I think that what I most anticipated about coming here (A reality beyond what I had known) may perhaps also become my greatest burden. It is haunting in the way it attempts to overwhelm, and sobering in the way it can so easily slip from memory. In the end it is much easier to grow complacent.

My challenge for myself is to be wise with these emotions, to not allow them to simply overwhelm me with the vastness of the poverty and struggle so present in our world, but to invest them well.

So what can I do? I can partner with others who long to see the bigger realities. I can be not only a wise steward of my finances in a way that would allow me to give toward these needs, but also be a wise steward of my time by investing in those who will soon be in my life at home.


It is easy to allow our culture to shape us and think we have no say in it. (I will need to remind myself of this in about 4 months from now). But I think we have a voice and I think it goes beyond unbridled optimism. I think it simply means being available wherever we find ourselves. What is the Lord revealing about your situation? About the people in your life? I have seen great contentment within tremendous simplicity, and I have seen miraculous change within the seemingly impossible. I want this reality to be my own :)

(I have found that I become quite introspective on rainy, overcast Cambodia afternoons :)

Cambodian Pointing 101 - a demonstration.

If I said to Josh, “Hey, can you show me where that poster advertising FUN is located??”

He would respond by doing this….

And that, my friends, is how you point in Cambodia.

Especially if your hands are full.

Bam!

As a follow up to the Mac N’ Cheese blog, I will let the hundreds of you (or the one of you..Rosemary) who inquired, know that "Pancake Saturday" never did materialize because we never got to the store to buy pancake mix. Instead, we opted for "Cereal and Yogurt Saturday." So close.

However, never ones to disappoint the masses with our impressive cooking skills, we went to the grocery store yesterday and for the first time perused the mysterious “meat” aisle which beforehand had been elusive (or at least unnecessary).

We excitedly returned home with the makings of what would become our second and most fabulous of gourmet meals to be prepared upon our dingy green portable gas stove (how we love it).

Please, feel free to gaze upon the beauty of our respective creations.



















Josh was responsible for the one on the left, a little something we like to call “Hamburgers.” A little ketchup, mustard, some meat tenderizer….I can print out the exhaustive recipe for those who would like to attempt it.


On the right is my own daring experiment (which I’ll be repeating once again tonight), involving a piece of chicken breast and something called “Frozen Vegetable Medley.” I am terribly exotic in my frozen vegetable choices.

Combine the above feast with an episode of "30 Rock" and you have yourself the perfect Saturday evening at home :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The cheesiest.

There are many aspects of being home that I've been looking forward to, and as of yesterday I am excited to report that due to the creativity and intelligence of my husband, one of those aspects has been met.

We have discovered a small portable gas stove living quietly in solitude in our home, largely unnoticed and un-utilized. Yesterday, Josh went out on a limb by purchasing a box of Kraft Mac N' Cheese at our local mini-mart. He is a risk taker, my husband, we know this, and he felt confident that this very box of Mac N' Cheese (the cheesiest!) would indeed be our "second dinner" that evening. Actually, we agreed that our second dinner would depend on what they fixed here for our first dinner and how substantial that meal might be.

An hour and a half after Dinner #1, we were ready for the cheesiest concoction we could imagine.

So my husband walked across the gravel driveway outside, purchased a small gas can, and easily figured out how to make it work with our lovely green stove.

He not only is brilliant with assembling cooking appliances, but he is also no stranger to the kitchen. And he is now officially my favorite Mac N' Cheese chef of all time.

This is no small honor.

So we happily took our pot of macaroni, along with two bowls, upstairs as we watched a DVD and savored our new found Cambodia treat :)

In a related story, this stove has now opened up a world of possibilities for us!! This morning I made fried eggs and then toasted the bread in the pan. Look out Rachel Ray....

Now, I do realize that in the grand scheme of things these details seem small and possibly silly, but living away from home has made me incredibly grateful for the smallest of conveniences and these simple reminders of home that I miss :)

Next on the list? Pancake Breakfast. This Saturday. Bring it!








Oh it is a beautiful, processed creation :)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Everything" seems a little steep.

(The view from our balcony tonight)

Mark 12:42-44 “A poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything – all she had to live on.' ”

This verse struck me this morning.


Enough even to actually sit down and process some thoughts regarding it. I tend to notice verses about orphans and widows these days, or hear them mentioned pretty regularly around our office. The Bible speaks frequently about this group of people, and they are one of the groups God fiercely fights for, loves, and longs to see cared for and protected. And He has invited us to share in these same attributes of love, care and protection.

I have grown pretty accustomed to the sights around me in Cambodia, the visible contrast of the affluent and the extended hand relying on the financial offerings of a stranger.

Cambodians in general are not financially wealthy people. The average factory worker working 6 days a week makes roughly $60 US dollars per month. The average teacher might make around $40 US dollars per month.

"She put in everything, all she had to live on” – I read this and it's hard for me to not honestly think that perhaps this is not the wisest financial decision she could have made. Shouldn’t she have kept back enough for her rent or dinner at least??

I am so prone to give out of convenience (both with my money and my time). I don’t know that I have ever truly given, whether in a tithe or otherwise, with the thought that perhaps it would prevent a purchase or payment or come at a genuine cost to me. But each week I see the local pastors and people at church here giving, both with their finances and in choosing to live their lives in a way that gives life and safety and care and protection to children who would otherwise have little reason for hope and to widows who are taken in as part of a family when they have lost their own.

And I am reminded that God is perfectly capable and trustworthy and delights in the moments when we believe Him enough to give everything. He knows what that looks like for each of us and I truly don't believe He does it to see how tough we are or how far he can push us or deprive us. I think He pours back into us far more than we could ever imagine because he values relationship with us and longs to see us grow in the ways He has designed for each one of us. My prayer for myself is to trust Him with that process of growth enough to actually see the change within myself.

(I stole this picture from George Butron of a few of our church members here in Phnom Penh :)


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Record setting.

Josh and I spent the past week in the Kompong Chnang province with a team of international high school students from Singapore who were given the formidable task of painting two of our church orphan homes in a matter of four days. A new team record for sure.

And one that required a sizable amount of U90 paint.
The students worked amazingly hard in what is the absolute hottest month of the year in Cambodia. (And, if I am honest, I will say that I tried to choose the indoor part of the painting as often as possible :)
This scaffolding is far sturdier than it appears.

We think...
Sometimes a paintbrush is an unnecessary tool...






















We are enthusiastic team leaders. This cannot be denied. Let our expressions of joy and excitement be your encouragement while painting/scraping/sanding in Cambodia.

If you are in the midst of choosing a color for your sanctuary, we highly recommend the U90 shade of bright green.
While I was seeking natural shade from the inside of a concrete building, others were outside in the direct sun to finish the detail work of this gate.
And in terms of detail, everyone was grateful that the gate at the second home looked like this.


It was a great week that included:

-Good conversations with students

-Some paint fights (which I was okay witnessing as long as I didn't become an active participant)

-At least two meals that included Ginger Beef (yes, please)

-Cute kids living at the homes who are always more than willing to jump in and paint

-One Khmer New Year dance party (I love any chance to utilize my dance skills in cross-cultural settings. In fact I prefer this form of communication over verbal if at all possible)

-Getting to watch CNN (a perk that comes with going to the province)

-The chance to see two homes get a visible make-over that will bless the people living in them.

Our staff member Jock who now accompanies us out on all the teams told us that the kids from the home who were away for Khmer New Year would come home very excited to see all the changes and feel like they got a brand new house! Very neat to see what you can accomplish in four brief days. It may seem like you are simply painting a house, but in reality there are lives that will continue to be touched by this seemingly simple act long after we have all left.
Josh and I enjoyed dinner at our new favorite Indian restaurant yesterday as we debriefed about our week out with the team and what we learned during it. We approach this next season with an almost bittersweet feeling attached to it, knowing that we still have five more teams coming, but that in less than four and a half months from now we will transition back home.

And we want to be mindful of
our time here, not simply rushing through it to reach what is next, but to realize what a privilege it is to be living and serving in Cambodia.

I realize that before I know it I will be sitting at home in Washington (or maybe at the Cambodian restaurant in Lynnwood :) thinking back to this time. I want to know that I was intentional with my days, with my conversations, with my understanding of how this experience is impacting my husband and I in profound ways and will continue to do so in the next season if we will allow it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Spring Cleaning.

I remember being a kid, maybe 7-10 years old, and finding great delight in joining the other neighborhood kids in a very scientific experiment.

It involved a magnifying glass, the sun, and a few unsuspecting ants...

Now, I think maybe somewhere deep down inside I felt a little bad for bringing such a painful demise upon the little guys, but here I sit years later in Phnom Penh wishing for a GIANT magnifying glass to wipe out the hoard of ants that has all but taken over our peaceful household.

Granted, we know there are far worse things in the world than a few ants, and I try to keep this in perspective. I simply want to get them under control and keep them away from our cereal and trail mix.

And our bathroom sink. I'm not sure I want to know what is attracting them there...

They have taken over things in Ziploc bags, in our fake Tupperware, and as of today.....the fridge.

I wasn't sure why the fridge door was having some trouble remaining completely closed. No food items seemed to be blocking it. But there were two distinct ant trails filtering in from separate corners and my most observant husband realized that the door was unable to seal tightly shut because of the icy glacier that had been slowly forming nicely and coldly below the freezer door..

So what do you do?? You defrost. And if Cambodia has taught us anything, it is how to be creative and improvise with what you have on hand.

In light of this, I now present to you the simple steps for defrosting a refrigerator in Cambodia.

Step #1. Go to your tool box and remove the screw driver and hammer.

Step #2. Have a second person grab a nearby plastic broom.

Step #3. Disregard the tiny "warning" sticker on your fridge with the picture of a hammer and an "x" through it.

Step #4. Slowly and carefully begin to chip away at the glacier chunks while the other person sweeps them out the door.

Step #5. Watch carefully as your 8 year old deluxe tiny gray refrigerator begins to emit strange sounds and a fog-machine-ish effect.

Step #6. Do not panic.

Step #7. Walk outside of your house and find a dolly you've never seen before sitting literally feet away from your door (all of Cambodia is like a virtual Home Depot).

Step #8. Roll your fridge out into the front yard for the sake of everyone involved.






















Step #9. Grab a cooler from the office area to temporarily store your food while you drive to purchase a new tiny deluxe gray refrigerator.






















And the above, along with prepping for a team flying in tomorrow, and a pizza date, is how we spent our Good Friday :)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dance to the music.

I currently have a credit of $13.77 in my iTunes account from gift cards.

My problem is that I am uncertain of what I should purchase with this sum of money.

So far, I have purchased U2's new CD, a Leeland song, a Kaskade song, and a DeVotchka song (really enjoy them).

I welcome your suggestions :)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Humility with a little whine.

There really is no good segue from flip flop mysteries into the deeper things of life, but I’ll attempt it by offering two thoughts that I came away with while furiously typing notes during the Beth Barone conference (and in turn learned that typing notes as I listen is incredibly helpful to me, as well as masks my poor penmanship...win-win)

“Humility is knowing yourself for who you are in regard to who God is.”

“Whining is not emotions connected to God but feelings gone amok.” :)


Beth asked all of us in the room if we hear God. I don’t know that people are necessarily prone to shoot up their hands at the prompting of such a question.

“Should I admit that I do hear Him? Is that arrogant? Will the people around me raise their hands?”


Or.

“Should I admit that I don’t really feel like I hear Him? Can I be that honest?”

It challenged me when she asked, “How can we be in agreement with someone we can’t hear??”

If I’m honest with myself, I’ll admit that while I do pray, many times it is me telling God what I think people need. I look at their situation and assess what the outcome should be based out of my vast knowledge and wisdom with a handy “but Your will be done” thrown in for good measure at the end.

Beth talked a great deal about being in agreement with God. He will initiate, we agree, and the Holy Spirit will empower. I know I believe it, but how often do I really walk in this attitude of partnership with God, of humble service with Him? (Phil 2:5-11)

Beth’s challenge? Ask God what people need. Write it down. Let Him determine the outcome. Let yourself listen. Don't just give people advice, go to God for them! And go to God with them. It feels so simple as I type it out, but honest reflection and self-assessment tells me that it is not a quick-fix 10 step system. It is authentic faith lived out. And it is what I desire.

The miraculous happens when we humble ourselves enough to let the Holy Spirit work. I am realizing that if Jesus willingly humbled Himself enough to allow God to initiate His actions, then perhaps I should trust that my life should follow suit.

And sometimes writing it down helps me feel accountable to the necessary follow-up :)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Dynamic Duos.

Because I am now such a consistent, conscientious “blogger,” (strange enough word to warrant quotation marks) I feel the need to offer both the high and low points of my days here in Cambodia.

I am all about honesty and realism in my journalistic efforts, we all know this. In light of that, it is with a heavy heart that I say I have lost a dear, faithful companion who served me well over these past 11 months of living and walking the dusty roads of Cambodia.

It is the other half of what once comprised a most glorious pair of flip flops.

I bought them on a whim before coming here at the store formerly known as “G.I. Joe’s.” When I found out they sold more than action figures I was intrigued…

I walked out of the store with what would become the most comfortable and supportive (in so many ways) pair of flip flops I have ever owned.

Trouble, however, began with the innocent mistake of leaving them in the sun to dry for the morning (because the front right wheel of our car had settled much too far and entirely too fast into some deceptive mud the night before....but that's for another blog) and returning later to the scene of a crime.

A robbery to be more specific.

Now, it may seem like a careless mistake to leave your shoes outside when you live on a property with roughly 83 dogs (or so it seems), but this is Cambodia where flip flops abound on steps and in doorways and in various other locations where they are free to lie undisturbed! This is what we've come to expect.

But as we drove in from church on Sunday, after having searched briefly for the flip flop earlier that morning, Josh glanced over his left shoulder and caught a glimpse of something lying in the yard....

"I don't think you want to look. It's dead."

While we can't prove who did it, we do have a line up of some of the loud, unruly suspects we believe may have been involved...




Saturday, in the park.

As we have now entered our 11th month of marriage, Josh and I officially declared yesterday as perhaps the “most fun Saturday” (we are good with titles) we have experienced in Phnom Penh.
It was a combination of a lazy morning (which for us these days means sleeping in until 7), working out with our fancy home gym, complete with Jillian Michaels’ exercise DVD (she will scare you into fitness), a Target mat, two real weights for Josh, and two makeshift weights for me (also known as a large bottle of Body Wash and another large bottle of Lotion).

We had lunch at the Java with their fabulous & reasonably priced sandwiches, followed by a trip to "City Mart," the magical land of high priced t-shirts, exercise equipment that I don’t understand, and rows and rows of flip flops not made for the feet of a 6 foot 3 American man (Josh, not me, just to clarify).

We perused a sale at Monument Books, I caught up on some pertinent Hollywood news courtesy of their $13.00 magazines (terribly reasonable), and we headed to T&Coffee World, our favorite little cafe with free wireless and cheap, wonderful fruit plates. Josh studied the Bible while I did equally important research involving a link I found on Women's Health for 50 smoothie recipes!

We both learned a great deal from our studies.

Then we did something we don't normally do in Phnom Penh, and that is to go take pictures. It ended up being quite fun and allowed us to incur a fair amount of stares from strangers as well as engage in some good conversation with "Ben" who is in Phnom Penh for the Khmer New Year (a week long celebration where most of Phnom Penh shuts down as people travel to their home provinces).
We hung out in a park, went to the waterfront, and enjoyed being touristy in a city that has very much become familiar to us (so much so that we overlook a lot of the photos we'd like to have).






And sometimes, after all the picture taking, you drive to a great little Napalese restaurant for dinner, only to find it torn apart for renovation.

When they still refuse to serve you after multiple attempts to get past their front half-door (hypothetically speaking), you settle for an intriguing small-ish Indian Restaurant next door.

And you do not regret your decision.

We were treated to an amazing dinner consisting of complimentary lemonade drinks followed by dishes of tender chicken cubes cooked with tomatoes, capsicum, and onions. Combine this with Roti (my new favorite thanks to Emily!) and enough spice to make you cave and ask for yogurt (also a trick I learned from Emily) and you have yourself an absolutely wonderful meal.



















We topped off our evening with a trip to Pencil Mart grocery store (this is our form of entertainment in Phnom Penh) and "Happy Sundaes" at Swensen's :)
We officially ended the day with my first near-viewing (and I say "near" because the DVD skipped in parts, though I think I was able to grasp the general story line :) of "Nacho Libre." Yet another example of cinema as its finest.