Sunday, July 31, 2011

Newsletter 2

Here's a link to our latest newsletter from Cambodia.

And we are starting a book club for those who want to read "Not For Sale" by Batstone. Pick up a copy and join us on facebook today when we start the chat. We'll take it slow so you can catch up.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Well, almost wordless.
In honor of the popular "Wordless Wednesday" theme many bloggers use, I decided to just post some photos from the beach. I know you will love them.


Maybe this whole "wordless" thing will continue...

Maybe not.

We shall see.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Rainy Day at the Beach

Well, after a long bus ride we finally made it to the hotel. We had a late dinner at the hotel restaurant, a Mexican place that was really yummy. We actually ate almost every meal there for the trip! The next morning we played in the pool and hung out at the hotel while Stephen went to meet with a witness and attorneys. When he returned, we headed to the beach to try to catch the sunset. We were quite surprised by its beauty! But we had missed the sunset because it happens at like 6pm here, AND I didn’t have a memory card in my camera so we missed the photos. But we sat at a little table just a few meters (yes, my mind has switched to the metric system) from the waves lapping up on the beach. It was absolutely beautiful. We decided to head straight to the beach the next morning.

We had seen a shortcut that supposedly connected the nice beach we were at with the nicer beach just north of it. So, we took it. We ended up calling it a “jungle hike” for the kids because it pretty much was. Just when we got far enough down the nice padded footpath to think we were almost there, we hit a crossroads – take the rocks on the water, or take an unknown little trail up the mountain (ok, really big hill, but whatever) to see where it led. Easy. Two kids move easier on grass than rocks, even if it is moving UP. So we went up. It stopped at a great lookout where we could see really far. Gorgeous. No camera. And don’t be mad at me because I’m mad enough at myself.

Well, while we were standing on the rocks we started noticing bugs – spiders, roaches, ants… and the kids started screaming. I guess the “boys love bugs” stereotype doesn’t apply to my kids. We kept going, down this time, through grass as tall as me. Creepy! Did I mention they have cobras and vipers here in Cambodia? That’s all I was thinking of on our jungle hike. Anyway, long story short, about 40 minutes after starting the “shortcut” we ended up at the beach. And yes, it was beautiful.

We played just a few minutes in the water before it started to rain. It wasn’t like a huge, heavy, monsoon rain, but the clouds were dark enough that we decided being in the water wasn’t a good idea. The rain continued all day long. All. Day. Long.

So what were we to do? Well, we got creative! We found a tuk tuk driver who took us to see wild monkeys! They were hanging around a chain fence outside another hotel and we bought some peanuts and fed them. Here are some photos:

It was really great! I’ve never done anything like that before. Sure, it was wet and windy, but the monkeys didn’t care. They were happy to see us – and our peanuts! Some of them were mean. One even pushed our little boy! But mostly they were just funny and fun to watch. It was awesome.

Then we headed to a place called “Snake House.” It’s this Russian owned (or themed at least) restaurant and bar that has a giant terrarium all around it with all sorts of things herpetologists love – lizards, snakes, turtles, even crocodiles! The craziest thing about the place is that there are venomous snakes in the tables. WHERE PEOPLE EAT! AAAHHH! I mean, they are under glass but that wasn’t enough to convince me to eat there. It wasn’t a meal time anyway. We did have fun seeing all the sights, though. Here are some photos from that:

Oh, and here’s a tuk tuk by the way… for those that keep asking what it is:

And we ended the day watching a movie in our hotel room. The next morning it was still raining, but I got some photos of the beach.

You can see them next time…

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Outside the City

Well, we accompanied Stephen to Cambodia's most famous beach town, Sihanoukville. It's a popular tourist destination for both Cambodians and ex-patriots. Sadly, that makes it a place that IJM has to do lots of work. Stephen had to help with a trial here and we decided we could make a weekend of it and go along. We took a bus. That in itself was quite a journey. I figure I'll write about that first. I haven't even seen the beach yet. There's a monsoon going on so we're stuck in the room for a couple hours.

But I did experience the bus ride and have a lot to share, mostly in photos. It was good for me to see this part of the countryside as we've been in the capital city since we got here. Let me share it with you.

We could have taken this bus. It's a 4 hour ride. This one is $5 for the whole trip.

But this one is much nicer and only $7. It's mostly nicer because it has a bathroom. We decided to use it instead. The Mekong Express Limousine Bus!

But why is it so HIGH off the ground? Because the part underneath holds our bags... and motorcycles too! Wow! (oops - I can't get this to flip the right way... keeps going back... oh well, just turn you head!)

And it was a fancy ride! Here's us (minus the missing photographer) getting ready to leave.

They even served food and drink on the bus for no charge. Airplane tickets cost a LOT more and hardly do that these days!

It was yummy! Bread filled with dried mangoes. He called them mango-raisins and kept saying "I sure do love mango-raisins!"

As we started to get outside of the city, we saw a lot of rice fields and other crops. We saw a ton of cows. Most were walking and eating on the road or just to the side of it. Some even had leashes on and people were walking them. It was pretty sad because they were some of the skinniest cow's I've ever seen. The kids walking them looked small and frail, too. Many of them were totally naked. One time I saw a girl about 2-3 just sitting on a cow riding it. No reins for steering, nothing, but just riding it as it walked. Like I said, the drive was very educational for me. And very sad.

Here's a cow. Not even close to the skinniest one I saw, but I didn't have my camera out the whole time.

Along the road it would sometimes open up to small communities or villages and a market would be the center of the village. The market was always on the road. Here's a photo of one of the largest ones we saw, which is still quite a bit smaller than the markets of Phnom Penh. The big building near it is likely a factory or warehouse. We saw lots of those just outside the city, where this was.

And the villages:

They just throw trash in the ditch by the road and even had little shops and homes right on these ditches filled with trash.

Really, there were times I just had to look away. I had a silly 2 year old next to me making me laugh or else I'd have been crying for sure. These people have so little. They'll never know what it's like to live in a place like America. And I know America isn't perfect, but I think it's worlds better than this! Many children don't go to school because they have to work all day at home. And all that means is that their next generation will be no better than this one. I pray for these little ones who are the future of this country, this whole region of SE Asia. I pray that they are blessed in ways they can never imagine. I know that's a big request, but I serve a BIG GOD. There are a lot of NGOs (Non-Governement Organizations) from all over the world helping this place become better. It can be done. Please pray with us.

And speaking of praying, there was another interesting part of the trip. The driver of the bus stopped twice, and what we understand from what was said (and read in our books) is that he was paying respects to either gods or Buddha at temples like this. They often pay money or food with prayers for safe travel. Our driver did this and here's where:

We passed lots of temples with elephants at the gate, a golden arch, and a big temple down the road.

And then we saw mountains. Didn't know there were mountains out here. And there was no civilization near the mountains except where little river streams passed through. At those there would be tiny clusters of homes of fishermen.

And yes, the part with the mountains was beautiful. The whole drive was beautiful because of the way it stirred my heart. I truly did close my eyes and pray for these people and I hope you do the same. Out in the remote villages the people occasionally get newspapers or see posters of the big city of Phnom Penh. Some go there seeking a better life, or they send their children in hopes they will find a better life there. Too often this is not the case, and they end up in dangerous jobs and dangerous places. That's why we are here. Please remember IJM in your prayers. They truly are doing God's work, helping the voiceless.

And yes, I'll send photos of the beach soon if it ever stops raining waterfalls of hot, steamy, rain!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Stay Tuned...

So... We are off on a great adventure today. Stephen has to go to a town called Sihanoukville for a trial that starts tomorrow, so we decided to jump on the bus and go with him! I can't wait to see another part of the country! I mean, I love the beach, but the ride there could be just as exciting! Please remember us as we travel and stay tuned for updates and photos as soon as I can get them to you. I'm so excited!

And I had a blog request for an entry on what people dress like. Obviously the best way to answer that is with photos!

In other words, we'll have lots of photos to show you soon!

Here's where we are headed... zoom out and in to get a better view. Should be exciting!

Love to all! More soon!

Monday, July 18, 2011

One Day

So, I had a blog request from a dear friend – the friend who inspired me to start blogging, actually - asking me to write about what day to day life is like for us here. What a great idea! In fact, I have NO idea what people want to read about, so if you have an idea or request, email me and I’ll do my best to write about it!

Here’s a little sample of what life is like right now, though it’s a bit busy now as we just moved in a couple days ago and are doing a lot of shopping for household essentials and groceries and things we need. I didn’t realize what it would be like to move to an empty kitchen! We’ve always had at least some spices and seasonings move with us before. Here we had to start over!

Anyway, here’s an idea for you.

6-630 am
We all wake up to the sound of construction and honking horns. Up high in our apartment the horns aren’t so loud, but they are building a new building right next to us so the construction is loud. Of course we tried to avoid construction but once we realized it was everywhere, we just settled for waking up early!

730 am
We have breakfast because the kids just cannot bear to wait another moment at this point. I’ve tried. For breakfast here we can make eggs, but they aren’t very good. There’s like no fat in them because they don’t use hormones or anything here, so they are healthy but admittedly, not very tasty. Often we have cereal. Cereal is $6-$7 a box, which is super expensive, but it lasts over a week so it’s worth it for an easy breakfast. We try to drink yogurt drinks or eat yogurt to help our stomachs deal with everything else we put in them. And of course we eat lots of fresh fruit.

8ish am
Stephen leaves for work. He has to walk about half a mile to get to the office. Occasionally, like if he’s in a hurry, he hops on the back of someone’s moto for $0.50 or so. That’s called a moto-taxi. The kids and I start getting dressed at this point. Oh, and I wash a load of clothes and hang them out to dry.

830 or so
I spend a few minutes on SKYPE with family or try to use the skype phone to make a call to a friend or family member. I don’t do this every day but if I’m available, this is the time to catch me.

10ish am to lunch
Well, lately at this time we’ve just been shopping a lot. This is either at a local outdoor market, a grocery store, a mall, or at street vendors. We try to run errands at this time because though it’s hot and humid all day every day, it is just a teeny bit cooler in the morning. This is when I see and interact with lots of local people. Like I said before, I love them all! It’s a great part of the day. When we finish shopping we’d love to use this time much more productively.

1130 am
International Justice Mission has a corporate prayer time where the whole office prays together. This happens every day and we are always welcome to join in.

Well, if we are out, we sometimes buy lunch. I can usually feed myself and the boys for about $5 total. That ends up being cheaper than most Western food I could make because so much of it costs a lot. Still, we eat at home whenever we can, mostly sandwiches. Our options for sandwiches consist of PB&J or Ham. I can’t read the labels and am afraid to try the other strange looking lunch meats since they are precooked. And cheese is VERY expensive, so we don’t use it much. Sometimes I make spaghetti and add fresh veggies like eggplant or olives or tomato or something to the dish. Sounds weird, but it’s fresh and cheap and good.

130pm SHARP
Kids take a nap, after we read a story. My favorite time of day! Haha! You think I’m joking? I use this time to iron and fold the laundry I put out after breakfast. I think I’ve said before that you have to iron every item because the humid air never gets it totally dry. The iron does the rest. It’s been quite a learning experience through trial and error as I figure out where the settings should be for which materials. I try to iron quick and then use the rest of the time to relax and get some other stuff done. Like catch up on facebook. Or this blog. Or a book about Cambodia. Or language lessons. Or send emails. It’s really my favorite time of day. And I love being inside because this is when it usually rains outside

3ish pm (sometimes much earlier)
I let our oldest son get up. At five, he’s too big for naps, but he just lays in his bed for this hour looking at books and entertaining himself. Often when I go in to let him up he stays in there because he likes the alone time. When he does get up, we have a little “school time” where we do worksheets or read together or whatever until his brother wakes up.

The little one wakes up and we all work together to clean up and decide what we are going to cook for dinner. The boys are good helpers for this. And we put laundry away and make the house all clean for Steve to come home.

5 pm
Stephen gets off at 5 technically, but often ends up working another half hour or so. He comes home after that and we have dinner.

6 pm
Dinner. This is always interesting as I try to work with local ingredients and make both Western and new dishes. I google recipes a lot because I didn’t bring any cookbooks with me. The bookstore has a few Cambodian ones so I may pick one up and try it out.

7 pm
We all either go for a walk outside, play a game, watch a DVD, or just chase each other around annoying the people on the floor under us.

8 pm
After baths and a Bible story, the kids go to bed. Stephen and I usually get really lazy at this point and chat or just find a TV show to watch until we fall asleep. They have a few channels in English here. Some show movies and many show TV programming from the states from a year or two ago. It’s fun to watch National Geographic too. We’ve already seen a few shows about SE Asia and Cambodia.

So, it doesn’t sound that glamorous (or that much like a third world life) does it? Its not all that different than life in North Carolina was. We hope soon to be involved in some more local programs where we can all participate during the mornings or at night. For now I’m learning about all the NGO’s here and there are just way too many places I want to help and serve! This place is amazing. We don’t want to spend so much of it indoors but we’re still getting used to things. And the kids still need a nap/quiet time, which cuts into a lot of our day.

Oh, and we pretty much only run the A/C at night, so it’s hot all the time. I’ve started using it at naptime for the kids, too. But we heard the bills are super expensive, so that may change after we get our first bill. We’ll find out soon, I guess!

And it’s nearing the end of “rest time” so I better go. Let me know what you guys want to hear about!

Here’s a pic from my kitchen window. It’s of the monsoon that’s quickly coming this way…

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Finally... Home!

Well, after much searching and viewing several places we could be okay with calling home, our realtor took us to THE ONE. Yes, you use a realtor here for rentals. That's because they have no online system to search for things. We actually used more than one realtor because different agents know about different places and you have to call a few to find the right place.

So we saw a bunch. We saw houses, townhouses, apartments on the second floor of Khmer family houses, apartments in big buildings, and more. Here are some funny/interesting things we learned while exploring the many "homes" in Phnom Penh.

*The floor you walk into from the street is the Ground Floor.
The floor just above it, at the top of the stairs is the 1st floor. Always.

*Some elevators don't have a number 4 - heard many reasons for this... all superstitious.

*An oven is a luxury item.
*A freezer is a luxury item.
*A shower or bathtub is NOT standard. A hose next to the toilet IS. That's different. And a hose is NOT an acceptable shower to me!

*Every bedroom we saw had one bed. A large bed but one bed. Having 2 beds is also rare. The one we chose was the first we saw that had 2 beds for the kids.

*Washing machines are hard to find in apartments. But living here for a few weeks I've noticed that a laundry SERVICE is preferred (to me anyway). See, it's so humid that when you hang your clothes out to dry they never fully dry so you have to iron everything to get the rest of the moisture out. Yep, EVERYthing. Underwear, socks, all of it. Not so fun. So, it's nice to have a washing machine, but apartments with laundry service are even better. Let them do the ironing!

*Another fun fact... almost every apartment in a building or complex (as opposed to above some family's house) has a cleaning service either included or rather inexpensive (like less than $20 a month). Labor is the cheapest thing here.

*Streets here are numbered, with even running west to east and odd north to south. Houses on those streets are also numbered. However... the house numbers are not always in order. It's normal to see house 14, then 15, then 19, then 19 A, then 16, then 16B, then 20. Very strange. And quite annoying when you are looking for some place!

*The most important thing we learned searching for a place to live was this... EVERYTHING is negotiable. Everything. Absolutely everything. Even if it says it isn't, it is. So we got a great deal. I thank Stephen for that :)

Here's what we got:

A room with a great view (sorry the only photos I have so far were taken at night...)

and the inside:

I have to admit I feel a little guilty. It is not at all like anything else we saw the whole time. We could probably close the door, hang up a USA flag, and forget where we are. But I won't let that happen. I'll be homeschooling our oldest in the fall. We need to be happy with where we live. It's ok if it's completely Western! We love it. The complex is clearly designed for families and we hope to meet some others soon.

Oh, and I've mentioned before that the original budget given to us by IJM was just not acceptable for the areas the kids and I felt safe and secure in, so we had to go over a bit, but by moving some things around in the budget and because of some extra surprise donations we recently received, we are still well within our means! God is so good. Remember when I posted that reminder about that? Oh, He keeps reminding me! He is here with us. And when we sleep in our apartment for the first time tomorrow night, He'll be there with us, too.

Thanks for the prayers. It's great to finally have a "home!"

Oh, and about the feeling guilty about not "experiencing" Cambodia with my apartment... It's ok, I'm not really. Not at all. Because as soon as I walk out the door of the apartment complex there are children collecting trash on the streets trying to find something they can sell for a little money. These are the little ones that could so easily end up in a brothel or some other bad place. And they are everywhere. A daily, ever-present reminder of why we are here.