Thursday, April 26, 2012

Not missing that!

In just 4 short weeks, our time in Cambodia will be finished. We will pack up the 12 suitcases we brought (2 checked, 1 carry on per person), head to the airport, and cross the big blue back to the land we’ve always called home. There is so much that makes me sad as I write that. I don’t like being sad, though, so before I get mushy and post about all the things I will miss in this great Kingdom, let’s start with a fun list of what I will NOT miss. Hopefully taking the time to write them down will put me in a better mood! And keep you from jumping on a plane and wanting to move here (until that next post...)

Ten things I won’t miss about living in Cambodia:

1.  I have to start with the weather since I’m sweating as I type this inside my house.  It’s so hot.  We arrived in June, at the start of the wet season and I remember that when people asked what I thought of Cambodia so far I replied, “It’s beautiful. But so so hot.” They always, without fail, mentioned something about April. I dreaded April for that reason, and now it’s here and it is miserably hot. We can’t even cool off inside because so few places have A/C and the ones that do aren’t running it because of number 2:

2. The power outages. There isn’t enough electricity to power the whole city at once so they shut off portions of the city at a time every day. Thankfully, my apartment is in the “rich” part of the city so we have been spared from many of these outages. Not all of them, though. We often lose power and resetting my clocks is the least of the problems that come with that! It’s fairly common for me to be out shopping at the local supermarket or eating at a restaurant when all the lights go out. Just because I am so used to it I don’t even jump now, I don’t think I’ll miss it one bit.

3. The meat section at the grocery store.  The meat section at the local Cambodian market is fascinating and makes for great photos and educational lessons for the kids. I have not, however, been brave enough to buy it for our family to cook at home. I shop at the grocery store instead, where you can find almost as much variety. In addition to the “normal” meats, I often see things labeled as: chicken feet, pig brain, pork intestine, fetal duck, and more that I pass right on by.  Until the other day.  I accidentally got to the register with “pig stomach,” thinking I was checking out a pork roast. Oops. I won’t miss that section. I’d rather just not see those things when I’m shopping.

4.  Ironing.  Every item of clothing.  Every day.  Enough said.

5.  The smell. It doesn’t always smell bad, but when it does, it does.  And the puddles on the ground that I sometimes accidentally step in and cringe. They smell and make me smelly.

6.  Riding in a tuk tuk – which basically amounts to a open walled trailer with a roof – on the reverse side of the road because my driver thinks it is easier to get somewhere that way. Nope. Not going to miss the sight of cars coming at me head on each day.  Though God will probably miss the prayers I send him during those times.

7.  The Riel. That’s the local currency, though they more often take US Dollars.  It’s just confusing because there are no coins here and the conversion rate varies from $1/4000R to $1/4200R.  Counting out change is always a challenge. We pay the higher amounts in dollars and receive riel bills as change. It makes my brain tired always trying to divide $1 by 4000 or, worse, some number like 4120, depending on the merchant’s conversion rate. Its either that or pile up a giant stack of Riel at home.  The good news is the smallest bill, 100R, is worth about $0.02 and yet still makes a great reward for the kids! To them, money is money!

8. The water. Here in the city the water is supposedly clean, but no one actually drinks it. They have more a philosophy of “fix what’s broken” and tend to do massive water treatments when there is a problem but then let it go for months before another treatment. We make sure not to swallow it in the shower, the swimming pool, while brushing teeth, or anytime. In fact, my kids have heard “Don’t drink the water!” so many times that I saw them watering a plant on our balcony this week with our drinking water. When I commented that plants can have sink water to drink, my oldest informed me that if it isn’t good enough for him, then our plant shouldn’t have to drink it either.  Pretty good point, kiddo.

9.  Yes means no. I will miss these people so much but I do get a bit frustrated with this cultural difference we foreigners refer to as “saving face.” Many people do not like to say no, so to save face, they will say yes even if the answer is no. For example, I may get on a tuk tuk and ask him to take me to a certain destination.  When I ask if he knows where it is, he will always say yes. Sometimes, however, he will turn and drive in the complete opposite direction. Only then do I realize that his yes meant no. Stephen has his own stories of working in an environment such as this. 

10.  The bugs. They’re everywhere and I’m certain a few will make the journey over the Pacific while exploring our luggage. We can’t help it because they invade everything. I would like to live in a place where bugs reside outside my home again.

Yes, home.  I don’t even know what “home” will look like after this. We're still waiting on God to give us a glimpse of that. One thing I know... life will be forever different. I think I'll label phases of my life "before Cambodia, Cambodia, and after Cambodia" because life's going to look that different from here on out.  As I look back at these things I labeled as ‘things I won’t miss’, I find many memories that bring warmth to my heart. 

I always knew it would be an adventure.  And it’s not over yet....


Friday, April 20, 2012

My Glamorous Present

Since my birthday was on a very popular holiday in Cambodia, we got to celebrate an extra day as a family because my husband got a day off from work. On the day after my birthday, when a few places opened back up, I got my present. Oh, was it ever fun.

Think: Glamour Shots
                         but, Cambodia style.

They told us to allow two hours for the photo shoot and that all hair, make-up, and costumes would be provided there. The only thing they did not provide was a translator. No one spoke English, and it made for quite an adventure!

We walked in and I was told to change into what basically amounted to a piece of material with elastic around the top that wrapped around me like a towel. I was seated on a stool facing a nice Cambodian lady who propped my legs up on her stool and then proceeded to plop all her make up trays on my legs as she got started painting my face. It would have been fun except I had no idea what she was directing me to do because the few Khmer words I know have nothing to do with “close your eyes” or “open your mouth” or whatever she was saying. I have learned only useful phrases and since phrases like "close your eyes" don’t get me very far in the markets or on tuk tuks, I haven’t really learned them, you know? So, she’d say something, and when I didn’t do it, she’d slap my leg really hard and say it again. I guess hitting me was supposed to make me learn the language better? Not sure...  Anyway, one hour, two fake eyelashes, and forty seven bruises on my legs later, I was all dolled up.   

So we moved on to the hair. This whole time my kids and husband just got to sit and play angry birds on my phone. I was a little jealous but I was having lots of fun, too.  Anyway, they – there were 3 girls doing this - tied up most of my own hair and put a gorgeous hair piece on the back. Then they started crimping the front and teasing it until it got really gigantic and puffy. I had no say in what they did to my hair, but I wouldn’t have known what to say anyway so that was ok with me. During the process it looked a bit scary and my three year old laughed a lot but afterward it did look really pretty. I had fun, but I wanted badly to know what they were talking and giggling about. I caught some words here and there but not enough to figure out whether they liked me or not! 

And then came the costumes. Oh, boy that was fun. Well, picking them out was fun. I chose the red color because I like red, but they probably had 2 dozen colors to choose from, all of them just as sparkly and fancy as the one I chose. First they put a corset on me. THAT was not fun. I know corsets are supposed to be uncomfortable anyway, but this one was Cambodian girl size. And if you don’t know what size that is, just think about how small most girls from SE Asia are. Small. Way smaller than me. Since corsets are already supposed to be tight you can imagine where this is going...

I couldn’t breathe. I mean, I really couldn’t. They got the corset on, and then the dress, and I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking, “Wow, I look amazing! I have a real hourglass figure. I’m gorgeous!”  We had to wait a few minutes for the photographer and somewhere in there I remember telling Stephen that I was having trouble breathing. I also remember him commenting about how women used to wear these all the time and I should suck it up or something like that. Maybe I just imagined that.  It's all kind of hazy now.  He did think I looked good. I said it again and he told me that I seemed to be breathing fine. Then I started to fall down. Stephen caught me and eased me into a chair, where the ladies promptly unfastened the entire corset and as quickly as the blood had left my head, it returned. That didn’t stop them from rubbing oil all over my face, massaging my arms and shoulders, and wiping my nose for me as it ran (from the oil smell) because I couldn’t wipe it myself with them massaging me. After a few minutes of that and a fan in my face, I told them I was ready to try again. As they squeezed my fat rolls back into the corset and made me look pretty again, I stepped back into the high heels...

...and fell down again.

As they repeated the whole loosen corset / slather oil on my face / massage my arms and hands process, one of the ladies smiled at me and excitedly spoke an English word as she rubbed my belly: “Baby?!?”

Ha.  Ha.  Ha. 

“No, I’m not having a baby.” I said, as I shook my head in the universal sign for no. 

She smiled again and motioned as she said
(pointing at herself) “Me”
(pointing at her head) [insert khmer word for think]
(rubbing my stomach) “Baby”

Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

Nope.  I’m sure.  Not having a baby.  And I tried to tell them that but they didn’t understand. I know they didn’t understand because they just got more and more excited and their excitement grew contagious and soon they were all shouting “Baby!” and squealing. 

We ended up taking the photo without the corset. I mean, it was that or no photo since I couldn’t handle standing up with my pretend hourglass figure. We ended up with regular old non-hourglass-shaped me.

Okay, regular old non-hourglass-shaped me plus a hairpiece, fake eyelashes, kilos of jewels, loads of makeup, and gorgeous Cambodian clothes.

And a pretty handsome husband.  With pretty awesome pointy shoes.

And probably the cutest non-Cambodian kids in Cambodian clothes ever.

It was the best birthday present I could have received! 

And though we have a pretty great family, I have to admit I’m hoping that those ladies who were shouting “baby” don’t have the gift of prophecy.  Or am I hoping they do?  I don’t know.  

What’s your vote?  :P

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Birthday in the Year 2556

Its the year 2,556. And this isn't some sci fi story I’m getting ready to tell. It’s about my actual birthday. As in just a couple days ago. And yes, in the year 2556 BE.

That’s BE, or Buddhist Era, for those interested. And it’s real. 

Here in Cambodia April 13-15 of 2012 AD marked the end of 2555 BE and the start of 2556 BE, and like their northern neighbor’s Chinese calendar, it is now the year of the Dragon.

All of that is super interesting, though it overshadowed my birthday a little bit. See, it’s one of the biggest holidays of the whole year in Cambodia. In Thailand, too, for those who find this random trivia interesting.  Everyone goes home as fast as they can to their families in the provinces to celebrate. With their families, they visit the temples, dance, have big meals, play traditional Cambodian games, and enjoy life together for a few days. Sure sounds like a lot of fun. 

But for those of us who were left in the big city of Phnom Penh, we found ourselves in a ghost town since very few of the faces we see day to day in the city actually call this place home. They all had families to go to. Businesses were closed, schools were out, restaurants were closed, even the markets shut down for three whole days. Some places were closed even longer than that!

We had to get creative to make my birthday special. Because the kids, they need my birthday to be special, you know. Yeah, the kids. Of course. Oh, who am I trying to fool?  I’m a great big sucker for birthdays! Life is something to celebrate and I’m all about the birthdays even though this year it hit me pretty hard that the whole “age is just a number” thing is a big fat lie and that number keeps going up and I keep getting older. Oh well. I wanted to celebrate!

We started by going to a coffee shop for breakfast. And yes, I ordered decaf (see this if you don’t know why I’d do that!).  I was pretty proud of myself for having the perseverance to do that even on my birthday. Plus, it helped that we were at the one and only coffee shop in Cambodia that sells decaf coffee. Everywhere else they look at you like you are crazy if you ask for no caffeine. First off, if their English isn't good, they don’t know the word 'caffeine' or 'decaf'.  Then, if they do, they think it’s crazy that you’d want to drink coffee with no caffeine. What’s the point?  Ah, First World problems...

Anyway, I enjoyed a white mocha latte while the kids had breakfast.

Then we went to church and heard a great message by one of my favorite pastors in Cambodia, who was visiting our church that day.  It was a nice birthday surprise!

After the service, we wanted to go out to lunch, but like I said, nothing was open. I wasn’t about to cook my own lunch on my birthday, so we decided to try one of the fancy hotels. Surely they’d have restaurants open even on the holiday, right? We figured a good place to start was the big casino here in town, NagaWorld. I mean, when does a casino EVER close, right? We were right. They were open, but quite a few of the restaurants, including the Italian one I wanted to try, had opened up for a combined Sunday brunch that was apparently a weekly thing. I wasn’t up for that much food or the expensive (even for USA) price tag. One of the restaurants there had a dim sum special though, and we’d been before and knew it was really good, so we had all-you-can-eat dim sum. It was fun but they made some mistakes and brought us way more food than we ordered. My mean husband insisted that we all keep eating and not leave one piece of food uneaten so I was stuffed so full when we left that I had trouble climbing in the tuk tuk to get home!  Happy birthday to me!

When we got back to the apartment, we decided to go for a swim to work off all those dumplings from lunch.  Our apartment has been promising us that a new pool would open in our building since we moved in and we’ve been patiently waiting. And by patiently I mean asking every single day since July if its open yet and whining when they say no. Yes, that kind of patiently. Well, on April 1 it finally opened and we have been swimming every day since. April happens to be the hottest month of the year in Cambodia so we are happy it did finally open. After lots of splashing and a little swimming (anyone with kids know what I mean?), we decided we were ready for birthday cake.

Of course, with so many places closed, we didn’t have a cake.  But we did have a plan. Stephen suggested a different hotel and I found a chocolate shop there that advertised fine desserts. We each ordered what we wanted and then we all shared, too.  We even brought a candle with us and the kids sang “Happy Birthday to Mommy” before I made a wish. 

It turned out to be one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had.  With my men, both the big one and the little ones, by my side, how could it not be?  And it’s a really great start to 2556BE, too! 


Oh, and my present?  Well, it was special ordered for me, and I get to pick it up in a couple days.  It comes with a fantastically funny story of its own.  Stay tuned.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Prayer Walk

Have you ever been part of a prayer time that was so intense it rattled you to the deep marrow of your bones?  A time that you prayed for hours to God and heard his voice as God spoke back to you? A time that was so intense that you went to bed, exhausted afterward, and God kept waking you up saying “More, my child, I still want to hear more from you.” And when your sleepy, tired eyes did wake for good in the morning light, you found you already were in prayer that day as well?  Intense.

If you are thinking, “Uh, no, I haven’t felt that,” It’s ok, because I hadn’t either. Until now. On Good Friday.  On the day we celebrate the saving death of our Lord I was praying with a number of other Christians for so many lost souls in the “red light” districts of Phnom Penh. 

I heard about the prayer walk a number of weeks ago but I dismissed it, not wanting to go when I saw it was from 9-11:30 at night.  I knew we couldn’t get a sitter and both go that time of night and I didn’t feel safe going alone.  Then, the morning of Good Friday I kept feeling a strong urge from God to go to that prayer time.  He was pushing me despite my many excuses. 

But it’s not safe for a woman out at night, Lord.
I will protect you.”

I don’t know anyone there!  What if I’m the only one who knows English?
I will be there.  And I created your language.

But my head hurts.  I have a massive headache and I know messing up my sleep cycle will make it worse.  I haven’t seen past 10pm in ages!
These girls you will be praying for have pain in so many more places than their heads, my child.

Okay.  Hard to argue with that one.  I agreed to go.  And I did know people, and I did not ever feel unsafe.  

It turned out to be a prayer tuk tuk, not a prayer walk.  That just meant we rode in tuk tuks instead of walking.  And the “red light district” was pretty much the whole city of Phnom Penh. 

The event was organized by two groups who regularly go into these areas.  One is called Precious Women.  Every other week they send outreach teams into specific bars to build relationships with women in order to bring restoration, hope, and dignity to them, and eventually bring them to choose freedom.  The other weeks in between, a group called MST goes out and has a completely different approach.  While there are several groups similar to Precious Women in PP, the approach MST uses was unheard of to me.  They talk to the men.  Yes, as in the men seeking sex from these young women.  See, their view is that these men who are looking for sex are hurting and in need and seeking to fill their emptiness with love and intimacy.  So they go and buy sex. The MST outreach teams try to bring God’s redemptive and transforming love to these men.

I was shocked to hear this.  I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before.  These men are just as broken as these women.  As I sat there on Good Friday, just over 2000 years after our Savior was beaten, nailed to a cross, mocked, stabbed in his side, and lain in a tomb, all for the sins that I so easily commit every day, I realized the truth: He died for these men too.  He died for the whole world.  I always knew that yes, but I knew that as my tuk tuk, jam packed with people lifting up prayers to our Almighty God, circled the capital of Phnom Penh that night, I knew that I would look at each face differently.  I wanted to see these people as my GOD saw these people.  I wanted to passionately and compassionately lift them up in prayer.

So I did. 

I prayed for over 2 hours as we drove by karaoke bars, restaurants, beer gardens, massage parlors, and girls standing on the street prostituting themselves. Everyone in my tuk tuk prayed out loud in their own language and it was a beautiful sweet melody that I’m sure made my Jesus delighted.

I cried.  I cried as I saw so many desperate needs on both sides of the street, too many to count at times.  I wept as children younger than my children – children who should be tucked in a bed at this late hour - ran to our tuk tuk and asked for money or tried to sell us goods.

And I heard God’s voice as I prayed.  I heard him whisper “that one” as we passed a certain girl or “look there” as we slowed to pass a specific place.  I felt him nudge me to look at a certain man to pray for.  I saw specific faces that I went to sleep later still thinking about and praying about, praying that they were still sitting where I saw them, not in some back room doing things my innocent mind can’t even picture. 

I felt especially led at one place in particular to pray for rescue.  I mean, that’s what we are here for, right?  I prayed that IJM would get intel that would bring freedom for those being held captive in this location.  I prayed for rescue in general as we drove, but at this place I felt strongly that I should pray specifically for rescue.  My whole prayer at that stop was rescue, freedom, redemption.  

When we finished we went back to the church for a time of debriefing when people shared anything they had felt or seen that night.  Visions, pictures, feelings, things they had from God.  My favorite part was when one person shared that she, too, had seen a vision of rescue... at the very same place I was praying for that, out of the 50+ places we saw.

God is big, but He desires intimacy with us.  I felt that tonight.  I won’t be surprised or in awe at all if He brings rescue to that place.  I, in fact, will be surprised if he doesn’t. 

I went home still tearfully praying.  I woke in the night thinking of the handful of faces I had seen that weren’t a blur, the ones God showed me, and praying for them.  I woke in the morning still praying and remembering that Jesus died for each of these.  He rose again so that those who believe could be free one day in heaven with him. 

I pray now that these precious ones could live a life of freedom on earth as well.  That is not too big a prayer for our God.

PS – IJM is having a Global Prayer Conference on 13-15 April.  That’s an annual time when people all over the world pray together for injustices around the globe.  If you’d like to join in, you can sign up online to receive updates and watch a webcast.  Maybe you’ll have a prayer experience that changes you, too.  I, myself, can’t wait!