Friday, November 17, 2017

ALWAYS SOMETHING TO LEARN

We had always planned on eventually buying a car here in Cambodia. Life was so overwhelming when we first moved here that we decided to wait a while to buy a car. I ran errands around the neighborhood on foot. We found a tuk tuk driver who was honest and reliable (after a bit of trial and error). David got a bicycle. Yet, as life and ministry here has started to shift and as our partners and church moved to the outskirts of the city, we decided it was time to get a car. But just buying groceries in Cambodia can be complicated, so where would we even start when buying a car?

I met another expat who used a “fixer” to help buy a reliable car. This fixer is an English “car guy” who speaks Khmer fluently and understands the complicated process of buying a car in Cambodia. We crossed our fingers that he would be all we needed to navigate this process.

We were incredibly thankful for our fixer. He took us to look at some cars, poked at their insides and laughed when they let out scary noises. When he said, That’s not good, we thanked the dealer and moved on. When we found a promising car, he took us to Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium for a test drive. I hadn’t considered how we would do a test drive when traffic and small roads make reaching even 20 miles per hour difficult. He confidently gunned it around the parking lot, slammed on the breaks a few times and tested the suspension on the muddy potholes. Meanwhile, I sat in the back trying not to giggle at the absurdity/hilarity of doing all this in the middle of the day in a full parking lot.



Our fixer fixed many things for us, but we still had to figure out much ourselves. We had to endure several lines and a frozen computer at the bank to pay the road tax. Then we had to figure out drivers’ licenses. We made two trips, each an hour long, to the Ministry of Transportation, while trying to figure out what the right documents are and what we had to do to acquire them. Once there, we wandered around the massive complex trying to learn the steps in the process (including lots of polite smiling and a ridiculously easy eye exam) and how to accomplish them.

We had to do all this before I even started learning how to actually drive here! Since then I’ve learned how traffic works in Phnom Penh, how and where to get gas, and how to get a car wash to keep all the mud from clogging things up. I had to get better at backing into tiny parking places here because everyone backs into spaces—not my favorite cultural quirk. I even learned how to park the car in neutral so parking guards can roll parked cars around like slide puzzles to let other cars out (it involves a hidden button I never knew existed).

Driving is still a bit overwhelming and draining for me, but now that the majority of the learning is done, I love having a car. I love being able to make long trips in an air-conditioned car instead of a hot, bumpy tuk tuk. I love getting where I want to go without telling anyone else where or why I’m going. Yet, the process of getting and driving a car here is a powerful reminder that there is always something new to learn.

I’ve learned so many big and small things in the last two years since moving here. I distinctly remember on our very first full day in Cambodia, a year before moving here, having one main task for our morning: conquering crossing the street. Now I’m out there conquering the limits of my spatial reasoning by edging our little RAV4 through our neighborhood traffic pit. Similarly, Facebook just reminded me that I started Khmer language classes for the first time 2 years ago today. I knew exactly 2 words. This week I’ve spent hours upon hours having conversations entirely in Khmer at church, at the bank, at church and in class.

Admittedly, it’s sometimes a bit frustrating how little I get to revel in the feeling of mastery in my life here. I work really hard to figure something out, to get good at it, to conquer the fear of it. Yet, I never get to feel like an expert—before the accomplishment can sink in, it’s back to square one with a new task.

I do wish I could navigate my world with less thought and energy, but I do see the upside. First of all, constantly starting over with a new process or task to master keeps me humble. More than that, though, restarting the learning process again and again reminds me that almost anything is possible with enough work, help and prayer. Everything starts small. Three years ago I crossed the street. Two years ago I sharpened my pencils and went to class for the first time. Today I’m a traffic-driving, Khmer-speaking resident of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and I’m on the look out for what I’ll be learning and figuring out next.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

MOVIE: FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER



This past week, we finally got the chance to watch the film First They Killed My Father, directed by Angelina Jolie and released on Netflix. It is based on a true story from the book of the same name about a young girl’s experience during the Khmer Rouge. Jolie fell in love with Cambodia while filming Tomb Raider in 2000, later adopting a Cambodian child and becoming close friends with Ung Loung, author of First They Killed My Father. We found the film to be respectful and balanced: it memorialized Cambodia’s past suffering without becoming overly bleak; it acknowledged the beauty of the country and its people without becoming overly sentimental.

If you are looking to learn about the facts and figures of the Khmer Rouge period, you might feel that this film is lacking. For better or worse, the story is seen entirely from the perspective of a child. As a result, we were often unclear about the passage of time, distances traveled and the historical context of events depicted. However, what you do get is a highly experiential look at the sights, sounds, smells and emotions of this time period that only a child’s eyes could provide. If you want to know more about the traumatic period that continues to affect Cambodians, or if you just want to know more about the context in which we live and serve, we recommend you check out First They Killed My Father.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A CYCLIST'S POINT OF VIEW

I bought a bicycle last year so that I wouldn’t have to rely on tuk tuk drivers to take me everywhere. I hoped to have more independence, and it did indeed feel good to get myself where I needed to go. But there was another benefit of riding a bike that I didn’t expect. From the perspective of my bike, I got insight into Khmer culture that I never could have gotten any other perspective.

So what did I learn about Cambodia from atop my mighty metal steed?



Traffic laws in the US more closely resemble the laws of mechanics, as with a clock. Traffic has many different parts that must work together. Drivers must know a complex set of formal rules before entering the realm of driving. When everybody follows the rules, they are usually able to efficiently turn in and out of each other like interlocking cogs. However, if one part gets out of place, it can bring the rest of the machine to a grinding halt.

Traffic laws in Cambodia (not the official laws but rather the laws that people actually follow) resemble the laws of hydrodynamics, as with a river. Rules dict
ate the flow of the river, but not the same rules that dictate the work of a machine. Traffic’s goal is to continue moving forward, and when obstacles attempt to impede its progress, it flows around the obstacle in whatever way it can. This is not as fast or efficient as US traffic at its best, but it is more adaptable to changing conditions.

In the US, people rely on the rules to know what to do. Who has right-of-way, when do I come to a complete stop, what is the speed limit, when can I cross the lines on the road, when can I pass other cars? Don’t worry, there’s a rule for each of those situations. When people break the rules, other drivers get upset because it endangers not only safety but the entire flow of traffic.

In Cambodia, the official rules are often little more than suggestions. So how do you navigate right-of way, passing, intersections and other interactions with your fellow road warriors? The way you navigate most things in Cambodia: you negotiate. I started to notice the subtle ways people watched each other, silently communicating, “It’s my turn,” “You’re too big to fit quickly, so I’ll go ahead,” or “I’ll leave a space here or slow down so you can go.” Like other negotiations, if you’re not confident, others will take advantage of you. If you are, you’re invited to play the game.

Because Cambodian rules are so flexible, there is almost no road rage. That alone makes Cambodian traffic worth paying attention to.

To get home, I usually have to turn left onto a busy street for a block, and then make another left turn into our apartment building. The first few times, I waited for the traffic to clear just enough for me to cross to the other side of the street, turn left, go one block, then cross back over traffic to get to my apartment. Those final maneuvers took as long as the rest of the trip to that point.

Then I realized that no Cambodian would ever do that. They would stay on the left side of the street, driving straight into oncoming traffic, especially if it’s just for one block. The first time I tried biking into oncoming traffic, I was nervous, but I no more disturbed traffic than a salmon disturbs a river by swimming upstream. People flowed around me without the slightest hint of annoyance.

Americans usually value efficiency, speed and clear-cut rules, and they avoid ambiguity. They are usually willing to sacrifice personal interaction and adaptability to achieve this. Cambodians usually value the ability to negotiate so that everybody gets to walk away with something. They value the ability to adapt to situations because you never know what will come up. They are willing to sacrifice speed, efficiency, and black-and-white rules to achieve this.

When I first saw the traffic in Cambodia, I thought it was chaotic. But appearances can be deceiving. There is more order to it than meets the eye, but its order reflects Cambodian culture more than American culture. By getting on a bike and entering the flow of traffic, I have been able to enter the flow of the culture. By getting out there and living my life in Cambodia, I have been able to enter the culture in other ways as well.

Of course, some days the culture kicks your butt, like the day that my bike got stolen. Some days, entering the culture is less of a rewarding process. All you can do is buy a new bike (and a bike lock) and get back into the flow.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

RIBBON CUTTING CEREMONY

This past week has been a full one for us, and the highlight of the whole thing has been getting to celebrate the inauguration of the Cambodia Baptist Union's new multi-purpose building. We've been using the building for a couple of months now, but this was the official opening ceremony. This building has been a dream for our partners for a long, long time and it was incredible to watch the celebration of this dream come to fruition.

Hundreds of people came from all around Phnom Penh and almost every province in Cambodia to celebrate, worship and eat together. I think we all came away from the day encouraged by God's faithfulness and excited about the future of ministry here in Cambodia.






Tuesday, August 29, 2017

DONG-VAY KHNOM THWAY: THE OFFERING SONG

As we have mentioned to many of you, singing has been one of the hardest things for us to catch on to at our Cambodian church. The songs are Khmer tunes with Khmer words, and because of the way Cambodians pronounce words differently when they speak and when they sing, it's very hard for us to learn a song without seeing the words.

A good example of this is the offering song at our church. Every week we sing the same song as the offering bag goes around. Unlike when we sing at the beginning of the service, though, we don't use the hymnals to sing this song. Everyone knows it by memory. We picked up a phrase or two per verse, but after a year and a half we really wanted to learn that song.

We noticed that guests from other churches would always know and sing along to the song, so we figured the song must be fairly well known. Now that we have a teacher who is working with us on Christian language, we asked him about song. He knew it also and brought us a copy of the lyrics.

We are still working to commit the whole song completely to memory, but we now understand it all and can sing along for at least most of the verses. Now that we know the title of the song, we can even find YouTube versions of the song. For a peek at what offering time at our church is like, here's a video we found of a Cambodian house church singing Dong-vay Khnom Thway:



Tuesday, August 22, 2017

TAKE A PEEK: INSIDE THE NEW CBU BUILDING

Last week we showed you a peek from our ride to church, and this week we wanted to give you a glimpse inside the new building (you will have to wait to see the completed exterior because with all the rain we keep forgetting to take pictures).

The inside of the building is beautiful and spacious. Each week new touches have been added, an interior door one week, railing the next, and this week the small stage/platform and cross. Best of all this sanctuary space is a great place for the church to grow. This week a couple rows of extra chairs were added once everyone arrived, and we anticipate that over the years the room will fill up.


And, as a bonus, Philip, who is always down for a picture!


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

BACK TO SCHOOL SEASON

I've always loved the fall. Now, yes, I love leaves changing colors and the brisk changes in temperature, but that is not what I am talking about here. I have always loved the fall as in the fall and the spring semesters, or more plainly, the back-to-school season.

Growing up in Texas, there was nothing about the month of August, when school started, that felt like autumn. It was often the hottest month of the year. Yet even though the high temperatures carried on just the same, there was a change in the air. We bought some new, back-to-school clothes, sharpened up our pencils and got a fresh start on a new grade. Even when I was going back for a new year at a school I had been at for years, with the same friends, it all felt new and exciting. After years of schooling, it was that rhythm of fresh starts and returning to familiar routines that I missed most when I was no longer a student.

We have been back in Phnom Penh for a little over a month know (hard to believe!), and as people on both sides of the ocean have been asking us what it feels like to be back, the thing that has come to mind the most is that it feels like going back to school after a busy summer.

My new "school supplies" lined up and ready to go!

It actually feels really good to be settled back into our lives here. Living in Phnom Penh feels both more like home and more like a fun adventure than before. We were away so long, and it felt good to return to this place.

Even though we were thoroughly worn out by our busy summer, we are now excited about returning to regular routines here. While the temperatures seem as hot as ever, the feeling that something new is starting up again has put an extra pep in my step. I've got new energy for studying. We are tackling some of the big tasks that we never had time for before we left (like buying a car). And, we are using some of this extra optimism and fresh perspective to come up with new routines and structures to help us work hard, enjoy life here and rest well.

It also feels like we aren't total newbies anymore. Whether it's kindergarten or your freshman year in college, the first year of anything is hard! Even though we've lived in Cambodia for a little over a year and a half already, it feels like we are back for a second "grade", or a second term. Somedays we still feel like we don't know much, but we do know some things. We aren't as wide-eyed and overwhelmed. Some of the things that first took our entire focus have become second nature, allowing us to put our energies elsewhere.

We've also got some new subjects to study this go around. While still doing a lot of review and work on the vocabulary and language skills we've learned over our year and a half here, I'm very excited to be moving into some more focused language study. We've found a really good new teacher that is working with us on religious language. It's a whole new world, but one that is quickly opening up before us. We also have a couple of conferences on the schedule for this "fall" that will hopefully open up even more areas for us and for Cambodian pastors.

Seeing so many back to school photos of (mostly) excited kids on social media this week has solidified this "back to school" feeling for me. New things are on the horizon. I hope that you get in on this feeling whether you are in school or not.