Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Bringing it all back to the point...

Today, during our weekly team meeting, we were encouraged to find a quiet place and silently reflect and pray. We were at a place called "Potters Hands" which is a place set up with small nooks and crannies to go be alone for a while. All this reflection was really good for me and I wanted to take a moment now, as I've just crossed the 2 month here mark to reflect again on just "why am I here?" (I'm thinking more generally here. If you want to see why I chose to do this HNGR program and what it's all about, read my post from a few months ago).
The truth is that I can't answer that question. I'm partly here because God has drawn me here and I probably won't know why exactly for a long time, if ever really. There are reasons that God has used to make me want to come, so I'll try to share a few of those to remind me about why I decided to come in the first place.
I came because, as most of us do, I recognize that there's something wrong in this world. Everything is not alright. Maybe those of us who have been born into wonderful families in very comfortable situations can forget that at times, but that realization is always waiting for us if we will open our eyes to others in the world. I came then, because I wanted to immerse myself among those who have gotten the rotten end of the deal. I wanted to be with those who are broken, to be with those who suffer. The truth is, however, that I didn't need to come to Cambodia to be with people like that. They're all around us whevever we are. In the West, we tend to be very good at blinding ourselves to the needs and hurts of those around us and those of us who have needs and hurts strive hard at covering them up and pretending they aren't there. But we know that there are many in our society without real fathers and mothers and who have never had the love and encouragment that we were meant to have.
So I suppose there must be another reason. I came because of my hard heart. My heart tends to look at my own needs and my own wants and doesn't look at those of others, so maybe if I surround myself in human suffering, then I will wake up for just a second and realize that I need to serve others more than myself. Following that, I suppose, I came because I knew that if I was here I would see just how weak I am to be able to serve others more than myself. It's true, I've been making a right mess of it. I've been getting frustrated at other people because they're stepping on my pride. I've realized that it's really hard to serve others when you're in an uncomfortable place, sweating uncontrollably, wearing wet clothes that won't dry and feeling sick. I've seen here that my own love is not big enough. It's things like that which help me to appreciate God's wisdom in the bible, in that he acknowledges that OF COURSE we can't do it by ourselves, but that it has to be God working through us, his love and strength don't dry up the way that mine do (I know that probably sounds trite. But it loses a bit of its triteness when that's what you need to get you through your next day and not pack up and come home).
The final reason that I came was to know people who have had such a different experience of life than mine, and to be known by them in return. This is turning out to be the key to all I've been learning here. Think when we're in Dublin, Chicago, Ventura, wherever, how difficult it is when a beggar on the street asks you for money. Most of us have a real dilemma, we think "What's really best for the person?" "Maybe they'll use it to buy drink or drugs." That dilemma (because it's been ingraned into us westerners since we were kids) doesn't suddenly go away here in Cambodia. Here we might think, "is this kid that's begging being forced to because his parents know that he is profitable and so don't let him go to school?" There's all sorts of things that we can ask ourselves, and they're probably good questions to ask.
BUT when you Know the person that's asking you, a lot of those questions go away. It's not a random person that just came up to you, now it's your friend, or someone you see every week, or maybe even the father of one of your kids' friends. Taking time to live in this slum is also helping me to see the needs of the poor that don't go out to beg but who might need my help just as much. When the non-poor come into relationship with the poor, everything changes. That doesn't necessarily mean that everything get's easier. Relationships - as I'm finding- are extremely complicated (especially when you don't speak the same language very well) and bring a lot of their own problems and pains. But I'm starting to feel that the relational element might be what's been missing in my dealings with a lot of poor people before.
There's a lot more that I'm thinking about and learning, but I wanted to share just few thoughts about these things. The reason I'm here is not to eat "crazy" foods or have "weird" experiences, those are really a byproduct.
Please keep giving me feed back about what you think I'm saying. I've enjoyed writing back and forward with some of you about the issues I'm meeting here and the issues you're meeting where you're at too.

Monday, July 18, 2005

This is a picture of the office that I use to send email and write in the blog. It's really nice and could be anywhere in Ireland or the U.S. It kinda makes me forget where I am sometimes, needless to say, I try and limit my time here.

This next shot is of some of the neighbourhood kids. I really love playing with them and I think (or hope) they like playing with me too. The kid in the back is named May Saa and lives in my house his younger sister Srai Gon is on the far right of the picture.


The red is really pronounced against the colour of my white skin ( I need a tan). Sorry that the pictures look a bit like a "victim shot" it's really not like that. I was just trying to teach my younger brother how to use my camera. It looks much worse than it is. Coining is a medical practice that both Christians and Buddhists use. It doesn't have any spiritual connotations (unlike other practices). Coining is said to release the "bad air" that's trapped inside you (pre-modern Europeans had similar practices). Most older people you meet in Cambodia swear by it and so I wanted to see what it was like. My language teacher says his mom gets it done once a week and almost uses it like a drug. I think everyone's got to do it at least once. And in case you're wondering, yes, it does hurt. Nay, a Cambodian-Newzealander here says "it's just like getting a hard massage", but then her husband Craig pipes in, "yeah, except it's a massage with a razor blade."

Friday, July 08, 2005

This is a picture of me standing just outside (what is acting as) the International Headquarters of Servants, here in Phnom Penh. This is where I check my email and write my papers. You actually can't see the office though (no it's not that house in the background) cause I'm facing it.
So now I know what you're all thinking. How can a guy like him, who's living in the slums keep himself looking so good?! Well, I wish I had tips to give you -especially for you other HNGR interns- but sorry, this beauty is all natural.

Monday, July 04, 2005

This is right outside our room (to the left). Teraa (my roommate) is studying and his younger brother Terum is taking a nap. In the background is a woman that I only know as Bong Srai (older sister). She spends the days working in a garment factory. Her husband lives here too and works as a security guard.

May Saa and our Water Supply

This is a quick image of the inside of our house, on the bottom floor. This pot is the house's water supply. We use the water here for everything: cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, taking showers, some of the people who live in the house (remember there's about 15 of us) use this also as drinking water because they don't have water filters. Recently the water has changed from a sort of pale yellow colour when I first arrived to a darker brown colour. You definitley can't see through it now. To the right of the pot is the area where we shower (you can barely see the white buckets on the ground, we fill those us and then scoop water over our heads). Just behind the shower area is the toilet. To the left of the pot is my host mother Ming Huong's room. She keeps all the more expensive stuff in the house in her room since it's the only room we can really lock effectively.