Wednesday, August 31, 2005

It makes me think...

So wednesday morning class is the one of the week that I probably dread the most, but also the one that I usually find the most challenging and meaningful. There's a few things that make this class different. One is that the kids really are kids. The oldest is about 12 and I'd say they're all about 9 or 10. Another difference is that they love coming to class. They're always waiting for us. Today, my co-worker had a late meeting in the morning so we arrived late. Class is supposed to start at 8:30, we came at about 8:40. The kids came and said they'd been waiting for us since half 7. Another thing that makes this class different is that these kids are probably the poorest. Glue sniffing combined with a lack of any education has definitely affected some of them so that the "easiest things" academically are really quite difficult. Writing any letters (khmer or english) can be a really difficult thing. They are to tough for their age. One of them tripped on his way to the front of the class and fell on the sharp corner of our white board. It ripped up the side of his stomach and he just sat to the side of the class wincing in pain for a few minutes, but didn't make any noise.

It's just downright wrong that these kids have to live like this. They live in a really rough slum that floods. The only way to get in and out of their neighbourhood is to walk through a working fish factory (the smell is pretty hard to take at first). These kids are visibly hungry. They're families usually aren't ideal situations. School is not an obtion for most of them. Their only escape from this life is through the glue that they buy with any bits of money they get from begging or scrummiging through rubbish. I know I've talked about these kids before. And people probably get tired hearing about their condition, but I can't get away from it, I can't just click to a different web page. They're still here.

I'm struck during class though, at their joy. They smile so big when they answer a question correctly, even when they get it wrong they're still happy. When we play games they go nuts! Even boring games (sometimes my co-worker isn't the most creative person). And even though we play the same 3 "games" every week, they are so happy to play them.

Again, life shouldn't be like this for them. This is NOT God's desire for their lives. God will use these experiences as he makes beauty from ashes, but this can't be God's desire. How can life come into a place where kid's best experience of life is on the glue that they sniff. I don't know. If there's a place for God's kingdom to come it's here.

It's hard for another SERVANTS worker here who has been living in this community and seen some of these kids grow up since they were babies. It's hard for her to see this as their life and forseeable future. Sometimes "development solutions" just don't come fast enough.

There is hope though. We know that God is on their side. We know that God wants to use the church (with it's some billion members) to make a difference and bring his peace to the World. But the sort of scary reminder there is that "wait, WE are the church." We (in Christ) are God's plan to bring peace to the world. Not a comfortable thought.

Friday, August 26, 2005

In the middle of the day.

So during the busyiness of the past couple of weeks, I have to say my mind hasn't really been all that reflective. I've been more worried about trying to get everything done, keeping appointments and figuring out what I'm going to teach more than sitting, thinking and praying about the situation of the people I find myself with in Cambodia.

Yesterday though as I was running out to the library at Medicam (a co-ordinating organization of all medical NGO's) and then a meeting with the country director of Pharmaciens Sans Frontiers (PSF), I went to the front of the alley way that our office is located down to find a Motor-bike Taxi. I found one, but right before we left he got a call on his mobile so I had to wait for a few minutes. I looked up and saw a 'normal' immage. There were two young boys rummaging through the giant rubbish bin right infront of me. One was half inside it and the other was holding a bag that they used for collecting items they can sell for recycling. When the boy who was half inside the bin came out again, I was a little taken aback. He was one of my students from my wednesday morning class across the river. It wasn't that I was incredibly surprised. I knew that this is what most of those kids do with their time all day, to try and help their family make ends meat, but I had never seen any of them actually doing it, especially not in my neighbourhood. I gave him a smile as we finally headed off, I don't even think he saw me though. But it did force me to be more reflective and to pray for these kids, whose lives are unimaginably (to me) difficult.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

This whole phenomenon of flooding is really interesting to me. I've definitely never experienced anything like it. So my Tuesday class that I've been teaching is located about 15-20 feet from what used to be the river bank. We used to drive up to here on motor bikes and everything was fine. Well since the wet season got fully underway, the banks have burst and now we have to park the motorbike at a school about a mile away, and go by boat to the house that we teach English in. It was surreal, boating down the road that I've been down so many times, passing children floating on various things between houses. This is a picture of the house where we teach and some of our students. You can see that the flood waters are actually completely under the house, there's the boat that we used in the background. The oddest thing about this, is that this is just incredibly normal to everyone who lives here. It's true that their way of life has adapted to these conditions, but I think it just highlights another form of their poverty. It's sad that having a river flowing through your house has had to become normal, because you can't afford to buy land anywhere else. Having the water there provides a load of it's own problems, let alone the inconvenience, but it's incredibly difficult to maintain any sort of hygiene when your constantly wet. But, I guess that poverty can seem just normal sometimes.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Dreaming of Siem Reap...

Let me set the picture for you for a second. Siem Reap (a province in the North West of the country) is a magical place. It's where the temples from the Angkor period are located. The temples are a wonder of the ancient world and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Angkor temples hold a special place for Cambodians. They are the only remnants of a time when Cambodians were prosperous and leaders in the region. The temples are so masterfully constructed that it confounds us as to how exactly they were constructed. The main temple complex, ANGKOR WAT, is the main symbol of the Cambodian flag. Over almost every door in the house where I live is a picture of Angkor Wat. People in my community dream of going there but it is a distant dream. The poor can't afford to go there. It's not the admission to the temples that's the problem (they are free for Cambodians) but the travel, guest house, and food prices (not to mention the expected gifts brought back for the extended family) that make it prohibitively expensive to go.

Myself, I've now been to Siem Reap twice. The first time was a one off opportunity to go with my organization, TASK. I was the lone foreigner amongst a group of Cambodians. It was a great experience, they appreciated it so much more than I could. Every school child learns about each of the temples and it's history and folklore. This was a life long dream come true for those who had never been before. After I returned from this trip though, I heard some comments around my house about how us "poor" people will never be able to go to Siem Reap. I felt a real wedge come between us as I realized again the difference in experiences between me and my hostfamily. To make things a bit worse, in only two weeks time I was going to go again. I went last weekend because my advisor came to visit me from Wheaton. Since he has a lot of intrest in Archeology (and has taught archaeology before) he's been looking forward to going to these Temples since January. I was very happy to accompany him and myself and another wheaton student used the weekend as sort of a retreat to discuss our respective times here. I was happy to go this second time, but again it reminded me how this type of a trip was completely out of reach for my host family.

So, I've decided to go a third time (WHAT!?). But this time I want to go just to bring some of my host family. I'd love to bring the 3 orphans (Sunti 19, Teara 15, and Tearum 14) who have really adopted me as their older brother, and who have given so generously to me out of their lack of resources. I also want to bring May Saa (13). His life is so dificult. His doesn't have a father and he and his mother both have to run a small stand outside our house selling odds and ends. When the other kids are playing in the street he can't because he has to watch the stand and sell. (There's pictures of May Saa, Teara and Terum previously in this blog).

Originally, I was thinking to pay for this trip myself, but I know that some people have been asking how to support me financially while I'm here. I personally don't need any money, but if someone had a desire to help pay for these 4 people to go to Siem Reap that would be an incredible encouragement to them. The trip would probably cost somewhere in the realm of $80 (USdollars) (the main expense being hotel and transport) for the four of them. I'm very happy to cover this charge myself, but several people have been asking myself and my parents how they can help, and so this would be a great opportunity to do so. If you're interested or want to know more, please email me at . Email me also if you'd like to know of other ways that you can support the work that God is doing in Cambodia.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I had to share this picture. This is of the neighbourhood that the kids from one of my classes live in (the same kids in the picture below). Since it's the wet season now and this neighbourhood is on the river bank it's begining to flood. It's just the begining of the wet season really, so these waters will rise a lot higher. To get to the house where we teach, take that first plank on the left and then the first ladder up to the room, you can't miss it.

These are some of my students (we teach english to them and play some games). They're each holding bags of rice generously donated by the Czech government. These 8 kids (young teenagers I guess is a better word) were selected from the community because they all have problems with drug addiction. Even though their English is not the best -although they are learning little by little- through the classes we're teaching them valuable skills about listening, learning and paying attention. Through the organizations continuing involvenement with them they know they have someone to turn to and someone who cares about them. These kids have come a long way since the first day when we had to break up 4 fist fights and when one of them (the on in the front on the right) wouldn't stop sniffing glue in class.

Well since I've visited there twice now I thought I'd post at least one picture. This is of one of the temples in Siem Reap. There are loads and loads of temples there. This one is pretty cool because it hasn't been restored and there are trees growing from the ruins, literally tearing the stones apart. These temples are vital to Cambodia's economy and are pretty much the main reason any tourists come here. They're well worth it though.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

This is a picture of his room and our trying to get it clean.

About a week ago, on a saturday, I was told to bring my camera somehwere because the pastor needed to take some pictures. I followed my host brother up the alley and then down a smaller path, turning the corner to find a part of my neighbourhood I didn't know was there. This man you you see, just a few weeks ago was a healthy and active member of our church. He's faced a constant battle with alcohol, but is still a valued member of the community. The last week or so he's been pretty reclusive and has turned back to the alcohol pretty strongly. My pastor found him in this state. He was comatose lying on the ground, in a room with no access to toilet or water. His room was completely filled with rubbish and old clothes (i have no idea where he got all this stuff). He was in a desparate condition and having seizures. He couldn't speak and as you can see is extremely frail. The church got itself organized and we had about 20 people helping to clean up this house and try and get this man in better condition. The house was in such a mess. All the trash was soaked in alcohol, urine and human excrement. I was careful enough, but at one point I picked up an old pair of jeans to find my hand feeling a bit sticky and looked and saw the literal "crap" that I was holding. But we all had to pitch in and we all had situations like that.

The pastor's wife is the local 'injectionist' (which means she knows how to give I.V. medicine) and gave him something (I didn't see what it was) to try and help him out. We got half the room cleaned up before dark, on the first day.

The next day, after church, we went back. The man now looked in worse shape and was going through regular seizures (although he looked a bit more responsive). We prayed for him a lot, and did what we could but he was in a pretty desparate condition (by the ammount of medicines and tablets this man had-most of them in unusable condition-, I also wouldn't be surprised if he had some other underlying condition). A few of us went home for dinner and then when we came back, we found out that he had died already. This was a sad moment. The pastor and his wife were crying (very rare for a society where emotion is not shown like that). We started getting everything in order for the funeral ceremonies. This man had no family nearby and no money to his name (he had a daughter and son, who we got in contact with, but they wouldn't be able to get here untill 2 days later, and were just as poor themselves).

I was so proud of my church. For all it's other faults, they know the meaning of community and really were this man's family. The following two days we held 3 services a day, where we prayed and sang songs. Some church members took monday and tuesday off work (remember these are poor people who need money to get enough to eat). You don't normally take off work even for your good friend's funeral. My host sister said, "he doesn't have any family, we are his only family now." We all took turns sitting by the body (there's lots of traditions and ceremony that go along with the three day funeral preparations) and sitting at the donation table.

The normal way of funerals in Cambodia is being cremated. But the only crematoriums are in Buddhist temples. Most churches are okay with having a Christian funeral and then going to the buddhist temple for a cremation, but another (richer) Cambodian pastor came and convinced my church that Christians have to get burried. This made me really angry as there is only one cemetary in all of Phnom Penh, and each plot costs $250. They bargained the price down to $150, and the Pastor who suggested the idea said he'd pay for the transportation- (but there is no way that my church could pay that much money). -You sort of get the feeling that that Pastor who convinced my church of buriel was getting a cut of the deal-but that's mere speculation and may not be the case at all-.

The church started calling up every rich person they knew. Thankfully, no one from the church put too much pressure for me to give. At that time, I was running short on money and had only $50 available to me at all, so I needed to save it for next month's rent. The pastore simply told everyone to pray that the money would come in and to give what we were able to give. I DID feel pressure though -a lot of it- from the pastor who suggested the idea in the first place. He made a big deal about my presence and repeatedly asked me to give more and more. I gave what I could, but I think he was hoping for more.

The funeral was really nice. We road out there all piled into the back of a pickup truck. It's sad to think that this is now the precedent set for my church, that "Christians get burried" my church can't afford to do this for everyone who dies, I fear that we'll get in a lot of debt because of it.

Despite all, I learned so much from my church about what community means and what it means to be one family in Christ. They live believing this, and we sing a song that says this every week at church.

Well, I guess I have to include this picture, on the way up to Siem Reap is one of the best places to by roasted spider, and you can by 10 for about for 3000 rhiel which is about 50c Euro and about 70c American. They really don't taste all that bad, they're actually kinda good, they're all spiced up pretty nice too.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

This is us at Bayoun temple in Siem Riep. this is most of the younger TASK male staff except for "Mr. Koye" who's at the very front. I love that guy so much. He's one of the oldest (and by far the deafest) member of the staff. He lived through the Pol Pot times and had to face incredible hardships, but all that's in his heart is love and grace. He's a carpenter and spends his days making special equipment (like chairs and carriers) for disabled children so that they can have somewhat of a normal life. At one point of our visit he reached out and took my hand and so we walked hand in hand for a few minutes (it didn't feel weird-it's normal here- but I just felt honoured by it).

I don't quite know how to tell you this but I got married...well not really. I went up to this resort town called Siem Reap, with the staff of the organization that I went with (they were given a gift of 1000 dollars from an ex-missionary for them to go do something fun, they really diserved it). While we were there we went to what's called the "Cambodian Cultural Village" it's a bit like Bunratty Castle where there's old homes set up and "real Cambodians!" walking around doing things from each of the ethnic groups. They also have perfomances, like this one of a tribal wedding where the woman gets to choose her husband. I think it was because I stick out a little here (I was the only white person in the crowd) and about the right age that they chose me to go up and get married. So I did. It was really, REALLY funny, and my staff friends got loads of great laughs and pictures from it.