I have flown on many planes in the past few weeks. Which means I sat in many different seats. I’ve always liked aisle seats best (room to stretch), but I’ve also grown to like a good pillow and the window on medium length flights (14 hours is too much time to be cramped). I’m definitely a fan of seats with individual movie screens—though the pitfall is watching Blades of Glory and laughing out loud at Will Ferrell while everyone else is sleeping. I really like it when no one is seated next to me and I can stretch out. And the worst seat I had in the past few weeks—in the last row of the plane, by the window, next to the engine—was made better by the fact that an ex-teen heartthrob (Zack Morris, Saved by the Bell) was seated just across the aisle. Apparently missionary-types and actors both fly coach now.

All of this flying has made me wonder if I’m getting better at it. I’ve flown alone a lot in my life, so I’m used to entertaining myself, making awkward conversation with those next to me (most recently with two Korean men; not many words were exchanged), and trying to convey to the flight attendant that I really only want the drink and the dinner roll with my meal. I’ve figured out that in Hong Kong and Seoul they list local prices but accept American dollars, and that US airports are sadly lacking the Chanel, Burberry and other high-end stores to be found throughout Asian venues. Mostly, I’ve become comfortable wandering (sometimes rushing) through different airports, looking for my gate, hoping I haven’t missed the flight.

What I’m not good at yet is transition. Since I’ve been back (all of two days), I have realized that jumping from one culture to another is a little harder than I thought it would be. In my arrogance, I thought I could bounce into the US and encounter all the everyday people and things I left without any trace of longing. I anticipated waving farewell to America with glee and heading back to Cambodia in a spirit of anticipation and excitement. I’m better at flying, but not at leaving.

I had an amazing time in the US. I spent time with friends, I saw my family—nearly ALL of them, a small miracle—watched my sister walk down the aisle, and ate my weight in Mexican food. I stepped back into a life I deserted only a few weeks ago, and found it to be mostly the same. It is easy, that life. I know how to get to the places I love. I can navigate Los Angeles without flinching. I speak the language, most of the time, and am understood by the people I know there.

The contrast to Cambodia hit me quickly when I arrived here. I didn’t return with the sense of adventure I felt upon moving here. In fact, I got here in the dead of night, to existing responsibility and duties. I had appointments and tasks the next day. The comfort and ease of the States was gone in the blink of an eye (okay, more like 16 hours of travel). This is hard for me; to jump right in, to be in charge, to do things in another language. Cambodia is familiar, but it is not comfortable.

Yet maybe what I’m after isn’t comfort. On these many plane trips, I realized that I would never be truly comfortable. There were moments when I slept, deep sleep even, and times when I didn’t notice that my legs were crunched awkwardly under the seat in front of me, or that my neck was in a position that I would later regret. Maybe that’s what I can expect from Cambodia right now. Sometimes it will pinch, sometimes I’ll want to stretch my legs. In the end, though, the plane is important—it’s the journey, the way to get where it is you’re going. So a little discomfort is worth it when you touch down and see friends and family. A little pain seems like nothing in the face of spending time with those you love. I guess I’ll just have to keep flying, keep waiting, until the pinching is less noticeable and the friends and family are not just in the US, but in Cambodia as well. In the meantime, I guess I keep watching for the rest of the Saved by the Bell cast on my flights.



I received two marriage proposals last week. One, as I sat on the back of a moto taxi, and the other as I chatted with a worker at an Internet café. Both went something like this:

Man: “Are you married?”
Me: “No, I’m single. Are you married?”
Man: “No. (pause) You marry with me?”
Me: “Um… no.”

Not that these aren’t nice guys. The moto driver, in fact, has not overcharged me on our trips around town. That’s good. The internet café guy just wanted to practice his English, apparently for life. There is a material incentive for me to marry a Cambodian—discounts on garbage and electricity bills, amounting to something like $50 per month. What a bargain, right? Nevertheless, I think it will have to be something a little greater than that (and I’m not talking about a bigger discount) to induce me to marry the moto driver. Does that make me picky?

All of this, to say that I am heading back to the US for 10 days for my younger sister’s wedding. She is marrying an American, so no garbage discounts for her. She will, however, speak the same language as her husband. A definite bonus in my book.

In the meantime, here's a picture of me with some of our staff during their early morning ESL class. Just to be clear, none of these guys has proposed to me. I would hate to have to reject three marriage offers in a week. That electricity discount might be worth it someday...



It’s the 4th of July here, without fireworks and no day off work. No barbecues either. After living here for a few weeks, I’m starting to think it’s a funny thing to celebrate—independence, that is. No American I know understands what “dependence” means. We’ve always had our own government, under our own power. No one has tried to invade and take that government away from us. No other country (in my lifetime) has staked a claim on our lands. Sure, there have been attacks and terrorism, threats and international strife. But our dependence is old, a history lesson, really. Cambodia, in contrast, has an economy supported mainly by foreign aid. This little country, “independent” of other nations politically, is run by outside money. Even as a sovereign nation, Cambodia remains dependent.

A couple weeks ago, I went to Vietnam. I am in the process of getting a certain type of visa from the Cambodian government, so I had to leave the country and reenter it. Since we had work to do in that direction anyway, Vietnam became our destination. I crossed the border alone, managed to get into Vietnam without trouble, drank a Coke, and headed back in the span of about 20 minutes. Not what I would call an “extended stay.”

The thing about crossing borders is that you have to take your passport. I’m not sure who thought up the idea of the passport, or decided that stamping a piece of paper would be a good way to keep track of people. Enterprising readers can google this or find it on wikipedia and tell us all later. The main point is: While walking from Cambodia to Vietnam (approx. 100 yards), and back, I started to contemplate the usefulness of my passport. What does it say about me? What is my citizenship worth?

These days, I’m finding that calling myself “American” identifies something other than my present feelings of citizenship. America is where I come from, where I was born, and the culture that has shaped me. But I don’t live there anymore, my address is somewhere else, and so my passport seems to represent something other than my “home.” As I walked through the DMZ, all I could come up with was that these few sheets of paper give me an idea of who to call if I get in trouble.

I’m grateful for the protection of the US government. These are the people I want to have my back in a nasty situation. I’m certainly not trying to say that I want to renounce my citizenship. And I’m not about to apply to be Cambodian either. I have a passport from one nation and my feet in another. The word “expatriate” keeps ringing through my head. In more ways than one, this word describes me.

I grew up learning that to be American was to believe in “liberty and justice for all.” We sang “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” I suppose to be a “patriot” is to believe this strongly. But even in the US, people live in bondage—both literal and figurative. They are slaves through forced labor, slaves through addiction, slaves through debt. I guess I’m an “ex-patriot” in this sense—I’m not proud of this part of America.

So where do I fit? I look around Cambodia and see oppression here, too. I also see true freedom, in the faces of women who are using microfinance loans to keep their kids in school. I see it in the daily worship times of our staff, as they unashamedly call on the name of God and praise Him. But because of who I am, what I look like, and because I hold a blue passport, I’ll always be an outsider here, and it will never be my “home,” no matter how long I live here.

Thankfully, this lack of fit is not a unique problem. In fact, it goes all the way back to Abraham, who took up his tents, rounded up his cattle, and headed off to somewhere new. He wasn’t the only one to experience some questions over where he belonged. More followed. “And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).

What a blessing to know that we are all expatriates here, longing for a better country, with true freedom and real justice—for all. No passport required.



I went to a Khmer church this morning, at the invitation of my friend Rasmey (in the picture). I met Rasmey and his wife, Socheata, and their adorable son, Joseph, last summer when I was here. They are a sweet family, very kind and welcoming. Rasmey has been asking me to visit his church since I arrived last month, and I finally had a chance to go, with two of our ESL volunteers in tow. The church itself is simple, and the pastor (Kirin) informed me that they have been building it slowly for the past six years. The flooring is still temporary, and though there is a roof, the ceiling isn’t yet installed. Pastor Kirin said to me, “muy channam, tik tik, muy channam, tik tik” (one year, little bit, one year, little bit). Each year, something else is added. They are a patient church.

The congregation itself was small. Perhaps 15 people total. Yet, the sounds of praise and the shouts of “Amen!” as Pastor Kirin spoke made me feel like we were in a much larger group. It was a personal service, at a church were everyone knows each other’s first name, and many are even related (Rasmey’s father-in-law is the assistant pastor; his mother- and sister-in-law sat behind us). At one point we sang the hymn, “How Great Thou Art.” This hymn (I’m ashamed to admit) has never been one of my favorites. Somehow, though, in another language, in this intimate church setting, the words (those I could remember in English anyway) became more poignant. On the other side of the world, looking out over a new country, I was able to “stare in awesome wonder at the works His hand hath made.”

One thing I have come to appreciate about the faith of the Cambodian Christians is the simplicity with which they believe. No heavy doctrine here. Each sermon I’ve heard in Khmer has begun with the following statements: The Word of God is true; Jesus is the Son of God. No questions about these things. Pastor Kirin gave a simple message, and reminded the group of this verse from Romans 12: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (verses 17-18).

How strange that I had been contemplating those verses earlier this week. I am “in charge” of making decisions for volunteers, about where they will eat, where they stay, how they get to where they are going, and all the other logistics for their trip. As much as it depends on me, I am to live at peace with these individuals. I am to make decisions in their best interest, with the goal of helping them to see and connect to what God is doing here. Even when I’m tired, even when I want to do what is easy. In these cases, I am still to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. I’ve had to make choices this week, had to change some decisions I made early on now that I have more information. It has made things much more hectic and complex. Now I have to deal with the consequences of doing what is right, all the while living at peace with everyone. A tall order.

Sitting in church today, I realized that the Cambodians are on to something; regardless of circumstance, they stand on the truth: the Word of God and the Message of Jesus. It’s not complex, it’s very simple. One does not accept only part of the Word, the parts that make life easy. One does not compromise the Message of Christ. The situation that I’ve dealt with has made me consider sacrificing peace for convenience, and I’ve tried to think about the situation in shades of gray, degrees of “rightness.” At the end of the day, however, I have to answer for my decisions, to God and to others. I choose a doctrine of simplicity, believing that I am to do what is right in the eyes of everyone, and as far as it depends on me, to live at peace with them.