It was one of those situations where you see what is about to happen before it actually does. I decided to get my hair cut on Thursday, and at lunchtime, headed across town. As I was traveling around a large roundabout, turning left, I saw a small SUV speed across the circle, heading toward me. I managed to use the hand brake, and turn, but too little, too late. The handlebars of my motorbike hit the back quarter panel of the SUV and a moment later I was lying on the pavement.

The lying part didn’t last long, as there was still traffic, and I didn’t think I was hurt that badly. I collected my bike (which started), and kept moving. It wasn’t until a few seconds later that it really hit me—I was in an accident. There’s no closure on a vehicle smash-up here. The cops aren’t called, insurance forms aren’t filed. The driver of the other car didn’t even stop. I found out later that (in the words of someone else), he probably didn’t want to pay. The rules are straightforward: the person with the bigger car pays the other person for their injury or damages. Unless the person with the bigger car also happens to be Someone Really Important, in which case they receive the money.

In any case, I made it to the hair salon, where I was promptly cleaned up by the proprietor—all I could think was, “I really hope that towel is clean. I don’t want a staph infection.”—and given the haircut I wanted. I’m tempted to tell the owner she should change the name to Kim Srah Beauty Salon and Motorbike Accident Recovery Center. When I got back to work in the afternoon, my bike was put back together by our wonderful guard/mechanic. The scrapes on my elbow, knees, and hip were painful, but nothing too bad. Except for when I tried to use an alcohol wipe on them. That was a new level of pain (but, goodbye staph infection).

As the shock wore off, things started to hurt more. I’m incredibly stiff, and my shoulder and neck are pretty sore. I won’t be moving quickly for the next couple of days. I say “ow” a lot. But still, I’m fine. I keep repeating the phrases, “it could have been worse” and “thank God I’m not hurt any more.”

Last week, a woman from my church told me her flatmate had her purse stolen as she rode on the back of a motorbike. The woman said she felt vulnerable, scared of all the possible things that could happen to a female foreigner. It’s true. There is a lot of danger. Robbery, traffic accidents, illness. Things that could happen anywhere, really, but I seem to have a heightened awareness of them here. Today I’m a little more wary of Cambodia, a little more cautious of all the things that might hurt me. My body will heal, and I probably won’t even have a scar. But my memory will always hold the feelings from that split-second of lying in the street, stretched out like I had just stolen second base. Today I am vulnerable, and cautious, and very, very sore.



Here’s a brief look at some things that have been going on in my life lately. Since they aren’t worth tackling individually, I’ll report on them collectively, and maybe that will give you, blog friends, a chance to know more about my life here in Phnom Penh.

The War at Home. Back in 2004/2005, I spent a long Southern California winter battling one particular problem in my apartment: crickets. The little buggers seemed to come from everywhere and would shock me by simply being in the room when I got home. In the end, I vanquished them with a can of Raid and some well thrown shoes. Cambodia has brought on a new challenge in my war against God’s smallest creatures: the ant. To be fair, these are the smallest and least disgusting of the things that I’ve found in my apartment (2 cockroaches have met a very bad end, thanks to about half a can of bug spray. Gross.). However, the ants are far more insidious than the others, and more numerous by far. Leave a plate on the counter, and there they are. Think your cereal is safe on the shelves? Think again. This is life in the tropics, and believe me, the war is on.

The Helmet. I purchased a motorbike over a month ago. This is both a really fun thing, and a really terrifying thing. Last week, I saw two men riding in front of me wipe out in a busy street, and one had to be carried to the side of the road. Suddenly, I am very aware of my own mortality, and while I really, really like driving fast, I also really, really like having arms and legs. Also, owning and driving the bike have produced some interesting protective behaviors in the staff. They help me park and pull the bike out. They check it for me when I’m at work. They start it for me (which is sometimes difficult). And the landlords at my apartment let me park it inside and always watch to make sure I can get on, off, and away without a problem (I had some trouble at first). Though all the attention is overwhelming, the sentiment is nice, and, I have to admit, helpful (parking is actually kind of a challenge!).

The bike, which is an older model and blue and white (for those who care about the details), allows for one other fun detail: my helmet. Nearly all the expatriates and visitors have commented on this fact. First, it’s pink. Bubble gum pink with a white stripe around the back. And while there are similar helmets in Phnom Penh, I think I’m the only one so far with this particular model, which means that motodope drivers, staff friends, and other people recognize me when I come driving by. Which means I’ve had to learn to wave and drive. Yes, that took some practice.

Water. I have to buy water. This means for drinking, cooking, brushing my teeth and cleaning fruit and vegetables, I have to purchase a natural resource. It’s not a big hassle, but makes for interesting conversations when I try to buy cases of bottled water from the roadside seller. I am working on getting it delivered to my home. That should simplify things a bit. In the meantime, I am single-handedly destroying the environment with the amount of plastic bottles I throw away. Though I think there’s a woman who goes through the trash after it’s been tossed to pull out the bottles. Lately, I’ve been trying to separate it out for her. I’m not sure that makes me feel any better about the method of “recycling” I am employing.

Phone. I was told the phone will be installed on Wednesday. If I had an internet connection at home, I could update as soon as the phone arrives. However, since the phone comes before the internet, you’ll have to wait. I know the suspense is killing you.

Sandals. Someone asked recently if my sandals had turned up. Sadly, they are still making a (very) extended tour of Cambodia. I even looked for them during my trip through the provinces. Wherever they are, I certainly hope they’re happy. I head back to the States in a few weeks, and I’ll be looking for a replacement.

Milk. As mentioned above, I am headed back to the US next month. This is exciting for many reasons, but also because I will get to drink a glass of real milk. We have box milk, or UHT (Ultra High T-something). The box proudly proclaims that the liquid inside is “Made from real, fresh milk!” Which means it tastes only a bit like “real, fresh milk!” and mostly like “watery, imitation milk!” Except for the chocolate variety, though I may have been distracted by the chocolate. They don’t skimp on that part here. In any case, I’m looking forward to “real, fresh milk!” on my trip. Among other tasty, non-dairy treats.

So there you have it… updates big and small. Mostly small. Perhaps now you have a bit of a taste of life in Phnom Penh. (Though hopefully you can’t taste the milk. Believe me, it’s not good.)



I was going to be funny. Seriously, after all the introspection over the past few posts, I was really going to try and provide everyone with a good laugh. Perhaps I will, though it will have to be at my expense.

I want to install the internet at my house. I haven’t done it yet, because I knew it would be a bit of a hassle, and wanted to keep my costs down for the month of August. So I’ve been slowly tackling the issue this month. First, I have to get a dedicated phone line for the DSL service. I tried to call Camintel, the recommended provider. I called for a half hour one day and could not get through. I kept trying. Finally I reached someone who was supposed to call back. He never did.

Last Friday, I got a hold of them again, and the woman took my info, and never called. On Tuesday, I called again and was told to come to the office. Today I went to the office. I met the woman I talked to on Friday (who told me she had tried to call twice). I drew a map for them to locate my apartment. The woman I talked to on Tuesday drew another map (it looked exactly the same as mine). Then the woman I met on Friday drew another map (again, exactly the same) before walking off to find a technician, and then coming back to tell me they couldn’t provide service. I’m still not sure why.

I went to Telecom Cambodia next (on the recommendation of Camintel). I found the single English-speaking representative who assured me they could provide service if only I could bring my passport, lease, and a photo of myself before signing the contract. I left, thinking it would be another day. Upon my return to the office, I realized that in order to have my 6 month visa renewal processed before my return to the states, I had to start the process… you guessed it… tomorrow. Which means handing my passport over to “the Ministry” for a few days. Gathering up all the documents I needed, I headed back to Telecom Cambodia to sign my contract.

If you’re still reading this tale, you’re thinking… okay, she’s going to wrap it up, or she’s got even more problems. Settle in, there’s more (but not a lot more, thank goodness).

All was going well, except for a missing manager (so my payment couldn’t be processed) and a brief window wherein they misplaced my photo (it ended up on the floor; no, I did not have another copy). I have an invoice that claims I paid the installation fee, and a promise to have them call me about installation (probably tomorrow, but really, who knows?). All this before I headed back outside to realize that it had started raining. Not hard, but enough that it would be a wet trip back across town.

The only sentence that’s appropriate here is this one: when it rains, it pours. I truly mean that. I had made it ¾ of the way back to the office, when, of course, the monsoon that had been threatening all day decided to begin. The main road through the district where I live (and where the office is) has a set of railroad tracks. Crossing the railroad tracks means that you have officially entered Toul Kork (our district). I have never, ever seen a real train traveling on these tracks. Until today (are you shaking your head? I was…). I waited for the train, sped back to the office, and am now sitting here, soaking wet. My colleagues are worried that I will catch a cold (outside temp: roughly 60 degrees).

So, to sum it up, I still have: no phone, no internet, and wet clothes. At several points, I kept trying to decide if I should laugh or cry. Right now, I choose laugh. Feel free to join me.



A year ago, I would not have considered myself a person who cries easily. In fact, I can recall some uncomfortable conversations where I was profoundly impacted, but I’m sure my face just wouldn’t register my deep sadness or concern. Thanks to Cambodia, that seems to have changed.

I am homesick. It seems rather strange to write it out like that, like I’m admitting to some kind of addiction. “Hi, my name is Kate, and I’m homesick.” People told me it was coming; they reassured me that I could not escape it. I am resigned to feeling this ache for a time. It’s not the kind of homesickness that makes me cry myself to sleep every night, and it’s not the kind that makes me break down in the middle of the afternoon. It’s just a steady, continually present realization that I am very, very far away from people I care about. And that all of the things I thought were familiar are now changing, without me, and that I am changing too.

Perhaps nostalgic is a better word for what I’m feeling. I don’t want to leave Cambodia. I’m settled in now, and I have a routine and a rhythm here. I like it. It is a home for me now. Yet there are things missing that I can’t quite name, but can feel. People don’t really use the phone here so much. In the US, I would have good phone conversations with people, and I could call and check in. With friendships here, it’s usually more about spending time together, and sending an SMS to check in. Both ways are good, but it’s hard to explain just what those lengthy conversations meant in terms of the relationships they built and the friendships they solidified. And it’s hard to explain why hearing someone’s voice—especially someone across the country—was such a good thing.

These sorts of thoughts bring me back to thinking about the life I left in the US, the one I won’t be getting back. Friendships change, people change, and we should fully expect them to. I think what is most frightening is that I will change. I have already. I am used to being a person who doesn’t cry but am now one who tears up at the sight of prostitutes, or gets emotional over a line in an email. This kind of thing is scary, because it leads me to think about what two years of this might change in me. Beyond the language, beyond the experience, I will learn things in Cambodia about depending on God, fighting for change, and praying for this nation that I couldn’t know if I stayed in the States. It is part of what I signed up for (and what I put on the front page of this blog, for goodness sake). I don’t regret it, but it is overwhelming.

I’ve seen my prayers answered here, and I’ve seen myself change. These are good things. I am learning about brokenness, about trust, and about patience—hard lessons. So I am homesick: for people, for places, and for who I used to be. I am grappling with the old while in pursuit of the new. In the midst of it, though, I have found myself crying out to the One who brought me here, who is teaching me, and who will stay with me. “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:5). I will become a person who sheds tears, a person who weeps even, and I will trust that the person I am becoming is the person God wants me to be.



Have you ever thought about where you were a year ago and what you were thinking then? Perhaps not. However, I think about this kind of thing all the time. Maybe it’s because I have been first on the brink of, and then in the middle of, and now dealing with the consequences of transition. I like to journal my thoughts and prayers, and occasionally, I review them, and remember what I was contemplating, fearing, or celebrating at the time. It is a marker of how far I’ve come, and moreover, the distance I have yet to travel. It is a record of my conversations with God, and proof (sometimes) that things happen because I have prayed.

Last week, I spent two and half days in the provinces, interviewing staff who participated in our summer ESL program. I spent four hours on Sunday driving down a two lane country road, dodging cattle, dogs, and water buffaloes (not to mention logging trucks, bicycles, and even two men who nearly darted in front of our truck) to get to our farthest provincial office, in Stoung. Stoung is in Kampong Thom province, which is essentially a flood plain in the center of Cambodia. Our office there is the most “rustic” of the three where we host the ESL program. The electricity turns off at night, the Asian squat toilets take some getting used to, and the house next store breeds crocodiles. This is as close as I get to real Cambodian living. That said, I love it.

I spent two weeks in Stoung last summer. I taught English to the staff there, and in doing so, built friendships with these people—as much as possible in a short time with limited shared language. Last September, I had a chance to send some cards and photos back to them, through World Relief staff visiting the US. I remember sitting at my kitchen table with tears in my eyes, writing out cards in simple English for these people with whom I spent only a fraction of my life. Later, in an email to a friend, I wrote, “I have been putting together a small package to send to my new friends in Cambodia and am overwhelmed with a desire to BE there, to see them again.” I remember thinking that cards and photos weren’t enough for me. I wanted to build relationships in person, to have that precious time that comes from sharing meals, sharing work, sharing conversation with others.

I woke up in Stoung last Monday morning, to a real, live rooster crowing at 5 a.m. I encountered the photos I sent last year on display in the office. I shared worship time and laughter with people I left last summer. In the hours I spent at Stoung, I had the indescribable feeling of coming home. Stoung is the first place I put down roots in Cambodia. Scenes from last summer played themselves out again in my mind as I looked around the building. Familiar faces smiled back at me. We shared communion that morning, and it was more than symbolic for me. These people, in a “rustic” office, in the middle of nowhere, in the country of Cambodia, are people I care about. When I lived among them, they cared for me and loved me. They are people I prayed for, and for whom I shed tears. They are, in truth, my brothers and sisters in Christ. Even if we don’t speak the same language.

It has been over a year since I spent time in Stoung. People have changed, some of the staff are gone. I am certainly different. Yet in a few hours on Monday morning, I was able to experience something more than a time of worship, prayer, and fellowship. That morning, I saw the faithfulness of God with my own eyes, and the truth of these words: “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). I had to wait nearly a year to see my prayers answered, the desires of my heart fulfilled. Last September, I sat in my kitchen and prayed for these friends. This September, I prayed and worshipped with them. My life has changed so much since last year, but God has not and will not. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him’” (Lamentations 3:22-24).



Last summer, I spent an hour with a woman named Vang. We visited Vang with a staff worker, Savun (an incredibly sweet woman), and watched as she taught about drafting a will and making preparations to die. Why the macabre lesson? Vang is HIV positive, and has 5 children (one of whom is also HIV positive). She is thin, nearly frail, and has no means of support for her family. Last year, I met her, prayed with her, and when I left, I gave my mosquito netting to her. I remembered to pray for her sporadically during the year, and she only crossed my mind occasionally until we were preparing to leave on Friday and a staff member said to me, “Do you want to see Vang while you are there?”

I immediately said yes, and we called to set up a meeting. Monday morning, when we left the office to drive to her house, I spent my time on the motorbike asking the Lord, “Why are we doing this? Certainly she doesn’t remember me. There must be some reason why we’re going to see an almost-stranger today.” And God, in all His wisdom, had a reason. Just not one I had anticipated.

We said hello (and yes, she remembered me), talked with her for a few minutes, and mentioned we were on our way to Kampong Cham. Which interested Vang’s mother, Seng. She immediately jumped up and said, “I want to go to visit my relatives in Kampong Cham, could I ride with you?” As Engchy (my partner in ESL-related activities and translator) said this, my first thought was, “WHAT?!” I grew up in a culture where you do not give or take rides from strangers. Even old women strangers. Yet, somehow I found myself agreeing to the plan, and realizing as I did so that some part of Cambodia had taken root in me in the form of general hospitality, and willingness to do whatever people ask of me.

As we settled her in the car and climbed in ourselves, I thought through the plan. We were taking this woman to visit relatives (including an 80-year-old uncle) who weren’t expecting her, and we couldn’t be sure she remembered where they lived (she hadn’t visited in at least 3 years). She had no money for a trip back, and we had to be at our next stop before 5 (it was noon, and we were at least 3 hours away, plus lunch). But she had packed a small purse with some clothes and other belongings, changed into her nice traveling outfit, and looked so intent on following through that there was simply no turning back. To Kampong Cham we went.

Seng didn’t speak to us much, and I slept for part of the trip. Yet somewhere in the first hour, I realized that my morning reading had been from James “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Seng’s husband died 38 years ago, she lost two children to the Khmer Rouge, and her daughter is wasting away of AIDS. She became a Christian 3 years ago. How on earth could I refuse a ride to this woman when it was not even inconvenient to me? Wasn’t I just crying out for justice a few weeks ago? What would be more unjust than denying this woman a simple request, even if it seemed foolish?

As we got closer to her destination, my thoughts about our generosity became more skeptical. It is halfway through the rainy season, which means that the locals have started to call it the flood season. The road to Seng’s relatives was dirt—which meant that the road was essentially one long, muddy slip-n-slide and rice paddies filled with water just off to the side. Not to mention that the many potholes and dips that caused me to pray we wouldn’t get stuck (since pushing the Land Rover out of the mud was not on our itinerary). It was the third time that I thought “what are we doing?” Somehow, though, we did not get stuck, we left Seng within walking distance of her relatives (where she asked to be let out) and made it to the office in plenty of time. In fact, Engchy helped someone else pull his overloaded moto out of a ditch on the way back.

I still don’t know what I think of all of this. We didn’t do anything heroic, or all that sacrificial. I think what I’m taking away from this is that the complete audacity I saw in Seng’s asking for a ride is precisely the chutzpah we must summon when we pray to God. She asked a wild request of us, but with the right motives and we had to say yes. She started packing her bag before we had made any reply. She was expectant that we would take her with us. On Sunday, Jesus’ teaching on prayer (Luke 11) was the topic in church. These verses are a strong reminder that we are to be bold before God. He will give us what we ask when it is in service to others. The man grants his friend’s request because of his boldness and persistence. This episode in my life has helped me to understand that verse in a new way.

I don’t know what Seng’s visit to her family will hold. Perhaps she will tell them about the Gospel. Perhaps she will simply renew family ties. I may never know what happens. I promised to visit Vang again when I return to Kampong Thom, but that could be months from now—what could be a lifetime for this woman with AIDS. Until then, I will commit to praying for this family, these people I am linked to in strange ways. Until then, I will pray boldly before God, expectant of His answer. Sometimes that might be as simple as two strangers with a Land Rover heading in the direction I want to go.