There are very few days when I think, “Okay, Jesus, you can come back now.” In fact, I used to make that comment as a joke before a big exam or some stressful event. In 2006, while teaching ESL in Cambodia, one of my students mentioned the second coming. “Oh, how I long for that day,” he said, with such passion and earnestness I thought I would cry. I didn’t fully understand his statement, I’ll admit. It’s hard to willingly surrender that something better exists, that we really are waiting, in limbo, until God calls us truly home. It’s sometimes hard to accept that this life isn’t heaven.

Before Christmas, several things happened that have made me consider this train of thought. Our program staff encountered a little boy with malignant tumors all over his face. Bunthen, at age 8, is a terminal cancer patient. At the time, his illness had progressed too far for treatment, and his body too weak for chemotherapy. His parents are too poor to treat him. I tagged along as we visited the hospital to help tell Bunthen’s story and glimpse firsthand Cambodia’s medical system.

We waited as Bunthen and his mother met with the doctor. Later, I was told that because of the severity of the cancer, the doctor recommended euthanizing the boy. There is no hospice care here, and chemotherapy costs $60 per session. The doctor’s consultation cost $10, with another $2 for flat fees and $2 more for medication. In order for him to receive two much-needed pints of blood, we had to make a donation—part of a barter system because the blood bank is not stocked, and having to pay for a pint would be around $50. With a father who works as a bricklayer, this is far beyond what the family can afford. On the day we visited Bunthen, the funds were provided through a staff offering. Lately, some other money has been collected, and Bunthen has received some chemo treatments, but will not be able to continue enough to go into remission. Though the tumors on his face have been somewhat reduced, he is still weak, and still terminal.

Sitting there, in a dirty hospital cancer ward, I saw appalling things. I watched a woman sob over her breast cancer, from her fear that she would be unable to work any longer. I saw dirty beds, unclean floors. I thought about the beautiful hospital wards in the US, with their sterile conditions and efficient care. I thought about insurance and counseling services and Ronald McDonald houses for kids. I thought about how unfair it is for this little boy, who should be playing soccer or doing homework, to be sitting, sobbing in this dirty place that should be making him better. I thought about all the other patients, if they would be able to pay for their care, if they would recover.

I thought about the crowds around Jesus, seeking healing, just a touch, and how much that must have meant to the poor and the helpless. I thought that if Christ were here, now, that this heartache playing out around me might be different. And I thought, for the first time, how much I long for that day when He does return.



Because I just told you all about fun with language, here's another (brief) story about how much I love living in a place with a non-Roman alphabet.

I ordered food the other day and had it delivered. They took my name for the order, and I spelled out K-A-T-E for them. When I looked at the receipt, I discovered that, apparently, my name can also be spelled "Kheb." I'm not sure if this should be my new Cambodian name.

Next time I'm in the States, I am totally going to tell the Starbucks barista that my name is Kheb. I want that name on my cup...

Happy Monday!



Many of our staff speak English, and while there’s the constant code switch between two different languages, I often forget that I can’t communicate as I would in the US. Until, that is, something reminds me. Here’s today’s story…

A friend and fellow staff member was chatting with me when he mentioned his US Cultural Studies class (meaning, he’s studying US culture, not that he’s studying cultural studies the way that I learned it at USC… with terms like hegemony and agency thrown around). As you can see, the particulars of US culture can be lost even on those who grew up with it.

He said “The teacher said that if you call someone dorky it’s okay but not if you call them picky.”

Kate: “You mean if you call them a dork? Sometimes that’s funny…”

Him: “No, he said it was a good thing to be dorky.”

Kate: “Maybe. But it’s not bad to be picky. Dorky means you are kind of weird. Picky means you like things to be a certain way, or maybe that you don’t eat certain foods.”

Him: “No. Like being a dog. Doggie. It’s good to call someone that.”

Kate: “I would never call anyone a dog. That’s not nice.”

Him: “No, he said it’s good to be called dog. And piggy is bad.”

Kate: “Well, yeah, being a pig is not a good thing. That makes sense…”

Him: “Yes, being called piggy means you are lazy.”

Kate (finally catching on…): “Right. OH! Yes, it’s bad to call someone a pig, and sometimes it’s okay to call someone a dawg. But only some people say that, not everyone.”

Him: “Yes, see, it’s good to call people dawg.”

Kate: “But it’s not like a regular dog. Not doggie. It’s different. But I guess it’s not a bad thing. It’s for people who are your friends, I think.”

Him: “So calling someone dawg is okay, but not piggy.”

Kate: “Right. Your teacher’s right.”

Him: “I thought so.”

So now you can see why I have not come to teach American culture to the Cambodians. I clearly don’t know enough “culture” to be proficient. Peace out, dawgs.



I've been back from Laos for over a week... so it's definitely time to post some pictures! We had a great time, and Laos is a beautiful country. I've been reassuring the Cambodian staff, however, that as much as I enjoyed Laos, Cambodia is home and I love it here. I also love Cambodia because I don't take 10 hour bus rides that make me nauseous. But that's a story for later.

At the airport. With our backpacks we kept wondering if we could pass for typical "backpacking" types.

We couldn't.

We flew into Vientiane on Christmas Day and proceeded to have a very confusing conversation with the taxi driver we hired at the airport. For this vacation to make sense, you have to understand that it all started about 3 weeks before Christmas, when my friend (Serena) and I agreed that, having nothing better to do with ourselves over the holiday, we should go to Laos. Finding the tickets and making a rough plan (i.e. what part of Laos should we visit?) took place another week later, and I picked up the tickets the Friday before Christmas. So, if you're following this train of thought, you know that we hadn't planned this trip carefully.

In any case, the confusing taxi driver conversation was quite fortuitous because we ended up at the bus station and decided to purchase a ticket for the overnight bus to Luang Prabang (we initially thought we'd have to go the next day). Since it is a 10 hour bus ride, doing it overnight meant we'd have an extra day to enjoy. It also saved us money and the trouble of finding a guesthouse in Vientiane that night. After a quick dinner of fried rice at a restaurant where no one spoke any English and we did a lot of pointing at the menu (and nearly placed bets on what we would actually be served), the bus left for Luang Prabang, with us somewhere near the back. It wasn't until later that I realized the man across from me kept getting on and off the bus at the stops with a huge rifle slung over his shoulder. Yikes.

No one got shot, and we arrived at 5:30 a.m. in (very) chilly Luang Prabang. We picked a guesthouse at random from the trusty Lonely Planet and hitched a ride on a tuk tuk to the place. Turns out that the guesthouses aren't open at 5:30 and most of them were full. We settled onto the sidewalk to watch the morning processional of the monks (which was a highly recommended toursit activity). As an aside, I have since decided that the way that the monks in Cambodia and Laos receive their "alms," or food offerings in the morning (always morning, never afternoon) is an interesting commentary on the governmental and economic structure of the respective countries. In Cambodia, the monks set out in groups of 2 or 3 and make the rounds, often stopping at homes and businesses to receive the food. In Laos, they lined up and all walked in (20-30 at a time) from the pagodas in the area. People sat along the street and waited for them. The Cambodian way seems to reflect an attitude of free enterprise and a tendency to survival, while the Laotian monks reflect a bit more of the governmental structure we glimpsed there. Anyway, we watched the monks, which was not such a thrill for us (beyond the interesting observation) because, with the Cambodian system, we see them pretty much every day. Instead of gaping with the other tourists, we found a guesthouse and hunted down some coffee.

Luang Prabang is a really cute, French colonial town built on the Mekong River. We had a great time walking through the city and looking in the shops. It's much quieter than Phnom Penh, and was crawling with tourists, which was a little strange for us. I spend a lot of time in Phnom Penh trying to prove that I'm not a tourist, so it was odd to relax a bit, take photos, and be okay with not fitting in at all. One thing we really enjoyed was the night market, which had a lot of what we're used to seeing here, but some other unusual stuff, and certain fabric patterns which are more "Laos" than "Cambodian." Also, it was at night, which makes almost anything cooler.

Our third day in Laos was the big day. We had entered Laos with a single purpose: to ride an elephant. We joined a tour group (2 Brits, 2 other expat Americans, and a Canadian living in Hong Kong) for our elephant trek, accompanied by afternoon kayaking. If you were unaware, elephants have prickly skin, and are very tall. I almost fell off the elephant, as going downhill while sitting on a park bench on top of an elephant is not the easiest way to keep your balance. We all, however, survived, with lots of fun and joking. Our elephant was a bit stubborn and kept trying to stop. The man in charge of our elephant preferred to sing to us rather than help. Still, it was pretty fun.

However, the real "fun" was the kayaking element. We thought it would be more fun to leisurely float down a river than to do a 4 mile trek through the jungle. It's not that the decision was a bad one, it was just made on mistaken ideas. There was nothing "leisurely" about our "float." In fact, we paddled for four hours straight... all the way back to Luang Prabang (and we'd taken a half hour's truck ride out of the city that morning). Our boat, of course, was the first to capsize, as we went through some really nasty rapids (okay, maybe it was just one or two rocks) and flipped onto the side. Luckily, the boat and Serena's camera were caught by the rest of the group and we waded downstream to join them. Another boat (the British couple) managed to take on excess water and sink, forcing us to stop our (admittedly slow) progress down the river. The guide tried to be encouraging at that point, telling us it was only "2 more hours" to the end. The guide was our biggest cheerleader (and our greatest enemy) as he kept telling us, "20 more minutes" (more like 45... and then some) or "just around this bend" (or maybe the one after that?). We finally made it to the end of the river just as the sun was setting.

And for now... that's all you get. We did other stuff, like hike up to the top of a beautiful waterfall, and encountered an old man with a gun (he was hunting birds, we think. We only heard him fire one shot). I got really sick, which results in an embarrasing story I'm not posting (sorry!). We took the nauseating bus ride down the mountain (accompanied by another man with a rifle). We hung out in Vientiane, which is practically empty compared to Phnom Penh. We visited a history museum to learn about those nasty French colonialists and American imperialists (I was Canadian for a few hours... don't tell). And we made it home safely, where we ate ice cream at the airport (they have a Dairy Queen! Serena ate her very first Blizzard). All these memories have been photographed, and you can view pictures of beautiful Laos here.