Moving Forward

Well, it had to happen sometime. Despite being fashion-forward and not a little funky, the Pink Helmet was retired a few weeks ago. The visor had been a little mangled for quite awhile, and instead of replacing it a second time in only 3 weeks, I opted to get something a bit more safe. After watching a woman fall off a motorbike and scrape her face on the pavement, I suddenly became very interested in having full face protection (including chin and jaw).

Despite the plethora of options available, I have chosen a standard issue black motorcycle helmet. It's basic, it's a little boring, but it's also been great. The Pink Helmet, may it rest in peace, has been relegated to emergency and guest use only. If you come for a visit... you might even get to borrow it.

In other transportation news, my motorbike has seen some improvement. The Phnom Penh traffic police have been cracking down on motos without mirrors (accounting for about 50% of all motos in PP). I was pulled over and had to pay $1. I quickly realized that simply putting the mirrors onto the motorbike would save me a lot of trouble, so $1.50 later, I now have two mirrors. Although they are absolutely no help at all in traffic, they are successfully helping me avoid the traffic police.

In other news, we now have several new American neighbors and are busy dreaming up ways we can challenge our Khmer neighbors in sporting competitions. Suggestions are welcome. Finally, the event we all feared would take place finally has. On Saturday, despite having been up and down the stairs to our apartment for a year, I took my first tumble (down the first six stairs). It was highly embarrassing, highly painful, and I'm not looking to repeat the experience. A few bruises and some shaken confidence are the outcomes of the fall. Thankfully, none of our new neighbors were home to witness this (although the landlady and her nephew came running out-- the stairs are metal, and I wasn't quiet during my rapid descent). We're thinking of installing a harness to prevent future incidents.


Water Buffalo

One of the iconic images of Cambodia is a kid sitting on top of a water buffalo. It's adorable. Every time I visit the provinces with our WR translator, Engchy, I ask if I can ride one. Each time, he suggests that I jump up on some random animal we pass while driving. That's hardly something I would feel comfortable doing.

This afternoon, we visited a church training on HIV/AIDS. When one of our staff mentioned that I wanted to ride a water buffalo, the pastor went to find one of his own animals out in the rice fields. Thirty minutes later, I was sitting on it!


Celebrity Culture

I hear from a lot of people that I meet that I'm pretty special, unique, or rare. Sometimes this has to do with the fact that I live in a different part of the world. Occasionally it's because of something I've said or done. Once in awhile it's due to my sense of humor. These kind of comments always make me feel a bit encouraged. After all, it's very American (or Western) to want to stand out, to be an individual, to be known. Isn't that why we revere our celebrities and send paparazzi after Ordinary Joes and Janes... they can play a convincing character, or have some unique backstory. We are captivated with people who stand out.

I am happy to report that in Cambodia, the same thing is true. People who stand out are the recipients of lots of undue attention. Guess who stands out the most? That's right... girls with brown hair, blue eyes, and white skin. No matter where I go, someone is bound to stare. A couple of weeks ago, I almost ran over a man who was standing in the middle of the road, staring at me driving my motorbike. People remember me after minor interactions; my neighbors have a fascination with my comings and goings. At first, it was overwhelming, now it's expected, and it's always, always, nervewracking. You can practice this at home by having someone watch your every move. Not someone you know and like, but someone you barely know and can't communicate with. See how much you like it, and how your behavior starts to change.

Most recently, the staring has escalated to an entirely new level. Deanna and I decided that for reasons of health, the environment, and our general enjoyment, we should purchase bicycles. I haven't owned a bicycle since my last year in college... 5 years ago. So I was a little rusty at the bike riding, but soon got the hang of it again ("it's like riding a bike" is not just a saying, I suppose). There are many, many Cambodians who ride bicycles. Hundreds of kids cycle to the school next door in the mornings and evenings. People ride up and down our street selling various things on their bikes. A bicycle, we assumed, is no big deal to Cambodians. Apparently, this is only partly true.

Construction workers have paused in their labor to watch us ride by. Children have stared in astonishment as we've passed. Moto drivers have snappy comments to toss at us. Suddenly, we are a bike-riding spectacle. I've been considering selling tickets, and am wondering if the addition of some sort of firework would increase or decrease the attention. I should be clear that these bikes, for as great as they are, are not flashy. Run of the mill, silver, with a basket on the front. Just like nearly every other bike in Cambodia. So I can only assume that they are staring at the bicycle riders. I am thinking of learning to say in Khmer, "It's only a bicycle!" Then again, that seems a little rude.

I was hoping that there might be some sort of spiritual parallel here, about being examples of our faith even when we do something simple. Or maybe it's that people should see the way we act and be captivated by the way our love for Christ is exemplified in these actions. Yet, as much as I want the staring and the noticing to have a deeper meaning, I also want it to stop. Perhaps I am a reluctant example, an unwilling spectacle and I need to get over it. On the other hand, I am simply a person, no different than the people I ride by, trying to do something as normal as go to work. I am not really that special, unique or rare; at least, not when I'm riding a bike. Then again, maybe I just need a celebrity friend to teach me how to cope with my fame.



I’ve been watching the plants in my apartment die slowly for the past few weeks. They started off well enough, really beautiful, making everything look cozy. Deanna and I painted pots in different colors, rearranged places for our plants to live, and were thrilled with the way everything looked. However, they went the way of many of my previous plants, succumbing to my incredible inability to keep things alive. True confession: I have a black thumb. The ones we’ve saved from their sad fate (and some that haven’t been saved) have been relocated to the front porch, where we were hoping direct sunlight and more rain would enliven them. It’s still touch and go.

Sometimes I feel like these plants trace the development of so many other things in my life. Relationships I’ve neglected are turning brown and fading quickly. And then there are those that I care about, but require me to rely on a tricky cocktail of fertilizer, sunlight, and weather to keep flowering. The orchids (and these friendships) sometimes require more effort than I’m capable to provide.

It’s not just people that I’m reminded of when I think about my struggling garden. When I’ve been looking around Cambodia lately, I’m seeing the same things. My priorities are shifting and rearranging as I’ve been here for a time. I want more depth in my friendships here, less of a social group and more of a community. My passions for certain solutions are fading as I’m exposed to weeds like corruption and fatalism.

Watching the death of my plants, of my relationships, of my worldviews, I’ve realized why it is that only a few of these things are still living. I’m a person who likes to see results—I appreciate when I can look around and feel like I’ve accomplished something (you should see how satisfied I am when the dishes are done). It’s the plants, the people, the ideals that survive which claim my attention and my care. I’m not interested in bringing something dead back to life. I want to bask in the glory of my success.

Here is where the big and scary change comes in. I want to leave things for dead in my life; my plants, my passion, my friendships. Yet the God I serve is one who restores life from what is dead. Right now, as I’ve looked around at my dead plants, I’ve also found that upon second inspection, some are still alive. I’m finding that even when I’ve killed something off, through my lack of communication—even inattention—relationships (and plants) are flourishing, blooming when I least expect it. Things I prayed about ages ago and buried are suddenly answered. More interesting is the transformation when this happens. I used to think it was creative solutions and large-scale efforts that would make things better. Instead, springing up is a desire to see the local church equipped and mobilized to create true change, lasting change.

In many respects, death and restoration are the story of this place. Cambodia is a country entrenched in death and mourning; for 30 years people have lamented the Pol Pot regime and genocide, and struggled through a civil war, poverty, and disease. Yet out of that time, out of the destruction, there is new life coming; the Church is growing, and little by little, hope is blossoming here.

It’s no coincidence to me that in this season of restoration—of relationships, of purpose—God is reminding me of the passage I spent so much time praying about before I moved to Cambodia. “…provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3). We are no longer those who grieve, surrounded by death. I don’t have to live amongst ashes, in mourning; God wants to provide beauty and joy instead. He wants us to be plants, too, sturdy, righteous oak trees, a statement for all about how Christ has brought us—and all of the things we left for dead—back to life.