Hot and Dry

Remember how I was complaining about the lack of rain? I wasn't joking. Cambodia's suffering from a drought.

This will affect lots of things, like rice harvest, then rice prices, migrant labor... the list goes on and on. So please pray for rain and pray for a good harvest this year. World Relief works in some of the most heavily affected provinces, so please also pray that we would be a blessing to the people there as we reach out to them.


Like a Child

I'm staying with my friend's children this week, as she's had to take her oldest son to Thailand for medical treatment. It was rather spur-of-the-moment, but I've stayed with them before, love them dearly, and think they are a lot of fun (although homework time is not always a barrel of laughs). The youngest (age 5, almost 6) and I were in the car today driving home from an after-school class he has. I had some cookies in the car, from a store called "The Shop" and he was eating one. Here's our conversation.

"Kate, where did you buy the cookies?"
"At 'The Shop.'"
"What shop?"
"A shop called 'The Shop.'"
"No, what shop?"
"It was a place called 'The Shop'. The name of the restaurant is 'The Shop.'"
"The shop is called 'The Shop?'"
"Yes. It's kind of confusing, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Can I have the other cookie?"

Abbot & Costello have nothing on Jonathan & Kate.


January 7th Market

It's been almost two months since I moved to a new apartment. We've settled in, gotten used to things, have been rejoicing in the cooler temps over on this side of the neighborhood. The move was only maybe a quarter of a mile away, but the new place has such a different feeling than the old one did.

For instance, we now have a pack of dogs who like to howl. When a siren sounds, when a cart rolls by playing some silly tune...the sound of howling is shortly to follow. This is, unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) not restricted to nighttime howling. At 3 pm on a Tuesday, I have been forced to look up from an article about HIV interventions when the howling became too much.

The street is much busier, so there's more traffic (quite a difference from the quiet house before), but it means that moto taxis and tuk tuks are available whenever we want them. It's also closer to get into the center of town, which means the weekly trips to the grocery store take a lot less time, and it's not such a chore to run errands.

I think what's most interesting is our proximity to the market. Most Khmer go to the market at least twice a day, purchasing food and other little things that they need for their meals, or for their houses. In the mornings and afternoons, there are always lots of women out on the streets, market bags in hand, walking to or from the stalls with food, and sometimes a child in tow.

We used to live near a market, but not as close as we do now. That market was pretty well known, as was the school that we lived near, but I rarely went inside to purchase things, stopping occasionally for fruit on the side of the road instead. The market we're near now is a lot smaller, but people know where it is. I had to re-learn how to give directions to the house (everything is done by landmark, rather than street number), so I asked some Khmer staff the name of this new market. Psar bruhm-peul makara, they told me. Psar means "market" and bruhm-peul is the word for "seven" (literally, five-two). The last word, however, I didn't know, other than as a name for one of my Khmer friends. Turns out it means "January." I've not had to learn the names for the months, as most of the younger Khmer refer to the months by number, rather than by name (Month-1, Month-9, etc.).

So now I live near January 7th Market. Now, being American, I'm used to markets having some interesting names. I mean "Kroger" isn't really a word in the dictionary, nor is "Vons". But we accept these names because they were probably the name of the man who started a very small store and grew it into an empire. January 7th? That just seems like a random date. Until you dig a little deeper.

On January 7, 1979, Vietnamese forces finally captured Phnom Penh and ended the Khmer Rouge rule of Cambodia. Of course, this only prompted more fighting, all the way up through the late 1980s while the Vietnamese maintained a puppet government in Cambodia. I don't know how the troops made their way through the city, but I do know that our neighborhood, in the northern part of town, close to the river, is a place where there is a history of political violence, and it has only recently stabilized. And certainly, when a city is under siege, violence isn't limited to one area.

I'm not sure why the market picked up its name. After all, it could be for lots of reasons; to commemorate a day that brought freedom from oppressive rule, to remember a day when Cambodia fell to armies from a neighboring country, as a reminder of all the rebuilding that took place after that day...I might never find out. In any case, it's humbling to live so near to something that, because of its name, is a symbol of a different time, a difficult time. It's strange to let this piece of history into my thoughts, to know that even as Cambodia struggles to put the past behind, some things will always remain. And until a giant supermarket comes in and bulldozes Psar bruhm-peul makara, this small testament to what came before will stay a part of many people's daily lives.


It’s Raining, It’s…

Another entry shamelessly borrowed from Lake Ave Church's weekly Warehouse Newsletter, albeit with photo this time. When I'm not trying to write ten other things each week, I'll work on something new, I promise. Until then…

As I'm writing this, I'm waiting for it to rain. In Cambodia, starting in late May/early June, the monsoons come, and they last for a few months. Monsoon just means really heavy rain, and it's a fact of life here. It provides much needed water for rice farmers, who depend on it for a good harvest. In the city, we time our laundry to be dry before late afternoon (when rains typically come) and plan trips to the market accordingly. Occasionally, we get caught in the downpour, and arrive home dripping wet and chilled. But lately, it hasn't been raining here in the city. I think the last rain was sometime last week—and it's usually every day or every other day here.

We had a few days when it was overcast and some drops fell. But what we really need is the massive opening up of the sky, a release of the moisture gathering in the heavens (and in the air) and falling in great sheets toward the ground. I've found myself glancing toward the horizon, hoping that the clouds are gathering, wanting to see the darkening, the gray of an approaching storm. Sometimes it has been there, but my hopes go unfulfilled.

Why the wait? When it rains, it feels like everything (and everyone) takes a great big gasping breath, clearing their lungs, expelling the stress of living under the constant pressure of intense sunlight and weighty humidity. For a few moments, it's as though we've opened a release valve of sorts, and it feels wonderful. Perhaps I'm being a bit dramatic, but I'm hot, and my plants are slowly dying. I'm ready for a thunderstorm.

I wonder how much of this is like our Christian life, how much time we spend waiting for the things we expect to simply happen. Dry spells are not unique, as we sit and wait for God to show up on the horizon, for grace to fall into our lives, for the blessings we think are coming our way. I don't have many answers as to how to deal with these dry spells; I'm as much inclined to them as anyone else. I do know, however, that unlike the weather, our Heavenly Father does not limit himself to one season of rain and is not unpredictable or capricious. He's always waiting to bless us, always ready to shower us with grace and love. So let us fix our eyes on the horizon, fix them on Jesus, and carry on through the heat and the humidity, when it feels oppressive and difficult. And let's pray; pray for rain, pray for grace, pray for the presence of the Lord to water our lives.


One Good Turn

Well, write a letter, and expect a response, right? We finished the summer ESL program (round 4!) last week with a graduation party. Imagine my surprise when I was handed a note by one of the provincial students as the party was drawing to a close. It's so great it deserved to be shared.

Dear Cat!

I am ----- from ------. I would like to thankful for your Program. When finished, you always Party. Because of you, I can speak English but at the future I am well. I thank you can't add detail or explant.

Now, for just a minute, stop in your grammatical and spelling critique (I know, this is tough) and remember that this is someone who has had only a few years of semi-regular English instruction, with little opportunity to practice, other than a couple of months out of the year. And he passed this note to a native speaker and writer who is around the same age and works in the main office of his organization, and is friends with his boss. I have no doubt that were I to be asked to write a similar letter in Khmer, I would fail miserably. Honestly, I'm having trouble just forming the letters correctly. This little note is an example of serious courage and serious thankfulness.

It's also one of the reasons I love working in Cambodia.