Not a Sneeze

I haven't formally re-started my language learning. I'm going to venture into the dangerous waters of reading and writing Khmer, so I'll probably hire a formal tutor, and the person I've asked is checking her schedule. In the meantime, I'm taking an ad hoc approach to learning Khmer (or re-learning, as the case may be), and trying to find ways to make myself understood. It's always most difficult on the phone. Here's an example, from a phone call this afternoon about an evening get-together:

Kate: I want to know if you can bring some things for the party tonight.
Staff Person: Yes, yes, of course.
Kate: Great! Can you bring charcoal and ice?
SP: Chocolate? Ha, yes.
Kate: No, not chocolate. I mean, yes, if you want, but we need charcoal.
SP: I don't know this word.
Kate: Um, you put it on the grill, I mean barbecue. It's what you light on fire. It burns.
SP: Cha-coal? No, I don't know it.
Kate: It's black, it's made from wood... I don't know the word in Khmer.
SP: I don't either.
Kate: Um.... I'll ask someone.

At this point, I walk out into the main office to ask someone. It goes like this:

Kate: Do you know the word for charcoal?
Other Staff Person: Charcoal?
Kate: Like, for a barbecue. Charcoal.
OSP: Oh, yes. Kchung.
Kate (wonders if he has just sneezed before realizing it's a word): Kachoo?
OSP: No. Kchung.
Kate: Kchung.
OSP: Yes.
Kate: Thanks!

So then I try it out on the phone:
Kate: Kchung. We need some kchung.
SP: OH! Yes, yes, I know. I will bring.
Kate: Great! Thanks! Oh, and don't forget the ice.

We'll see if the right stuff actually shows up. If not, we'll just have to eat chocolate, I guess.


Women in Cambodia

As most of you know, I spent the last few months working on a dissertation, and as part of that, spent a lot of time writing and researching the topic of women in Cambodian society. Gender and culture are significantly tied together here (as they are in many places), and being female profoundly impacts choices and opportunities.

Instead of going on about theory or culture, though, I wanted to briefly share an article about this woman, Mu Sochua, who is an interesting example of the politics surrounding gender and, well, politics in modern Cambodia. (It also features a slideshow with some lovely images of rural Cambodia.) I first heard about Mu Sochua last year, when she was being sued by the government, and there was fear that she would be sent to prison. She has done a great deal for the situation of women in Cambodia, particularly around issues of domestic violence and human trafficking.

As an American woman living here, it's often difficult to really understand some of the gender issues that exist here; after all, I grew up with much different ideals and influences. For me, it's both inspiring and hopeful to see a Cambodian woman working to improve the lives of her countrywomen while acknowledging the culture, and its values. She is trying to work within the system, and is a voice for freedom and equality-- it's a voice that deserves to be heard.


Pluses and Minuses

I'm in my second week of being back in Cambodia, and it's remarkably… normal now. The homesickness is still there, but it's at manageable levels, the kind of lingering feeling of knowing that I'll always be missing out on something, somewhere. It's a feeling I'm used to, even if it's not entirely comfortable. However, in honor of my friend, Susannah, who is currently living in Munich, I've decided that the best way to ease back into life (and blogging!) is to make a list. So here they are, the good and the bad (but not the ugly) things about being back in Cambodia.

+ My favorite coffee shop opened a new branch only 5 minutes from my apartment.

- There is a severe shortage of bagels in this part of the world

+There are tons of cute Cambodian kids running around.

- None of them are my niece.

+ I haven't had to take a snow day since I arrived and the weather hasn't been unbearably hot.

- My sojourn in the US was during the winter, so Cambodians everywhere are commenting on my clean, white skin.

+ Driving a moto again is pretty fun.

- Driving a moto again is downright terrifying.

+ Coming across foods that I forgot I really enjoyed.

- Food poisoning, and being ill for 24 hours last week.

On the whole, it's pretty balanced, and I forgot to include things like, "Spending time with friends I'd missed" and "Being back to work," so maybe it's a little more in favor of the positive at this point. I think there are always good and bad things about relocating, even when it's somewhere you want to be. And life isn't about balancing the equation, is it? We'll always have some negatives in amidst the positives, and sometimes one won't outrank the other. I'm growing more and more accustomed to living in between the bad and the good, and learning which of these values really carry the most weight in my life. In the meantime, I'm drinking coffee and trying to get some work finished. Five months is a long time to be away.

(Oh! And I've now caved to peer pressure joined twitter, so you can follow me there: http://twitter.com/katepieps. I'd love to follow you, too, so let me know if you're there!)


Heading for Home

Have you ever felt yourself wishing you were somewhere else? I don’t just mean wishing to trade work for the beach or sitting in traffic for a seat on the couch. I mean a heartfelt longing for a different place.

I’ve arrived back in Cambodia after nearly five months in the US, and it’s a bit strange. Cambodia, and life here, is quite familiar after all this time, despite how long I’ve been away. However, I’m more homesick on this re-entry than I’ve been after other, shorter visits to America. Perhaps it’s because I spent a lot of time with family, or fell into a comfortable routine. Whatever the cause, though I’m very happy to be back, I still want to be somewhere else at the same time.

I think it’s within each of us to want something different, usually something better. We’re waiting, hoping, maybe even working toward some situation that we deeply desire. For me, right now, it’s somehow uniting the purpose I feel for my work in Cambodia with the comfort and security of ‘home’. For others, it might mean a better job, marriage, achieving social justice in a fallen world. There are lots of possibilities, and they’re unique to each of us. At the core, though, it’s a divine longing, isn’t it? We want to be away from the frustration, the discomfort, the pain of this life and to be somewhere infinitely better. We’re all homesick travelers on our journey with the Lord. We’re heading for the joy of heaven, we desire face-time with our Father.

It’s one of the blessings of our Christian faith that we can acknowledge these feelings of homesickness, of longing for somewhere else. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that after applauding some very faithful people, the writer of Hebrews says “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: 16). Today, I’m taking comfort in the fact that no matter where my feet are planted, Christ has understood my longings for somewhere else and prepared a heavenly home for me.