Saturday, May 29, 2010

S'bayt Khmaow!

There are some things in life that simply leave me baffled. One of these things in perspectives on skin. Living in a tropical climate has left me a bronze color that I previously did not know was possible. The sun is quite intense here, but I rarely wear sunscreen because I am not usually outside for long periods of time. However, ten minutes here and fifteen minutes there has left me with really dark. The interesting thing is that in Cambodia the people desperately want white skin. It is quite a feat to find any kind of lotion, make up, or moisturizer here that does not have some kind of whitening agent in it. White is beautiful. The Khmer people are quite varied in their skin tones as they have lots of influence from other ethnicities in their history. Some of them are really dark while some of them are quite light-skinned. And, undoubtedly, the light-skinned Khmer are deemed more beautiful regardless of any other quality. As my skin has bronzed, I have begun to get disapproving looks from my Khmer friends and those I work with. They frown and say "s'bayt khmaow!" which means "black skin." Then, they ask if I like my skin this color and they shake their heads when I answer "yes!" I like my bronze skin. They have also taken to regularly comparing my skin tone with their own. I am now actually as dark or darker than many of them, which they think is quite funny.
Isn't it quite reflective of life that we consistently want what we don't have? Those of us who have pasty white skin desperately want to look bronzed (minus the sunspots and wrinkles) while those who have beautifully dark skin tones lather themselves with whitening creams. We want to be thinner, smarter, more athletic, more musically inclined, wealthier...the list goes on and on. Rarely are we satisfied with the way God created us, with the talents and gifts He apportioned to us. We find it much easier to focus on that which we don't have, rather than rejoicing in the gifts and beauty He has placed inside of us. I have come to learn that people are most beautiful when they are walking alongside Christ and operating in the gifts He has given them. When this is the case, people simply glow! Their joy is both evident and contagious! I want to be like this. I want to reflect Christ in all I do. I want His joy to radiate from me. I don't want my glow to come from my bronzed skin but rather from my reflection of the Son. I want to rejoice in the person He has created me to be and excel in the gifts He has given me, not so that I will be noticed but so that God may be glorified. He truly is a creative artist. As I pause to truly look at the world around me, I am consistently amazed by His amazing creativity and attention to every detail. I challenge you to take the time today to pause and reflect on the amazing creation around you!

we're colored people, and we live in a tainted place
we're colored people, and they call us the human race
we've got a history so full of mistakes
and we are colored people who depend on holy grace
~ dcTalk, "Colored People"

Monday, May 24, 2010


I have discovered a new sense of freedom in Phnom Penh! About a month and a half ago, I finally got up the nerve to start navigating the utter chaos of the streets in Phnom Penh. My hesitation in not doing this previously was simply that I never rode a bike much growing up and was just not very confident on one. However, the organization I am working with had some bikes available to me should I choose to use one. So, during Khmer New Year (April 14-16) the streets of Phnom Penh were absolutely deserted as everyone traveled to the provincial countryside to enjoy time with family. Thus, this was the prime time for me to get all the wobbles out and begin biking!
I think that might have been the best decision I have made in a long time!!!! It was so incredibly liberating to be able to hop on a bike and go anywhere that I want to go and stop anywhere I feel like stopping along the way. And, the best part is that it is free (well, minus the 8 cents it costs me to park at the market)!!!! I love riding on the back of motos, but the free factor of riding a bike definitely appeals to a girl who is living on a budget. Phnom Penh is small enough that it is feasible to take a bike pretty much anywhere in the city as long as you don't mind being soaked with sweat when you arrive. It has been insanely hot over the last few months, so I have grown quite accustomed to perpetually dripping with sweat regardless of whether I am riding a bike or simply sitting. So, the sweat factor is not a drawback for me, really.
I have had some fun (and not so fun) experiences on the bike. I got in a little accident a few weeks ago. A moto hit my bike and I did a Superman dive, but I was fine, just a few scrapes and bruises. I was back on the bike just a few days later, undeterred. Another day I was quite a sight to behold as I rode home from a friend's apartment on a Saturday morning with a backpack strapped to my back, a backpack strapped to my front, and the basket on the front of my bike filled with 2 bags of groceries. Now, you might think that I got some strange looks as I pedaled home, but you would be wrong. Though I would have looked absolutely ridiculous in America, in Cambodia I looked very similar to everyone else. You should never underestimate the amount that you can carry on a bike, moto, or truck!
In conclusion, I have heard someone say that you should do one thing that scares you every day, you know, just to keep things interesting. Well, at first I thought that navigating Phnom Penh traffic during rush hour constituted this every single time I do it. But, it honestly does not scare me anymore. I am growing quite accustomed to the rules of the road (or lack thereof)--making right turns without looking either direction, doing what I like to call the wrong way cross-over (going the wrong direction on the road until there is a gap in traffic when you can cross-over to the correct side), weaving between cars and motos that are stopped at stoplights in order to get as close to the front of the line as possible, using anything that moves as a shield when making a left hand turn, and basically being completely oblivious to any existence of traffic laws...
I am actually beginning to think that at this point navigating traffic in America might be a greater cause for fear...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


So, I just realized that I had not posted anything about my trip to Vietnam at the beginning of April. My friend Kara had to leave the country to get her visa renewed, so I happily agree to head to Ho Chi Minh for a long weekend with her. It was really great to get out of Cambodia and see something a bit different for a few days. That last statement should not be construed to mean that I am not 110 percent in love with Cambodia. However, it is nice to get out and see something else sometimes! And, though Vietnam is only a few hours ride on a busy away from Cambodia, they are worlds apart! Kara and I were nearly giddy upon our arrival. We were not sure what to do with the semi-orderly traffic, the lack of dirt and dust everywhere, all the trees and grass in the parks, and buildings taller than 5 stories. It was literally like entering another world. We had a great time exploring and shopping in the markets and visiting some historical sites.
We went to a handicraft factory that employs disabled people. There are a lot of disabled people in Vietnam as a result of the chemicals used during the war. These chemicals are still causing birth defects in children today. Much of the art in Vietnam uses sea shell and eggshell to craft elaborate scenes. It was amazing to watch them carefully craft all of these things.
We then went on to the Cu Chi tunnels. These are the series of tunnels used by the VietCong to escape the enemy (aka the U.S.).
This is me inside an American tank. I love that there are no ropes keeping you off of anything in Asia. You can climb on anything. I am hoping to make a visit to the zoo soon because I figure I can reach my hand right into the cage and pet the tigers! Ok, maybe I won't do that...unless they are sleeping...
This is me preparing to crawl through the tunnels. You can't really tell, but I am pretty much dripping with sweat, which is probably why my face looks a bit funny. Southeast Asia is hot people!!!

After the Cu Chi tunnels, we made a trip to the War Remnants Museum.This was the only picture I took at the museum because I don't really want to remember anything that I read or saw inside the museum. Let's just say that my heart was broken, and there were definitely tears involved.

In order to do something a bit lighter for our evening, we opted for a delicious dinner of ice cream and fondue. This was amazing, folks!
And, after typing this whole post, I realized this picture is sideways...oh well. We were so excited about being in a nation much more developed. Thus, we went to see a a real theater...with real popcorn!!!! We don't have any of that in Cambodia!!! We saw Alice in Wonderland, which was actually really good. However, it probably wouldn't have mattered what the movie option was, we would have gone regardless!
Being in Vietnam made me realize a lot of things.
1. I love Cambodia and much prefer living there to Vietnam (but Vietnam is certainly a nice weekend getaway)
2. Cambodia is still so very far behind in development compared to other SE-Asian countries
3. Cambodia has lost so much of its unique culture. Vietnam has distinct cultural dress and art and handicrafts while Cambodia contains mostly copies of other SE-Asian nations' dress and arts. This is a result of the years of genocide and civil war that Cambodia is still working to recover from.
4. Cambodian people are some of the most friendly people on earth!!!! (Way more friendly than the Vietnamese!)
5. I really don't realize that I miss things until I have access to them (i.e. movie theaters), which definitely makes living in Cambodia all the more enjoyable for me! Thank God for making me flexible and adaptable!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


I think a person's scars tell a lot about them. I have thought this for many years. Every scar tells a story of a battle, big or small. Every scar represents a victory or a defeat, a lesson learned. I may be wrong, but I feel like I have more scars than the average individual. I am not sure if that is because I am an accident prone individual or if it may be because God likes to use them as reminders to me of His goodness and faithfulness. I prefer to lean toward the latter. I like to think I am learning as I go in life, and my scars are like the altars built to God in the Old Testament. Those altars were built as a reminder of God's goodness and provision. They were built so that the people would not forget. I think God realized that for me, I need to carry reminders of His goodness and provision with me at all times in order for me not to forget. So, scars tell stories.
I have a scar on the palm of my left hand where I received 5 stitches when I was 9 years old. What is this a reminder of? Well, first of all, it reminds me not to run into glass doors. But, more importantly, it reminds me that even when you think something created by man is indestructible, it can shatter in an instant.
I have a scar on the outside of my left ankle. This one was from when I was about 5 years old and was practicing my balance walking circles around my tractor tire sandbox (yes, I am from Indiana, and yes, I had the coolest sandbox in all of Argos). Unfortunately for me, my balance wasn't so great, and there just happened to be a sharp-cornered landscaping brick inside my sandbox. Lesson learned. When I start to get too confident in my own abilities to balance my life, God is more than happy to send a little breeze my way to pop me off balance enough to remember Who is really in control.
I have a scar on my right knee. I got this one when I was 12. I remember it vividly. I was standing to the side, minding my own business while my dad and some other adult men were unloading my wildly out-of-control 4-H sheep from the trailer into the barn. My dad proceeded to essentially tell me to stop standing around and help unload the dreadful creatures who nearly doubled my weight. In my first attempt to catch a yearling ewe off the trailer, I was promptly knocked into the gravel. Determined not to be "yelled" at again, I got up and climbed into the trailer without even looking at my casualties until my dad handed me his dirty handkerchief to wipe up the blood that was pouring down my leg. Sometimes pride comes not only before but also after the fall...
I have a scar on my left forearm. I did this one to myself when I was 15. I prayed for God to take this one away, but He said no. He told me that I needed to see it each day to be reminded of His faithfulness and goodness even in my darkest hours. God doesn't leave, and He understands all of our pain.
I have scars in the crooks of my elbows from donating thousands of milliliters of plasma. While in college, I discovered that I could donate plasma twice a week for money. I then used this "extra" cash to help pay to go on mission trips. I used to tell people that I was winning either way. I was donating plasma to save lives here, and then going overseas to save lives there. I learned a lot about sacrifice donating all that plasma, and I learned a lot about God's provision as well.
I have a scar on the top of my left foot. I got this one about a year and a half ago. I learned that it is not a good idea to walk quickly across a very dark parking lot that has landscaping stones along the edge, especially when wearing flip flops. That lesson in and of itself was good enough.
I have a scar on the top of my right hand. It is a burn from making bruschetta, I believe. Sometimes no matter how careful you are and how many times you have done something, you still get burned. The important thing is to not get discouraged or to let one negative experience ruin what can be something amazing!
I have a scar on my right knee, which almost covers up the afore-mentioned scar on my right knee. I got this one just a few months ago in my attempt to learn to drive a motorbike. I learned several things from this. First, I think it is a good idea to learn to ride a bicycle in Phnom Penh traffic before attempting a moto. Second, flip flops may not be the best driving shoes (but will probably still continue to be my shoe of choice). Third, God protects us from ourselves sometimes, but He also expects us to learn from our stupidity. Hence, I have not attempted to drive a motorbike again...yet.
And, I think I may have a few more scars on the horizon. Last Saturday I had a bit of an altercation with a moto while riding my bicycle. Ok, so I may have gotten hit by a moto and totally knocked off my bike into the street. Luckily it was not a busy street, and I was not seriously hurt (nor was my bike). I was able to get up, dust myself off, tell the driver of the moto that it was no problem, hop back on my bike, and go home. After I got home, I may or may not have burst into tears and felt the severe stinging of my scraped palms, elbows, and knee. But, all is well. I am healing nicely, and I even hopped back on the bike today for some jaunting around. My scabbed over palms can once again grip the handlebars of my bike. Sometimes you just have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on...

In the words of Sara Groves one of my favorite singer/songwriters,
in Your hands the pain and hurt look less like scars and more like character.

Jesus' scars tell the greatest story that could ever be told, and someday I hope my scars can serve as but a reflection of His goodness.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Bprahm Kai Howie!

Where does time go? I feel like the days keep flying past me whether I am ready for them or not. Somehow it is the first of May already, but I often still sit and wonder where 2009 went. I have been in Cambodia for 5 months already (brpahm kai howie). In some ways I cannot possibly believe that I have been here this long, but in other ways I feel like this is my home now and has been for ages. Cambodia has a way of capturing people's hearts. I cannot even count how many people I have encountered here who were planning to come for a month, 3 months, 6 months, or a year but upon spending time here they have extended their time here because Cambodia has gotten under their skin. The Khmer people have squeezed their way into hearts. I have definitely become one of those people who can't imagine leaving. I know that my work in Cambodia is not complete. I know that I will be back. I believe it will be sooner rather than later. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy my next several weeks here before I plan my trip back to the States. I plan on learning as much as I can, speaking Khmer as much as I can, and loving people as much as I can in these next several weeks...and I might throw some fun traveling into the mix as well, just to keep things interesting!