Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rain, Roadtrip, & the Riverfront

Due to the possibility of heavy rain today Pastor Sokhom canceled our classes (he warned us last night that it was a good possibility). I’m sure the kids were really disappointed since today (through Tuesday actually) is a Cambodian holiday for the Water Festival. But, since it was only a possibility we went ahead and prepared what we would teach and set our alarms… and didn’t over sleep this time. So, bright and early at six am we rolled out of bed to see what the verdict was on the rain. He told us the weather was, “not good”. Neither was the news on our visas… apparently we got the wrong one when we arrived at the beginning of the month. As a result, we have to leave the country… but, we get to come right back. So, now we have a road trip planned for Tuesday… Vietnam, here we come!! No worries though, he’s going with us and we should have the right visa when we return. I really don’t know what we would do without him… or the rest of the family for that matter. Have I mentioned that they’re amazing? They are!!

So, what do you do at six am after you’re wide awake? Call your friends to find out really important information like…

“What’s going on in Texas?”

“Why don’t you have your phone with you… at all times while I’m here?”

“Where do you buy a flat iron?”

“What street was that really good donut shop on here?”

See, really important stuff… give us a day off and we’re useless. Well, maybe not totally useless. We skipped out on the donut shop and had breakfast at home. We did plan on finding out some information for the team in December but, the place we needed to go was closed… this Water Festival is a BIG deal!! After a leisurely coffee/ lunch/ talking to more friends & family we set out on the hunt for a flat iron and the Water Festival… Both accomplished! See Lauren’s facebook for what the celebration is all about. We had been told there are always a LOT of people there and it’s SUPER crowded. So, with our purses tucked securely under our arms and water bottles in hand we tuk tuked as close to the riverfront as we could before we got out, played frogger, and joined the masses. Basically, there’s these HUGE (hold like 20-40 people) painted canoe like boats from all over Cambodia that come to race… Lveasar even competes but, we had no idea how to find them. In each of the boats there’s a guy at the front that has a horn, giant stick, or some other device to make noise with to set the pace for his team… they we’re our favorites to watch… except for one boat that had a drummer at the back… maybe a story for later. I’m still amazed at how these guys make rowing look so effortless and move these monstrous boats so quickly. After sitting for a while (and taking a ton of pictures) we decided to walk around. We sampled some street food, took some more pictures, got stared at a lot, and watched some more races. I would defiantly recommend checking it out if you’re even in Cambodia during this time. We left from there to grab a few things for school and at the market before making our way home. All in all, it was a great Saturday!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Flying Frogs and Farmer's Tans

We had a tuk tuk waiting outside our house today at 7 a.m. We had debated for the last few days exactly how long it would take us to get from Phnom Penh to Lveasar in a tuk tuk. We don't have a car yet, so this has been the mode of transportation that we have been relying on the last two weeks. For those of you that don't know, a tuk tuk is a moto bike that pulls two covered seats behind it. Conventionally, most can carry four people, but Cambodians love to cram as much as possible onto any vehicle carrying anything, so we've seen many more people than that per tuk tuk. Although we're very familiar with this transportation by now (we can even haggle the driver down to a decent price!), we had yet to take one to Lveasar. By car, the drive to Lveasar is about an hour...and very bumpy. This highway to Lveasar goes all the way to Vietnam, and it is currently under heavy construction. You might say it's the equivilant of driving on a shell road/washboard...yet it is a major highway. So, by tuk tuk, even more bumpy. Even so, we were pretty excited about the idea of "tuking" our way to Lveasar. The ride was definitely bumpy, but only took us fifteen more minutes that usual, making us right on time. Once we turned off the highway, we drove down a small road through a village where the tuk tuk dropped us off on the bank of the Mekong River. From here, we took a ferry (that looks much like it came out of a World War II movie) across the Mekong to Lveasar. Once we made it to Lveasar, a moto bike was there waiting to take us down the dirt road about a mile down through the village to Hope for Cambodia Orphanage. We finally made it! We arrived...and this is our life! From moment 1, we were pumped.

Arriving at the orphanage was probably my favorite part, we were greeted with hugs and smiles of kids that love more freely than many of us can understand. These are kids that have pasts not filled with the love and affection that many of us received as children, yet they are ready to love and receive love so quickly.

Our classes flew by, but it feels like so many things, I'm just going to hit the highlights:

1. These kids can introduce themselves in English and ask "What's your name?" after today!

2. After the kids left each class, we got exuberant high fives and "See you tomorrow, teacher!" in the cutest accents ever.

3. During lunch, we were directed to our "break room" with two mats and pillows on bunk beds where we can eat and sweet. :)

4.  After a quick break, we get to play with our kids for almost two hours till their next classes begin. (Lunch break is 11-1!)

5. In the afternoon, Tamara and I got to teach the high school students together. We were able to convert classroom cut-ups into an object lesson. We were teaching commands: "Come here," "Stop," "Turn around," and "Go away." In the middle of Tamara and I dramatically acting out these commands, some (what seemed at the moment) very large living creature came flying in our direction at the front of the class. We both had the normal girlie reaction you would expect of shrieking and running to the nearest wall for shelter. To our relief, there was a frog in the middle of the floor. We all died laughing, except for the two perpetrators who were not-so-subtly hiding their smiles in the back. Tamara and I spent a few moments trying to catch it, while several girls were still cowering on top of their desks...finally we chased it to the back of the room towards the open windows, yelling "Go away! Go away!" Lesson complete.

6. Evidence of just one day in the village? Village feet and farmer's tans. Already...but so worth it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Running late to karaoke...

Last night we asked Ratchana (Sokhom’s oldest daughter) what time we would leave for church in the morning. She thought it would be around six (insert what Lauren and I were thinking here). But, we obviously haven’t come all the way to Cambodia to sleep in and hang out all day or worse, miss seeing our kids. So, I set my alarm to wake us up at five and off we went to bed about 10 pm (we’re getting a little better on the sleep thing). Fast forward to this morning, Lauren taps me on the shoulder after looking at her watch and says, “Is it really six thirty?” Obviously still in a daze, I pick my phone up and inform her that, “Mine says it’s five thirty.” This is where most people would realize a watch is far less likely to reset itself than a phone, especially a phone that has had a mind of its own since leaving Singapore. We decide we should probably get ready soon but, continue to ‘snooze’, after all we still have half an hour and getting ready shouldn’t take long thanks to pony tails & t-shirts being part of our everyday attire. About that time we hear a knock on the door and Ratchana informs us they’re leaving for church. Given our transportation or lack thereof we obviously have to leave with them or miss another week (last week we were with Sue) of church in Lveasar. Lauren lets her know we’ll be right down and we quickly fumble around to room for contacts, pony tail holders, and throw on the nearest ‘appropriate’ (no shorts or sleeveless) clothes and about 2 minutes later we make our way downstairs. I can honestly say that’s the quickest I’ve ever gotten ready to go anywhere, ever.

So, sans brushed hair, make-up, earrings, or clothes that really even match at all we arrive for church in Lveasar… and I’m pretty sure no one cared, maybe not even us. Church was really good! There’s something totally authentic and pure about the worship in this little community. Hearing our kids sing along with all the adults is just utterly amazing to me, they could have easily become one of the typical citizens in this less than one percent Christian nation. It’s difficult to describe how something can feel so real when you aren’t able to understand the words. I think it’s something you just have to experience to understand.

As we’re clapping along (since singing in Khmer for us is obviously out of the question) and enjoying the worship, Ratchana leans over to us and asks Lauren and I what song we are going to sing. Once again, deer in the headlights look from both us. Half way hoping we had misunderstood I asked her to repeat herself. Nope, no misunderstanding, we were about to have our first duet. Actually, I guess that’s not entirely true, we did make an appearance at karaoke night while we were in Colorado this past September for training. I had no idea that even the extracurricular activities at MTI would be part of our preparation for Cambodia. So, there we sat trying to come up with a song we both knew ALL the words to… we finally landed on, “Mighty to Save”. I don’t think either of us looked at each other the entire time we were ‘up’ for fear we would start laughing uncontrollably and embarrass ourselves more than we already were. We made it through the song and decline a second performance. We’re already thinking of songs for next time. Suggestions please!

After we wrapped up church Sokhom, Lauren, and I had a meeting with the teachers about starting English class next week. It went really well and we have our weekly and daily schedules planned out… always subject to change as we well know and are totally fine with, we just like knowing we have something to start with. Pray for us as we begin teaching this week. Lauren is really excited to be back in the classroom and I’m just hoping no one notices I don’t have a clue as to what I’m doing but, I’m really excited none the less.

After our meeting and lunch we had a little free time before we had to leave so, we got to hang out with our kids… I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of getting to say that. It was short but, we were able to squeeze in lots of hugs, a couple tickle fights, and as always a few pictures.

I think it’s time for a nap now that we’ve enjoyed yet another amazing snack courtesy of Ronnie. Today it was fried potatoes and fried bananas with sugar… I may need bigger clothes when some of you come in December.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

She’s Scrappy...and Sassy

Yesterday we got back from a quick trip to visit Sue Singleton, a fellow missionary who lives in a city in central Cambodia called Kampong Thom (try to say that three times fast). Sue met up with us in Phnom Penh (while she was there for a different visit) to pick us up as we headed to Kampong Thom. The three and a half hour drive to KT seemed so much shorter as Sue shared with us some crazy, funny, and inspirational stories she’s experienced as a missionary in Cambodia for the last 18 years. If she didn’t keep us entertained by the stories, she kept us awake by her survival Cambodian driving. If you’ve been to Cambodia, you might imagine what that looks like. This awesome lady is scrappy and tough, and she makes her way without any hesitation. Her attitude with driving is much like her attitude with life. She’s not scared of anything or anyone. When talking about living in Cambodia alone, she told of us of a verse she clung onto long before God called her to Cambodia: 2 Timothy 1:7 “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” It wasn’t long after this conversation that Sue’s truck began puttering, doing a little shaky thing, and then died. Ironic. Here we were on the edge of the road in the middle of the Cambodian countryside….and laughing about it all. Even though after only a week, we have many memories here, but this one is definitely going down in the books (p.s. check out Tamara’s pictures of us with Sue and the truck. Haha.)

Our visit was a quick one of three nights, but we felt like we accomplished a lot. During the day, Tamara and I followed Sue around. First thing in the mornings we went to an international preschool that Sue has started in KT. We were able to observe the Cambodian preschoolers learning English. So cool…we were watching three and four year old Khmer native speakers speaking some impressive English – this is what we want to accomplish!! J Afterwards, we went to Shelter of Love (the orphanage) to hang out with some kids and to try some English teaching ourselves. Way fun. The kids were great, and we had a lot of fun playing games to teach them English. It was super fun for me the second day because I got to teach some of the older kids who knew some English already and wanted to work on grammar…I got to pull out the prepositions and direct objects – I was totally in my element. (Sorry, I’m a nerd…) It felt so good to be in a “classroom”/porch teaching again!

At night Sue teaches an English class below her house (it’s on stilts like most Cambodian houses) to a group of about 30 KT high school students. The kids love her, because she’s stinking hilarious...and sassy. I feel like we not only enjoyed her class, but also were able to gain a lot of insight to what our classes in Lveasar should look like.

Before we headed out Sue fed us an awesome breakfast of PANCAKES. Wonderful. Definitely a highlight of our trip! Haha. To get home, we took a bus from KT to PP (Phnom Penh). Even though the trip was almost four hours long, Tamara and I entertained ourselves with some Red Bull and peanuts that made my mouth numb. I think we were a little too happy for some of the people as we sat in the back, because I got a few dirty looks (sometimes I laugh kind of loud…oops.) For the most part, it was a nice trip back. Unfortunately, on our bus ride we did see a darker side of Cambodia that we would like to ignore and pretend is not an issue…..but I might wait to share that than spoil the description of an otherwise perfect trip.

After we arrived in PP, we found a few English books that looked appropriate for our kids. We’re doing some more research and looking around, but we feel ready and eager to start teaching….hopefully next week!! Please keep praying….for our Khmer….for Lveasar....for Cambodia as a whole. We love our Cambodia…..and we love our Jesus…..and we’d really like them to meet.


Another List...

Random things that make us feel like we’ve made progress:

- Getting a tuk into town

- Paying a semi-fair price for a tuk ride or anything for that matter

- Finding our way around the city to specific areas/shops

- Accomplishing almost everything on our ‘to-do’ list

- Studying Khmer

- Learning to relax

- Finding Coke Light (that may just be me)

- Purchasing materials to teach English

- Communicating with even a very few Khmer words (emphasis on the very)

- Getting a tuk home (with clear directions to where we live)

- Catching people on skype or facebook and getting to talk to them

Random things we do that make us laugh:

- Attempting to use new Khmer words we’ve learned

- Linking arms to cross the street (we feel safer that way)

- Dodging traffic on the sidewalk

- Getting sleepy enough to go to bed before 10 pm

- Waking up before our alarms go off at 6 am

- Only having to charge our phones once a week

- Realizing that almost everywhere we’re the loud ones… we’ll work on it

- Having entire conversations via facebook posts with our family and friends

- Being here and absolutely loving it


Saturday, November 6, 2010

If this is real life then...

I LOVE it!! Last night we had another amazing dinner with Sokhom and Ronnie. It was just like sitting around the table with our parents at home. We talked about our day, how everyone was doing, plans for tomorrow, and our kids in Lveasar of course. Before we left Texas I tried to imagine what our evenings would look like here… I knew they wouldn’t consist of sitting out at Buc-ees drinking coffee or being at friends houses watching TV and hanging out. While I miss both of those and the friends and family I was with, this has been really great! We’ve enjoyed just spending time with people here like we did with all of you. I think I’m realizing that moving didn’t make my family and circle of friends smaller like I thought it would, instead it grew. That’s not to say (at all) that we aren’t missing people… trust me, we are. The random facebook messages, comments, and of course conversations mean a LOT. We love hearing how things are going with everyone and getting to share what’s going on here. We’ve decide technology is amazing!


Friday, November 5, 2010

"Is this real life?"

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cambodia. After all the waiting, praying...and more waiting, it's finally here. Being here definitely feels so surreal. This is real life, and we're really here. We found out that "Tamara and Lauren Cambodia" isn't too much different than "Normal Tamara and Lauren." For example, today we locked the keys to our bedroom in our bedroom. SWEEEET. Something we would totally do in everyday life. haha. I think we told Sokhom we were sorry like one million times as him and Randy worked at breaking back in. Of course, he's awesome, and just kept reassuring us: "No problem, no problem." He keeps telling us that his English is "no good." But that's totally not the truth; even though there is some difficulty at times, it is far from a language barrier. It was so exciting to step off the plane and see him waiting there waving at us. We felt welcomed from the very beginning. Since then, Ronnie (Sokhom's wife) and Ratchana (Sokhom's daughter, just a few years younger than us) have fed us some of the best Khmer food I've ever had. We keep trying to help, and Randy has told Sokhom on several occasions, "They are not guests, they are family." Tamara and I talked to Ratchana today, and I think we will get to start helping with meals tomorrow - yay for Khmer cooking! In exchange, she wants to learn how to make fajitas. I'm sure our reactions were priceless: "Can we help you learn to make fajitas?! Umm...HECK YES!" So, needless to say, as soon as our kitchen is done, Ratchana is going to learn how to make some Texas fajitas. Speaking of kitchen....our apartment is being worked on as I type. I know a lot of people have been asking about what it is going to be like. Well, when Sokhom gave us the tour of the unfinished apartment, Tamara and I were about ready to cry...we feel so unworthy. It has blown our expectations. Tamara has taken some pictures which should be online about the time this gets posted (we don't have internet now, so we're typing all this up in hopes when we do come along some internet in town sometime, we can post what we've already written.) Tamara and I each have seperate rooms with seperate bathrooms. Our bedrooms are larger than any bedroom I've ever had. We'll have a kitchen in the back and a very large living room in the front. Off the living room we will have a balcony that overlooks the street -- this is where we will wash clothes. We knew whatever Sokhom would provide would be nice, but this is beyond what we ever thought. We totally don't deserve this, and we're not sure how we got it so good. God is SO good. Tamara and I keep asking..."Okay, so why are we so surprised?" Really? God has just provided above and beyond what we need...always does. :)

Today we got to visit the orphanage for the first time. I was super antsy as we took the ferry over the Mekong and then rode on the back of a moto to the orphanage -- we couldn't wait to see our kids! The orphanage looked great -- super clean and with some new buildings. The kids looked great too -- of course one of the twins was in what I think was a woman's old blouse, but of course not a far stretch from last year's Hannah Montana night gown. Nonetheless, the kids looked happy and healthy. As we sat with Pastor Sokhom and Randy at lunch, I felt that feeling I felt last December...this is where I'm supposed to be. I'm sure for the time that we're here, we'll have frustrating and down moments, but these last few days have yet to have their disappointments. We have the coolest kids to work with and the coolest family to live with -- life is good. Thank you all so much for praying for us and all the encouragement. We'll probably miss comments and messages to respond to...when you're without internet for days at a time, it's difficult to respond to everything, but please don't stop them coming!! They mean so much to us! We love you all, and we definitely miss you too! You guys are awesome, and we feel so loved.


The Just of Today

It’s up to us to be decisive… neither one of us are very good at that (I’m sure many of you know that) but, since Randy is on his way back to Texas I guess now we have to. Thankfully we’re easing into it and have had a pretty chill day.

Kind of a random run down of our day:

Dropped Randy off at the airport.

Learned a few new Khmer words on the way back with Sokhom.

Made a few phone calls home.

Got in touch with Sue (who we met this summer) and made plans to spend a few days with her in Khom Pong Tom (I’m positive that’s spelled wrong) at the orphanage she’s at to get more information on English curriculum and how classes are structured. We want to find something we know is effective and will really help our kids learn English.

Tried to practice our new words… I know we sound ridiculous.

Met Alex… after a little confusion due to duplicate street numbers but, we made it into Phnom Penh and accomplished a few errands (I think that’s a victory alone). He’s serving at on orphanage nearby and thanks to Jane, Jason, and this crazy awesome network of people we have going on here and in the states we felt like we already knew him. But, it was nice to actually meet face to face.

Got internet!!


We Made it... a Few Days Ago


We’re finally here!! Our flight got into Phnom Penh Tuesday evening and I’m pretty sure I’ve been smiling ever since. I finally feel like I’m home after almost a year of preparation. We’re still trying to adjust to not planning every second of our day and just enjoying being with our new family… they’re awesome and treat us way better than we deserve. As I’m typing this Ronnie (Sokhom’s wife) just brought us a snack of grilled bananas (SO yummy). Wednesday we were able to go into town and catch-up with a few friends from here over the phone and had lunch with Tida and Ravy at Luna (an amazing Italian restaurant). Bopa came by to see us that night to deliver a few things for Randy to take back home. It was great to see her again and visit… I’m just so amazed and grateful that God has given us friends in Cambodia to help make our adjustment here easier. Tida told Lauren and I that we’ll have to have a party after Randy leaves, haha.

Today (Thursday) is the day I’ve been looking forward to since we left Cambodia this summer… we got to see our kids!! We just got to hang out and spent time with them before they had to go to class this afternoon. We tried a few of the new words we’ve learned (or are learning) and that was good for a few laughs from the kids… and teachers. I love that hugs and smiles are universal … one of the few instances there’s no need for Khmer or English. Sokhom showed us the new school rooms (first and second grade – I think) and we got to see the much anticipated bathrooms (thank you everyone that helped make those possible)!! Everything looks great at the orphanage and we’re really excited that that’s where the majority of our time here will be spent! We can’t wait to start teaching and really building relationships with the kids, house moms, and teachers. Seeing our kids and spending time with them is such a huge encouragement and reminder of why we’re here. I love that we’ll see all of them again really soon and that we don’t have to say goodbye… or at least not for a while.

Tonight all of us (Sokhom’s family, Randy, Lauren, and I) got to visit and relax over dinner. It was really nice to get to eat with everyone and just spend time getting to know our new family. They’re awesome!! We couldn’t have asked for a better family to join! And… we’re feeling a little more at home now that we both have Khmer cell phones…. sometimes it’s the little things that make a huge difference.

I still can’t believe I’m finally here and that we actually get to stay!!


Monday, November 1, 2010

We're On Our Way!!

Disclaimer: there’s a good chance that this post is going to be a lot of word vomit.
As you know, we’re not very good with the updates… we’ll try to do better once we’re on the ground in Cambodia and feel like there’s stuff going on that is actually of interest to more than three people.  I love reading people’s blogs or facebook posts/notes that are really well written and inspirational or informative (yes, I know I’m a nerd). If you are one of those people who enjoy that sort of thing then…
Second Disclaimer: this most likely won’t be any of those and most of the things I write won’t be… I think I’m just going to go for what I’m thinking or what I would say if I were having coffee with you.
Right now I’m sitting on a plane over the ocean somewhere between Texas and Moscow. I’ve watched a movie and a half, two TV shows, eaten dinner, and drank what was likely one of my last diet coke’s for the next year… If I remember correctly its coke light from here on out. Not quite the same but fizzy, cold, caffeine goodness none the less. I know, exciting stuff and most likely not the last time you’ll hear about my diet coke (and caffeine in general) addiction. (Thanks mom for supporting that habit and sending me with money to purchase my caffeine in a can... the French press was one of the first things I packed.) I’ve practiced washing clothes in the sink already thanks to the chocolate falling out of my Milano cookie and landing on my shirt. It was definitely a good call to wear a tank under the shirt that is now drying on the back of my chair. (See total randomness but, I warned you.)
On a slightly more serious note I just want to say thank you for what I feel like is the one millionth time! I always knew I had really good friends but, y’all have just totally amazed me with the amount of love and support that has been given to Lauren and I. There isn’t any way I could ever express how much you all mean…. I know I’ve been a little crazy the last several weeks (okay, maybe months) and everyone has been so understanding. Sunday morning I was reminded of that once again. Every hug, prayer, kind word, card, and smile means so much! I know we probably didn’t look to excited leaving but trust me; we are looking forward to being in Cambodia like you wouldn’t believe… it’s just the goodbyes that are hard because we love you all. I’m truly grateful for each and every one of you God has placed in my life!
Like I said, we’ll try to update more often to give a glimpse into what we’re doing once we get to Cambodia. Please keep us in your prayers as we adjust to our new home and for Sokhom and his family as they open their home to us. If there’s any way we can pray specifically for you please let us know. (Send us an email or message on facebook.)

(Sending from the Moscow airport)