What a gift yesterday was! And the day before that, and the day before that, and . . . You get the idea. Every time I visit Cambodia, I feel compelled to bring the country home with me, as if I could fit it in my pocket and sneak it past customs. Unfortunately, I’m not that smooth. Nor do I think Cambodia would very much appreciate taking a nap and then waking up smack dab in the mid-west of the U.S.A. So while I’m still trying to figure out how to encapsulate my experiences here and bring them home with me, I have come up with a short list of ways to experience Cambodia in my life at home. In the Cambodian spirit of generosity, I want to share this with you.
How to get a little bit of Cambodia in your own home:
- Buy mango juice and drink it every morning. The Cambodian juice game is strong.
- Once a month, have a slow, purposeful breakfast with your friends or your family. Breakfast has been our time to connect with each other and to thank God for the experiences we have had here.
- Smile at everyone you see and say “thank you” profusely. The people I have come into contact with each time I have been here have been so polite and kind. It makes an outsider feel welcomed and loved.
- Look at lots of pictures of Cambodia. Let’s be honest, Ohio ain’t got nothing on the expansive rice fields, the city sparkling with colored lights and blinking tuk tuk carts as they weave in and out of traffic, or the lush jungle robed in shades of green you didn’t even know existed.
- Sit on the floor more. It sounds strange, but we spent a lot of time sitting on floors, supported by God’s earth below us and God’s people next to us. I love the idea of eliminating the middle man and just making a connection with the earth. It’s especially wonderful when you are seated next to beautiful sisters or brothers in Christ, playing a game or making bracelets. Creativity, laughter, earth, God’s love—what an amazing support system. Who needs a chair?
- Buy local. The Cambodian city streets are crowded with food carts. The markets are bustling and fragrant. Our guide, Abby, knows exactly which cart or market stall to visit. The shop owners know her and greet us as friends, too. Can you imagine the connections we could make if we bought our soap from the same person every time? Their business would grow and so would the bonds of our local communities.
- Trust the young people. An unbelievable amount of pressure is on the shoulders of the youth in Cambodia. In my lifetime, thanks to conditions created by the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge decimated this country. People under forty are the backbone of this country. People under twenty are its future. It is not a job they take lightly. In Chbar Mon, we saw church leaders as young as 13 years old! In Phnom Penh, New Life Fellowship is managed by many people half my age. At Prek Eng, our kids help around the house with cooking, cleaning, caring for the neighbors and each other. Some of our kids are already teaching English to other Cambodians. Like, HOW COOL IS THAT? Maybe, if we gave our teens a little more responsibility, a little more faith, a little more trust, and a lot more supportive prayer, we could see them grow and lead in our communities and nation, too!
- Don’t know what to say? Try a hug. So. Many. Hugs. Here. Well-timed, firmly delivered, heart-felt hugs can do a lot when language fails. And let me assure you, it has failed us many times here. Even for people who may not be touchy-feely, a pat on the shoulder can go miles for making someone feel heard and seen.
- Refrain from criticism. I love this country. I love the people. But not everything is pretty. In fact, some of it is downright ugly. Poverty is next to every sparkling high-rise building. Trash is piled along the sides of every street and the odor from it can stick to your clothes. On more than one occasion, I have wanted to yell, “Where are the trash cans?! Just throw the trash in a trash can!” There are different foods. Different smells. Different customs. I think, though, that instead of trying to criticize methods or customs that are different, we just lean in and love. Especially as outsiders to a culture, we often think we have a better way. But by butting in and trying to fix everything we see “wrong,” we are depriving a people from finding their own way and doing things how they see best. What I learned about the trash piles later was that they have trash collection in the evening, and the collectors go along the streets to grab the trash from the edges of the sidewalk. This is infrastructure that was not here five years ago when I was here! How great is that?!
- Love, love, and love some more. How a people so oppressed, so beaten down can rise up with open hearts is nothing short of miraculous. Our own country seems to be in a state of conflict. We have poverty, crime, drug epidemics, political corruption, and brokenness. Can we rise up with open hearts? Can we love a little harder when what we really want to do is fight or give up? Can be a little more Jesus and a little less “us”?
I am sure this is not what the team had in mind when they asked me to blog, but I’m the one with the computer right now, and thus the power! MUHAHAHA! I jest. In all honesty, this blog was my heartfelt attempt to share with you what we learned and to thank you for your prayerful support of our mission trip here. What a blessing. What a responsibility. What a gift.
~ Beth Conti