To the girl I met only once in Cambodia,

Let me tell you about how you radically changed my summer.

I had been in Phnom Penh three weeks already, and was exhausted. I felt lonely, friendless, and scared. I still hadn’t figured out where to buy groceries, and I really was desperate for some liquid shampoo. After 3 weeks I continued to be fearful of travelling alone. I felt like an outsider at the church I had been attending, which, let’s face it, I was. Feeling out of place at all times is tiring, and I was sick of being afraid of being kidnapped. I also missed having friends.

That day I met you at church, God must have told you I needed you. You chatted with Jacob and I, and immediately after church gathered up your crowd of friends and forced them to have dinner with us, after first buying some necessities at the supermarket. You gave me tips on getting around the city, and there was something about seeing another young, white girl feel so comfortable, at home and unafraid that wholly settled my soul. Somebody who had been me once.

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Sadly you’re the photographer here, and not in the photo!

We spent the evening together, with your friends, who would later become my own friends. You invited Jacob and I to join your send-off party the following week. I wasn’t able to come, but was so thankful for the invitation. Socializing, not only with you but your group of friends, was exactly what I needed to relax into life here. Your encouragement and welcome helped me to exhale, and your own success gave me confidence.
In the weeks to follow I saw your updates, on Facebook and Instagram, and your blog. Though I was only to be here for two months, seeing another young foreign girl go through life here reassured me that I could do the same.

Familiarity in your posts, with people I recognized from church, made me feel like I too was one of the group. Unfortunately, I can be quite shy in unknown situations and did not spend as much time as I would have wished making connections with church friends.

I left Cambodia 4 days ago, but I know I will see you again. I will continue to cherish your Facebook updates and I look forward to the day we are reunited in Cambodia (I feel so certain it will happen) and the coffee and stories we will share. I don’t know how I feel so connected to you after meeting only once (well, I do, actually, through God), but know that our meeting was absolutely ordained and you will remain special to me.

Until we meet again,
Courtney
xoxox

Street Eats: A Memoire

I’m sitting on a blue plastic chair at a small aluminum table. Across from me is Jacob – two months ago merely a concept of a person, barely real, now my friend and survival companion. On the table is a container full of forks, spoons, and chopsticks. Beside this is a tissue dispenser. A plate of hot noodles, greens, and pork is placed in front of me by a Khmer lady who speaks no English. I politely thank her – “Ah kun, Ming” – and wipe off a fork with a tissue (a cultural requirement, we have learned). I pray over the meal and the day, and Jacob and I dig in. We are on the side of the street. It’s 7 pm, and dark out. Several other people are eating here, and though dark out, the street is full of life and motos. This is life. This is Phnom Penh.

I reflect on the first time Jacob and I were on this street together after dark.

We had just arrived in Phnom Penh several hours earlier. Jacob and I had known each other for a week or two, but for all intents and purposes were strangers. We managed to find our guesthouse, after some difficulty, and figured out how much we owed our landlady. After this was settled, we realized we needed to find food ASAP.

What we knew, or ‘knew’, about Phnom Penh was this:

  1. Never go out after dark.
  2. Never drink tap water.
  3. Never get Riel – use American Dollars only.
  4. Never, ever, eat street food.

We needed food. We started walking down the dark street, hoping to find a store that sold food. We mutually acknowledged we would have to eat street food. Across the street, we saw loads of food. From time to time, we considered crossing the street to get to the food, but this seemed extremely dangerous, and to me, unnecessary. Even on the sidewalk we found ourselves trying to avoid being hit by people on motos. Finally, after nervously slogging through the dark street for a few minutes, we found a food stall with items that looked familiar to me.

The lady was selling steamed buns with meat inside. Since I recognized the items, I felt it was safe to eat. Perhaps not the best logic, but at this point it was sink or swim. We tried to figure out how much the buns would cost. This took a very long time, as the lady spoke no English, and we knew zero Khmer haoy (yet). After a while, somebody who spoke a bit of English arrived to help. We were told one bun cost 2000 riel. Unfortunately, we had no idea what the exchange rate was, or whether this was a good deal. Somebody was able to tell us this was approximately two for one dollar, which seemed to be good. Regardless of whether it was or not, the two of us knew we needed food, and we did not want to cross the street. We bought the food.

The lady started giving us change in riel. Jacob was adamant – we only wanted USD back. This was another challenge to explain, but after a while it was communicated and we got out food and dollars that we wanted. We also figured out she sold water bottles – a case of twelve for one dollar. We continue to buy water here a few times per week to keep us hydrated.

We quickly returned to our guesthouse, hoping we were making all the right turns. When we got back, we tried to ask the family who owns the guesthouse what our food was called. After some difficult conversation, we learned it was called ‘noom pal’. They also taught us some basic words like ‘thank you’ (Ah kun), ‘bread’ (noom), and ‘me’ (knyom). We told them how much we paid for our food, and they were impressed. Apparently, we had not been ripped off just because we were foreigners. We spent about an hour trying to talk with the husband and wife, trying to learn Khmer and gain tips on how to survive. After a while, we headed up to bed.  This was only the beginning of the Lord teaching me to rely on him every single day, telling me to exhale and trust him.

Sitting at the table in the dark tonight felt safe and relaxed, even normal. We had just bought water, and knew dinner would likely cost about two dollars. We asked for noodles, and though there were some struggles with communication, neither of us were worried. Khmer people tend to be much more concerned about  communicating than we are, because they are not used to foreigners learning Khmer. The fact that we are able to converse at all is always a shock, and they usually laugh pretty hard when they realize we can understand even a little bit of what they are saying. At the end of the meal, we asked “Tly bon maan?” (how much does this cost?) and were told “Mooi muhn, pram mooi po’on” or 16, 000 riel. I gave the lady 20, 000 riel, and received one US dollar in change. In total, both of our meals, as well as two cans of Coke, cost $4 uSD.

Wiping off our forks was so natural tonight, and worries about eating street food never cross our mind anymore. Understanding currency, and actually welcoming riel (it is much easier to pay with currency at a lower value than trying to break large bills) has become second nature. I don’t remember feeling so relaxed in all the time we have been in Phnom Penh. There’s something amazing about walking down the street, taking care of yourself, and enjoying a tasty meal with what feels like an old friend in the cool (aka 30 degree) night air. Our food was so satisfying, and paying for it was not only easy, but surprising when we realized how inexpensive it was. We thanked the lady who cooked for us, and I told her it was delicious, “Chnhng”. As expected, she laughed and thanked us. We walked back to our guesthouse casually.

Living here is beginning to start to feel natural. Today, compared to a month and a half ago, I’m amazed at how far Jacob and I have come. Language, culture, survival. These are all areas we have grown in tremendously. Though the idea of living here long term still terrifies me, it’s no longer unreasonable.

God is so good.

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-Court

xoxoxo

 

First Month in Cambodia: Success

Choum reap suua pee Srok Khmer! (Greetings from Cambodia!)

First of all, I must apologize for the length of this post, and complete lack of photos. Unfortunately for you (or perhaps, fortunately?) I’m a storyteller rather than a photographer, so my photos are few and my words are many.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been in Cambodia for a month already, and in Asia for 2! Time flies when you’re having fun…or just trying to survive 😉

I write this on a chill Saturday morning, what feels like the first relaxed day I’ve had in a month. I’m sipping coffee and eating my leftover half of the cinnamon bun my housemate Jacob and I shared last night (#joma #blessed). I’m wearing shorts and a t-shirt (finally!) and in this moment, I feel at peace. I’m not afraid to walk outside, I know where I can get food and water, my coworkers are accepting me and joke with me (in English, thankfully), the illness I was trying so hard to defeat during my first week here is long gone, and slowly (like snail-pace kinda slowly) but surely, I’m starting to learn Khmer (Cambodian). God has proven himself time and time again to be faithful, and I’ve stopped worrying about provision or survival (mostly).

~ sidenote: I know so many of you back home are praying for me and there is no possible way I could ever express how grateful I am for it.~

My heart is troubled by the news I hear going on in America (the recent shootings) and troubled by the poverty I see everyday. I miss my family and I miss eating “normal” food like toast for breakfast. But I’ve also adapted to eating rice every morning, and I’m starting to build relationships here, even if only with my coworkers, Khmer teacher, and a little bit with people from church. Though I see sad news in America, I also see amazing news! Like how Juno made it into Jupiter’s orbit after 5 years! How amazing is that?! The product of humanity working together. Though I see poverty and corruption here, I also see amazing things! My tuktuk driver has a plan to go to university next year! And although last week his little boy was sick, this week his boy is healthy! The staff where I work are becoming less shy, and the resourcefulness of Khmer people is unparalleled.

Though I’ve always been somebody who finds joy in the little things, I see it even more so here. For example, the relief of rain after a hot day. Or helping a café server practice his English, and his face lighting up when we are able to understand one another. Recognizing streets. Chatting with a market vendor in Khmer and English, and learning how excited she is about her first child, a baby boy, to be born next month.

Here in Phnom Penh, life is very different from the countryside. Streets are insanely busy, to the point that walking down the “sidewalk” is more dangerous than weaving through traffic on a moto. People have huge gates locking their houses (ptaya) away from the street that nobody can enter, as they go right up to the roof of their house. Life is vibrant and never a dull moment. Traffic is like none I have ever seen – there is a man from India living in the same guesthouse as us, and he told me even in India traffic is not like this. Life here is fragrant, though not always in a positive way. If you notice a less than pleasant scent, however, you can be sure it will only be a few seconds before a new flavour enters your nostrils.

On a typical street you see many food vendors, shops with men wearing flipflops, ballcaps and sunglasses squatting to weld railings together, one or two places with people pounding nails to make wooden pallets to sell, phone shops, at least 4 people holding a baby, 6+ dogs, monks in vivid orange robes (often barefoot!) walking or on the backs of motos, the odd chicken, tons of cats, and every type of transportation imaginable. Motos (what they call motorcycles here), mopeds, tuktuks, bicycles, trailers pulled by motos, cars, trucks, what looks like a backwards penny-farthing crossed with a stroller (one of the most hilarious things I’ve seen so far, modes-of-transportation wise). And people. SO. MANY. PEOPLE. There is no such thing as an empty street, that’s for certain.

The amount of variation I’ve seen in things people haul on their motos is astounding. I’ve seen everything from 30 live chickens tied by their feet to handlebars, to 3 men and a ladder on one bike, to a man with 6 massive (like at least 100lbs each) bags of rice stacked both behind him AND in front of him, motos pulling trailers full of watermelons, motos with childseats built into them in front of the driver….the options are endless. Automobiles take up space in traffic and can typically not move faster than 20km/hr as all the motos weave around them and make it difficult, and I find myself wondering who in their right mind would want to drive a car here?! Then I laugh, because it’s so entirely different from the American mindset.

I’m quite used to people staring at me at this point. I recently got a haircut and none of the ladies could understand English, but they did get one girl in to speak with me. Her English was poor, but we were able to understand one another. They took so many photos of me and didn’t even try to hide it, and kept dishing out compliments on my pale skin, fine, light-coloured hair and (most strangely) my “beautiful nose”! I think I may have been the first white girl to patronize their little back alley salon!

A fresh, warm, baby-sized baguette (about the size of a sub bun) costs 25 cents (1000 riels) and is amazing. We also like to eat frog, and even tried fried tarantula last weekend! Surprisingly tasty 😉 Jacob and I’s favorite thing to eat (well…maybe not for him, but definitely me) is a buttered baguette with meat skewers inside. For both of us to have one half-baguette (in Khmer, noom bung gonla) with 3 skewers inside costs a whopping total of $2 US. This sounds cheap, however, most people make under $10/day, so it’s all relative. I was told that if you have a Bachelor Degree, you can expect to earn up to $8/hr. Crazy to think that I make close to double that just putting nails on the shelf at a hardware store back home.

The first week or so was difficult (pee ba!) but we survived! We slowly grow more and more accustomed to our current home, and I find a growing affection developing inside of me for this country. At the beginning of my stay, I asked God if he wanted me to stay here. I told him if he did, I would be obedient, but he would have to make me fall in love with Srok Khmer (Cambodia), because I was not feeling it. Although I’m definitely in denial, I can feel myself falling for it, which is scary. I still don’t know if this is where he wants me to be in the long run, but there is not a shadow of a doubt that this is where I am supposed to be right now.

If you follow me on SnapChat, Instagram (courtneyradatz for both – give me a follow!) or even Facebook (I try to post things everywhere so the whole fam can see what I’m up to) you have probably seen photos of my tuktuk driver, or at least the back of his head. His name is Vitou, and he drives me to work and home everyday. It’s a bit expensive to take a tuktuk everyday (most people take moto dops, or motorcycle taxis) but moto dops can be a bit sketchy and I trust Vitou a lot. He was referred to me by my boss, who used him for a long time before he got his own moto. Vitou speaks pretty good English so we are able to talk. He’s told me about his family and his own plans and dreams, and today I even got to meet his two little boys! He is very special to me and I find myself praying for him often. The average tuktuk driver makes (if they’re lucky) about $10/day.

There’s so much more I could say about my time in Cambodia so far, its history, different relationships I’ve been building and the work I’ve been doing at a café, but it would take years and this is long enough already. If you’ve read this far, thank you so much! My friends, family, and supporters mean the world to me and I thank God everyday for you.

Tons of hugs and love for everybody back home!

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-Court

xoxoxo

My [perfect] peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. [Let My perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge.]” John 14:27 (AMP)

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Let me paint you a picture. I’m sitting in the library, doing research for a project about sweatshops in my Theology of Social Justice class. I’m reading about the responsibility of businesses to take care of their employees,
“As Kant acknowledges, individuals have unique duties as a result of their unique circumstances. One feature in determining an individual’s duties is the power they have to render assistance. For example, Kant famously argues that a wealthy person has a duty of charity that an impoverished person lacks…Multinational Enterprises are well positioned positioned to help ensure that the eployees of its business partners are respected because of this imbalance of power.” -citation Arnold and Bowie 2003: 226-27

As I’m reading this and considering what this implies for me on a personal level, I receive a text message from my brother.
“Faith in humanity restored. I dropped a ball from my septum ring in the food court and some little old lady who could barely walk literally got down on her hands and knees to help me look for the damn thing. Like I was looking for a couple minutes and I turned and she was on the ground like “What are we looking for?” just this huge smile on her face and it made me so happy because I’m dressed to the point that every other old person was shunning me and giving her dirty looks for helping me but she didn’t even care and she just brightened my day a lot.”

This is the perfect example of the kindness of a stranger making a huge impact on somebody who is used to rejection from society. I had just been asking myself – what duties or responsibilities do I have to others around me, based solely on the merit that my body is well functioning, I am young, and nearly have a degree? What other resources and capabilities do I have? I have a car, I access to internet, I have a computer. I have the Holy Spirit. What can I be doing for others? Does this “great power” of being relatively well-off also give me “great responsibility”? I think yes.

So what is it? Where do I begin? Why don’t I spend more time serving others?

Mountaintop Temple Visit

I’ve been wrestling with articulating how it made me feel. Astonished? Maybe. Sad? Kind of. Angry? I don’t think so…Happy? Definitely not.

I’ve been travelling through South East Asia over the last few weeks, and there are tons of Buddhists everywhere. I don’t know much about Buddhism, and what I do know I don’t understand very well. Many people have told me that while I’m in Asia, I must go visit a Buddhist temple, mainly to admire its beauty. So along the way, I had never questioned that I would visit a temple eventually and was in fact looking forward to seeing what it would be like.

For the last few days, I have had the privilege of getting to know Abby and Cass, two beautiful girls I am currently travelling with. Cass was able to meet up with a cousin named Julia in Chiang Mai, and us four girls decided to visit the Doi Suthep temple on the side of a mountain.

I don’t know what I was expecting from the temple. I hadn’t given it much thought, and on the way there I wondered if visiting a Buddhist temple was something I even wanted to do. What did God think of it? I pondered this as we traveled up the winding road leading up the mountain. Is admiring the architecture and beauty of something so clearly pagan a good enough reason to take part in it? I clearly wasn’t going to worship Buddha, but I was still paying money to experience Buddhism in some regard.

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When the driver dropped us off, we began to climb the 300 stairs to the temple. There are people selling merchandise to tourists everywhere. Climbing the stairs was a challenge, made easier by the nicely spaced steps and occasional landings. The stairs were lined with the bodies of ornately carved dragons, their heads at the base of the mountain. Reaching the top, we paid our 30 baht admission (about one dollar) and made our way inside the gate.

We removed our shoes and left them by a bench before walking through the gate to the temple. Walking into the temple was so overwhelming – everywhere you look there is gold. It also was not what I would expect a temple to look like; it resembles a courtyard with hundreds of Buddhas everywhere. You immediately smell the burning incense, and you can see people kneeling, praying, and making different kinds of sacrifices among all the tourists.

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In the center of the courtyard is a pointed tower, and surrounding this a prayer walk. Here there were people walking slowing in laps, reading a prayer while walking. Around the perimeter of the courtyard there is a golden Buddha statue every five feet or so. This struck me. Around the prayer walk there were also Buddha statues, this time only separated by a foot or two. These ones were slightly smaller, and in different positions, sometimes folding its hands, sometimes reclining, sometimes in a warrior position. Their eyes are cast in different directions as well, and many have money sacrifices draped over them or incense burning beside them. Alongside the perimeter, among the periodic Buddhas, there are other types of displays.

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There were also three or four small rooms that were dark inside, but when you peeked in you could see a monk, a GIANT (I’m talking like 10 feet tall, sitting down) golden Buddha statue, and several people inside bowing to the Buddha on their knees. People were burning incense and candles all over the courtyard, and there was also a trough filled with oil and hanging little floating candle pots inside which people would ladle more oil into. I’m not sure what was going on there, but I assume it was to bring prosperity and enlightenment. There were also lots of donation boxes everywhere.

Two days later at The Walking Street Market, we passed a much smaller temple. Glancing in, I saw once more small and huge Buddhas, and people kneeling. My heart dropped, and I realized how the temples made me feel.

Unsettled.

My words cannot do the temples justice. They were stunning, both aesthetically as well as to my heart and soul. Absorbing the view was a lot for me. Watching people worship the gold statues was too much. My heart ached. I was not anticipating the mountain temple visit to impact me in anyway, I was just expecting it to be a tourist sight to visit. Yet it shook me.

The extravagance made me wonder – has anything like this been created for my King? Were Old Testament temples similar to this? Or does God even want to be worshiped in this way? I’ve never visited a cathedral, nor have I ever experienced a place of worship for another religion before. Visiting the temple and actually seeing people worship made it real to me. People worship other very literal gods and idols, not just “the god of money” or “the god of lust”. Of course I have always been aware of this, but growing up in Christian circles, I have been relatively shaded from this and the experience brought this reality to life.

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The most striking thing for me was the amount of Buddhas, and the dedication invested into creating the many different statues. Watching people bowing to the giant statues was so alarming for me. Seeing 20 Buddhas (minimum) in every direction you turn…it was so overwhelming to me. I’m not sure I can articulate why. I didn’t understand why it was necessary to have so many, and I’m still not sure. I thought about how I would feel if every statue of Buddha was a crucifix or a statue of Jesus, and it was actually alarming to me. Putting it into perspective that way, it almost felt aggressive and scary. But then I realized – we only need one Jesus, and even then, we don’t need a statue of him for the effect to be real.

It’s safe to say I have no desire to visit a Buddhist temple again. I’m very glad I did visit one, as it prompted many questions and reflections on my own faith, and put a lot of things into perspective. I’m also very thankful for the group of people I was with, who were also struck by the atmosphere of the temple. This has also caused me to research a bit and learn more about Buddhism, which I think is important as I will be living in a Buddhist country for the remainder of the summer. Understanding these ways is very important as a Christian living here, and I intend to continue to (carefully) learn more about it. However, I don’t think my future will hold any more temple visits.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for periodic updates about my summer in Asia!

-Court

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xoxoxo

 

 

The Final Days: Reasons I Cry in 4th Year Uni

My life.

My life.

There comes a time in the semester (often more than once) when nearly anything will trigger tears. After four years of this emotional roller coaster, I believe I’ve cracked. My teargates have broken and my makeup has permanent streaks. The following are actual moments over the last week(ish) when actual tears have formed in my eyes and slid down my face. At this point I cannot control them, though I do find humour in them most of the time, and I hope you will too. Here are some great examples, as well as a rating out of 10 of the amount of tears I actually cried. Enjoy.

Feb 23 2016 Accidentally watched the last 15 minutes of Marley and Me. Tear scale: 10/10

Feb 24 2016 There were 10 adorable lab puppies at school. One fell asleep upside down in my lap. Tear scale: 2/10

Feb 26 2016 The song “One Call Away” by Charlie Puth came on the radio. Tear scale: 8/10

Feb 29 2016 I could not find my high school diploma. Tear scale: 5/10

March 2 2016 I read this news story about a Syrian boy, a mourning Edmontonian family, and a bicycle. Tear scale: 3/10

March 2 2016 The waitress at Denny’s told me I needed to go home and sleep. Tear scale: 3/10

March 3 2016 A lady blew me a kiss in traffic when I let her into my lane. Tear scale: 4/10

March 3 2016 I asked an acquaintance if they were alright (in a less than tactful way) and they took offense. Tear scale: 7/10

March 4 2016 No sign of tears so far. Tiny victories.

To the friends who cry with me – thank you.

To the people asking if I’m okay – I am. I’m just more emotional than usual.

To anyone entering university – you may not think this will happen  to you, but it will. You’ll be okay. 

 

Little things I love

Springtime
The burn when you step into a hot bath
Thunder
Fleece Blankets
Finally submitting a paper
Pulling on warm woolly socks on a cool autumn day
Plane rides
Running into friends unexpectedly
Deep, full gut laughter
Feeling strong after 15 minutes of working out
Not messing up freshly painted nails
Dandelions
Swimming on a hot day
First snowfalls
When you get to the top of that killer hill
Accidental naps
When somebody is obsessed with the gift you’ve given them
Stomping on crunchy leaves
Being tired but happy at the end of the day
Remembering you filled your gas tank the day before
Surprised laughter
Working with people you love
Those cheezies that are so bad for you, but so good
Summer time
When it finally gets cold enough to wear giant sweaters and leggings
*Nsync (yes, they are terrible, I agree)
Coffee
Slippers
Wonderful giant mugs that fit right in your hand
Every episode of Gilmore Girls
When somebody cares about the same issues as you
Sunrises. Every kind of sunrise.
Shifting up and feeling your RPMs decrease like a racecar
A bed that’s the perfect temperature
Nervous giggles
Long summer nights
Giant dogs
Crisp morning air
When my brother just starts telling me about his day
Mountains
Being early for work
Overtired laughter
Perfectly airdried hair
Concisely and precisely expressing yourself
Biting into a perfectly crisp apple
Finding something after determining it is gone for good
When you’re suddenly great friends with somebody and you don’t know how it happened