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!
“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)