Friday, February 23, 2007

Me and a few kids in the village

This is me and a few kids the first night we ran a childrens' program in an outlying village. The girls kept touching my arms -- they'd rarely seen skin like mine before.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The Barang Washing Clothes

The Barang Washing Clothes

We foreigners washing our clothes assures that there will be a crowd of Khmai students with cameras, laughing at us. We are pretty pathetic -- it takes two of us to wring out a pair of jeans by hand.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Short Term Outreach 2

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The above is a photo I took of our bus windshield on the way into town. The biggest dust devil I've ever seen formed right next to the drink shop we were passing on the roadside, blew off the roof, and flung it into the windshield of our bus. The window held together in it's shattered state, but every bump we expected the rest to come crashing down.

It's going to take longer than I have to tell everything that happened in the five days of outreach. Here are a few of my favorite stories:

A girl named Dalinut has been a Christian for only five months. She moved into the guest house permanently and offered English classes, Khmai classes, and plays with the children every day after she gets off work. Because the guest house is surrounded by, and in the middle of the slum, it is the perfect place to live (though not a clean or comfortable place) if you want to reach out to slum children. These kids rarely have an education. Dalinut gives these children a place to play, learn the basics, and sing songs, and just have fun.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Parents in Cambodia only care for infants, after that children pretty much fend for themselves. Physical affection, if shown at all, is shown in almost violent ways. I was holding a toddler one day, and her mother came up, smiled at me, the grabbed the kids head, whipped it around, blew air in her face and hit her upside the head. Older children mercilessly pummel their siblings in play, and since heads are considered the most sacred part of the body, touching anyone's head shows deep disrespect for them. (Small children are the only exception) As we walked through the slums most parents sat around playing cards while the children amused themselves. Gambling is a great problem in Poipet because of the casinos. Many incomes that are desperately needed for food are gambled away, or spent on alcohol and prostitutes.

We spent a few days visiting the AIDS/HIV hospital. It was very sad. There were a few men, but mostly women. Aids is a hideous disease here. Doctors don't know much about it. Most of the women in the hospital had been given aids by their husbands, who had since died of the disease. Soon the women would die, too, leaving behind children who will either die soon themselves, or be left orphans. One woman broke my heart. She was wasted away to nearly nothing, not speaking, just lying on her back with fear in her eyes. She's 24 years old. The same woman, one day, had a problem with her IV. Her arm began bleeding all over her bed. The doctors were sent for, and they fixed the problem -- wearing masks and gloves and all, but then they seemed to have just wiped up the blood and left. I was standing across the room thinking, "That. Right there. Is AIDS infected blood. And they just wiped it with a cloth. AIDS." Another girl that I only heard about and never saw was 14 years old. She had been a prostitute, and since she was so young, she was likely sold into prostitution by her parents because they needed the money. And just as likely, the money was then gambled away. (I can't say for certain about this girl, but that scenario happens more often than anyone wants to believe. This is no romantic Memoirs of a Geisha scenario. These girls are sold young, used until they contract AIDS, and then sent to a hospital to wait to die.)

Not everything was bad, although there is plenty of it there. We spent many days going into the slums or country villages and running childrens programs. We taught some songs with hand motions, games, a Bible story, and a skit about hiegene -- necessary here. We covered both hand washing and tooth brushing, and passed out some Unicef posters and flyers on ways to prevent disease.

Everywhere I went I played with children. My family and friends know that I've never been very touchy-feely, even a small child. But here, it is so easy to love children. They flock to anyone who wants to spend time with them. With me they are usually shy at first - I look funny - but then EVERYONE wants to hold hands or be held by the barang. I really really wanted to show these children affection in a way that isn't violent. And the children respond so well. All you have to do is hold them, or stroke their hair, or twirl them around, and they laugh and laugh. All games are fun, and they love it when I get blindfolded in Adam and Eva (a version of Marco Polo) and go stumbling around the circle. And if I speak even a little Khmai the children just let out a barage...I have to tell them that I can't understand, and that I only speak a little Khmer, but they love to talk! One little girl at our guest house led me around talking several days in a row. She talked to me about her friends, about what everyone was doing, about the snacks we were eating. If I sat down, she was in my lap. If I stood, she wanted to be in my arms. If I walked, she took my hand and led me around. And if I brought out my sparkly gel pens and some paper, I had to fend off all the children (even teenagers) who wanted to color with me.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

My little friend from the slum outreach at our guest house. She ran screaming to me when she saw me coming -- and who can resist that!

There are so few opportunities to play, and few toys here. I saw one Big Bird toy, coated in mud, upside down in the dirt. Another boy rode his tricycle through the trash heaps. Children played with cardboard boxes, and discarded food containers. I watched a group of girls. They had a silver plastic tiara. Each girl got a turn to put it on her head and parade around for a few minutes. These children are so precious!! I am so grateful that I had a chance to play with them -- I thought it might be so difficult. I've never known what to do with young children at home, but here, with the culture being different, it's easy to love on them. And so much fun. And maybe, yes, we don't do much lasting good spending five days playing with kids and then leaving. But maybe, too, some of these kids will remember that someone cared enough about them to come into the slums and play with them. And that might make a difference. There are so many problems here that taken in the whole are so overwhelming. But if you concentrate on what you are doing right now, in this moment, it's all easy and bearable. One day after the team had taken a tour of the city, and heard and seen all the problems, we felt like nothing we did could have any lasting value. But Dina recounted the story about the guy on the beach throwing the starfish back into the ocean. And he told us that we probably won't have a lasting impact from those few days, at least in the big sense of all of Poipet. But we might make a difference in a life of a child or two. Give them hope that somewhere out there someone cares enough to come into their home and play with them. So, I don't know, but I'm so glad I had the chance, and I'm really looking forward to long-term outreach now. Before I wasn't. I love the lectures, but outreach was a frightening unknown variable. Now I know a little of what to expect, and I can't wait to have a longer time to make a difference.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

A girl stands outside a nearby of the nicer huts in the area.

Sometimes this week things were challenging. It was very hot. I got heat exhaustion on Monday from walking around all day in the sun (even though I carried several bottles of water and drank them all) and wasn't able to eat again until Friday. (I tried to eat at least a few bites of rice if I could, but I was so nausious) I drank water and water and more water, and sometimes bought a little carton of Thai sweetened milk for sustenance, and during rest times I'd wrap myself in a sarong, pour a bucket of water over my head, and curl up in front of the fan. Doing that, I was able to participate in every activity, and didn't feel too bad at all. I didn't want to miss any of the opportunities! Luckily, hot weather acts like an appetite suppressant for me anyway, so I didn't feel hungry. Only once in a while I'd forget and twirl a kid around, and then have to go sit down and try to get my stomach to settle again.

All in all it was great! Even the things that were 'difficult' were never overwhelming, and so easy to bear! One day I woke up and remembered Corrie ten Boom and thanked God for the lice and rats and cockroaches and lizards (lizards are great - they eat the bugs!) and spiders and mosquitos. I don't know why, but once you've started being grateful for something, it's hard to complain about it! And it's definately an adventure sleeping under a mosquito net to keep the cockroaches out! And taking a shower in a bucket. And eating underneath a pole building with a thatched roof! And playing with children in the middle of a slum! And walking around a foreign city getting hit on - OOh! Barang, saá! Barang saá! (A beautiful foreigner) I'd often turn and greet them in Khmai, and then I was followed by comments of suprise, Barang nih-je Khmai! (The foreigner speaks Khmer) That never ceased to amaze them. Most foreigners don't bother, so even that makes a difference in how we are viewed. People want to know why a rich foreigner comes to the slums to play with their children. And why a rich foreigner is polite, and says excuse me, and thank you, and good morning. Which says less about me - since that's just common courtesy, and more about how we westerners go barging around foreign countries treating everyone like our personal serving staff. So, be aware of that when you travel. Just by being polite you show that you are different -- and they want to know why!

This week was great. So many things I'd learned in theory in prior settings -- like being thankful for everything, and not complaining, came in so handy here. And of course my verse for this trip "Commit yourself wholly so that all may see your progress" is always on my mind, and what enabled me to jump in and play when I normally would have stood back and felt uncomfortable. When your attitude is right, nothing seems bad at all, and things taken one at a time are bearable. At the end of the week, my leader said he was grateful that I am so ... wait for it...flexible.

(Mom and Dad, stop laughing! He also is thankful that in a culture of perpetual lateness, I am always on time....ha!)

Scrubbing the Squatty Potty

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Out Backyard

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Short Term Outreach

Hello everyone! Sorry I didn’t have time to write last week. Things were so busy, and we were getting ready for short term outreach, which was AMAZING!

My team went to Poipet – which is on the Thai border. Poipet grew in less than 7 years from 10,000 people to 100,000. It is hot. And dusty. There are no jobs. No economy. The people there, from what we were told, are hopeless. And they have no way out. In the no-man’s-land between Thailand and Cambodia there is a strip of Casinos. Prostitution, gambling and organized crime are huge. And that’s just what we knew going in. It doesn’t begin to describe what the town is actually like, because all of the stuff we were told, we never saw firsthand. But I get ahead of myself.

We left Battambang by bus, arriving in Poipet in the late afternoon. It was hot. It’s the dry season in Cambodia. The roads in poipet are unpaved, so a hot cloud of fine dust fills the air behind every car, tok tok, and moto. We got off the bus and into a tok tok (a moto with a cart attached to the frame – should hold maybe 5 people, we often fit 11), and went to meet our contact. Joel is a lone wolf missionary, starting and running four churches, an HIV outreach, and several children’s programs out of his house, as well as guitar and English lessons. We found out before we left that there was no place to stay at the churches (Westerners – get the idea of a church building out of your mind. Think a hut on poles with the roof falling in, with 20 people sitting in a circle while the owner of the house chops up raw chicken behind you –that’s CHURCH here), so the Cambodian pastor took us to a guest house that wasn’t too bad. (NB. If a Khmer person says “not too bad” or “delicacy” – expect trouble) It wasn’t too bad. We rented two rooms in a cheap guest house. The corner of each room was cut out into an all in one bathroom – meaning a squatty potty and a spigot with a bucket underneath. That is both your means of ‘flushing’ the toilet, and your shower. The walls and floor are tiled, and the bathroom walls do not meet the ceiling. The rest of the room is a side table made of scrap wood with a piece of pressed board thumbtacked to the top, two wooden slat beds, and one mosquito net. Bopa and I had each bought a personal net before we left, which was good, because the room had a cockroach infestation that we only controlled, but never eliminated. We walked into this room, which had not been cleaned in some time, and were told that we were going to clean our guest house. I never expected to spend my first hour as a missionary scrubbing down a squatty potty with some toilet cleaner and a foot cleaning brush. The other three girls killed cockroaches, swept up dead bugs, drenched the floors with water and mopped. I took my mattress (very stained) outside and beat the dust out with a stick. Then we covered them up with a (hopefully) clean sheet, hung our mosquito nets from screws above the headboard, and wrapped our bedding in them to keep the cockroaches out.

So that's the 'bad' part -- but it really wasn't. In the beginning when we walked in, for one second my mind thought, oh dear GOD, how can we live here. The first cockroach sent us all screaming for the opposite side of the room. But after four days we just shrugged, slapped them to the floor and sprayed the SNOT out of them with a can of Raid someone bought and watched them writhe. HA. Stupid roaches. Honestly the Khmer can't figure out why some bugs bother us westerners more than others. I had to explain that in my country (we start a lot of sentences that way) having cockroaches means a place is very dirty and not well cared for. Here, it's just part of the scenery most places. Oh, and we saw a spider the size of my hand when fully spread. I kept thinking how glad I am that Mom wasn't there, and several Khmer were thinking how good it would taste deep fried. Ah, culture.

After we finished cleaning we got in another Tok Tok and drove out to a village church -- again, think ramshackle hut with 30 people crowded in. We sang some songs, played a few games, and prayed for a little girl that had a tooth infection that hadn't been cared for, and now was spreading through her face. And, we also made arrangements to get the girl to an American doctor working in a Christian hospital for free medical treatment. The Khmer doctor had given the girl...painkillers. The village was amazingly bad. All the children wear all that clothing that American Thrift Shops deem too bad to sell and bale up and ship to Asia for several cents a pound. I asked Sam if the people here ever see the irony -- that they make all the clothes, then ship them to America where we wear them completely out, then sell them back to Asians to wear as rags. Sam said they are too poor to notice. The children are so easy to love -- even the dirty ones crawling with lice. The small children usually run around naked, or with just a shirt on...why bother clothing the bottom half when all clothes have to be washed by hand...the children just squat where they stand to pee. Flea infested dogs run in and out of the shacks, as well as chickens. The women usually wear brightly colored beautiful cotton sarongs with a button up shirt (it never's a thing here, the more patterns the better). You see very few men. A whole generation of Men were killed off by the Khmer rouge, so fathers are scarce. And often they have to move elsewhere to work. Most of the children are dreadfully unschooled -- one 17 year old boy was in the third grade. Many will drop out to get a job if they do go to school. University here is expensive, so many children cannot see the use of continuing their education beyond elementary level, since they cannot afford college anyway, and their family desperately needs the income.

There is much more to tell, so, to be continued. That was just the first day...