Volunteering with Isaiah Cambodia has become a highlight of my week. I really love these kids and their excitement and passion for learning. Recently the older kids have been working on Peter and Jane books. We have them read in English and then translate it back into Khmer, to make sure they are understanding what they read. When they translate them back into Khmer, it’s a fascinating study for me to see what words they use in the translations. The girl pictured seems to come alive every time she teaches me something about her language so I’ve started to use that to help her learn English. Win-win for both of us!
Hello all! It has been a busy time here in Cambodia as we’ve moved into our new home across town. We’re excited to be settled in now and back to a (new) normal schedule.
We have an exciting update — a site visit!
As you know, Laura and I have spent the last 9 months primarily learning the Khmer language. We still have a ways to go there — while we’re passable in many everyday situations, there are a lot of ways we still want to improve. That’s especially apparent now that we are building relationships and want to be talking about life, emotions, and faith. However, we’re also starting to look forward to our roles in the office with the rest of our team.
Today, I (Ian) happen to have the day off from school, so Chris and I went to meet a local ministry constructing a new facility here in Phnom Penh.
They’ve had some questions throughout construction which we’ve answered along the way, but also have some significant questions about wanting to re-purpose their space. Many times, an NGO building process takes several years from original concept to funding to completion, so it’s not uncommon for their personnel and needs to change along the way. We’ll be working with this ministry to help them through this process and make the best use of their new facility.
One other common theme has been a question of matching local construction practices with western expectations. So far, the workmanship we’ve seen has been well-thought out — but NGO’s frequently like to have a professional they can trust observing that rather than going from their knowledge. Most NGO staff don’t have a background in construction — they have backgrounds in education or theology or health. That’s one of the big roles we’ll be playing here, as “owner’s representatives” or “cultural translators”. By knowing both western construction standards and local construction practices, we can bridge the gap, making sure that the NGO ends up with a quality building that meets their needs, without placing complicated, onerous or expensive requirements on the local contractor.
We still have several months of language learning to go — but today, it felt good to get the work gloves back on!
The moving process has really taken quite a while. After watching our teammates move and learning from them, thankfully we gave ourselves plenty of time. Case in point – our wardrobe adventures. Houses in Cambodia don’t have closets. No idea why this is, they just don’t. You don’t go out to a big box furniture store to get one either, rather you go somewhere with a photo and have a wardrobe made. We tried to size the wardrobes smaller so they could be carried upstairs, but it turns out our staircase is a little extra tight. Someone told us, no problem, just get movers to come and they fly it through the window. Huh. Okay, maybe this is why the windows and balconies are so large?
We got the name of the moving company from some of our teammates and scheduled the “wardrobe flying event”. Our teammates raved about this company but neglected one tiny detail. I have to confess, both of us were expecting a small crane on a truck to show up and the movers to hoist the wardrobes onto the balcony. I was not prepared for two shoeless, shirtless guys on a moto with one very long strap. I was also not prepared for them to be frightened of tiny Geordi, so we made sure he stayed in another room, much to his annoyance. Then, with everyone in the neighborhood watching, the two guys pulled the wardrobes up a couple floors into the house! In the midst of all this, our landlord pulls up. Now, my first thought was, well, this could be weird/awkward. Nope, all normal! Evidently not a strange sight at all. He glanced up to see why I was laughing with my camera, talked to me for a couple minutes and that was that. He was in the neighborhood for something else entirely.
Halfway through this process one of the guys walks over to Ian and hands him a phone. Ian starts in Khmer, trying to figure out why he needs to talk to this person, but they speak English. Evidently the mover just wanted Ian to translate. That was a new one! Ian arranges for the movers to help out this random dude the next day and hands the phone back. All in all, the moving company really did do a fantastic job, as we were told they would, and Ian is now Facebook friends with one of the movers. In Cambodia, that’s official!
This last week my (Laura’s) dad was teaching in Singapore. That happens to be less than a two hour flight from Phnom Penh so this past weekend Ian and I were able to head down and see him for a few days! This was our first opportunity since we moved to Cambodia to see any family and I must confess the weeks leading up to our trip I was hit with a huge wave of homesickness. The three of us spent every moment we could together and had a blast exploring Singapore. The next time we see family will be in November and December when each set of parents comes to see our beautiful country.
This was also our first taste of a little “reverse culture shock”. Singapore is more similar to the US in some things than Cambodia and we were amazed at what would catch us off guard. It’s easy to mentally prepare for the big things, but it would be the little things that startled us. We visited the sister church to our church in Cambodia and it’s like we forgot how to shake hands. We are so accustomed to putting our hands together and bowing that the first time someone grabbed my hand at church to shake it I jumped out of my skin! Somehow though, no matter where in the world we are, if family is there it automatically feels like home!
You know what else feels like home? Chick-Fil-A! My dad brought Chick-Fil-A sauce for me and Chick-Fil-A salsa for Ian, courtesy of the wonderful Chick-Fil-A folks in Layton, Utah! Ian immediately took his salsa downstairs each morning to add to his breakfast. And yet, when we touched down in Cambodia and got hit with the heat, dust, and smell of cooking meat, we knew we were home there too. It’s funny the tastes, sounds and smells we associate with home. What are some of those for you?
A few months ago an opportunity came up to help out with an NGO run by a friend from church. My friend (Cheryl) teaches English to children living in one of the many slums in Phnom Penh. These children absolutely adore Cheryl. As we drive up to the little shack all the kids coming running down the road, yelling excitedly. They crowd the little door each day as we prep the classroom and when the door is open, they come flooding in! Bible stories and prayer requests are one of their favorite parts at the beginning of class. They love praying for each other.
Trying to keep 20-30 small children engaged in the lesson can be very challenging. We often split up the room based on skills so we have smaller groups to work with and answer questions. Trying to give directions for each activity in Khmer is really stretching my language skills, but the kids are patient. What’s fun is often the words the kids are learning in English are the same words I am learning in Khmer. Great practice!
A couple weeks ago the older kids (around 12 years old) learned I always keep flashcards in my backpack. They have decided I need to stay after class so that they can drill me on my flashcards. Each word I stumble over causes a lot of giggling but the kids always tell me my mistakes and won’t let me go on to the next flashcard until I have it perfect.
I love spending time with these kids. Their curiosity and the questions they ask are fascinating and the giggles contagious. This is a highlight of my week.