A Day in the Life

Hey everyone! This is going to be the start of a blog series answering questions that you (or other people like you) have asked us. We’ll answer one theme each post — today’s theme is day to day activities.

What is day-to-day life like? — AR/DD

5:30a — Geordi is awake. It is time to check the neighborhood for new smells.

6:00a — Geordi has finally convinced Ian it is time to be awake, and they set off on their dawn patrol.

6:30a — Geordi and Ian return (triumphant, of course!). Laura is just finishing getting ready for the day, and sits down for a quick breakfast after the first round of treatment meds.

7:00a — Laura hops in one of the neighborhood tuk-tuks to begin her ride to school. Today, she’s riding with one of her favorites, nicknamed “Checkers” (because the sides of his tuk tuk is checkered like a krama). Ian eats breakfast.

7:30 — Laura starts her first class of the day. This class is with Kunthea — who always has fantastic stories to tell.

7:40 — Ian is ready for the day, and hops on his bicycle for the commute to work. He rides the moto sometimes, but the bike is better exercise, and sometimes faster!

8:30 — After answering a few overnight emails, Ian and the rest of the office meet together for a bible study. This month, they’re studying Advent.

9:00 — Laura has finished her first class. Just enough time for a run to the market before her next one!

9:15 — Bible study has ended, and a plan has been made for the work day. Meanwhile, Laura has arrived at the market and greeted her fruit and veggie ladies. One tells Laura the broccoli isn’t any good today, she should wait until next week.

10:00 — Laura meets with her second teacher, Anny. They review her lesson from earlier that day, and make sure that Laura’s pronunciation is just right.  Anny has Laura repeat the same word over and over until she can get it right. 

12:00 — Ian and the office sit down for lunch together. The discussion mostly centers around the idiom “to wear your thinking hat”. Laura has finished school and is headed home. She stops for a fresh orange juice on the way.

12:45 — Back to work! This afternoon, Ian and the office director Chad are meeting with a missionary who wants to build a school in his village.

3:00 — Laura has spent most of the afternoon working remotely with the EMI global office on the database, reviewing reports and writing the next blog post.  It’s time for third set of five daily treatment meds.  Geordi and Laura take a work break and play Tag on the roof.   

4:30 — Geordi starts getting excited. Ian comes home soon! Right? Right? Laura pulls up the map to show Geordi that Ian is still at the office.

5:30 — Ian is finally home! Better check the neighborhood again for invaders.  The neighbors cooking outside accidentally on purpose drop a couple pieces of meat from the grill as Geordi passes.  He gobbles them up!

6:00 — Dinner time. Laura was able to find tortillas at the grocery store last week, so that means fajitas!

7:00 — Dinner is done and the house is cleaned up. The neighbors are celebrating a birthday with their family. Karaoke night!

8:30 — Time for bed! The mosquito net is pulled down, feet are washed, and we turn on the air conditioning to bring the bedroom down to about 80*F.  

What is your favorite time of day, and why? — BW

For me (Ian), the best time of day is that walk around the neighborhood in the morning. Especially this time of year, it can be downright chilly (70*F). Many of the neighbors are already on their way to school or work for the day. The kids love to say hello (but they are careful to not play with Geordi yet, they don’t want to mess up their school uniforms). We also have a group of older neighbors who walk up and down the street for their morning exercise. The Khmer word for grandmother is “Yay”, so I nicknamed them the “Yay Patrol”. They’re always chatting up a storm.  


The Power of a Shirt with Sleeves

Cambodian women are not shy about commenting on appearances. Just the other day:

“Why do foreign women wear spaghetti strap, lowcut shirts and no bra to the market?”

This was not my first time being asked this question, nor even my second.  I always have to quickly look down at my arms to make sure my sleeves are still there.  (I am not sure why I check, I don’t even own a shirt like that!)  That question is almost always followed by, “but not you though, you are more Khmer than foreigner.”   Where does one even begin to respond?  1) I would be uncomfortable dressing like that 2) I would be so cold and 3) most importantly, I want to dress in a way that is respectful to the culture I am living in.

It makes me sad that this is something foreigners are known for in Cambodia.   At the same time, dressing in a way that is culturally appropriate has unexpectedly opened up a lot of doors for me.  Even women I don’t know in the market will sometimes approach and ask me questions.  I am a “safe” person to talk to because of my clothes and because I am learning Khmer.  No matter the culture we live in, showing respect goes a long way!


Feet and Paws

In Cambodia we wear sandals everywhere and take them off as soon as we enter a house or school.  This felt a little weird when we first moved here but it only takes a trip or two to the markets and you quickly figure out why! Between discarded bits from the veggie or butcher stalls, animals (and young children) peeing on the road, and general road dirt and grime, our sandals and feet pick up any number of things! Washing our feet several times a day is pretty common.  For our friends, immediately heading to the bathroom to wash theirs when they arrive isn’t strange at all, just a part of life.  Even our pup gets his feet washed or wiped down every time he comes in the house from a walk (much to his annoyance)!

This reminds me of when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet in the Bible.  In the US where I so frequently wore socks and red wing boots for work, I generally pictured dusty, but relatively clean feet that it was very nice of Jesus to wash.  Quick wipe down and he was done, right?  Now I’m realizing that those feet of the disciples were probably GROSS!  Jesus knelt on the floor, grabbed hold of those grimy feet and he lovingly washed them clean.

After seeing my own feet, I’m pretty sure I would have reacted like Peter.  “Jesus, there is no way you are touching my icky feet!”

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

John 13:3-11

It’s just another benefit of living in Cambodia — every day, I understand this story and what it really meant a little bit better.


Never thought of it that way!

In the nine months that we’ve lived in Cambodia, we’ve learned to look at a lot of things differently. Some you will easily guess, things we’ve mentioned before like transportation or food. But others have been less obvious. For instance, there have been a lot of stories, examples and illustrations from the Bible that are starting to take on a new light. Washing feet is a necessity after walking the streets of Phnom Penh in flip-flops each day. Certain passages get a twist in translation, like the Lord’s Prayer — give us our daily bread rice. Eating food sacrificed to idols is much more relevant in Cambodian culture than in America.

Recently I was coming home from the market when I noticed one of the many doll-sized houses that sit on a stand outside a human-sized home.  It was beginning to rain so someone thoughtfully had placed an umbrella over the house. (I wished I had my camera out, but the tuk tuk was going too quickly). A couple homes down, a woman brought a full bunch of bananas and a cup of steaming coffee to place in front of her spirit house on a stand (everything the family spirits might need for a healthy breakfast)!

Most homes and businesses in Phnom Penh have spirit houses like these outside their front door. These are part of a system of beliefs meant to protect the occupants and the property against malicious spirits (and human thieves). As part of the belief, Cambodians traditionally leave offerings of fruit and drinks, as well as burning incense. But, from time to time (particularly Buddhist holidays), that fruit will then be offered to monks or to guests. How should Christians respond?

It’s just food, right?  It’s just bananas or coffee or hard candy — and as I Corinthians tells us “…food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

But as we have asked some of our friends, they have explained the significance of this food in Cambodia.  Culturally, by eating the food given to the household spirits, it signals to everyone around that you believe in the spirits and trust them to take care of your life.  Just as Paul warns later in I Corinthians, this can be confusing for both Buddhists and new Christians alike.

Rooster Shrine.jpg

Furthermore, for Christians, politely declining to eat the food can be a fantastic way to witness to a family.  I’m amazed by the stories of many of our friends who were able to share their faith in Jesus because they or a family member politely refused to participate.  So we choose to follow their example and don’t eat the offered candy from the spirit house!  We away from the spirit houses on the ground too, so he doesn’t eat the food!

Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

I Cor 10:25-33

Our Daily Rice

Recently the pastor at our church did a sermon on the Lord’s prayer.  I must confess, as soon as he got started my first thought was that I have heard a LOT of sermons on the Lord’s prayer before.  How would this be any different?  Turns out, a lot!  There were quite a few comments he made that really opened my eyes to how different this culture is compared to how I grew up.  Here are a few examples:

  • It’s okay to pray.  We don’t need our parents permission to pray and we don’t have to go through a monk.
  • We don’t need to give an offering to a monk for someone to pray for us.
  • God does not require a specific posture in a specific location to pray.  We can pray anytime, anywhere!
  • Daily bread?  Makes no sense in a culture that doesn’t eat the stuff.  God gives us our daily rice!
  • Lead us not into temptation…The fact that God helps us avoid temptation is huge in a culture where many people struggle with a lack of moderation.
  • God is willing to forgive us, we don’t have to try to work our way into heaven.

Cambodia also has a separate language when praying, a language used to show respect to someone who is so much higher than us.  It’s beautiful!