I took the day off this past Wednesday to spend some time with Srey Leak, my Cambodian BFF and host sister. She told me that that night we were going to go visit the school where her sister-in-law taught.
Whether it was an intentional omission or simply one of those "lost in translation" moments, I may never know. But rather than sitting in a corner like the out-of-place foreigner that I was, I was brought to the front of class and asked to teach.
Uhhhh, sure. Why not?
Students usually attend public Khmer school in the morning and English school in the afternoon or night. This was an English school, and I "taught" one class of eighth graders, who ranged in age from 13-20. As I introduced myself, I couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of it all: there I was, in the middle of a rural village whose name I probably couldn't pronounce, in Cambodia, sweating profusely, staring at a bunch of teenagers who maybe understood a quarter of what I was saying. It was one of those moments that you look around and shake your head and think "What is this life?!"
The students wanted to hear me sing, so I belted out my very best "If You're Happy and You Know It," complete with hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and twirling. I distinctly remembered, as I started to sing, how my mother used to tell me I had a singing voice like her father. I never met my grandpa--he passed away long before I was in the picture--so I thought my mom meant I sang like an angel, because that's what my grandpa was! False. She literally meant I sang like her dad who, from the sound of things, might have been a wee-bit tone deaf, but nonetheless enthusiastic. Nevermind that, though! The students clapped and grinned as I curtsied and beamed back at them and I hoped that my mom was watching from heaven and laughing hysterically.
After I introduced myself to the students and explained why I was in Cambodia, I opened up the discussion for some Q&A. Questions ranged from "How many people are in your family?" to "Do you have a boyfriend?" to "How do you pronounce choir?" (I'll admit, this one stumped me a bit. Why do we pronounce the "ch" in church, but not in choir? The English language is kind of weird.)
Eventually someone rang the bell outside and the students stood up, pushing back their benches, and gathering their things. Class was done for today--and I, the unsuspecting foreigner turned English teacher, climbed into the back of the car, cheeks sore from smiling so much--tired and sweaty--but utterly content.
p.s. I had such a great time at English school that I eagerly accepted when they asked me to come back on Friday. here's just a few more photos...
I had the opportunity to spend a day in the city this past weekend. I spent the afternoon wandering around the art district, eating ice cream, and getting a massage--by a blind guy. In the evening I met up with Brooke and Jeff for happy hour on a rooftop bar, where I captured these amazing images.
got my first tattoo at 18. It’s small and discrete, nothing outrageous I will
outgrow or regret. On the side of my left foot, I have “Beloved” inscribed in
note: My favorite joke to play when people ask me “What does that mean?” is to look
at them blankly and respond “I don’t know!” Trust me, it’s hilarious each and
sister and I got this tattoo within a few weeks of each other, hers on the top
of her foot and mine on the side. I love that we share this because my sister
is one of my best friends. I could write an entire post about how much my
sister means to me (and maybe someday I will) but that’s not especially
relevant to this story, so moving right along.
“Beloved” our tattoo comes from is found in Deuteronomy 33:12: “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him,
for he shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between his
to say (though I will), “Beloved” holds a lot of significance for me.
a month in Cambodia, I was feeling drained and strained. Nothing was going how
I had envisioned it and I was questioning everything: why I was here, what God
was doing, and if He was present in this place. Admittedly, I was increasingly
becoming a skeptic.
spent time in prayer with one another on our mid-trip retreat. In a fit of
cynicism, I challenged God: “God, if you
are here, have someone speak the word “Beloved” to me.”
never been clear to me whether or not I’m supposed to make such demands of God,
but I figured the risk would be worth the reward.
I waited. And waited. And waited.
by one, my team members prayed for me. They said a lot of great, uplifting
things. Heck, they probably even said some really nice things about me. But I
barely listened to any of that. I was too busy waiting to hear “Beloved” so I
could put an end to all my questions and doubts.
no one said it.
I hadn’t given God enough notice, so I changed it.
“Alright God, how about by
the end of the retreat?”
“Well, sure, you may have
until the end of this week.”
“Hey God, uh, it’s me again.
I think we had a bad connection earlier, but, uh, why don’t you just go ahead
and take until the end of my time here.”
the days ticked by, I forgot about the demand as my focus was directed
is where things get good.
there I am going about my business and speaking to God in strained sentences,
sounding more like a spoiled rotten child than the mature adult I swear I am.
then my personal retreat happened.
was 36 hours of prayer and journaling and reading the Bible. I also took at
least five showers and ate pizza for almost every meal. It was rejuvenating,
yes, but I didn’t “hear” God like I would have hoped.
always hope I hear God like those guys in the Old Testament did, ‘cause there
wasn’t a whole lot of questioning who was talking. Moses was just like, “Right,
so who should I say sent me?” And God was all like, “Seriously? It’s Me.” End
of discussion. But nowadays it seems like God is more into the whispers or
gentle tugs of the heart. At least that’s how it’s been for me.
sat in silence, thinking maybe all the roosters and dogs and pagoda music had drowned
out God’s voice. But still nothing.
a personal retreat, you completely disconnect. No phone, no Internet, no
contact with the outside world. When I got home Friday afternoon, I turned on my
phone and checked my e-mail. Thirty seven messages in thirty six hours…I was
feeling rather popular until I scrolled through and realized that all but two
were from businesses. I read the first one, an email from a professor looking
for some students to help him—for $20/hour, too! Too bad I was halfway around
second non-business email was from my boss, Barry. Every Thursday for our
entire two months here, he prays for me. He usually sends me a text with a
verse and an encouraging message on these days but since I was off the grid, he
sent me an email.
this is what I read:
“Prayed Romans 8:15 for you: that you would not
let fear and uncertainty be your master but that you would rest in the
confidence of your identity in Christ: beloved
dumbstruck. I had almost entirely forgotten about my silly demand, but God
clearly hadn’t. Instead he did it on his agenda and in his way.
the title of this post states, I debated whether or not to share this story. I
recently read the book of Luke and I found it odd that after one miracle Jesus would
say “Spread the news!” and after another he was like “Pipe down or you’ll wake
the neighbors!” I’m fairly certain I’ve heard sermons on this before but taken
at face value it just confuses me.
“Soooo, was that a yes or a no on the sharing? God? You still
sure what I hoped you, my dear reader, would take away from this story, either.
I certainly don’t hope that you follow in my footsteps because I’ve been known
to wander from the path and get lost. And lately my footsteps have led me
halfway across the globe, which is pretty pricey and time consuming.
my hope is that you don’t stop listening and looking for God. He might not use
a megaphone or a burning bush, but maybe He’ll use a friend. Whatever it is, it’s
bound to be creative. And it just might make for a good story, too.
If anyone tries to tell you that spending two months in a foreign country is a piece of cake, run away from said person because they are either lying or insane.
Like my dad always says, "Like my dad always said: Don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining!"
[Thanks for that gem, Grandpa.]
So I'm going to give it to you straight: it's not always easy and it's not always fun. And if you happen to spend these two months in a foreign country directly following your graduation from college, without a job or home secured for your return, be prepared for a full-on identity crisis. Lots of questions, plenty left unanswered, and more tears than I care to admit to.
You'll probably be tempted to hop back on a plane and return to the life of comfort you left behind, just to realize that you moved all of your things out of your home and they are currently being stored in your best friend's barn and you have enough money in your bank account for maybe a month or two of being unemployed and you didn't get the job you applied for, the one you thought you were perfect for. Cue panic attack and melodramatic theatrics on being homeless and jobless.
But don't stop there. Because if you stay and you shove those anxious thoughts of "life after this" to a tiny compartment in the back of your mind and you pray morning, noon, and night for strength for this day, and you treat yourself with the kindness you usually only allot your friends, you might just discover simple delights.
Delights like hearing how God has been speaking to the women of byTavi, or having your hair braided and being called beautiful in Khmer ("say-naht") by those same women. Or delights like practicing English with the neighborhood kids and hearing them clamour, all at once, "Sarah, Sarah," as they wave their page of painstakingly written A, B, C's in your face, eagerness emanating off them them like heat off the asphalt. Or delights like shopping in a crowded market place with your host sister, fully drenched in sweat, and feeling like any moment you might pass out, but oohhh-ing and ahhh-ing at all the tiny children's shoes you see, because they strike both of you as ridiculously adorable.
You probably will begin to enjoy all the more the simple things that once struck you as mundane. Like an afternoon spent by yourself in a coffee shop, where you can write, read, and think with nothing but the chatter of the people around you to distract you, a sound you realize you have missed like an old friend because this environment is the perfect place for your ADD mind to relax and focus. Or the delight of buying new book on your Kindle by an author you find fascinating and confusing and thought-provoking [Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child, I Read Books]. Or the delight of being understood and of understanding.
I have twenty four days left in this country. Twenty four more days of sweating, of bucket showers with frogs, of new mosquito bites every morning, of handwashing clothes, of "nam-buy?" [eat rice?], of ice cold Cokes, of roosters and dogs and pagoda music blaring every night, of political parades, of tuk-tuk rides, of miscommunications, of stares, of 4,000 reel to $1, of "okkun" and "shanks shyou," of naked toddlers everywhere, of passing that one salon on your way to work each morning with the picture of JFK on its sign, of a french loaf of bread to eat every night. And though it strikes you sometimes as an eternity, another, smaller portion of your brain tells you no, the time here is fleeting, and will be gone all too soon.
So let go. Sail away from the safe harbor, and into waters untraveled, adventures unknown.
Who knows? You just might discover some simple delights along the way.