Archive | August 2013

1st trip to the beach/jungle/Kep

I just got back from a relaxing, but interesting first beach vacation here in Cambodia. We went to Kep, a Cambodian-French town on the Gulf of Thailand just a few hours away from Phnom Penh. I was excited to get to the “beach” and into nature. I’m a city girl, but back home I love escaping for a good hike in the mountains, a nice camping trip, beach getaway, or white water rafting adventure; so I fancied myself a bit of the outdoorsy type. Hmmm, not so much actually. The woods are apparently very different than the jungle (don’t laugh). First I’ll explain the word beach is in quotes above because there really isn’t sand to lay on or water to swim in. It’s more there for aesthetics, water sports like kayaking and sailing, and as a source of phenomenal sea food in town. The resort did have a pool to lounge by, I’m sure I’ll enjoy that more when I go back after the rainy season is over. The cabins were wooden tree houses with indoor plumbing. It’s very rustic and my overly romantic self got all giddy about sleeping under a mosquito net with the sound of rain, frogs, and random other sounds of nature. (I think I saw “Romancing the Stone” too many times as a child) The novelty wore a bit thin after I had to sweep bugs out of the bed each night before going to bed. It got a little more uncomfortable when everything was always damp and a little smelly: my clothes, the sheets, and I’m pretty sure me. The cow pies mixed among the mud pies made for interesting walks into town, especially at night with no lights (next time a flash light will be packed). And the wild dogs with the shifty eyes made me question if I really am the dog lover I claim to be. All this is to say by day two I was faced with the frightening questions: “Am I a princess?!” “Am I not this adventurous outdoorsy type I fancy myself?” “Why is everyone loving this, and I can’t wait to get to concrete, aggressive, crazy Phnom Penh?”  Then I realized I need to relax! Ha! I’m just completely out of my element, and as “outdoorsy” as I think I am, I’m still a city girl….and honestly I’m a-ok with that.  I stopped expecting to revel in the mud, lizards and bugs like some of my cohorts and decided to find the fun in my jungle adventure.Image

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In spite of the rain my friends and I had loads of fun. We played games, read books, and just took in the landscape sitting on the upper balcony of the main lodge. We went night swimming in the pool, since that’s when it wasn’t raining. We walked down to the town and had delicious fresh caught crab from the crab market. We walked along the stone wall overlooking the water on one side and remnants of villas from the French jetsetters of the 50s and 60s on the other side. Side bar: Through the 50s & 60s Kep was a prime vacation spot for the jetsetting French. Hundreds of their villas now sit in ruin after the owners abandoned them during the Khmer Rouge genocide. It was a constant reminder of Cambodia’s dark recent history sprinkled all through the area.

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Saturday night we went to the sailing club which had great happy hour and yummy food! The sailing club is where all the French folks hang out, and it’s a simple little open air restaurant and bar by the water. The clouds made from some really gorgeous clouds above the rough waters. It was quite a sight and hypnotizing to watch.

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Sunday morning we headed back to the sailing club after the rain cleared for some sailing, kayaking, and just hanging on the dock. I had the opportunity to have some really wonderful one on one time with a friend/colleague of mine. Anyone who knows me knows building relationships and getting to know really wonderful people is one of my favorite things. Having one of those moments, while sitting on the dock in the sun was a highlight of the trip for me (well worth the sunburn we both ended up getting).

By the time we headed out Sunday afternoon I was thoroughly relaxed and recharged and ready to jump back into the crazy daily hustle of Phnom Penh. I may not be Jane of the Jungle just yet, but I can learn to adapt, be a little more prepared for the elements next time, and remember to just relax, give myself some grace and find comfort in little things even when totally out of my comfort zone.

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PS for those following along my adventures…I’ve been SLEEPING ever since the big breakthrough last week! No more insomnia for this gal, even in the jungle 🙂

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Letting Go

2 months ago I left the US and moved to Cambodia. Last night it finally hit me that I need to let go and be in Cambodia. Moving here I knew I wouldn’t be around for birthdays, weddings, births, graduations, and other special moments. Although, it didn’t quite sink in what not being around meant and more importantly what it felt like. 

I’ve spent the last two months tired and torn between two worlds. I’ve been trying to keep up with emails, iMessages, FaceTime, Skype, Facebook, and whatever other means I had to remain a part of my life in the US. I’ve stayed up late at night worrying about my loved ones at home and all the various struggles they’re going through. Struggles that I can’t be there to help them with or support them through the way I want. I’ve worried about all the little details of my life that I walked away from: my house, the bills, mail, unfinished tasks, my crappy little yard. During all this, I’ve been trying to learn my job and become an asset quickly, assimilate to a whole new culture, get used to a new way of life, and build new relationships here.  No wonder I’m starting to fall apart at the seams and am EXHAUSTED!

Last night while I lay in my bed wide awake after 1am (again) it hit me – Let Go! I knew coming here was a sacrifice. But I realized the sacrifice wasn’t simply walking away from my job and comfortable life. The sacrifice is also not being able to hold my loved ones when I know they’re hurting. It’s not being able to do things for the people I love. It is not being able to control all the details of my life. It is trusting that the people who care for me will continue to do so, even when we don’t speak for long periods of time and we miss major moments. It means life is not on hold for a year, but life is changed forever after this year.

So, let go. Let go? Let go?!  The revelation was quickly followed by sadness, fear, loneliness, a whole list of emotions and then sort of a quiet peace set in.  I eventually fell asleep; probably sometime after 2am. This morning I woke up different. I’m not sure how this will look and feel, but I think I sort of grieved my old life last night and I’m ready to see what I’ve really gotten myself into.  There’s no doubt I’m here for a reason. There is no doubt accepting this job was the first step in some new unknown chapter. But I was clinging to the old chapter, because I thought it had just gotten to the good part.

Now is time for my faith to step in. It’s time to just keep walking forward across the unfinished bridge before me in faith; trusting that’s it is leading me right where I belong.

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Politics in Cambodia

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I’ve been writing this blog post for almost two weeks. Why? I keep waiting for a conclusion to tie it all together, but there doesn’t seem to be one anytime soon. Then I realized, I’m not writing some best-seller…I’m filling you all in on my life over here. Having a small bag packed in case of emergency evacuation from Cambodia; receiving almost daily debriefings from my office of the current security issues; keeping my kitchen stocked with food and water in case of riots & loss of power; seeing tanks and military police around the city- this is my everyday life here for the past two weeks.

Two weeks ago Cambodia held its national election.  The current Prime Minister has been in office for more than 27 years, making him one of the 10th longest-serving leaders in the world. He is the leader of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). There have been numerous human rights reports and studies about the methods this party uses and how it has retained power. Elections are held, but there is an “understanding” among the people that it’s a futile effort. This year there was a shift. This year the people of Cambodia rose up in a way they have not in many years, with hope in their eyes and power in their chants.

I arrived in Cambodia just as campaign season was starting. This means rallies every day, all over the country, with an obvious concentration here in the nation’s capital (Phnom Penh). For the past month going to work, running out for lunch, or heading home at night I never knew if I would get stuck in a rally or in rally traffic.  These rallies seem to form like flash mobs, suddenly pouring down the street in a seemingly endless stream of the supporters of a particular party. These rallies are giant parades of supporters on motos holding flags, with some trucks, SUV’s, and even semi-truck with huge speakers strapped to them. The speakers blasted techno music while people with megaphones chanted and played pre-recorded political rhetoric. It’s been an interesting month of watching rallies, at times being stuck in the middle of rally parades, and having very interesting political conversations with locals.  The rallies were an interesting visual into the heart of a people who are not big on outward expressions of emotion.

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My organization is non-political and I was asked to not discuss politics with our national staff, or really anyone.  I was also told that most Cambodians don’t like to speak politics due to fear of retaliation. I couldn’t seem to not have these conversations though. Cambodians loved sharing, especially to an American, that they are taking matters into their own hands and fighting for their own freedom and for democracy. The past 6 weeks I have had some fascinating conversations with Cambodians about their country. From co-workers, to tuk tuk drivers, to fellow restaurant patrons, they’ve all been quite open with sharing their views with me. I hear the same determination to break from status quo and take back their country and watch Cambodia rise up even more from the ashes of its recent history. Being an American the terms “hope and change” are something I hear a lot, but in the past few weeks I saw a nation of people (young & old) flooding the streets because of a deep rooted desire for change fueled by hope.

Election day came Sunday July 28th and as the day went on we started hearing reports of riots. We heard reports of people not being able to vote and we started hearing rumors of election fraud.  13% of voters went to vote only to find their names were removed from the voter list, someone else had used their name, or that their names were misspelled. Violence began to break out at some voting stations as people expressed their anger and frustrations.  As the evening approached the city turned into a ghost town and rumors/paranoia sky rocketed. Major streets were closed off, a large area around the current Prime Minister’s house was blocked off and social media was off the charts.

Non official results were shared in the early evening. First the opposition party said they won, then came a report came out saying the reigning party won 68 seats and the opposition won 55, a significant decrease in majority for the reigning party who previously held 90 of the 123 seats. The military was mobilized and everyone was bracing for the worst. The opposition leader came forward and requested his followers to keep the peace and for no violence. For the most part his message was heard and things remained quiet. The next morning the opposition party formally rejected the early election results and requested an investigation into the election citing vast irregularities within the election. Since then there have been some uprisings, riots, and rallies throughout the country.  Although 2 weeks have passed and it has been relatively quiet, we are still not out of the woods. Other countries such as the US and Australia have also requested the government provide an investigation into the election. China is supporting the reigning party and has given Cambodian police 1,000 handguns and 50,000 bullets which have been distributed to the police within Phnom Penh (these are officers who are normally not armed).

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As I write this today, the results are still in the air. They are being recounted and each deadline that is set, becomes extended or a new agreement is made to “investigate” the allegations of fraud.  Each day there is a new development and story in the paper, but no resolution. On the turn of a dime things can change, but in the meantime the country waits for the results. The people wait to see if their voices are heard. They wait with hope that a non-violent change can happen….and I prayerfully wait with them.