Sometimes people wonder what it's like to live and work as a missionary in Cambodia. Here is a little picture of my life...
The front window of my p'teah leveang (railroad flat) channels Street #163 noise. It begins around 4:30am when employees of the noodle shop downstairs start removing security sheets of corrugated metal and dragging them around the corner to daytime storage. Trickles of traffic build to the persevering putter of motos and tuk tuks accompanied by the hum of cars, each persistently honking to herald right-of-way. Then there is the disparate squeaky rubber-ducky sound of pedestrian-pulled wooden carts collecting recyclables.
My kitchen window in the back is shut only against the pounding monsoon rains. When open, it often attracts even the slightest breeze, creating my favorite spot to eat and study. Thick green leaves of a neighbor’s mango tree also add peaceful ambiance.
Last Thursday around 8am, Erya and her husband Kanal announced through my kitchen window, “We are ready!” Grabbing a satchel for the overnight adventure, I locked the windows and gated door, then headed down the steep stairs to their waiting car. This was P'chum Ben, that time of year when Cambodians believe the dead walk the earth at night and need to be fed in order to ease their pain. Phnom Penh pretty much empties as families return to their ancestral homes.
We arrived in Battambang as Kanal’s sister was cooking dinner over clay charcoal pots on the ground. After a walk along the riverside park at dusk, we began our meal on mats outside by candlelight until electricity was restored. Although the two-bedroom house was bursting with three generations, they graciously gave me my own room.
Next morning, after a breakfast of curry and rice, we left for the Wat (temple). I was glad to go along, but I let them know I would not be joining in worship. The women wore their best silk, and men and younger children were dressed in black and white. Attired in cotton, I insisted on riding behind the two young teens on their moto, freeing the car for the delicately dressed.
Back in Phnom Penh four days later, who should pass my kitchen window? The family from Battambang! We exchanged warm Cambodian greetings and American hugs. They had come to the capitol to say goodbye to Kanal who was leaving to spend a year and a half in Iowa on a student visa. I didn’t accompany the extended family to the airport, but I did invite Erya and Kanal over for tacos the following Tuesday.
That night I was honored to join their friends on the roof for a multi-course farewell dinner party.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia