Twenty-four hours, three languages, sweet children, and a country that will always keep a piece of my heart.
The last day I spent in Cambodia (Wednesday, July 27) summarized all the aspects of my stay there. It was the best day in many ways. I am going to write it all here, mostly so I don’t forget the little moments that made it a good day.
We all got up early that morning at Dewey and Stacey’s house. It was moving day for them. We ate the normal breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast with the few dishes that were not packed. Then, I helped wash dishes, went upstairs to brush my teeth, and brought down my bags, all airport ready for the next morning. In the next hour, the rest of the team came to help move stuff assembly style down the narrow, steep staircase that led to the road. I washed out the fridge, moved sundry items, and tried to keep the two confused but excited two-year-old twins out of harm’s way. The best part was sending the boys two basketballs down those steps.
Once the moving truck was loaded in typical purposefully, haphazard Khmer style, we got ready to leave Toule Tom Pong.
A big desk did not fit on the truck. So, it was piled on a tuk tuk along with a backpack of Dewey’s valuables, my computer bag, a cake for snack, helmets and a garbage can. I climbed through the triangle of space between the roof of the tuk tuk and the desk and sat on the actually empty seat. The twins love riding tuk tuk, and they came with me. Dramatic Zaydok planted himself firmly on my lap and contemplative Zeke leaned against my left side.
We took off following Dewey and Stacey on their moto. In the heavy morning traffic, the trip took a good half hour. The boys were relaxed and sleepy. As I looked down at their two precious heads, one white-blonde, the other dark-brown, I thanked God for this chance to hold them one last time. (They rarely hold still long.) I watched now familiar shops go past, went over the open sewer again, and relished the breeze on the bridge. When I first came to Cambodia everything looked the same. Now, I recognized the road we take to market, the Phnom Penh Sports Club, the restaurant where people usually stared over their breakfast at me, the corner of the nearly hairless dog.
I felt suspended in time.
We unloaded the truck, while the boys stayed across the road at the other missionary family’s house with the nannies. Somewhere, in the midst of unloading, I got to try a sample of the dried mango that I was bringing home for my family. Delicious! We enjoyed a mid-morning break of Dewey’s favourite chocolate cake with milk instead of icing. (Try it sometime.) For unpacking, I folded the towels that had been wrapped around the dishes. By lunch time, we had unpacked and positioned all that we could until Dewey’s could get wardrobes.
We went around the corner to the Swan King restaurant where we had eaten all of our cleaning and moving days. I tried to order sweet and sour fish with mango salad, but at this restaurant, they have the set things they make. Whether you order fried fish or sweet and sour fish, the same thing appears. It’s pointless to explain to your oh-so-friendly waiter that what he brought you is wrong.
The fish has been sliced, like you would slice a cucumber. Hence, a little ring of backbone is in the middle. It is crispy and good with the big plate of rice they bring.
The mango salad is green mango grated with other vegetables and coated with a sweet chili dressing. Typically, it had a nice tang. My last bowl was so spicy that I ate all my rice, drank all my lime tea, and still had a burning mouth!
In the afternoon, I got a few things in my room ready. Then, I went with Krista to their house so that I could get pictures from her camera of our days at the village.
Before I got to the pictures, I got engrossed with the little people they let in their gate. I got down on the floor and coloured adult style colouring pages with them. Two little girls used gestures, and I used my limited Khmer to communicate that they both wanted mine. Being a peace maker, I cut it in half and cut it out neatly. When I gave them their halves, they got all excited and wanted me to make them into crowns. Pretty soon, every colouring page was being cut into a crown. They all wanted theirs first. I was thankful I knew some Khmer numbers. “Moi-1, Bee-2, Bah-ee-3.” I would point to whose I would do first. The problem with speaking a little Khmer to children, is that they immediately assume you know it all and jabber away full tilt. Then, they are confused when I reply in my strange language, “I don’t understand” and toss up my hands in the universal gesture.
Speaking of universal, I enjoy watching children, even when I don’t know their language. In every crowd, there is a bossy girl, a mischievous boy, a shy little one afraid to ask for love but craving it all the same. We played London bridge is falling down, until they learned how to manipulate the system. I skipped with them and defended Annie from their tickles and got tickled for my reward.
After getting the pictures from Krista, I played balloon volleyball for a bit with some of children. Our balloon went over the wall, and a mom with her little girl brought it back. With that, two mothers and their toddlers came into the center. This makes me so excited, because it is a great opportunity for the team there to reach adults and children alike with the Glorious Gospel.
It was while they were at the centre that I received a blessed Divine reprimand. I was sitting on the floor, watching Brooke and Annie do clapping games with some of the children. One of the mothers stared intently at my face with a gentle smile. Feeling a little awkward, I got Krista to ask in Khmer how old her little girl is. The mother shyly answered, and we exchanged smiles. Still, she stared at me. Krista saw my confusion, and on a hunch asked the lady a few questions.
Then Krista told me that the woman thinks Krista and I are beautiful. She told me Khmer people are especially intrigued with our noses, the larger the more beautiful. I have always felt my nose a too prominent feature, but here in this moment I received a blessing. God does not make ugly. Our sinfulness blinds us to beauty. People limit beauty to their own ideas. God never limits beauty.
Soon, it was time for me to head back to Dewey and Stacey’s for a final supper there.
Stacey and the boys were just done with their naps. She took them out in front of her house, where a neighbour lady fussed over the twins. One mother was feeding three of her children. Literally, mothers in Cambodia walk around with a bowl and a spoon and feed their children. I’m not sure when this changes, but as adults, it would be considered rude to eat while walking.
While Stacey was inside for a bit, the lady tried to take the twins to meet some other neighbours. They were not impressed! I took them by the hand and walked over to meet these other ladies and children. Soon, after a bit of coaxing from mom, a child offered them a riding car, which Zaydok claimed, of course. They tried to put Zeke on a training wheel bike and failed. Then Stacey came out, and I suggested to her that I heat up supper. She knows their language, these are her neighbours, and I was going to be leaving soon anyway.
As I was setting the table, Dewey came in, went out the back kitchen door, and bought some water from a nearby shop at someone’s house. Tap water is unsafe to drink in Cambodia. Soon, he was chatting with the people who sell salty treats and drinks just across the alley. When Stacey brought the boys in, they chatted for bit. The Khmer people are always intrigued by these white twins who do not look alike.
We ate our supper, of green beans cooked with little bits of beef and onions, with bread. Then, it was suddenly time to get ready to leave again. The team had decided to go to a Cold Stone Creamery for a treat.
As was typical, what do you do with this third wheel? (That would be me.) Both of the long termers there were taking a WATER girl. Their motos were full. Dewey tried to track down a tuk tuk. I was afraid I was going to have to ride moto dop. (That is a moped driven by a complete stranger. Uh…I did it once. He was an old man who didn’t know English. Hence, I was spared any suggestive flirtations and marriage proposals like many others have received, but still…)
Finally, Shelly proposed that I just ride three with her and Annie. We had done it short trips before, and the police aren’t out after five o’clock.
My last moto ride was relatively cool in the evening breeze. I enjoyed trying to keep track of the team in the maze of helmets, motos, vehicles and tuk tuks that is Cambodian roads. Neon lights were ablaze. (“Oh, God, why does sin have to be so attractive?” Neon lights often indicate where you can get a prostitute.)
At the creamery, I ordered my ice cream. I wanted a plain waffle cone, but they were out of those. They gave me a chocolate dipped one with sprinkles. I was pretty sure they didn’t give me enough change, but between balancing a cone and my slowness at counting Rehiel money (that would be 4 000R to one American $). I didn’t have a chance to count it until I got to my table. And then, before I sat down, Zaydok wanted to come sit with me. Ice cream, two year old, wallet, better just stick away the cash.
Of course, I was touched that the little guy picked me over his mom and nanny. Then, I realized that he was after…..The Sprinkles. It’s a good thing that I’m not a fan.
Oh, and the next morning, I checked my receipt and change and realized that she had thought I had given her a ten when I gave her a twenty. That would be a $14 dollar cone.
I played with nine-month-old Bubba for a while as we chatted. Then we drove back through the night and lights of the city. (Does it ever sleep?) As I went in the gate, the next door neighbours’ guests were just leaving. They were disappointed that I was not one of these wonderful white people who spoke their language. Cambodia used to be a French colony. Knowing this, I was not surprised to hear one lady say, “Parléz vous Francé?”
“Un peu.” I replied. She rattled something in French. All I caught was that she wondered if Dewey was a doctor. I replied that he was not. They seemed disappointed and left with cheerful, “Sok sa by’s.”
When I got in to the house, the mat they were borrowing from the drop-in centre for me to sleep on had not arrived yet. I crept in on Stacey trying to settle two wired little boys. She suggested that I could sleep in the guest room with a fan or tiptoe in after the boys were asleep and enjoy their little AC. I sang to the boys and patted them on the back. “Good-night, Zekey, Good-night Zekey, Good-night, Zekey, it’s time to go to sleep.” (recognize that MJ?) Of course, they each wanted a turn. Then, Dewey came in to help.
I left to take a shower and finish writing some cards. Then, I crept into their room and slept until dawn glowed in the window.