I was agitated in the van on the way to Cambodia. I wrote in my journal, “Our cab driver’s driving SUCKS!!! I’m going to be sick. He’s driving standard without using cruise control. It feels like he hasn’t shifted out of 2nd gear and his foot on the gas pedal is like lead. Lord, have mercy!
He just stopped to buy crickets at a roadside stand…
Now he’s blasting Thai music…”
I couldn’t do anything but close my eyes and count the minutes until we arrived to the border of Cambodia.
When we got to Thai immigration things only got worse. My backpack, stuffed with clothes for 9 days, was killer. Monika and I were trying to get our visa and connect with the ministry that would be hosting us in the midst of chaos. I tried to take in the culture around me, but it was only chaos!
Everything was nuts. So thirsty and feeling sick from the van ride, my shoulders grew even more tense from the unrelenting weight of my backpack. Men kept jumping in our faces offering this service and that service: “Need help with visa? Need luggage cart? Need a picture for visa?”
I wanted to respond, “Actually, I need you to get out of my face before I scream!”
The walk from Thai immigration to the border of Cambodia is known as “no man’s land”. Neither Thailand nor Cambodia own this slice of earth. People take advantage of the territory. Piles of garbage line both sides of the street. Carts of questionable street food are available for those willing to compromise their good health. Unsavory characters approach without hesitation hoping to trap unseasoned travelers with conniving schemes. I thought Mexico’s traffic was nuts. Then I thought Thailand’s was worse. But nothing compares to the madness of traffic in CAMBODIA.
A dirty, tattered little girl holding an infant walks up to me with an empty bottle and asks if I could buy baby formula. Having been warned of such things, I ignore the somber face knowing this is a scam. My heart, however, is pricked with feeling for these children.
Talk about culture shock on top of fatigue.
When we finally make it to our hotel in Poipet, the front desk informs us they are currently going through renovations and they hope our room is satisfactory.
Oh, boy. Yep. They were right. The hotel was definitely going through major renovation. Our room might have been a prison cell. The walls and floor were concrete and there was not a single window. The lights flickered. And…no toilet paper. I didn’t know such a hot and humid climate could feel so cold.
Thankfully, there were two water bottles on the table. We guzzled them and tried to get settled after the full day of travel.
My heart felt sick. I missed familiarity. I missed comfort. I missed my family.
My initial thoughts of Cambodia: Dirty. Gross. Trashy. Crowded. People everywhere (and not just everywhere…they were everywhere in your face!). Utter CHAOS. As soon as I got into the country, I wanted to get right back out.
“No, Claire. You are here for a reason. Be tough.”
The Lord reminded me that He is present and dwells even in the coldest, darkest of places. Though I was no where near the coldest and darkest place, it felt like it at the moment. He goes before and behind His people and we can rest in His presence.
After my solitary sulk session, I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit. My heart grew lighter. The Lord was present and I was to press on.
Monika and I had the opportunity to partner with Cambodia Hope Organization (CHO). CHO’s main office is based out of a cafe in Poipet called Destiny Cafe. The cafe helps fund the ministry. CHO’s primary focus is helping improve the education and life of the people of Cambodia, specifically in rural villages. They build wells, provide cows, agriculture, and education for village children who don’t have the means to go to school. Cambodia Hope Organization also opened up a private school called Safe Haven.
On our first couple of days, we bagged up rice, sugar, and oil to distribute at a village church. We ate at CHO’s Destiny Cafe for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Experienced their “School on a Mat” project as well as different village projects CHO established. I also had the opportunity to lead the a devotion for all of CHO staff one morning.
I was invited to visit and observe a few classes at the Safe Haven school. CHO wanted input and help in creating a new curriculum for the school. They asked me to start creating an activity packet of ideas, tips, lessons, and activities the teachers could implement in their classrooms. This was a project they planned to do, but hadn’t started. It was work that I did not at all anticipate doing. But I was thrilled and thankful to be using my skills and degree in elementary education to help the ministry. It was a wonderful honor to serve them this way. The Lord was using me in ways I never anticipated and I loved it.
Initially, I considered Cambodia as chaotic, madness, lunacy.
The founder of CHO and a native Cambodian provided a different perspective, however. In talking about the traffic in Cambodia, he said, “The traffic here is like water. Everyone just flows around one another.”
Hmm. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Traffic like water in Cambodia.
After pondering this statement I realized that it described not just the traffic, but the culture and people of Cambodia and much of Southeast Asia. Things might be in complete disarray, but people don’t see it as an inconvenience or agitation. They simply flow around one another. And it works for them!
The Lord used Cambodia to open my eyes to the messiness of this world. People are a mess. Life is a mess. I’m a mess. BUT…the Lord is in the mess. He is the water that makes everything flow. He is present and working even when we are confused and cannot see straight.
I don’t mind Cambodia traffic so much now…