Monday, April 3, 2017

It's April?!




My heart is heavy with joy and anticipation and sadness, among many.

I recently returned from the YAGM Spring Retreat, and my mind is busy contemplating and reflecting.

As I'm in the process of composing blog posts to end this drought of communication, I seek prayers to aid me in processing all that I've experienced: seen, heard, and thought. If you have questions or prompts for blog posts you'd love to read, please share them!

Peace and love from Cambodia.
KMJ

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cheers!

Happy New Year!

រីករាយចូលឆ្នាំសកល!

Dear Readers,

I wish for you a blessed 2017, that the year be enriched with sincerity and compassion. I pray that 2017 will be full courageous dreams and beautiful memories. In this new year, may you abound in hope, love, and joy!
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Well, this blog wasn’t posted on the first day of the new year as I intended. (Surprise.) However, I think there’s some circumstantial elegance in that I’m continuing this post during Chinese New Year celebrations. 

Bountiful goodness
Happy Year of the Rooster! “Roosters auspicious gifts are forward thinking and solid self-confidence,” according to an image I saw. The Chinese New Year is also referred to as the Lunar New Year, and each year is identified by one of the 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac. A common well-wish for the New Year, in loose translation, is for health, wealth, and opportunity. Here’s a fun language lesson for you:

Earlier, I read a festive coke can, and Google Translate insists that the phrase says “Chinese New Year Greetings!” However, my host-sister had told me that the key word meant opportunity, so I asked, “Like, it’s wishing good opportunity in the New Year?” She said yes. Then I used a dictionary define each word, discovering that the phrase can mean “Blessed Occasion,” where opportunity can substitute for occasion.

ជូនពរឱកាសចូលឆ្នាំចិន!


Delicious
In Cambodia, the Chinese New Year is celebrated because there are many with Chinese ancestry. My host-mother spent hours preparing plates of delicious food- chicken, stew, fried noodles... Tables laden with food, lucky trees decorated with little red envelopes (containing money for the children), offerings, and burning incense were seen in every home. My host sister showed me her Facebook feed, filled with photos of families dressed in red and the lavish decorations and displays of food. Friends and family gathered to eat together, to play together, or to holiday together.

Cambodian holidays are united by the traditions of food and family.

 ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Well, I started this post because I wanted to write about the first New Year’s Eve celebration, as in the 31st of December 2016. Ordinarily, I don’t await the New Year by staying up until midnight or going out to parties or what-have-you, but this year was special. My host family was going to the riverside for Countdown, and they wanted me to join them.

Uncertain of what was ahead, I patiently waited through the day. My waiting was interrupted when we took a short afternoon adventure to the nearby province of Keb, where I finally saw the sea. (More on that later.) Then, upon our return, my host mother began cooking, making these delicious fried shrimp cakes. (I love them so much!) She kept making them and making them, and that was my first conception that this wasn’t just a *little* event that we were attending.

Ultimately, I found myself at the riverside. The riverside is a long expanse of what you’d call park space, I suppose. Along the river, between the water and the road, is a wide paved area with trees and benches, frequently used for river-watching and sunset-gazing, for strolling, or for chatting with friends. On NYE, it was used for all that and more. The paved area was covered completely by picnic mats, lounge chairs, and blankets where families had staked their claim. We shared our picnic mats with a family from the neighborhood and their friends.

Some of the delicious food
Our speaker was playing music while the children danced along. My host-brother and his fiancée set up the grill and began cooking squid and shrimp. My host-mother unwrapped the heaps of fried shrimp cakes while her friends dished out rice and began serving food: shrimp, chicken, beef, cucumbers, and so, so much more. There was probably 20 of us and we could have eaten three times over. One of the friends started chopping up the fresh fruit- watermelon, grapes, longan, apples, oh so many types- and prepared a cooler full of sangria to share.

The children were dancing, the people were laughing, the air was just filled with good cheer. After sunset, the children started lighting firecrackers and fireworks. There was music pouring from many speakers, and further down the river were stages with live music and performances.

Launching a lantern
At one point, I took a walk with my host-sister and her friends, threading our way through the people and through traffic, admiring all the food, fireworks, and festivities. The public buildings were decorated with strands of lights. The restaurants were over-flowing with people. While we were out, one of the friends bought a paper lantern, and I started to notice all the glowing lanterns people were launching into the sky.

Back at our picnic spot, children were attempting to launch lanterns, too. These lanterns were about half the size of a full-grown human, so the children were dwarfed. The adults were invested in this experience, too. As some lanterns caught fire before they launched or others caught a draft of wind then promptly dropped from the sky into the river, everyone offered their advice, their suggestions of the best method for success. When a lantern would float gently up in the air, the crowd would cheer. When it would dip, and start to fall, they’d gasp and urge it up, up, up. If it fell, the groans resounded. Everyone had the joy of little children, and it was beautiful.

Another lantern!
Side note: there were also children wandering around carrying balloons shaped like various animals, and I thought it was genius that instead of tying the balloon to the child’s wrist or making them hold tight, the balloon was simply tied to a full water bottle to weight it down.

There were these rocket firework sticks that shot sparks from the tip, in slow succession as you held it out. They were quite pretty. However, I loved them because they so much reminded me of the spells in Harry Potter that would shoot red or green sparks from the tip of the wand. And there you have it. Okay, I’m sure there’s a name, but I don’t know it, so from that point on the were Harry Potter firework sticks.

As midnight approached, I was quite tired, despite the copious amounts of coke I’d consumed. As I grew tired, I grew chilled, despite my jacket and blanket-like scarf. Eventually, I was tucked inside my host-father’s jacket, too, and I leaned back against the wall, content with life from within my three layers. It was peaceful and I was happy.

I spent most of that time in silence, but there was one especially sweet, sweet moment. There was a Canadian in the group, and I did not speak to him for most of the night. However, at one point my host-mother sat beside me and him beside her. He looked at her and complimented her fried shrimp cakes (as well he should, because those are the bomb)… and she looked at me, because this man was speaking English to her and she did not understand. I felt this warmth inside of me as I translated for her, and again, as she wanted to tell him they were all eaten, all gone. Then there was a moment of grand confusion, because he started talking about these mosquito net tents and how they’d be good to buy for a farm (he has one?) and would be better to rent than the karaoke business he already ran (honestly, I was lost by this topic transition), and I attempted to translate, because he was still talking to my host-mother, but it was not successful. Regardless, I just want to honor that moment, when my host-mother turned to me, silently asking me what this many was saying to her.

Fireworks!
At midnight, the crowd was standing, people were on the beach lighting the Harry Potter fireworks and some fireworks were exploding in the sky. Two confessions: One- I found this do-it-yourself celebration so much fun and engaging with the whole crowd standing, engaged in the lights display, more so than I’ve ever found passively sitting and watching a massive firework show. Two- I actually missed the turn of midnight. I was videoing my host father and some young men and their third attempt to launch a lantern when I saw the sky start to light up with sparks and fireworks, so I turned my camera towards the sky. Then, my host mother handed me a lit Harry Potter firework stick. It was after that I glanced at my watch and saw that it was 12:04a.

Midnight celebration

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Happy New Year, Readers! I hope you’ve been able to catch a glimpse of this beautiful life, despite that words really fail to express the experiences I have had. 

Peace to you and yours!

With love,

KMJ

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Upcoming Attractions

Hi lovely Readers,

Even though this means I'm doubling up on posts, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about some of the posts that I have sitting in drafts.

Here are an assortment of topics:

  • New Years' Eve
  • Christmas
  • Thanksgiving
  • My host family
  • Animals
  • Identity and names
  • Cambodian holidays
  • Independence
  • Khmer language

I've also been meaning to write about the organizations that I've been working for...

Well, if you have any questions related to those topics above that you would like to see answered, don't hesitate to contact me! I will attempt to answer your questions in the [eventual] blog post! I'm serious. Also, if you have other questions about life in Cambodia, again, don't hesitate to ask. I'll either turn the answers into a blog post (I will!) or I'll just respond to you personally.

With love,
Kyle

All the Small Things

"Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart."
- Winnie the Pooh
It's been a project of mine, since the New Year started, to really focus on the little things; to look for, to seek, to anticipate those small moments that swell my heart with joy, peace, contentment, or love. (Other emotional states are welcomed, as well.) This cultivates greater anticipation for each day.

These small moments bring a smile to my face and help me appreciate life anew. They remind me that the big moments or the grand gestures are garnish, mere excitement that is meaningless without the small moments that makes life profound.
 "Life...is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what win and preserve the heart and secure comfort."
- Sir Humphry Davy
It's riding home after dark on my bike, pedaling from the school in quiet companionship with a staff member. We exchange short phrases: "Dtou nah?" (Where are you going?) "Luan! Luan!" (Fast! Fast!) or simple desires "Knhom jang ni yay angkle jiamuay Teacher." (I want to speak English with you.)  "Knhom jang ni yay Khmer buntai plek piak teang a." (I want to speak Khmer but I forget all words.) It's full of smiles, laughter, and delight.

It's leaving the house and spending a couple minutes convincing the puppies that no, they can't go to work with me. It's learning to quickly shut the gate and, just as quickly, turning away from the accusing eyes. It's returning home to a sweet puppy face, wagging tail, and cuddles.



It's another bike ride home, but this time we hear "Hello teacher! Hello teacher!" as some students catch up to us. These girls proceed to drive their motos behind us, graciously lighting our path (illuminating the cavernous potholes) with their headlights. We continue, accompanied by their light and light-hearted laughter, until a chorus of "Goodbye! Goodbye!" arises, and we all part ways at the Durian roundabout.

It's in greetings. It's the smiles of the children who greet me when I arrive at the school. It's the quiet "Sus'dei" I receive from a woman at work. It's the women who recognize me at the store and say hello. It's the aunt, who brings me fruit, and wants to know how I am.
"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."
- Leo Buscaglia
It's a teacher, who when my flashlight wouldn't work one night last week, drove alongside me while we chatted about life decisions until I reached home, ensuring a safely lit journey. This same teacher saw me fussing with the flashlight again this week, concerned. But noticing my companion waiting for me, she smiled delightedly, asking, "Pi neak?" (Two of you, together?)

It's seeing beautiful flowers on the way to work. It's seeing those same beautiful flowers on the way home, u-turning in the road, and stopping to admire them, because they were irresistible. It's taking a picture, for photographic evidence.

Gorgeous, right?

It's a moment, when my host-mother and host-sister are busy outside and a customer walks up to the store. I go to the window, "Dting tuk tom!" ([He wants] to buy a big water!) I didn't know the word for the giant 20L bottles of water. My host-mother told me the price, and I collected the money. She laughed, enjoying this, saying that I made my first sale. I walked around for several hours after that, thinking to myself, "I got to sell something!" It's the little things, I tell ya.
"We sometimes underestimate the influence of little things."
- Charles W Chesnutt

It's quiet time and contemplation. It's watching fish swim, admiring the flash of color. It's simple experiences that invite a moment of holiness.
"Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to accomplish something big, that we fail to notice the little things that give life its magic."
 - unattributed

I've always been a sucker for magic. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Let it snow?


My host-sister saw this and so earnestly responded, 
"I want to build a snowman, but there's no snow!"

Apologies

Readers, be you friends, family, supporters, or interested persons,

I apologize for my absence.

All is well.

How are you?

I wanted to take a moment to let you all know that I am well. It's been a while since I've posted anything on this blog. I have a backlog of emails sitting in my inbox, and I'm starting the process of responding to them all.

As you may recall, I mentioned having some blog posts in drafts already- between now and the end of the year, I will try my hardest to edit and finish them, and yes, publish them for your viewing.

Meanwhile, here are two facts:

According to weather.com, it's 87 degrees outside and feels like 95 degrees. It also tells me that it's currently 30 degrees in Atlanta... I'll take 87 over 30 any day!

As for food, we eat rice as the main staple for almost every meal. I quite enjoy it, actually. However, here are the top three unexpected foods that I've eaten with rice:
3. Watermelon
2. Salad
1. Noodles

Cheers,
KMJ

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sit, enjoy yourself

As YAGM, under the auspices of the ELCA, we practice a mission model referred to as the model of accompaniment. Accompaniment means
“walking together in solidarity that practices interdependence and mutuality”. 
Okay, but those are challenging words. At its heart, accompaniment is about reconciliation. We are a people called to be in relationship and created for community. How is this call articulated in this broken world, where the pronouns “us” and “them” have become normative? There is division, there is injustice, and there is exclusion and objectification of “the other”. In such a world, accompaniment is “a tool to see otherness as God intended: a gift”. It means not just speaking, but listening.

The holistic definition here, as I have come to understand it, is that accompaniment means being present in one's community, forming relationship, and just living in that intersection of my story, their story, and God's story. 

In three words, it's about "being, not doing". 

Now, there's more to say on this topic, and perhaps one day I can elucidate my thoughts further; however, accompaniment is just the framing for the subject matter of this post. So today, I leave you readers with that introduction, and move on. 
គុយលេង
"Koy leng" is a phrase I have heard every day since I moved to Kampot, Cambodia. "Koy leng" is a phrase that encompasses so much of Cambodian culture as I've experienced it. "Koy leng" is a phrase that has a deep, embedded significance.

"Koy leng" literally translated means "sit play". (Koy is short for the word angkoy, which means "to sit".)

"Koy leng," when spoken to you, can be understood as "sit, enjoy yourself".

On first observation, one can see that for Cambodians, sitting is a significant component of culture. Life is much-slower paced. There is a calmness intrinsic to life, where family members will just sit together, chatting or respecting silence. There is a familiarity, where a neighbor can walk up to the corner shop, and after making their purchase, pull up a red plastic chair and visit. There is a hospitality, where a visitor is welcomed, and immediately offered a chair upon which to rest. Family sits together. Friends sit together. Strangers sit together.

That is what "koy leng" means.

This sitting should never be interpreted as laziness, as passivity, or as a meaningless action.

To "sit, enjoy yourself" is intentional. When with someone, it's about intentional togetherness. When alone, it's about intentional relaxation and enjoyment of the moment.

A U.S. American equivalent for this action is visible in coffee dates with friends or a walk to the park and a rest among the shade.

"Sit, enjoy yourself" is a beautiful form of walking in accompaniment, of being not doing, which, in its essence, it truly is. It's a moment of silence. It's a moment of conversation.  It's companionship.

I can sit at the kitchen table and enjoy life with my host sister, as we smile over cute puppies, talk cultural differences, or eat snacks. I can sit in the shop with my host mother, watching our constant stream of visitors (customers), and sharing the moments. I can sit in the yard of a stranger, observing life in the village.

As I sit and enjoy myself, I cannot help but reflect on accompaniment, on building community, and creating relationship.

"Sit, enjoy yourself" is more than just a simple phrase. It's a way of life.

Love to you all. Take a moment to "koy leng" with your friend or your neighbor, share life together, and smile.

Peace,
KMJ