Sunday, July 2, 2017

Lessons From the Back of a Moto [Part 1]

Disclaimer: This post was written back in November, intended to be the beginning of a much longer blog post... I never finished it, so here's the beginning- unedited- as I wrote it back then. 


I ride on the back of a moto quite frequently. I hear the phrase, “We go now,” and know that it’s time to put on my silver alien helmet and hop on the moto. When this happens, I don’t always know where we’re headed. I just know that it’s time to go. So, I clamber on. 

The other day, I was riding with my coworker. We were travelling down a road that had suffered much during the torrential downpours of the rainy season, and we were swerving around potholes and driving through puddles… I’ll be honest: it was rough. The road alternated between being so bumpy I thought I was about to launch into the sky and being so slippery that I had visions of an impromptu mud bath. As we travelled, I was hyper-focused on the road ahead: Oh, here, it’s eroded, prepare for the bump! Oh, it’s flooded- will we go around or through?

Suddenly, I was prompted to stop looking ahead and to look around instead. Let me tell you, it was beautiful. We were driving out of an orchard, approaching open fields. To my right, across the verdant rice paddies, the mountain began to rise, a startling, luscious green against the brilliant blue sky spotted with wispy clouds. To my left were traditional wooden homes, raised on stilts above the fields, with a view that stretched to the horizon. It was a moment of I want to picture this forever.

A bump jostled me from my reverence. I was back to staring achingly at the road, automatically clenching my hands to the bar beneath my legs. Wait. Go back to the view.

I relaxed. I open my hands, letting them hang loose at my side, and once more, glanced up, beginning to admire the beauty surrounding me. It still stunned me. To go from a white-knuckle grip, anxious about the approaching rough spots, to suddenly being filled with peace and a sense of awe for where I was at… it shocked my system.

It shocked my system so much, I began to get philosophical.

It’s like life, I thought. We go through our life journeys so focused on what troubles might be approaching, so focused on the rough spots, the places we’re shaken, or in the slippery places, where we fear we will fall. We even use the analogy of roads and journeys, it’s so easy to see. We talk about how the road we are on is rough, about the trials we’re facing, trying to reach some goal. We talk about the road; we talk about the destination; why don’t we talk about the scenery?

Sometimes, yes, the road we travel is rough. But, don’t forget to take a moment to look up and enjoy the view. Your road might be taking you through some beautiful places, giving you the opportunity to see something you haven’t seen yet, before leading you on to your destination. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Instagram Round-up, Part 3

I've also realized that I've totally slacked on my "Instagram Round-Ups", for those of you not following me on Instagram. (Probably most of you?) Here's a small selection:

[Original] Caption: ...when I first arrived, I couldn't get over how funny I thought these cows looked, with their droopy bunny ears, humpback, and neck flap. And to be honest, that enjoyment hasn't faded. Say "hello"to this fella!

[Original] Caption: The rain has returned. [Addendum] Rainy season hasn't yet begun full-throttle, but it's coming soon, says the experts. It's raining at least four days a week, enough that some farmers have begun to plant their rice crop, enough that ponds and ditches are filling up, enough that the countryside is returning to a brilliant emerald green. 

Caption: This graffiti was taken in a neighborhood that's been painted with graffiti- and, as graffiti often is, the messages ranged from colorful cartoons to political statements. For me, this graffiti doesn't need any caption, any translation. 

[Original] Caption: Sometimes, trying to pick just ONE photo to share is just so difficult. Enjoy this waterfall! They said it only has a little water because it's the dry season. [Addendum] This photo was taken during our YAGM Spring Retreat in March on an excursion up Bokor Mountain. 

[Original] Caption: I'm not 100% convinced this tree was actually a tree... 

[Edited] Caption: In awe as I consider that the sun sets here in Kampot at the same time it's rising back in the States. My sunset is their sunrise. (Also, that's fact-checked. The sunrise/sunset times differ by mere minutes.)

[Original] Caption: Infinity. 

[Original] Caption: កម្ពុជាស្អាត [Translated] Beautiful Cambodia

[Original] Caption: I have a Christmas Easter Tree. The end. [Addendum] This tree (and nativity scene) was set-up late February or early March, added to in late April, and yes, is still proudly standing. 

With love from Cambodia,

P.S. I really will post photos to FB for everyone to see, but I haven't had strong enough internet nor the photos on the correct devices to post. So, most likely, allllll my photos will be posted after I return to the States. I hope you'll still peruse them and listen to my stories then. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017



It was a grand adventure. For months, my host-mother has been telling me about the beautiful beaches and big sea in nearby Kampong Saom. Knowing that I loved the water, and wanting to show me more of her country, my host-mother dearly wanted to take me to see the sea. That's what the above Khmer states, a common refrain of my host-mother's, I want to take you to see the big, big sea. Well, last weekend, it happened! A favorite aunt and uncle, plus my host-parents and sister, a cousin, and two family friends gathered together for our grand beach adventure...and photo shoot.

Below, please enjoy some photos from this experience:

With love from Cambodia,

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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Happy New Year!


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.


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.

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,


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,

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.
 " 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.