Sunday, December 25, 2016

December Happenings: Wrapping up 2016

2016 is drawing to a close and, though we are on "winter" break, it doesn't really feel like winter here, though it is cooler. The rainy season is mostly over, with only an occasional outburst and the weather is low 80s and high 90s each day.

We tried a traditional Khmer restaurant because of their excellent prices the other day. It reminded us a lot of Abu Dhabi's traditional way of eating: dense cushions on the floor with really low tables. Of course, I doubt these cushions were filled with camel hair, like in the Middle East. (I'm not sure how Cambodians in their third trimester comfortably sit that low!) The drink was jasmine flower tea and we had a chicken curry with rice and a beef soup with a dominant kafir lime flavor in the broth. The menu included things like frog, snake head fish and other things.
The kids have been playing with a neighborhood cat since it was a tiny kitten. I think Talia especially has it almost tamed. It belongs to a neighborhood store, so we don't care for it, but it's the perfect pet for expat children: you get to love it but not worry about it if you have to leave or pay for the medical/food and other expenses.
The kids were really excited to open presents from their teachers at school. We hardly ever buy candy, so finding chocolate was very exciting.
We've been chopping it up a little at a time and using it in recipes to make it last longer. Talia made chocolate chunk, oatmeal cookies with part of it.

I'm at almost 35 weeks with our little girl on the way. We are all getting really excited to meet her next month. Looking back at all of the changes that have come from moving from Mexico to Cambodia and the new cultures and challenges associated with that, we are content to close this year feeling it is stuffed as full as it could be. And, as 2016 comes to a close, we already have a lot to look forward to in the New Year!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Cambodian Market Food

So I have this friend who is persuaded that it is her job to make sure I experience Cambodian cuisine. It seems like every time she goes to the market, she brings home something new to try. Here are a few things that were new to me:

Persimmons: these were bright orange with a smooth, firm peel on the outside and the inside, tasted to me, a lot like a peach. I've been wanting to try these for a while, so I was glad she brought one.

This seems to be a typical breakfast food: Tapioca with sweetened milk of some sort, toasted sesame seeds and plantain.

These grilled bananas on a stick were brushed with something like soy sauce, because the outside was crispy and salty. It also came with a potato that had been boiled, mixed with vanilla and sugar and then formed into a patty and grilled like the bananas... it was interesting. The kids preferred the potato and I preferred the bananas.
This was another version of tapioca; this time with sweetened sweet potato, not quite mashed, but giving body to the soup. It also had egg, like in the version you would find in egg drop soup. I was starving, and it was a filling, if un-thought of combination for me.
On the top of the plate you will see a banana that has been battered and fried. The batter includes sesame seeds and I think vanilla and sugar from the flavor. As a bonus, when you get these, the little batter pieces that fall off into the hot grease and cook are put in the bottom of your bag so that in addition to the bananas, you get a bunch of crunchies. These are my children's favorite thing to eat here, so far... they get it every once in a while.

I'm sure there are a lot more things to discover when it comes to market food. I'm not interested in the bug/snake options, but when it comes to vegetables combined in interesting ways, I'm a lot more open to trying it. Would you?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Elias Turns 5!

Elias has been looking forward to being 5 for several months now. Play places are scarce here, as public parks don't really exist, especially around where we live. For his birthday, we went to a mall that had a fun play place inside and the kids ran and played for a long time.

Another fun thing at this mall was the stuffed animal-like child version of motorcycles they could ride around a non-developed floor of the mall.

Instead of cake, he asked for doughnuts from the bakery. The kids enjoyed theirs on the way home in the Tuk Tuk. Elias and Ezra crashed as soon as we got home. That is birthday success, right there!

Something Elias has been wanting for a while was this exact book of a collection of Curious George stories. My grandmother had given that exact thing for us to bring in our luggage before we even knew that's what he wanted. It was hard not to laugh, then, when he mentioned wanting it while I knew we had it hidden. He was very happy and has been reading it constantly since he received it.

Happy Birthday, Elias! We love you!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What's Rude or Not in Cambodia

Things that don't seem to be rude in Cambodia:
1. Staring.
2. Standing in front of people at a social function regardless if the people behind you can see.
3. Talking about someone's physical appearance.
4. Going the wrong way down a highway.
5. Parking wherever you feel like it, regardless of how it impacts traffic.
6. Feeding random kids food without asking their parents.
7. If you are male; walking around with a bath towel tied around your waist at any time of day.
8. Letting your male children play naked in the street until the age of about 9.
9. Honking loudly at anything that has less wheels than you to let you pass. (The exception being a car honking at a tuk tuk.)
10. Asking personal questions about finances.

Things that seem to be rude to a Cambodian:
1. Not taking your shoes off before entering a home.
2. Not inviting someone to join you in the meal if they show up while you're eating.
3. Showing the bottom of your feet, especially with shoes, to someone (ottomans are not understood.)
4. Showing anger.
5. Not making way for wrong-way traffic.
6. Touching other people, especially hair, without permission.
7. If a non-Cambodian male, staying home while a Cambodian female cleaner is in the house. (But a Cambodian female cleaner can be alone with Cambodian repairmen or any ethnicity of woman.)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Some Tips for Flavorful, Budget-Friendly Soups

One of the best budget meals when you have two burners and no oven or crockpot is soup. It allows you to spread out a small portion of meat while the entire dish absorbs its flavor, to bulk up with cheap vegetables and to add a wide variety of vitamins and minerals depending on your access to varied-colored vegetables. However, when bland, it's not at all a joy to eat. Here are a few tips I've learned to stretch meat, vegetables and flavor. (All opinions. All optional.)

For us, it is cheaper to buy meat once or twice a month and then freeze it into portions for one meal. This means it must thaw or be allowed time to cook longer. Regardless of if it is frozen or thawed, you can still begin the same way: browning the flavor-enhancing vegetables. For us, that means onion, garlic, ginger and/or red peppers (as everyone but me doesn't care for the raw pepper flavor.) There are two reasons that I do this: If you throw onion or garlic in without browning it first, you lose a lot of delicious flavor and end up with a more raw version of their tastes.

Once these veggies are brown, I always brown the meat next. The basis of any soup with meat is the broth. The broth will have so much more flavor if you brown the outside of the meat first. After it is brown on the outside, I fill it up with the required amount of water and dried spices or soy sauce and let it simmer for at least two hours on low. (Dried spices can possibly be a cheap option for flavor. Here, sometimes they are expensive depending on what you get.) Another tip if you want tender meat is not to rush it: low and slow renders it much more tender than a rapid boil. For a good broth, it is best to use the bones from previous meals and boil until you get the good stuff out, but since I usually have frozen meat, I make sure to leave any bones in until the last minute as they augment the broth and then I separate them out. (Here in Cambodia, it's very common to leave all of the bones in even when served. I don't do this because my little ones are likely to choke on them, but they do like the bones and will chew on them if available.) I usually makes sure the meat is in small pieces so that it can go all through the soup and everyone gets as close to an equal amount as possible.

After you've figured out which direction you want to go with your soup flavor profile, you can choose the cheap filler-veggie to accompany it. For us, the cost-effective choices to bulk up a soup include lentils, black beans, pulses, potatoes, chickpeas, acorn squash, and sweet potato. Then, to this in a smaller quantity I usually add things like greens (spinach, cabbage, bok choy), flax (for omegas), carrot, or any other colorful option.

Last, one of the most important steps is to taste the almost finished product and adjust your seasonings. Not enough salt leaves all of your delicious flavors hidden, while the right amount highlights them. I save my fresh herbs until last as they are too delicate to hold up to boiling. Usually Khmer cilantro, parsley, lemon grass, or basil are available. An exception is Kaffir lime leaves, they will hold up to boiling well. Also, if I use lime/lemon juice, I add that during this step.

 I enjoy the challenge and ability to be creative with combinations, and thankfully, my family hasn't complained about it either. Usually, we pair the soup with cous-cous, rice, dumplings or possibly baked potato if it's more of a thick stew or chili. Soup can also be thickened with a cornstarch or flour-water slurry added at the end, but that's not usually necessary. These are always our supper option, so there are other ways to fit in vitamins and minerals during the day, through fruit and raw vegetables. There are a myriad of options one can use in combinations, but following this method with any of the options has really helped me get some delicious products.

As I don't have professional chef training, I'd love to learn from you: How do you make soup flavorful yet budget-friendly?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Woodworking in Cambodia

This handsome guy has been working a lot mentally with his doctorate and job as a principal, so finding ways to work with his hands is something he finds satisfying, he tells me. For him, that means woodworking.
Something that can be challenging for woodworking in Cambodia is finding good equipment. Even if something is labeled as a name-brand item, many times it's a fake and starts smoking at the first hint of work. This happened with several electric saws and screwdrivers. (Not to mention that cordless tools are almost non-existent or really expensive here.) But, not to fear, strong muscles and manual tools helped get things finished. 
Finding comparable wood to what we are used to working with in the States isn't always possible either. Good plywood is still something we've got our eyes open for. However, there are different kinds of wood, like teak and rose wood. Rose wood is very hard! That's what he built the boy's bunk bed with.
Besides the bunk bed, he has worked on practicing his tracing with a skill saw. First, he asked me to draw a camel because their lines weren't too detailed to start on. Besides cutting off the tail because it was too flimsy to stand up to the saw and the hump and mouth being a little pokey, it was a fun experience for a first try. Our neighbors were more than happy to laugh and ask if it were a camel or a turtle.
His next project was a Brontosaurus for the boy's room, and it turned out even better. Then, perhaps harking back to his days tracing a map with all of his free time in the class room (because he's a genius and always finished everything quickly) he decided to work on a map of Cambodia. He used old pallets and sprayed it with a finishing stain.
I'm really proud of his country cut-out the most. It's nice to be married to someone who isn't addicted to video games or selfish endeavors, but someone who tries to learn new things that he can work on with his children. The kids loved being involved in each of these projects and I'm sure they will give them wonderful memories with their father for later on.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Some Ways Cambodia has Forced a Healthier Lifestyle

One can never move to another country and expect everything to be the same. If we would be honest about it, we would also have to realize that each country changes us, as well. Cambodia is no different.

When you are on a budget, typical food from the Standard American Diet isn't available. There are cheap street food options, but if you want to avoid food poisoning and amoebas, much of that isn't a good option. (There are exceptions, depending on what they are cooking, how well you know them and how fresh the food is.) This has helped us eat more healthily. Cheese and most dairy is scarcely an option because it's expensive. However, seasonal produce, rice, beans and fruit are super affordable, especially in rainy season.

Not having an oven limits things even further. There are down sides to this, as my favorite thing to give people are baked goods like cinnamon rolls, but there are also advantages. Not having access to all of those baked items I usually make, even though I try to make healthier options for my family such as banana bread, has limited our processed foods and carbohydrates even more. When I can get a kilo of sweet potatoes for .50 cents, their rich satisfying flavor curbs any carbohydrate cravings I might be missing from baked goodies, and with less sugar and processed stuff. (Then, there's the delicious battered and deep fried bananas from the market, but we don't get those often.)

Meat is something you have to be careful with in the markets, especially pork. Because of the price, we have been sticking to cheaper cuts of beef and chicken thighs. Being in Cambodia has taught me many ways to stretch a chicken thigh to feed 5 people. With a 2 burner hot plate, many dishes for one meal aren't ideal, so lots of soups with rice and tons of veggies have been gracing our table lately.

While adjusting to these things was uncomfortable and I still have times I'd really just like a regular stove, overall I've come to see it as a blessing. I've been able to learn to make do with the ingredients available. (Thanks, mom, for teaching me to cook. I have no idea how people who don't cook can make it on a budget.) Our family is able to afford protein at every meal, while so many can't here. I've been able to learn some Khmer soup recipes and enjoyed learning to enhance our meals with cheap but flavorful new herbs. I have a new appreciation for my husband who is dedicated to making the budget work and also not picky about food, and even complimentary about what I cook. I see it as a blessing that this occurred though the biggest part of my pregnancy, helping maintain a healthier pregnancy weight in a country where walking is almost impossible (but the four flights of stairs certainly come in handy for that.)

So, I'm not promising anything, but if you want to lose weight, you might want to try an extended stay in Cambodia on a food budget. :))

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Cars in Cambodia

One thing Cambodian roads are not built for is cars. The tiny lanes between houses make it very difficult for more than one car to go through at a time. Small Toyota Camrys are huge in comparison to the space allotted and the ever-favored status symbol in third world countries, the Lexus ATVs are gigantic. Being able to afford a car in Cambodia also seems to give the owner a sizeable sense of entitlement as well on the road. Everyone must be patient in Cambodian traffic, but if someone is going to be honking, it's usually a driver behind shiny Lexus armor. Any driver in a Tuk Tuk or on a motorcycle has been forced to the edge of the road by a horn-blaring car or truck. 

[sarcasm warning] Can you blame the car drivers, though? They aren't able to enjoy driving their pollution-free, air conditioned car with any sense of accomplishment. Every turn is swarmed by the faster and less bulky motorcycles, deep pot holes the huge cars can't avoid and a myriad of wrong-way-traffic and cart-pushers. I can imagine being frustrated by owning a vehicle capable of so much that never makes it over 50 miles an hour on a good day. Perhaps that rage is what built up until a former teacher riding a motorcycle was purposely mowed down by one. He lost his leg, but the poor car owner is stuck in the same frustrating situation with perhaps some guilt on top. Usually, in cases where a car causes an accident, they pay the person who was hurt enough for a hospital bill, (health insurance doesn't exist for normal people here.) My friend's brother who drives a Tuk Tuk was rammed by a car and as a result, had his thumb amputated. The car-driver gave him $50 and disappeared.

In a country where the infrastructure can not support large vehicles, the insistence of citizens in getting them anyways may slowly change what road structure is available. In the meantime, everyone has to wait in the bulk of traffic created by them. (Unless you have a motorcycle, then you can usually get around anywhere while the cars are left behind to duke it out.)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Cambodian Fishing Trip

Where we live is mostly concrete and mud. Grass and nature are limited to a few trees at the end of the street and the kids play in the cul-de-sac with neighborhood kids instead of in a backyard, all of which are things we've adjusted to. However, when presented with the chance to see more nature and get out of the city a little, we were all for it. Ben came home one day talking about a fishing trip he had signed up for along with a guy from his office. The kids were really excited. 
The boat was bigger than he had anticipated, with two levels and room for a table in the middle and a small bathroom behind the steering part. Several other boats floated by on our way out. One was a floating hotel, another was a floating banquet hall for what looked like a wedding. The kids were excited to see a police boat go by. Most of the boats, though, were narrow little boats with a curved piece of plastic or metal over the middle to provide shelter. Families lived on them with a rack of drying clothes hanging on one side, steering on the other. I suppose they fished for a living.

 I never did understand what exactly the name was of the river we were on, only that it was a place where four rivers joined.  The guide anchored the boat by throwing the rope to a boy who tied it to a tree. Behind the boy was an orchard full of  longan and banana trees. Longans are really common to see here, often offered on the small shrines outside of almost every house beside incense.
The muddy river was a little stinky and once we saw a dead dog floating by, but the kids liked being on a boat and holding the rod and reel. The line kept getting stuck in foliage on the bottom of the river, but we managed to catch about 8 really small fish about this size:

That's all that they cared about, that they had caught something! We went home exhausted, sunburned, but happy for a change of pace.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Pests in Cambodia

There are a lot of things that thrive in a rainy-season country: interesting fruits, vegetables, trees, rats, mice, frogs and all sorts of insects.

Houses here are built of cement block covered in cemented-on tile for the most part. Windows are always barred, but front doors are often open except at night as there's no central air. With most kitchens outside, that usually keeps the rats outside too. Usually. Any little crack and they can squeeze their way inside. Because they are smaller, mice can squeeze in under normal metal doorways. Since upstairs Windows can be more of a downward, open vent, terra cotta tile hole, things can climb in that way as well. 

One corner of one of the screens came loose in our kitchen...
And a rat got in. I hate rats. We got it screwed in tightly as soon as possible! Mice, however, are almost impossible to keep out. Ben has suggested getting a cat to help with the mice, and who knows, that might be the best choice after the baby is born.

Spiders, flies and mosquitos are everywhere and also hard to keep out. Thankfully, most of the diseases passed by mosquitos are caught outside of the city in the countryside when people go home on breaks, so we're avoiding that kind of travel until after the baby is born. 

In a water pipe hole in our kitchen lives a medium-sized frog. Every night he comes out, but dashes back in if you get too close. Ezra always says "bye bye frog" when we close up the kitchen at night. (To make sure nothing goes from there into the rest of the house.) 

We always make sure all food is stored in air-tight plastic-lock containers, in the fridge or freezer. It's also important to sweep and do dishes religiously to keep pest invasion to a minimum. With toddlers and big people that aren't me who like to snack in lots of places, that gets challenging.

In addition to rodents, there are many lizards running around on the walls and ceilings here. They're fairly easy to ignore, at least.

Thankfully, we haven't had issues with snakes, though I've heard of a few issues in the city.

All of these things we call "pests" have been turned into delicacies by Cambodians. You can get snake on a stick, fried rat, dried frogs, and insects in different ways in the market. While I find that disgusting, I admire their ability to persevere and make money out of something most people would just try to kill.

The Awkwardness of "Affluence"

I've never thought of myself as rich. At all. I recognize several factors working for my good, however: My parents are wonderful at making a plan and saving up for it. They stuck together not letting divorce sap our family of financial and emotional resources. My dad learned how to fix anything that broke to save money on hiring someone. My mom learned how to cook anything that was on sale and to shop around and get good deals for the freezer. They passed those things on to us. We worked to pay off our college as we went and didn't get into debt. We saved up to buy a good used car cash instead of getting a loan. Instead of putting everything on credit, we learned to stick to a budget. We learned that delayed gratification was worth it in the long run to crazy debts ruling your life and marginalizing your ability to give to those in need, because they were really good at that, too. The ongoing theme of my upbringing was, "when you use wisely what is in your hands to bless others, God will fill them again." So while my parents tell stories of barely having enough sometimes: of my dad selling watermelons on the side of the road to pay off my birth; of him bringing home (with permission, they couldn't be sold) the dented cans from the produce department where he worked, of the lawn care business we worked at on weekends and evenings as a family, of the beautiful and delicious cakes my mom made and sold on the side- we were never without.
A myriad of electrical wires hang between poles.

When I come from that background to a third-world country I have many conflicting feelings. We first encountered extreme poverty in Guatemala; it was definitely there in a smaller way in Mexico and now I see it every day in Cambodia. These are places where governments are so corrupt and self-centered that they can not pass laws or find ways to help the people of their own country as much as they need to. Both Guatemala and Cambodia are still marked by very bitter wars that make them wary of governmental involvement as well. Both are also countries with a booming middle class, small high class and majority lower class.
The muddy joining of four rivers in Phnom Penh and city skyline.

It bothers me when people look at my white skin and assume I am rich. (Ben and I have joked about how just walking on the street in Guatemala as a white person is advertising that people can either charge you more or just walk up and ask for money, if you're lucky. Sometimes it meant getting robbed.) The fact that we can afford protein in each meal, even a little, proves that I am rich. The fact that each of my children go to school and that I can actually afford to have four children without starving proves that I am. The fact that I did get a college education proves that I am. A million other things- up to the fact that I can afford transportation, medicine if my children get sick, toilet paper, and baby clothes- things that I find hard to live without, people deal with every day here.
A downpour makes the heavy motorcycle traffic more crazy as streets hold up to 6-12 inches of water.

Of course the pressing need encourages ingenuity. People work hard here. Still, there are many things in the way. One of the biggest issues is a very high child-to-teacher ratio and very low teacher pay by the government in the public schools. Many children can not afford uniforms or school supplies, continuing their cycle. This became very apparent the other day as I heard a woman discussing how she couldn't send her child to the $30 a month school, but had to opt for the $10 one that was farther away. This isn't a problem that you can just say "work harder" at and see go away. It will take years and compassion and education.
Everybody seems to live behind a gate, but unlike Guatemala, those fences aren't always topped with spikes.

I know that I don't have enough experience to know all of the factors contributing to poverty in post-war countries, but as a fellow human I can still have compassion. I want everyone to have enough to at least survive. Something I've come back to each time I'm in a country where poverty has smacked me in the senses, is that I can't let contact with it numb me. I have to keep caring. This doesn't mean letting an overwhelming sense of despair immobilize me from doing anything about it, but it does mean I have to retain the capacity to feel for other's hurt.

Despite being so poor, Cambodia has a lot going for it. It has very little crime and a very friendly population. It is filled with NGOs (one of which, I work in.) Rising tourism and commerce have helped the economy. Things will change slowly, but surely. In the meantime we have to keep ourselves open to the chances to affect change within our own spheres of influence.
Police making sure we had permission to live here.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Pchum Ben Break

Something that makes being a teacher in Cambodia a wonderful thing are the many little breaks you get along the way for various New Year celebrations and festivals. We've had this week off for the Pchum Ben holiday. This holiday reminds me a lot of the Day of the Dead celebrations in Latin America. Most of the city has cleared out to go back to their homes in the provinces and to pay homage to dead relatives. Speaking of which, Talia must have thought the same thing because she built a wood scrap "altar" like they had in Mexico.

We've enjoyed the little traffic. It's been a great time to practice using my moped. Now, we can travel as a family with Talia and Ezra behind Ben and Elias behind me. We've checked out a market and found oatmeal, granola and corn flour; all things I had been looking for without much luck prior.

Ben took the opportunity to do some therapeutic wood working and build the boys a loft bed, to go over the single bed in their room. Currently, Ezra sleeps in a crib in the room with me, but when the baby comes, I want him to be used to sleeping in the big boy's room. The boys are excited to "help" him....

With little traffic on the roads, we had the treat of going to a restaurant. We found a Belgian restaurant/pub named Duplex still open, since most were closed for the holiday, and tried some great roasted red pepper humus, mini burgers and fries, and a salmon salad. It was all delicious. The name caused a little confusion when Ben ordered the "Duplex Beef Burger" expecting it to be a double patty burger (even asking the server) and it came out with just one.... Because it's named after the house burger, not specifically a double burger. Apparently in Belgium, fries are served with ketchup and a white sauce. It looked like mayo, but it tasted better than mayo.
So, happy Pchum Ben Day. Perhaps this holiday is a good reminder to enjoy our relatives while they're living.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

September School, Birthday and Baby News

We've been deep in school routines and work lately. My second-born finds change the hardest, so it's nice to hear that he's adjusting better to classroom activities.
Some more exciting news we found out since the last post is that our new baby is a girl!!!! Everyone was hoping for a girl and very excited to know. I don't have check ups here, we just called a reputable ultrasound clinic and went. I think it was $15 for everything. We are also almost finished getting the midwife plane tickets! It's exciting!
My Talia turned 9 this month. To celebrate, we went out to a big mall with a dollar store (the best) and got really good pizza! That's rare since pizza on the street here is sweet and has weird toppings like boiled eggs. Instead of a birthday cake, she opted for doughnuts, also a rare treat.
On the way home, it started raining and the kids were excited to ride home in a downpour with the sides down on the Tuk Tuk.
Family pitched in to get her a good used bicycle, which she has wanted for years. She was ecstatic! Here, the best bikes are used ones from Japan. The shiny new ones from Vietnam break every time you look at them... But that's a story for another day.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Starting School in Cambodia and Working with Children of Prisoners

School started August 10th, and with it a very different schedule. Our mornings (and the night before) are busy making sure the kids have everything they need for the day, breakfast, teeth brushed, uniforms on etc. before we get out the door and on a tuk-tuk.
Their school has a dual language program with English and Khmer, all on the same level. Because this would mean Talia taking 4th grade subjects in a language she completely doesn't understand, she comes home after the English program. The boys, however, are at the right age to learn Khmer, so they stay later. At first this meant making 3 separate tuk tuk rides throughout the day to get everyone to and from school, but now Talia takes the school bus (whose route just started) home and is excited to do that for the first time. They seem to be adjusting well, and like their classes.

When they started their school, I started my work with Prison Fellowship International. I work with the Children of Prisoners Program to help children around the world who have lost a parent to prison  get sponsors. This program began after a prison ministry program. The mentors would go into the prisons and hear the same request almost every time. "Will you please tell me how my kids are?" When the mentors went out to find the kids of these prisoners sometimes they found grandmothers on their deathbeds struggling for all they were worth to stay alive and protect the children. Sometimes those children were being rented out as slaves. Some were sold into prostitution without a protector there to prevent that. Some begged on the streets to survive. The hardest news to relay was when they had to tell a prisoner that their child had died. This program was started to connect these very needy children with a sponsor who would supply (usually only $28 a month) to help the child stay in school, have access to healthcare and counseling if needed. The prison ministry part also focuses on helping prisoners reintegrate with society and their families after they come out so that these children can have a family again. Otherwise, what often happens is that they end up right back in jail. There is so much more information connected to these three ministries by Prison Fellowship International, but basically, my role gets the information about the children edited and verified so that it can be sent to the main office and they can get a sponsor. The people I work with here in Cambodia are wonderful people, also, with varying roles in this program.

I realize my blessings every day as I see the photos of children from these countries. I'm thankful my children have food, shelter, people who love and protect them and the ability to go to school.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Green Fruit and Custard Apples

People seem to eat a lot of things before they're ripe here. People walk down the street every day pushing carts filled with green coconuts or green oranges. Green tomatoes are a popular acidic side to greasy foods. Green bananas are used in cooking. 

A fruit I had never seen before, that was also a green color, was introduced to me recently; but this fruit is ripe:
In Khmer it's called "pry tee-ahp." In Spanish it's "cherimoya" and in English I've heard it called custard apple or anona.

You peel off the bumpy green outside. It's thick and dry, so it peels off easily from the grape-like consistency of the interior.

Inside, the white part is divided into sections. Each section has a big, shiny, black seed inside.

The white part is delicious! It has a peachy, pear-like flavor. Compared to its ugly exterior, it is surprisingly nice!

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Adjusting to Cambodia

Our first impressions of Cambodia were:
(Elias jet-lagged upon arrival.)

-Amazement at the million motorcycles weaving through traffic with a few cars and more Tuk-tuks, with hardly any stoplight at intersections. The rule here is "push until you get through."
(Above: view from the fourth floor balcony.)

-Powerlines aren't the three or four big black lines trailing from a post you'd see in the States or Mexico, but hundreds of lines snaking off of every pole. The electricity has gone out three or four times since we've been here, maybe that or the construction has something to do with it.

-Here, like in Abu Dhabi, instead of toilet paper, it is more common to use a sprayer hose. The only problem is that the water pressure is so high on them you have to be careful. Ezra loves spraying the water. We, like most people here, live in a narrow, very tall house connected to a row of houses. It goes up on very narrow stairs to a fourth floor. There are two bathrooms on the bottom floor where the kitchen, living room and guest room are and one on the third floor where the kids bedrooms are. This morning Elias said "Mommy, why is water falling on my head?" Ezra was up on the third floor in the bathroom spraying the water down the stairs. Our room is on the second floor, and since I'm pregnant, that means I have learned to navigate the stairs half asleep several times a night to get to a bathroom.

-School for the kids starts this week. We were thrilled to find out that all of their supplies were covered under a book fee and we didn't have to go out looking for them!
(Above: A neighbor loaned a bike to Elias and Ezra wanted a turn.)

-Stores here are mostly specialized and not "everything under one roof." We've found a decent "Western" store but before that cereal was anywhere from $8-$18 a box. We didn't get it.
(Above: Talia sweeping with a traditional broom.)

-For breakfast here, most people eat pork and rice, rice porridge or a type of rice noodle soup served with a bread stick. We usually make eggs for breakfast so finding them was a priority. It was interesting to learn that duck eggs are more common here than chicken. They're bigger and richer, so that's fine, but so far we've gotten chicken eggs.

Lots of things have been going on! I'll have to tell you about some of them later.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Reflections on first week of being a principal

After several years of feeling that I had more to contribute in a strategic role than in a classroom, I found myself miserable in a paradise.  Our time in Los Cabos, Mexico, was a time of intense personal and professional growth, but hardly any of it was comfortable.  Most of the time, it was downright painful!  I realized a needed a change, and soon, so began apply for administration jobs in locales and schools that interested me.

We originally were trying to stay within the Spanish-speaking world for our kids’ sake, but realized that they had progressed with their language skills more than we had expected.  We started looking in other places, and after not having much luck with various coordinator-type roles that I was more than qualified for, decided to apply for principal jobs in some smaller/growing schools.  A friend sent me an advertisement for a secondary principal position in Cambodia, a place we were fairly opposed to going, or really just hadn’t seriously considered, as it just didn’t fit our picture of where we were going next.  However, the school was exactly the type of school I was looking for: growing and young.  After some serious discussions as a couple, we decided to apply.  What could it hurt?

Long story short, I got hired as Secondary Principal.  I was a little surprised to get hired, but after having been here for a week, realize that it’s the perfect fit.  Cambodia, while still very much developing, is along the lines of what we were looking for.  The staff and management at my school are very supportive.  The workload and expectations are manageable and reasonable, yet there is much work to be done to grow the school.  Everyone is happy, positive, and energetic.  What’s not to like? Pretty much everyone at the school speaks English, so my lack of Khmer isn’t so much an issue for now, though I’m learning more every day. 

 A major benefit is something that I hadn’t even considered until after I arrived. My broad dissertation topic for my doctorate at this point is establishing or growing schools in war-torn regions.  Cambodia fits the bill, although it’s several decades past that point.  The effects are still easily seen, though, in too many ways to describe right now.  The obvious context for that dissertation topic is the Middle East, and that very likely will factor in at some point, and we did live in Guatemala for a couple of years after its civil war (what is the deal with so many wars in this world?!). 

We’re very fortunate to have this opportunity, and we plan to make the most of it.  Life is good.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Last May Surprise

So many things happened in May. Many of them are in my last 2 posts, but there are two in particular that I didn't mention. One was how special my family made Mother's Day by hanging up beautiful homemade cards on my door to surprise me when I got home! I hadn't been feeling well, so when Ben asked what I wanted for Mother's Day, I said "some good vitamins!" And, sweetheart that he is, that's what I got. And they did make me feel better, until all the sudden I didn't. I started getting really nauseous and tired.That's when I found out my last present in May: a positive pregnancy test.

This pregnancy has been harder, so far, than others I've experienced. The nausea is more intense and I don't feel well often. It makes it easier to like that Ben says this is the last one. It would be much harder to miss easy pregnancies than to remember how disgusting this one feels and be glad it's over. International moves while pregnant are no joke. Thankfully, I think we've mostly got it down. Minimize, minimize, minimize, then pack clothes and books and go! Then, find a midwife as soon as possible. We are in the minimize stage of: separating things into storage, give away, throw away and take right now.

Previously, the saving grace of living in a desert during summer has been the really great air conditioning available. Here, that's not the case. Air conditioners are for one room only and, in my experience, barely cool that. So we do what everyone else does, spend the sweltering evenings outside where there's a breeze until the sun goes down enough that the house isn't quite boiling. As we live on a main street, any semblance of privacy goes out the window, literally, because you can't afford to keep them closed in the heat. Cabo is such a beautiful place. I will always remember that part of it. But now, I am also really looking forward to visiting family in the States with their air conditioners!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Birthday Weekend

May is full of so many family birthdays, but I will have to hug them all when I get home. I had a fabulous birthday with friends and family!
My teacher friends took me to a great restaurant with nice outdoor seating and tasty pizza. However, that outdoor seating turned into a memorable moment when a bird sky bombed the girl next to me! Thankfully, everything washed out well and no harm was done.
They insisted on this photo, too.
Ben took us to Puerto Paraiso, a mall in the same city as the church we attend, and we ate at a 50's diner. Afterward, the kids loved seeing the spotted fish and the crabs in the marina waters. We took their picture in this:
Then our friends threw me a poolside pizza party with chocolate tres leches cake! Talia swam until she HAD to get out and everyone had fun.

The next day everyone was sick except for myself and Elias, so we went to school, where even MORE surprises awaited. I am so spoiled. I know it. I'm surrounded by beautiful, loving people and so blessed. ❤️