Saturday, November 3, 2012


Local village woman fishing
A home in the village

Now that my period of intense language study is past (though I am still taking classes and will continue to actively engage in language learning both formally and informally), I have been getting progressively more involved in my role as project manager for the CIF disability program. I am getting more and more glimpses of the joys and challenges that lie ahead and yesterday was pretty significant in that regard. It's been a long time since I've had the opportunity to go out to the village and I was really itching to get out there. The Children in Families office is in Phnom Penh, where I live, but a lot of the children and families we serve are in a rural village two hours away by "taxi." This trip often involves sharing a Toyota Camry with 5-6 other people including the driver (actually 8 if you include the 2 small children that were in the car on the way back), a ferry ride across the Mekong river, and at least a couple of stops for snacks (Cambodians love their snacks on road trips). I do have to confess that this time around I paid double to have the front passenger seat all to myself. I felt a little guilty about it on the ride back to Phnom Penh, since the driver was sharing his seat with one of the other passengers, so I offered to give up the privilege but the offer was declined. After the 2-hour taxi ride it takes another 15-20 minutes by motorcycle to get out to the lead family's home on a road that is currently impassible by car. Once I had gotten into the taxi to leave Phnom Penh it was a day of full immersion into Khmer language and culture. Our national director, Ravy, was with me so she did help me out in a few spots, but for the most part I was fully engaged in the Cambodia experience in this piece of countryside where the English speaker does not have the safety net that tourism and hosting development workers have provided in Phnom Penh and elsewhere. (The pictures above were actually taken when I visited the village in 2010, but I included them to give you a visual glimpse of what it's like. Also, the video about Sam Ang in my last post was taken in the same area.)

One of the encouraging things about this trip was that I could speak and understand a LOT more Khmer than the last time I was in the village. Of course one would hope that this would be the case, but I was quite pleased to recognize that there was a noticeable difference. Thanks be to God!! On the flipside, I still have a long way to go and there is still so much more that I want to be able to share with families than I am currently linguistically able to do. Another significant feature of the day was that I learned an important nuance about the meaning of a Khmer word that really helps my understanding of Khmer culture. In Khmer class I had been taught that the Khmer word pronounced kind of like "a-nut" means "pity" in English. It's been a hard word for me to get used to because the word "pity" in English has kind of negative connotations - no one really wants to be pitied. In places where we Americans feel bad for someone's circumstances and would tend to say something like, "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," it doesn't work to say the equivalent in Khmer. If my Khmer teacher has a cold I shouldn't say, "I'm sorry," I should say, "I pity (a-nut) you." Well, in the village, Ravy, told me that "a-nut" meant "to have compassion for." What a difference such a subtle word shift can make! Pity and compassion are fairly synonymous, but the difference in feeling that each one evokes, for me at least, is significant. Ravy went on to tell me that, in Cambodian culture, compassion is understood to be a stronger force than love. Wow! What a valuable insight! I'll never think of the word "a-nut" the same way again! Goes to show how complicated language and culture learning can be and how presumptions can lead to unfortunate and inaccurate conclusions. Another encouragement for me was being able to provide some practical support to a few of the children and their families. At the same time, I was faced with the challenge of a meeting a particular child whom I found delightful, though significantly impaired, and later learning that his family is having a hard time accepting him. One elderly relative is currently caring for him but she fears that he is more than she can handle and no one else seems to want to step up. I will be consulting with my Khmer colleagues to work out a plan for how to encourage this family both through practical help and through demonstrating a Christian worldview on the value of this precious child. Clearly we are dependent on the Spirit of the Living God to work significant, positive, and lasting change in families and societies.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."   2 Corinthians 1:4