2018 – Year in Photos

We have let this blog slide somewhat this past year, but we’d like to start the ball rolling again by sharing a photo journey of the past year. 2018 has been a year of many firsts for us here in Cambodia. We could write paragraphs of stories, but for today we will let the photos speak for themselves. Enjoy!

January: moving into a new house, adopted two cats, and K’s parents visit.

February: C’s birthday, setting up the office, and C’s first project moto.

March: our first oven since 2015, hauling furniture, and church socials.

April: K’s work projects are well underway, and enjoying our view of the western sky.

May: visit a chicken farm in Siem Reap, a visit from a good friend, and typical traffic jams.

June: K talking with villagers about drinking water, saying bye to a good friend, C with his language helper. 

July: bicycle trip from Bangkok to Singapore! 

August: termite infestation, staff retreat, the height of flooding season, two interns move in.

September: K co-leads her first project trip, rain clouds like Angkor Wat, C volunteers teaching children.

October: C preaches at church, moto road trip with 2 friends for Pchum Ben, kitty wants to go to work with K! 

November: C’s Dad visits, attending our first Khmer weddings, team river cruise.

December: Saying bye to the interns after 4 months, running with our friends, celebrating a tropical Christmas. 

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Doing something we are good at

Have you discovered a task that you are really good at? Often, we don’t even realize it. I (Colin) remember when I first discovered I was really good at washing dishes. It was when I went to university and met people who, not for lack of effort, simply didn’t have the knack for it. Have you ever had a job where you felt in the zone, and could perform at a high standard with ease? I remember about 6 months into my job at Canada Post I finally felt I had got the hang of it, and after that point doing a good job was easy. As I sorted letters and walked at mail delivery speed up and down the streets of Whitehorse, I felt a sense of joy and accomplishment in being able to do something really well.

And all of us can remember those first days and weeks at a new job – they are tough! The learning curve is steep. There is new lingo, new faces and names, new responsibilities. Sometimes we make a fool of ourselves and slow everyone else down. But those days will pass, right?

We feel we are still in the midst of the learning curve here in Cambodia. We find ourselves longing to be ‘good’ at something here, to find an area in which we excel. Kathleen’s first project work is something she has never done before in Canada. She loves a challenge and loves to learn, but after a year spent learning Khmer, she just wants to do something she already knows how to do! She misses the days when she thrived in her workplace and could deliver results quickly.

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We’ve been able to host many cyclists passing through Phnom Penh on their tours.

Colin is in a similar boat. After a year spent learning Khmer, he is managing the house and fixing up motos. Last week, he had a friend drop off their moto with an idling issue. After cleaning the carburetor, replacing a clogged air filter, and checking for vacuum leaks, the moto idled better, but not perfectly. He spent hours searching on the internet, trying to tune the carb, and checking things over again and again. In the end, he had to give the moto back to its owner – better but not perfect. It was a problem outside of his skills and beyond his experience. He misses the days when he could sort and deliver a route with his eyes closed, remembering each name with each address.

The learning curve here has been a long steep hill. We spent a whole year learning Khmer and we still find ourselves struggling to understand and be understood. We want the hill to even out a bit and start feeling like we’re good at what we do. To be honest, my (Kathleen) confidence is in a valley right now. I thought that if I started doing things I’m good at, my confidence would grow again and all would be well. This is a natural response, and it’s not a bad idea.

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Kathleen using her Cub to fetch supplies for the office.

However, I feel what God is trying to teach me in this season is that my confidence shouldn’t be a result of what I can or cannot do. My worth is determined by God who values me. God loved me before I was even born, therefore God loved me before I was able to do anything. I want my confidence to come from the identity I hold in Christ, but it’s hard. It is an on-going struggle that was easier to mask when we were doing things we were good at in a place that wasn’t so foreign to us. I believe this struggle is common for many people and we probably all need to be reminded every once in a while (or daily) that we are created in God’s image, that God has loved us before we were born and continues to love us perfectly.

“But he said to me: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

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Playing dominoes together.

When I reflect on some of our Biblical ‘heros’ I can see that many of them had seasons where they weren’t doing anything particularly fruitful. Joseph, a man who would later govern all of Egypt, spent years as a household servant, and then years as a prisoner. Moses fled from Egypt and spent years as a shepherd in Midian before finally returning to Egypt to help lead the Israelites out of slavery. David was anointed King but had to wait years to reign, and most of those years he spent hiding in caves from King Saul. Paul had his miraculous encounter with Jesus. He was told he would preach the gospel to the nations, but soon after his conversion he spent about 8 years in his hometown of Tarsus, and we don’t really know what he was doing during those years. Presumably he took up his trade of making tents. Even Jesus, fully God and fully man, waited until he was 30 to begin his ministry. What was he doing before then? He was a construction worker in the family business.

It is reassuring to know that God guides us through seasons where it may appear we aren’t accomplishing very much. The tasks may be mundane, or they may be totally outside of our comfort zone. Nevertheless, God uses these seasons to teach us, to refine us, and to prepare us. Moses’ time as a shepherd in Midian surely helped him shepherd the nation of Israel. When we are wrapped up in trying to do things, remember to simply be. “He says, ‘be still and know that I am God'” – Psalm 46:10.

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Our cats keep Colin company as he works from home.

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In this heat, even the cats get thirsty sometimes!

The Neighbourhood

The quiet drone of the fan is drowned out by an airplane passing overhead. Thankfully Pochentong is not the busiest airport for a nation’s capital city, but when the planes are making their final approach from the northeast, we have to pause our conversations (or show) to wait for the roar to subside. We continue our conversation at the dinner table over pineapple and ham fried rice (Colin calls it Hawaiian fried rice). The hot sauce that we used to use sparingly is now lathered on like ketchup. We drink cold water from old red wine bottles that we keep in the fridge. There are pools of water forming beneath them, oh the humidity!

These same bottles were recently brought up in conversation by the neighbourhood kids. The rambunctious group of 11 year old boys who cruise our quiet street on their bicycles quickly learned our names when we moved in. They love to shout, “Colin – Colin!” as they wait outside our gate looking through the bars into our front room hoping one of us will come out. When we depart, they ask where we are going. When we arrive, they ask where we’ve been. When Colin changes the oil on the moto, they ask him questions about Canada, Kathleen, or where we go on Sundays. Talking with them has been excellent Khmer language practice for us!

During one of these ‘interviews’ by the boys, the loudest and boldest one asked Colin if he drank beer. Colin told him no, he doesn’t really drink beer. The boy responded, “but every time you eat I see you drinking beer” (some useful background info: Cambodians rarely drink wine, and you can get beer in big 650ml bottles). The little guys had been watching us eat, seeing our water-wine bottles, and thinking we drank beer with every meal! Colin tried his best to explain that we drink cold water out of those bottles, but he wasn’t too sure they understood.

Little interactions like this one with the neighbourhood boys have really defined the transition we made from apartment to house living. We have traded some privacy and convenience for more community and space to host. We have an amazing opportunity to build relationships with our new neighbours, our local gas station attendants and market vendors, and our landlord’s family as well. We hope our house will become a place to bless all who enter, whether guests or neighbours or friends.

Yes, the past few months our lives have been full of changes. We both are working on keeping up our Khmer learning on a part-time, self-directed basis. Kathleen is slowly putting in more and more hours of work, doing a variety of tasks such as getting quotes for furnishings for the office, or attending project meetings with a local ministry client. Colin has been busy with projects around the house such as fixing leaky pipes, making bamboo curtain rods, and making lamps.

When we find a moment to stop and reflect, we are in awe of how much God has taught us here in our first year-and-a-bit in Cambodia! We are in awe of how He has led us through language school, integrated us into a local church, and given us a house to call home. And it makes us excited for the future, for all He has in store for us. Are there uncertainties? Yes. Is life here easy-peasy? By no means. But when we look back at how God has guided us and brought us through the past, how can we not have hope for the future!?

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Adding some colour to our bedroom.

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We hosted Robbert back in 2015 in Whitehorse. It was so cool to host him again here in Phnom Penh all these years later!

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Moving day, 2 tuktuks worth of stuff.

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Riding the city bus with K’s parents.

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Sunset view from our house.

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Our cat Mack hunting a cockroach.

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First day in the new office building, a time of worship!

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Colin replacing the rear tire on Teddy.

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Meeting an old friend of K’s from Waterloo who lives in Cambodia too!

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Kathleen having high tea with the ladies from our team.

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Colin’s birthday bash.

School’s Out, But Always a Student

Today we had our 7th language exam at school, marking the end of nearly 12 months spent pouring our energy and time into learning the Khmer language. Before we came to Cambodia, we were definitely naive when we thought that we could spend the 1st year of our 5 year commitment to live in Cambodia studying Khmer full time, and then – ‘poof’ – magically be done learning, fluent, and able to directly transition all our energy and time towards work.

What we’re about to tell you may seem super obvious, especially if you’ve learned another language before, but we will declare our recent life lesson to you anyways: language learning is never complete. You’re never finished. Even in our native tongues, we are constantly adding new slang, terminology, and idioms as our languages ebb and flow over the course of history (if you don’t believe me, why are we constantly re-translating the Bible into English? Because English today is different than it was 20, 50, 100 years ago). The truth that language learning is never complete is all the more accurate for adults moving to a different continent learning a language that has no roots in Vulgar Latin (ie. French) or Germanic (ie. English) languages, except a few borrowed words like “carrot” and “computer.”

We are definitely very thankful for the time that was given to us by our organization to focus our energy for an entire year to learn Khmer, and for the school (Gateway to Khmer) that taught us well for approximately 525 hours each this past year. The effort has paid off! What we have now is a great language foundation on which to build upon.

So where do we go from here? Although our time will gradually shift over the next couple months into work life, we really cannot afford to stop learning Khmer. Both of us have been blessed with amazing language helpers. Kathleen currently meets with a female helper about her age who is a great resource and becoming a good friend as well. Colin meets with a younger guy who is not afraid to correct his pronunciation mistakes and is gifted in teaching. The icing on the cake: both of our helpers are Christians, and both have been helping us read the Bible and learn Christian vocabulary to enable us to take part in building God’s Kingdom here. What a blessing!

Looking ahead to 2018, both of us plan to meet with our language helpers 2 to 4 hours a week. Kathleen hopes to learn some engineering vocabulary from the Khmer staff in the office, and Colin has a goal to be able to translate at church one day. We both hope that daily interactions with neighbours, market vendors, and friends at church become more and more natural and meaningful. For us, 2017 was all about language school. School may be out, but we’ll always be students.

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Field trip with our class to the Olympic Stadium

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Field trip stop #2: Royal University of Phnom Penh

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Colin and a landlord discussing the house for rent

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Kathleen giving a presentation to the class on Communication in Marriage

Conversations on the Road

You may have recently seen our Facebook photos or Youtube video showing a glimpse of the fun we had on our recent two week moto road trip in Cambodia. Yet one of the most important aspects of our trip was not captured by a camera: our conversations in Khmer. One of our primary goals for our road trip was to speak lots of Khmer, and we were blown away by how God provided so many opportunities for us to use what we’ve learned and to learn more about the lives of the people with whom we crossed paths.

Here are summaries of five of the longer conversations we had, each between 10 and 30 minutes long, and all entirely in Khmer.

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Chantoan: We were following the Mekong river north in Tboung Khmum Province, when we stopped at a random house to buy a cold water. How did we know this house sold cold drinks? We have learned to look for the orange coolers and for someone sitting out near them waiting for customers. A middle aged man was there, and you could see a slight look of hesitation when we parked our motos under the shady tree outside his house. He probably only spoke Khmer, and we could tell he was getting ready to muster up his acting skills and pull out his calculator to display prices. We greeted him in Khmer and asked if he had cold water bottles we could buy. When he got them for us and we asked how much we owed him, you could see him ease up, crack a slight smile, and accept our riel. We sat at his concrete picnic table in the shade to drink our water bottles, and then we slowly started a conversation with him. He asked us about where we were from, what we were doing in Cambodia, and how long we’d been married. We learned that he had a wife and one son, what life was like living along the Mekong, and he was the one who informed us that we were in the newly created province of Tboung Khmum. Eventually his wife came out to speak to us too, and she asked why we didn’t have kids after being married 3 years (a common question here). Somehow Colin and Chantoan got on the topic of cows. Colin shared about his Dad’s cows in Canada, and Chantoan told us the going rate for a cow as tall as him. Before we knew it 30 minutes had passed by, so we said goodbye and hit the road again.

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Sreymao: In the cool hills of Mondulkiri there is a little place to get a great plate of fried rice for $1.75. Like many of the places we ate at during our road trip, the dining was open air and the furnishings were simple. At Sreymao’s place, four little girls aged 1 to 10 roamed about laughing and playing. We chatted with her when she wasn’t in the kitchen or helping other customers, and eventually we learned that one of the four girls was hers. The other three were children of relatives or friends that could not be cared for by their parents, so Sreymao had taken them in. Suddenly she began to tell us how she loved to help children who were in hard circumstances. Her eyes began to tear up as she told us how she grew up an orphan. We asked her if she was a part of a local church that we had heard about in town, and she told us that she used to go to the church, but she stopped going because she works on Sundays. We left blown away by her openness to share about her life, and we prayed that she would continue to seek after her Saviour Jesus.

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Khia: At a quaint little cafe in Mondulkiri, we stopped for a snack after a day of exploring. In the open air seating, we choose a spot next to the garden. After serving us, the owner began to work in the garden, pulling weeds and checking the progress of her passion fruit. We started talking with her while she worked, and she told us how much she loved the cool weather in Mondulkiri province, so much that she doesn’t like to spend too much time in her home province for holidays. She told us that she had a son and a daughter, but her son had died last year. We then discovered she was a Christian, and she shared openly about the isolation and difficulties from friends and family when she first believed. We could see in her a joyful faith that was rooted deep in the midst of a life of struggles and suffering that we could not comprehend. What an honour it was to meet her and catch a glimpse of Christ’s body in a quiet corner of Cambodia!

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Bok: We were loading up our Cubs one morning outside the guesthouse, while three men were hanging laundry to dry near where we were parked. The oldest man seemed outgoing and began to ask us the typical questions: where are you from, how long have you been in Cambodia, how long have you been married, where are you going? When he found out that we were planning to visit a certain area that day, he told us that he used to work there, back in the 1970s. He told us that he was a soldier during the time of the Khmer Rouge. In a matter-of-fact way, he told us how he was in charge of over 500 people, how he carried three guns on him, and how he killed 5 people. Once again we were shocked by the openness to share about his life! Not knowing where to go from there, we asked him about his family. He told us about his children, how one lived in that town, one in Phnom Penh, and one overseas. He was a very friendly and cheerful man, and it is hard to imagine what kind of experiences he must have had during those turbulent years. It was a reminder of how recently Cambodia was engulfed in bloodshed, and how many people still carry memories from that time.

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Dara: One of the most beautiful places we visited was Prasat Preah Vihear, an ancient temple on the edge of a cliff just a stone’s throw from the border with Thailand. We had heard stories of the Thai claiming ownership of the Prasat (temple), and even of gunfights breaking out between the neighbours as recently as 2011. Unsurprisingly, there is a large Cambodian military and police presence there to protect the area. On our way down the mountain, we stopped to let our heartbeats settle down after some super steep descents with the motos. A police officer along the road saw us standing there and offered us 2 plastic stools to sit on in the shade. We talked to him for about 20 minutes, and he shared with us about being posted to work in different parts of Cambodia. His family lives just outside of Phnom Penh, but his postings are for 6 months at a time with no chances to visit them, even during public holidays. He complained about the salary not being enough to cover all their living expenses. We then asked him about the Thai, and he admitted he was very scared that they would come and kill him in his sleep. He said, “Cambodia is so small and poor, and Thailand so big and wealthy. I don’t know why they want to take our land. We don’t want to take their land, we’re just here to protect ours.” It was fascinating to learn more about the life of the police and military.

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I Saw a Rat

I saw a rat today

it scampered in the street

between tires and human feet 

I saw a rat today

it made a lady scream

then disappeared unseen

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I dreamt of home last night

there’s my old Mazda 323 

it still drives like a dream

I dreamt of home last night

wearing jackets in the cold

seeing brothers growing old

 

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I sweat alot today

explored markets in the heat

saw butcher knives cleave meat

I sweat alot today

6 am run with our group

we passed Toul Sleng on our loop

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I spoke Khmer today

conversed well for half a minute

then ran out of words to finish

I spoke Khmer today

at the market described grease gun

had to image search it with seller’s son

 

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I got ripped off today

took a part to get some paint

made a deal sounded straight

I got ripped off today

he said pick it up at four

when I returned he wanted more

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I saw a rat last night

we were walking in a park

it was quiet and quite dark

I saw a rat last night

as I passed the garbage can

it leaped from the rim and ran

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I caught a glimpse today

of my life and how it’s new 

with a changing point of view

I caught a glimpse today

of how God leads me like a lamb

to learn who He says I am

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Offices don’t fall from the sky, but eggs do

For our first year here in Cambodia, we and our teammates are focusing on learning the Khmer language. Our goal is to open the engineering / architecture office early 2018, but offices don’t just fall out of the sky – they require an immense amount of preparation and foundation laying. As a team, we meet together every week to discuss plans for next year. But we also realized there were still many questions that we needed to spend some focused time on together without the distractions of our daily language learning grind.

We decided to spend 3 whole days together here in Phnom Penh at a hotel during a week long break between language levels. Our time together was very fruitful! We worshiped and studied God’s Word, played games and swam in the pool, ate lots of good food and did a team building egg drop competition. But the bulk of our time was spent discussing and brainstorming the following topics:

  • Office vision statement
  • Our customers and their needs
  • Revenue streams
  • Culture shock check-up
  • Office dynamics / culture
  • Hiring local staff
  • Office location

We made some great progress! Many questions were answered, while many new questions surfaced. We created a list of ‘action items,’ tangible items we can begin to work on in the coming months. It was an exciting 3 days!

On the morning of our first day, we looked at the book of Joshua and the Israelite’s entrance into the promised land. This was the big moment for which they had been waiting 40 years, and we could imagine they wanted to make the perfect plan. But we noticed so many of God’s instructions to the Israelite’s were a bit unconventional (you can read it for yourself in Joshua 1-6). What we learned from this story: God’s plans are bigger and better than ours; sometimes God’s plans don’t make sense in our human eyes; God will glorify Himself through us before the nations; and we must walk in faith.

Ultimately, we want God to be guiding our team through the process of setting up the office here in Cambodia. We want to follow His lead, even if that means doing some unconventional things. We are excited to share this journey with you, and we ask that you keep us in your prayers as we seek to walk by faith.

“God’s people had faith, and when they had walked around the city of Jericho for seven days, its walls fell down.” – Hebrews 11:30

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The meeting room

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Will the eggs would survive the drop?

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Team “Bird’s Nest”

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Team “Egg Splorer I”

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About to test the parachute

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Many sticky notes were used to help us brainstorm