Final Thoughts on Rwanda…

Hey!

Before the Cambodia Issue comes out in a few days, I wanted to link to some of the articles I wrote for the Rwanda Issue, because many aren’t posted on my personal blog.  They live on the World Next Door magazine app, but are also available online.

Life_mainLife After Death

“There is just no place for me in Africa.  Through friends and textbooks and CNN, I understand Africa has complicated needs and a million qualified people already… read more

 

normal_mainRedefining Normal

This is forgiveness, I thought. Not emotionally safe at all. Against all the “normal” forgiveness rules, right in the middle of his broken heart. Why? Because God told…  read more

 

memorial History Lesson

“Well, hello there! So you’re interested in learning about Rwanda’s history? Great! Have a seat, pour a cup of something hot (or cold?), and let’s chat! I’d love… read more

 

Ask_WND_mainThe Advice Column

“What are your favorite travel apps? Why help 3rd world countries instead of those in need here? What do you see missions organizations doing wrong?” read more

 

umuganda_2-385x255 Umuganda

“When I think of the phrase Community Service, I picture chain gangs in orange jumpsuits, kids on probation, and/or Lindsay Lohan. I also think of church and… read more

 

GorillaCulture Guide

Fact #1: Gorillas > Humans It costs $750 USD to see the gorillas here. The joke in Rwanda is that gorillas make more than the humans. In fact, they say, if the… read more

 

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The Coffee Process
A photo album

see more

 

PLUS! There a bunch of other fun elements: Language Lessons, Jeff’s articles about a professional Rwandan Basketball player and a unique coffee plantation community, maps, interactive photos, lost in translation moments, must-have items for travel, the many uses of cassava, an info page about our Partner ministry ALARM, the personal story of the founder of ALARM and reviews of the book and movie As We Forgive. It’s jam-packed, and all right here. And it’s Rwanderful.

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On Thinking You’re All Smart and Stuff

Alternate title: How (not) to attend your first village funeral.

As the year progresses and we continue to travel to new places, I really try hard to pay attention and improve my cultural IQ by absorbing things around me. I usually feel super accomplished when I master a handful of new cultural nuances. For example, in Cambodia the symbol for marriage is placing two thumbs next to each other out in front.  Two people married.

When we’re walking the streets and people come up to us with a thousand questions in Khmer, if nothing else I can easily answer that Jeff and I are married by holding my two thumbs up together. Everyone then says, “Ohhhhh!” holding their own thumbs up to represent our marriage. (Don’t get me started on the symbols for, “Are you having a baby? No? You just like to eat a lot of rice? Oh.”) Conversely, the symbol for separation or divorce or even just to communicate that Jeff is going to Phnom Penh in an hour and I’m staying here, would be me holding two thumbs up next to each other, then drawing one thumb away in the direction of Phnom Penh. We also learned that a giant tent in the middle of the road means a wedding. Easy. I’m totally upping my Cambodian IQ, here.

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It would make sense, then, if we were walking through the neighborhood and saw a giant tent in the middle of the road plus a group of people preparing a feast, that we might stop, hold our two thumbs together and say, “Wedding?!” with the excitement and joy of effective communication.

We did this. Proudly. (We are clever, you know.)

Imagine our surprise when they all looked at each other with confusion, looked back at our smiling faces, looked back at each other and then said, “No! Died!”

Oh.

Note to self: tents in roads can also mean funerals.

My Big Fat Cambodian Monthly Update

Hey Guys.

If you were sitting around today (middle of the night) thinking, I wish Brooke would post a real long monthly update, this is your special day!

In Rwanda, I was frantically posting every 72 hours because Jeff & I were the only people experiencing most things, it was all brand new, and I felt like it would a) slip through my fingers too quickly to internalize if I didn’t write it all down and b) verify to 62 people who funded us we didn’t run off with a wad of cash to the Cayman Islands.

In Cambodia, there are 7 of us providing content (Anna, Sarah and Hannah and Tara each have blogs), my first feature was due 2 weeks after we got here which occupied most of my time and mental energy, and I feel generally less spazzy this time around. Also, at least 20 of those 62 people told me they felt confident Jeff and I were not rolling around in piles of cash on a remote beach somewhere, so that’s good.

Either way, here are some things I’ve been dying to share but just now getting onto paper/the internets.

Weather
I don’t care what the iPhone says, it’s not 90 degrees here; it’s 90 thousand degrees. Every day is a constant struggle not to rip off my clothes and run around naked OR to stand underneath the cold shower for 11 hours at a time with 30-minute breaks. It’s just really hot. Never have I ever spent so much time organizing clothing into tiers of importance and “saving” certain things for days when I know I’ll be out walking around. I tried to combat this issue by having one of the girls make me some traditional freely flowing lightweight pants the locals seem to love, but ended up with these beauts: yellow polka-dotted pants gone wild.

Housing
We are staying at a compound rented by CGI for the girls in the Imprint program, so although we have our own living space (kind of like a little apartment), we have 7 housemates ranging in age from 17-26 with a combined 20 words of English, and we have a groundskeeper/people-keeper named Mom-sung, who we have renamed Monsoon because of all the swooping in and helping.  Here is a little picture sequence demonstrating the Monsoon-ness, but yesterday took the prize when she tried to physically lift me onto her lap in the van because sunlight was streaming in the window onto my arm. She is the personification of the spiritual gift of hospitality, with a dash of crazy and a sprinkle of obsession.  Monsoon and the girls are sweet, though, and we’ve spent time together watching scary Cambodian soap operas, looking at photos of friends and family on the laptop, and eating dinner together every night. Speaking of food…

Food
We eat well. The girls feed us a variety of greens, veggies and meat, and mealtime constantly smells like fried garlic, which is awesome. Unfortunately, each meal also includes a 14-thousand foot mountain of rice or noodles, sometimes both, with chili and soy sauce. Every morning we are served two French baguettes each, which we protein-ify with peanut butter and a side of Nescafe instant coffee, but we are fighting off the squish with jump ropes and I-candy. Every meal, no matter what the food is, everyone yells, Nyam bai! Nyam bai! which means Eat rice! Eat rice!  Also, three people have put their hands on my belly and gestured a baby, then when we say no, they laugh and shovel pretend food into their mouths and say, Nyam bai? Nyam bai? Eat rice? Eat rice?  *Hangs head* I will not say anything else about that, because I’ve realized (this is profound) that if I continue to present myself in this way, although funny, people will begin to see me in this way. I will say that when our poor intern started puking, Jeff came up and said, in his best Cambodian accent, Throw up rice? Throw up rice?

Jeff has sought out a little more culinary adventure than I have: whole fried frogs and duck fetus. Gag me. He almost had fried tarantula, but lucky for him (me?), the team was sick that day and we opted to stay in. Somewhere inside the world wide webs are the videos of the fried frogs and duck eggs. We also visited this cool picnic area that served toasted turtle. We did not partake.

Language
Khmer is the hardest. Everyday we communicate with Monsoon and the girls through gestures, which we’ve gotten really good at. Picture me scooping up invisible ice cubes and dropping them into my empty glass, saying tink, tink, tink. Ohhh! Ice! Ice! Picture Jeff squawking like a chicken, laying a pretend egg, cracking it on the surface of an invisible frying pan and making a Chhhhh noise. Oh! Fried Egg! Fried Egg!  Imagine Monsoon with her hand above her head saying Shhhhh and washing her armpits. Oh! Shower! Shower!  And, if you dare, imagine Monsoon walking past the dinner table with my clean bra (she does our laundry) around her waist trying hard not to laugh. Oh!  Saggy boobs! Saggy boobs! Monsoon is funny even with no words.

Work
Each morning we meet Srey Leak, CGI staff, at the primary school to speak with the teachers in each class. Usually we’re greeted by excited and squirmy students, and the top one or two are selected by the teacher to stand up and perform a song or greeting, which is adorable. But we actually come in search of the lowest ranked students, not the highest, and they’re often times sitting at the back with embarrassed smiles and very little eye contact.  We walk home with a different struggling student every day at lunch to visit with families and learn what might be keeping each child from being successful.

We’ve gone home with students whose parents are fighting or divorced or using drugs. Our hearts broke with a student whose siblings were killed in a car accident three years ago and who is being called “a gentleman’s boy”—the equivalent to being called gay—by other kids in the class. There was a little boy whose parents had each abandoned him leaving his two grandmothers in a deadlock over whether or not to sell the little boy to ‘His Excellency’, another term for rich man.  There have been orphans and single parent homes and homes with disabilities. We’ve seen families of four living in 10×15 sq foot rooms, and four families of too-many-to-count living in a four-bedroom house. We’ve seen families who simply don’t have the means to pay for afternoon classes or for lunch. We’ve seen kids who live too far away to walk back and forth every day. And we have visited with kids whose families can’t care for them at all and have arranged for their stay at a Children’s home, which most refer to as an orphanage.

We are also learning that the stories not told over lunch are those things that happen when the poverty becomes insurmountable. When the snails don’t sell, and the fish don’t bite, and the kids have already dropped out of school, and there is nothing left to eat. In that tight spot, we’ve found the underbelly of poverty. It’s not hunger or filth or lack of education—though these things are difficult enough. For some families, there is one last option, one final economic recourse: selling or renting out a child. The underbelly of poverty here is the sex trade. It’s what happens when there is simply no other solution.

But! We’re seeing the prevention of this recourse through the program we’re working with: CGI Kids. CGI is working hard to identify and intervene through relationships and community involvement before the family reaches this level of desperation. J and I got the chance to meet two little girls and their families, for whom CGI has provided an alternative.

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My feature article in July will be the story of these two little girls and their families, about CGI Kids and Kien Svay kids and my little nieces and how all of these things fit together. So download the July issue! It will be broadcasted from a virtual blowhorn on all my social media accounts when its ready for download.

Church
You thought this update was over, didn’t you?

Church yesterday morning: hour-long van ride to the bank of a river with wooden steps leading into the water, a boat appeared and ferried us to an Island, we removed our shoes before entering the church, sang worship songs in Khmenglish, then voted on 2 of 4 singers who were competing in a singing contest to be the new worship leader. People around us wanted #2 and #3 to win, so they took our #1 and #4 slips, but somehow #4 won, and he was definitely in last place. All this was followed by a sermon and kool-aid communion, my legs lifted off the floor the entire time due to 3 big spiders roaming the tile, and with a couple of 4-year-olds sticking their little hands through my chair to tickle my armpits. Door to door? About 5 hours.

Play
Due to my lack of legit updating, it might appear via FB that all we do is play. That’s because I posted like 300 pictures of bike rides through our neighborhood, some bamboo picnic areas on stilts, a bamboo train ride with the team, and a fantastic 24-hour anniversary celebration in Phnom Penh. Some friends let us borrow bikes for the summer, and we’ve been making friends with neighbors, visiting the “ploating” restaurants on the river behind us, and finding ways to explore Phnom Penh by rooftop when we make it into town.  We’ve visited the S-21 genocide memorial, the National Palace and Museum, the Silver Pagoda, the Fine Arts District, a sunset boat tour of the Mekong, and will visit the Killing fields this week. We’ve also had a couple of team days in Phnom Penh and Battambang and will head to Siem Reap this weekend by boat for our mid-trip retreat. What?! Half over already?

Our anniversary was awesome because school was conveniently closed for testing, so we packed up and went to Phnom Penh.  For the entire 24 hours we did activities that benefited ministries all over the city. We ate lunch at Friends, a restaurant that trains and employs street kids, got massages by trained blind masseurs using their skills for self-sufficient living, and river toured with a company who’s profits maintain an orphanage.  Pics from the weekend: here.

Okay. I think that’s it for now, except everything else, which you’ll find in the July issue of World Next Door! Speaking of, did you download Rwanda’s Issue? DO IT! But if you can’t download the app, you can still find the content online here. It’s our first published content for World Next Door and we’re pretty pumped about it. People outside the family even like it :)

Welp. If you’re still here, you’ve made it until the end. For your diligence, here is a dancing kindergartener:

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For more pics of our time in Cambodia, click here.

For more pics around our Kien Svay neighborhood, click here.

For additional posts about Cambodia, click here.

Bye!

A Conversation With No Words

First, Mom-sung brought out this little pink dragon fruit

Dragon fruit

Then, she chopped it up for us because we had no idea how to get inside

Mom-sungchopped fruit

Then we ate it, and it stained our faces and hands dark pink

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Which led to a discussion about clothing and face dye out of dragon fruit

(When I say discussion, I mean gestures)

Which led to Mom-sung giving me a tube of pink lipstick

Which led her to opening it and applying it for me

And then she requested, via gesture, that I kiss Jeff on the cheek to leave a stain

Which led to nail “stain”

Which led to Mom-sung giving me a bottle of pink nail polish, which you can see next to the lipstick tube

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Which led to one of the Daughters painting my nails

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Which is the best “conversation” I’ve ever had with no words!

In Which I Eat a Sweet Roll Off the Ground and Misunderstand Trafficking

A small victory was achieved this morning when J and I were able to effectively communicate with Mom-sung (phonetic spelling), the woman who watches over the Daughter’s House: One egg lunch Jeff. Eat rice Brooke. Lunchtime. Egg. One. Jeff. No egg Brooke. Eat rice. 12 lunch.

We spoke all these words in Khmer, and Mom-sung eventually decoded our accents and repeated the words in Khmer with gestures. It didn’t sound the same, but we checked our notebook, understood we were all saying the same magical words, and then threw a party! We clapped and cheered, Mom-sung hopped up and down, we danced a small circle all around each other with big smiles and thumbs up signaling success.

When we came home for lunch, we found three eggs, heaping plates of rice and some cucumber. Close enough!

For almost four days we have been happily settled into our host home, but totally confused. Mom-sung, so sweet and energetic, speaks to us non-stop in Khmer with lots of gestures, but we can never figure out what is going on. For the first 24 hours we had no food or water, because the Daughters (who we would typically eat dinner with) had already eaten dinner, and we couldn’t figure out how to get breakfast, because the girls eat breakfast at the workshop.  Even with our translator friend, something just kept getting lost in all the back and forth and when all conversations were finished—there was still no food or water!

Finally around noon the next day, half-starved and dehydrated, we saw a roadside stand, purchased a sweet roll and a bottle of water, accidentally dropped the roll on the ground, stumbled over each other to dust it off, and ate it anyway. Given that we had just eaten a roll off the ground, we did not have to try very hard to convey our desperation to Srey Leak (our translator friend, CGI Kids host, and the woman we spend our days with), but continued the long walk to and from home visits. It would have taken less effort if the little girl we were going home with hadn’t sped off on her bike without us. We walked half a mile down, turned around to ask the sweet roll ladies who the girl was and where she lived, walked another quarter mile but couldn’t find her, looped back around to the village chief’s house and then found the girl.

When our friend walked us home at 1p, she spoke a few words to Mom-sung, and the next thing we knew, a giant plate of rice and several fried eggs with soy sauce were set out in front of us.  By 5p we had a 5-gallon water tub and immediately got water-drunk. That night we ate dinner with the daughters: shoes off, cross-legged on bamboo mat, spices and sauces in a bowl, chopped the roasted chicken, spooned the rice, and dipped everything into everything. By 7p I was in bed with the dehydration-walked-forever-in-the-hot-sun-barely-ate-but-accidentally-worked-out-because-I-didn’t-know-the-day-would-go-like-this headache. I slept 11 hours, drank another liter, and have been back to normal ever since.

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We also went into town for a birthday party yesterday, visited the big supermarket, and came home with a few essential easy-to-store groceries and maybe a sleeve of Oreos that somehow ended up in our bag.  Srey Leak helped us set up a bread delivery each morning, so now we get 4 baguettes. Two for breakfast and two for lunch. And then (are you tired of me yet?) today we passed a little surprise pop-up roadside market and bought tomatoes and cucumbers to eat with our baguettes. We bypassed the frogs, eels and snails, though.

(Uh, also Jeff ate a baby duck at that birthday party. Video is on FB. Gag me.)

In my notebook, the first three pages are words in Khmer, like water, breakfast, lunch, egg, one, two—all words we needed to know in the order we needed to know them. You could easily read my vocab list as though it were a journal and understand what was going on in our life simply by the words we learned and in what order. Funny. I think it’s safe to say between the vocab, the bread delivery, the water tub and our surprise market, we’re now onto a regular routine of eating :).

In other news—this is it, I promise— I have a nice little lost in translation moment. Yesterday we sat in the schoolyard waiting to meet with a teacher for THREE HOURS after having been told the teacher had just gone to the market. Later we learned she’d left to attend a customary three-day funeral. Whoops. During our three-hour wait, we got into a pretty intense conversation with Srey Leak about the dangers of being born beautiful in Cambodia, and the value of lighter skin tone as it relates to beauty, which is why most Cambodians wear full-length shirts and pants despite the heat. They want to protect their skin from the sun—not out of skin cancer fear, but fear of turning a shade or two darker.  In the middle of this discussion, as she was introducing all kinds of different “issues” in Cambodia, she told us they have a big problem with trafficking. J and I looked at each other like, here we go. Straight into the issue.

She continued to talk with a look of concern, said a bunch of things we had a hard time following, made the motion of two fists banging into each other, and then said, “Yeah. Trafficking is a big problem. The cars and the motos crash into each other and sometimes they crash into a tuk-tuk. They drive too fast.”

Traffic. They have a big traffic problem.

An album of school kids, meals, the bamboo train, our neighborhood and other first-week-firsts? HERE!