Today marks the actual day that divides Kilday Family Adventure v.2017, Cambodia edition, into two equal parts. Really hard to believe! With that milestone in mind, here are the thoughts of the day, along with some observations and lessons learned – our 2017 halftime report.
1. While we look forward to reunions with friends and family back home (along with Zoey the family dog), we also can’t stand the thought of saying goodbye to the friends we’ve made here. So this marker is bittersweet.
2. We have now been here long enough to attend both a wedding and a funeral. We have shared joys and sorrows, struggles and celebrations, and birthdays and anniversaries. What a privilege to share life with our IJM-Cambodia team and our kids’ friends from school.
3. Cambodian conveniences that will be most sorely missed: the 5-10 minute work commute, year-round swimming weather, a gym at our place of residence, tuk tuks on every corner, the 2-dollar haircut, uncluttered personal calendars, and work commitments that generally constrain themselves to office hours.
4. American conveniences that are most eagerly anticipated upon our return home: drinkable tap water, the ability to walk, run, and play on grass (ok, even seeing grass), odor free walks (on sidewalks!), driving our own vehicles, and using a dishwasher, clothes dryer, and grill/smoker. Ready to fire up the Big Green Egg, for whoever wants to come over.
5. We are two months into “monsoon” season here. Admittedly, it’s early yet. This seven-month “season” runs into November. But so far it has been shockingly pleasant. We typically have rain every day for an hour or two, usually starting around 3:00 pm or later. Sometimes it comes down in buckets, occasionally with loud thunder and lightning. The rain provides welcome refreshment for the city, cleaning streets and temporarily removing dust and odors. It provides relief from the tropical heat. And it provides sustenance for this country – irrigating crops and providing habitat for the fish, birds, and wildlife in and around the rivers, lakes, and wetlands. We are appreciating the near-daily rhythm of afternoon rain, and we are wondering how Texas might import this tradition during the dreary and hot Summer.
6. Having mastered the art of eating fried crickets, which I have now sampled on four occasions, this week I was “offered” a frog. There may have been some brief goading and peer pressure from our female work colleagues. (Hey, when in Rome. . . .) For what it's worth, the crickets are better.
7. We have somehow become reasonably well adjusted to one of the most insane experiences that is part of everyday life here. We now confidently walk right through oncoming traffic to cross the street. This requires great trust in the social compact – no one wants anyone else killed, and no one wants anyone else’s moto or tuk tuk damaged. Somehow this works well. When you walk across the street through traffic here, the motos, tuk tuks, and cars just slow down or change direction to avoid imminent bodily harm and/or property damage. It’s a miracle that this cartoonish scene now seems almost normal. Fair warning: we will likely need some coaching on crossing the street when we return home.
8. On the first Sunday of June, Cambodia had “commune” elections across the country. This was viewed as an important snapshot and a potential bellwether for next year’s national elections. There was fiery rhetoric. There were threats and concerns about potential violence. There was even scary talk of the potential for civil war. Schools were cancelled on the Friday before the election, when the two main political parties had dueling rallies of 100,000-plus each in Phnom Penh. We prepared for the worst, just in case, with a small stockpile of cash, groceries, and directions to the U.S. Embassy. Fortunately, none of the doomsday worries came to fruition. It was a calm and peaceful result, giving both sides something to brag about in the lead-up to next year.
9. Here is what really struck me about the election. Despite considerable obstacles, voter turnout was estimated to be in the range of 85-90%. Some of our work colleagues had to drive 6-7 hours or more to vote in their home provinces, turning the simple act of voting into a 2-3 day ordeal. Travelling “home” to vote was a widely shared experience. Yet nearly everyone voted. We could use some of that sense of duty in our democracy when it comes to voting.
10. Summer break from school is short in Cambodia – just two months. The kids currently have their own Superwoman with them here for a third week, in the form of their Austin grandmother (Kay Davenport). She has organized her own amazing “Grandmommy Camp” for the kids here at the apartment, including art with markers, woodcraft projects, and just a bit of math to keep all that school learning fresh.
11. It is a season of comings and goings at work. Two of our colleagues who are part of the IJM internship/fellowship program will be returning home in the next couple of weeks. We also have three new interns who have just arrived from the U.S., bringing fresh energy, joy, experience, and perspective to the team.
12. In a testament to how unifying the cause against global slavery is, IJM-Cambodia now has three SEC football fans from rival schools in its small group of interns and fellows. Our showing of unity is this: Instead of arguing about Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida, we have simply agreed to focus on ending Alabama’s oppressive reign of SEC dominance. (I’m sure Nick Saban is very afraid….)
13. Thais and I both share our work desks and our computer keyboards with tiny ants. How many of you can say that? They are clever, because they realize they are safest between the keys. No one wants to inadvertently type “dfdfdfdf” while chasing an ant.
14. We have learned the hard way that our local grocery stores are not always consistent or reliable. From mid-April through early June, we found ourselves caught in an unpleasant grocery game that we grudgingly called “milk roulette.” Our trusted brand of milk mysteriously disappeared from the shelves. This sent our family on a near-daily quest of trying new brands and new sources, with very unhappy and usually sour results. Fortunately, after about a six-week hiatus, our trusted brand was mercifully re-stocked, and we were back in business. So, add the neighborhood HEB grocery store to the list of things we have taken for granted, and that we will look forward to seeing when we are back in Texas.
15. We have bought our return tickets home! We will arrive back in Austin on the evening of Friday, Dec. 29. We had originally planned to be home by Christmas, but we ended up needing to rent out our house through Dec. 31. That left us awkwardly homeless for the holidays, and with all winter clothes/gear locked up in a storage room inside the house. To compound the complexity, the school semester here in Phnom Penh runs through Friday, Dec. 22, giving us a tight squeeze for crossing the globe to get home for Christmas. We were in a bit of a quandary. Do we spend Christmas here? Do we rush home and stay with family, with no access to winter clothing and no time to prepare for Christmas morning? We wanted to celebrate our kids and provide them with a memorable and special Christmas to conclude this year. They have sacrificed so much – each one of them. After exploring all the options, we decided to finish off Kilday Family Adventure v.2017 with a quick holiday detour to the Happiest Place on Earth. So, we will travel to Orlando instead of Austin on Dec. 22-23, and then we will spend Christmas week with our favorite mouse and his friends. (Like all other Kilday “excursions” this year outside of Phnom Penh, this one will be on us. No donated funds will be used for the side trip other than the cross-Pacific flight, which is roughly the same cost as a one-way ticket to Austin.) We hope that ending this momentous chapter with an exclamation mark instead of a period will focus our hearts and our minds on all there is to celebrate when we do leave behind some wonderful friends in this beautiful and wondrous place.
For now, we look forward to what’s next here. We will celebrate each day for the gift that it is. And we will continue to do our part to help in God’s work of bringing justice here.
God bless you all.