Yesterday was our final day of work for the week. Looking back, it has been a good week. By Friday, the Cambodian workers on site were quite warm towards us, trusting us with their children (in the context of Svay Pak, trusting a Westerner with your young child is especially remarkable) and smiling broadly and often. Yesterday, they decided to help us with our painting, and they took to painting the window grates, which was actually quite helpful, as they were something we hadn't managed to make much progress on yet. By the end of the day, we saw that we'd made much, much more progress than we expected. At the beginning of the week, the size of the Sanctuary caught everyone off guard - it's 5 stories tall, and has over 30 rooms. It is by far the biggest building in Svay Pak, and we were quite intimidated by the amount of work there was to do. And yet by the end of our first week, we've put a huge dent in the work that is to be done, finishing at least the first coat on almost 3 full floors! While there is still a lot of work to do, it is wonderful to see how God has surprised us with how much we've done - He wants to move in here, and nothing's going to stop Him!
There was also one other surprise Friday, although on a lighter note. Every night here I've been trying to eat Khmer food - I figure why eat a bacon cheeseburger in Phnom Penh when you can eat Beef Loc Lak or Fish Amok? However, last night we went to a very nice Italian restaurant to celebrate the end of work week 1 - and it was phenomenal! I paid $10 for what was probably one of the best Italian meals I will ever eat, considering the amount it would cost anywhere else. Sitting in a restaurant which has an imitation Sistine Chapel roof, among fine wines and diners, eating Calzone Alla Pecorino while smooth Euro-jazz plays in the background - all in the middle of Phnom Penh! It was really surreal, and in a way, one of those strange cultrual experiences you can only have in a place like Phnom Penh anyways. As a matter of fact, I am eating the leftover Calzone as I write this.
As for today, Saturday, it was also a good day - I see a pattern forming, praise God! It started off with the aforementioned glorious sleep-in, and then we had breakfast at the hotel. We had booked 3 tuk-tuks (the standard form of transport in Southeast Asia) for the day, and we started off towards Choeung Ek - one of the infamous Killing Fields used by the Khmer Rouge to execute thousands of prisoners. Once we got there, they day took a gloomy turn, but the ride there was actually huge fun. It was about 40 minutes of weaving in and out of traffic, seeing Cambodia at 50 kph. I saw plenty of interesting things, and got some great pictures. However, once we got to Choeung Ek, the day slowed down for a few solitary, introspective hours as we contemplated the horror of this place. We split up and walked around in silence, seeing the ditches where thousands of people were clubbed to death, the mass graves where they were buried, and the trees that were used to hang loudspeakers from to drown out the cries of the prisoners or to dash children against. It was shocking. As I walked around, I saw many pieces of cloth sticking out of the ground; pieces of clothing worn by the victims of this genocide. They law there half-buried as a silent testimony to the rage and and fury of Satan's evil. In a way, these pieces of cloth were almost more disturbing to be than the piles of bones, or the pagoda filled with skulls - these were the very clothes these people were wearing when they were destroyed, and new pieces surface every rainy season, along with pieces of bone and tooth and other remains.
And yet. I always seem to write 'and yet'. You would expect that a piece of earth that has been so violated would be horrible and desolate. However, if not for the fact that thousands of people were killed there, this would be a very nice place! It used to be an orchard, and there is beautiful vegetation around, rice paddies in the distance, and wonderful flowers, butterflies and other bits of creation. Even the 'magic tree' that the loudspeaker hung from was, in itself, a beautiful tree, perfect for climbing. Sadly, no child will likely ever climb that tree again. There was also a school right beside Choeung Ek, and my silent walk around the pits and ditches was accompanied not only by the song of birds but also by the joyful shouts and noise of children.
All in all, it was a strange and bleak place, and the tuk-tuk ride back was much more silent (on our part - Phnom Penh still whizzed on around us, honking and shouting).
After this sobering time, we went for an uplifting lunch at a cafe called Jars Of Clay. It is a cafe staffed by girls who have come out of the sex trade and are finding a new way of life, recieving career training and experiece. The food was good, and it was wonderful to be able to help these girls. If you're ever in Phnom Penh, be sure to go there! After this, we went to a market called Psa Totempong. It was, as you'd expect, a completely different experience from the morning! While Choueng Ek was silent and emotionally desolate, Phnom Penh life continued inside Psa Totempong, a riotous maze of colours and smells. Here, while you couldn't buy a complete moto, you could easily find all the parts to construct one yourself, and if you haggled well enough, could probably get a better deal! There were fabric shops, antique shops, "antique" shops, jewelers, watch stores, food stores, drink stores, book shops and probably just about everything in between. It was also intensely, unbelievably hot. I easily sweated more in Psa Totempong, and enclosed market with almost no ventilation, than I ever did in a day of work at Svay Pak. I never thought I'd be glad to emerge into the "fresh Phnom Penh air"!
If you're still reading, I'm impressed! That was long and probably unnessecarily long-winded. Thank you for reading these and upholding us in prayer. God Bless you!