It is hard to describe something that overloads your senses – sight, sound, smell and even touch. What our team is experiencing will forever change us and how we view this part of the world and the people here.
How do we convey that to you our family, friends, supporters or the curious?
When we were approaching the airport my first thought was it is very flat. I do not know what I was really expecting but flat, dry, brown land was not it. Possibly, green rice fields, jungle type vegetation. The homes we could see were very large and had property around them. Again I was not expecting large mansion type residences in a country trying to recover from the Khmer Rouge reign.
We were expecting heat, but it still hit us like a wall when we stepped out of the airplane into the waiting corridor. The airport was very small in comparison to most air ports I have flown in or out of. We saw official stern-looking military throughout the area where we had to complete the immigration process. Immigration was very quick – less than fifteen minutes to process all twelve of us. $20 please, Thank you. Done. Then through a very quick customs check and off to pick up all twenty-four of our suitcases. Absolutely no x-rays or security checks to go through – and we had twelve plus suitcases filled with medication we were worried may not get through. Different focus.
Our drive to Sway Pak was an experience any Canadian driver should be shown in driver training. There are few traffic lights and even less stop signs. Traffic consists of motos, tuk tuks (motorcycles with a covered cart to hold approx. four people), cars, vans, trucks and cyclists. Think the 401 in Toronto at rush hour, but with all these modes of transportation – only difference is the traffic is moving. The ebb and flow just works. People go in every direction; huge round-abouts (with what would be the equivalent to five or six lanes at home) with people going from lane 1 to lane 5 to exit. The best part is no road rage; no angry drivers, they just go about their business. They have bigger concerns than who gets from point A to point B first. A lesson many of us could learn.
First impression of Sway Pak, it is smaller than I had anticipated. Population is approximately 5,000. Most homes are shanty-type dwellings. Lots of corrugated metal, tarps, clothes racks, shoes. Cambodian’s do not wear shoes into their homes. They do their laundry daily and hang it out to dry – looks like a garage sale every day. However, their whites are whiter than anything Tide can clean.
Each day we arrived in Sway Pak many men would be having their breakfast at a local corner. They would stare at us, a van full of white people coming into their small community. We would wave to them, some might smile otherwise they would look away. After the first Sunday, some of them may have learned who we were and why we were there – as we were introduced at the church service. Others may have heard us, as they went about their business as we sang while we worked and the sound carried out in the surrounding neighbourhood.
While we worked, some would come by the Sanctuary and watch to see what we were doing. Apparently, a common question was why were we doing this? Pastor Chantha would explain that we loved Jesus and wanted to help the community of Sway Pak. It was a concern that we may be perceived to be taking work away from the locals – but they too had been hired to do some work in the Sanctuary – however, Ratanak is a non-profit organization with limited funds. Our work was important to keep the costs of the building down and save the money for ministry work.
When we would leave - the men were gone, but those we saw on the streets would smile when we waved to them. They seemed to warm up to us and our daily appearance in Sway Pak.
Of particular interest is how relational the people are. Another lesson we can learn from them. We think we are so smart to keep ourselves busy – we can literally be running from the moment we wake in the morning until we fall into bed at night. Doing all sorts of things we think important or make us feel important. In Phnom Penh children can be seen with their arms around each other, playing together. So many of our children are attached to a video game or cell phone texting – they are losing the art of conversation. Adults are together around a table or sitting on the ground. In the evening the people come out and meet with each other, they communicate face to face, they all congregate in public squares and spend time with each other. We seem to have time for meetings, appointments, sporting events, church functions – but we lose sight of our neighbours, or others placed in our path. It could only be for a short time, but we need to develop or remember our community building skills. For myself in years gone by, our family would go visit relatives after church every Sunday – those were precious times. Unfortunately, our family hardly visits with our relatives now – we are all too busy. What a shame for our children, and for their children.
Wow, this is getting long – if you are still reading I commend you. I will sign off for now and allow the others to get their thoughts out there for you all.
Till next time, God bless.