Sunday, December 11, 2011

Its Cold in Cambodia But Thankful for The Warmth of Friends

Its cold here----yes I know it may seem that I am becoming a bit of a wimp on this end but since the beginning of December that temperature has changed for the better. It is cooler something that I have never experienced before in all my years of visiting Cambodia. Okay so there is no snow and its not like a Canadian winter but it is winter in Cambodia at least for the next two months. So what's the temperature? Well normally we are used to 90 to 95 degrees each day but in the evening we are now going down to temperatures of 72 to 73 degrees and during the day time it is in the low 80s. Yes I know that sounds hot but really when you are sitting on a tuk-tuk and you get the breeze blowing you feel cold. The past two days, I had to wear long sleeve shirts and had my Krama (Cambodian scarf) around my neck. Tonight, I even had to wear my jacket. Now I know why people here wear fleece at night. You actually do need it. However, I haven't quite gone extreme in my clothing wear. Some times I see Khmer people wearing mittens....its cold but it ain't that cold ;-)

Srey Lin, Jaya and Jaya's grand-daughter Nah-Lisa

Anyway tonight I was out visiting some old Khmer friends who I have known since 2007. Jaya used to the country director of a transitional program (for girls who were once trafficked) that Ratanak funded many years ago. Two weeks ago, she spotted me on a tuk tuk when I was going to my bank and tonight she invited me over to her home for dinner. I also had the opportunity to meet Srey Lin, who used to be part of this program. Srey Lin was sold many years ago by her mother who is now serving a 14 year sentence in a Cambodian jail but many years ago she wrote a letter to her mother forgiving her for what she had done. Over the years, Srey Lin has worked at different jobs and now she is employed in a food store. At 24 years old, she works very hard, 7 days a week from 6am to 5pm and then goes to study English for 1 1/2 hours each day in the evening. When she gets home, she makes dinner for her siblings and father. I asked her tonight if she was tired from working so much without having any days off, but she said no. She likes what she does. Somehow I think young people her age in North America would not be able to handle such a workload. She demonstrates to me the resilience that I have so often seen among Khmer people. God seems to have given them an inner strength to persevere and overcome in some of the most dire and difficult circumstances.

Jaya too has an interesting background as her father was a Christian who is of Indian ancestry. Her mother who is still alive is half Cambodian and Thai. Her father used to work in the American embassy and so was able to leave Cambodia before the Pol Pot era. Unfortunately, Jaya and 3 other siblings stayed in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge era as they were living with their grandparents who didn't anticipate that Phnom Penh would fall into the hands of the Khmer Rouge in April 1975. While many of Jaya's relatives were murdered during that time, she managed to convince the Khmer Rouge that she was of Khmer descent. She tells the story of how the Khmer Rouge had arrested her and had tied her up and began to question her about her family background and where she lived and what her family did. They accused her of not being Khmer even though she has a dark complexion. In the Khmer Rouge era, any one who was of a fair complexion were seen as city people who were of the bourgeois and so they were often executed.

But Jaya managed to convince her interrogators that she was Khmer because she spoke the Khmer language like a Cambodian, she had the same colour skin as those who lived in the countryside and she told them that she was loyal to Angka (this was the name given to the 'Organization' by the Khmer Rouge. For the first two years of Khmer Rouge regime, most Cambodians had no idea who was running the country. All they were told was that the country was now run by Angka. No leaders were mentioned by name - there was only Angka. The less the people knew about Angka, so the idea went, the more effective (and powerful) Angka would be. For Jaya, her quick thinking at that moment prevented her from being executed on the spot. But as she shared tonight, she said 'I really believe that God protected me during that time because I don't know why they didn't kill me.'  
A Khmer dinner!

Tonight despite the cool temperatures it was great to be around the warmth of such friends and to experience the Khmer hospitality. Dinner tonight was made by Jaya's daughter-in-law and consisted of Vietnamese spring rolls, fish, Khmer vegetable soup, stir fried spinach in garlic and rice. A simple but very tasty meal.  I got to meet Jaya's grand-daughter, her daughter-in-law, son-in-law, daughter and brother. For in Khmer homes, its not just one or two people who live there but the extended family and so in this home, there are 8 people who live here.

Jaya has asked if I could come and spend Christmas Eve with them and pray a blessing over her family. I count that a privilege and honor to be part of their family activities on such a night.  God is showing me once again that during these special holidays, even though I am away from my own blood relatives, that in Him, He provides a family where ever I go or where ever I live. I am looking forward to spending time with this Khmer family and another opportunity to experience the warmth of Khmer hospitality! What a gift that will be for Christmas.

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