Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Time to Mourn and a Time to Retreat

Here in Phnom Penh we are on the eve of a 4 day holiday from Feb 1 to Feb 4th as Phnom Penh prepares for the King Father Norodom Sihanouk's funeral and cremation.  An influx of people from the provinces as well as dignitaries from abroad are coming to pay their final respects and it is estimated that around 1.5 million to 3 million people will descend in Phnom Penh. For those of us who live in the city, we face road closures and many businesses along the funeral route are required to close as a sign of respect. The official mourning period is from February 1st to February 7th and this evening as I headed out for my walk, the streets are much quieter with less people. It appears that some of the residents of Phnom Penh perhaps have left the city. Hun Sen park which is usually busy in the evening with people walking and exercising was much more quieter except for the speakers that were placed in trees along the main boulevard which played Cambodian music. Along the park, large photos of the late King Father were posted and on the main streets, the security forces are out. Cambodian's special force policeman with their purple coloured motorbikes stand at the corner, holding their AK 47 guns wearing their flap jackets. In the blistering heat, I can't help but wonder if they are hot under all that gear!

Flags are lying at half mast and around the park people were wearing black ribbons with pictures of the late king.

Black Ribbons with the king father's face
With all the schools closed and massive congestion expected in the heart of the city (near where I live) and 
an 11,000 member security force including police, military policy and bodyguards present to keep things under control, getting around this part of the city will be challenging.Pray for safety and protection for all those who are coming into the city for the cremation services.

As for our team,  we are using this time to take the young women from the RAP community home for a retreat to one of the northwest provinces in Cambodia that is one of the largest in size and yet one of the most sparsely populated. I am told it can get quite chilly at night but am learning that cold is relative here in Cambodia. What's cold for Cambodians is summer for Canadians so am debating whether to take any long pants or shirts. Our young women who have been studying hard at school are looking forward to the break away from the city to spend some time in a more quiet and scenic environment. The trip is expected to take us 8 hours by bus although I imagine we will be taking many pit stops along the way so the reality is that it maybe a 10 hour bus ride. We look forward to a special time of team building and bonding with the young women. During these past few days, they have been busy buying little treats and snacks to take with them in addition to buying some new clothes from their weekly allowance. Pray for our safety in travel as we leave the city at 6am and begin the journey by bus. We plan on taking the guitar and using the time on the bus to worship, play games and of course eat and sleep (okay this latter idea of sleep maybe a bit challenging with 13 teenagers!). Pray that it will be a time for renewal and refreshment for all of us as we enjoy the beauty of God's creation that we anticipate seeing around us in this mountainous region.

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