Well it is the last week of my adventure here in Cambodia. It definitely has a bittersweet feel to it. I am ready to see my friends and family and be back at school, but I have really enjoyed my time here and will miss Battambang very much.
Last week I got to visit a family in Poipet, a city near the Thailand border, for Thanksgiving. It was exciting spending the Holiday with so many people and a traditional Thanksgiving meal. There were over twenty people in attendance for dinner, and after we all cozied up in the living room and watched The Muppets’ Christmas Carol to officially kick off the Christmas season. The whole day was fantastic. Then this past weekend I got to visit Siem Reap, the home of Angkor Wat, one of the man-made Seven Wonders of the World. The temples were incredible. Even though it is such a huge tourist attraction, they still allow you to walk wherever you want, take pictures of everything, and climb on top of anything you can reach. It was a very different experience than something you would see in America. We spent several hours just walking around and taking pictures of the temples and the architecture. One of the temples we visited was a site for the filming of the movie Tomb Raider, although I’m pretty sure any of the temples we saw would make awesome settings for movies. In Siem Reap I also got to experience the healing powers of “Dr. Fish”. One of the biggest attractions in Siem Reap, besides Angkor Wat and the Night Market, is their fish massages. They have these calf-deep tanks of water that are full of little fish. For about two dollars you sit on the side of the tank and stick your feet in while the fish come to your feet and nibble! It is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen or felt. It tickles really badly for about a minute and then it just feels neat. Apparently the fish like skin or something, so they eat your dead skin and you walk away with fresh skin revealed. It’s kind of gross now that I think about it, but it was fun at the time!
Well, I feel like I have really gotten to experience all of the sides of Cambodia. I’ve been to all of the main cities, I live in a Khmai-style apartment, I work with Khmai women, I learned how to drive a moto, I sleep with no air-con, and I even ate frog yesterday. I have managed to avoid serious sickness and injury for the most part. However, I’m not sure if this is irony or just bad luck, but I have stayed away from parasites, malaria carrying mosquitoes, and rabid dogs, but I still manage to get attacked by the one thing we have in East Texas and I have never encountered in my twenty years there: a scorpion! It’s true, last night I was stung by a scorpion. It was actually a lot more painful than I imagined it would be, but my regular dosage of Benadryl has made things much better. Maybe I can avoid everything else this week.
has been a lot of sadness here with the horrible tragedy that occurred last week in Phnom Penh. I’m sure many of you saw it on the news. So many people lost their friends and family to the chaos. People have been lifting up prayers and sacrifices to the spirits, and it breaks my heart to know that they cannot find comfort in their gods and their rituals. In times like these you get the chance to see how broken and lost this country really is.
It hasn’t quite sunk in yet that I’m going home in a week. I guess I have just gotten used to being away that it is odd to think about not being separated anymore. I really hope that one day God gives me the opportunity to come back to Battambang, but for now I know it is time for me to come back to the states and experience what He has for me there…for now, at least.
Wow, time sure has flown. I cannot believe I only have two and a half weeks left before my departure. I have gotten to experience so much, and still have more to do. Things have really picked up around the coffee shop lately with the cooler weather arriving. Tourism typically peaks during November and December because the weather creates such an inviting atmosphere for those escaping the cold winter months. This morning we had a group of twenty in the cafe! They are on a medical mission trip and were swinging through Battambang when they dropped into Sunrise for lunch.
We have recently made some changes in the cafe and we still have more in the works. We gave the room a little face lift and added some color to the only wall left blank. Since the shop opened in 2002, visitors have been signing the walls, leaving their names and home countries for future tourists and residents to see. It is a really neat idea that spilled over from one specified wall onto two more. They have chosen to keep one wall clean for the purpose of hanging artwork done by a couple of locals. The blank wall was white, dirty, and very boring, so we chose a vibrant gold color to add some life to the room. The ladies picked out the color based on some of the coffee mugs we have here. The wall looks great and really adds a Sunrise feel to the place.
I also got the opportunity to do some shopping for the cafe. We now have a large collection of new Tupperware and towels, things the place desperately needed. Next on the agenda is a new table and chair set. Making these small updates around the shop has really boosted the morale for the ladies. Buying new towels may seem really insignificant to us Westerners, but that is only because making a two dollar towel purchase is insignificant to us Westerners, but here, new, clean towels is a big deal. We were using cut up t-shirts to wipe tables, and fragments of bath towels to dry dishes, but not anymore. It has really made me appreciate the little things I so easily take for granted back home.
Last week a friend and I went and took Khmai pictures together. This is where they dress you up in the traditional formal attire and make you look like you dipped your head in to a ten gallon bucket of eyeshadow, lipstick, and hair spray. I wanted to make sure I had something to take home with me that would make me laugh at the memories I have made here.
Every day I begin to feel more and more at home here. It has started to hit me that I will be leaving soon. I still have some time left, and things left to be discovered. I am so grateful for the time I have already spent here, and the experiences I have been blessed with.
Whew, I finally have a spare moment to breathe. What a crazy first month this has been. I cannot believe my time here is already half way over; these past weeks have simply flown by. When I left you last time I had started really getting to work more in the café. Basically, I have a full-time job now at Sunrise. My day usually begins at about 6 in the morning. This is when all the trucks start roaring by and dogs start barking and gates start opening. I can’t sleep past 6 because of all the ruckus outside, but I don’t mind it too bad. The early start allows me to walk in the park before it gets too hot or crowded. I try to get into the café by 8:30 at the latest. The busiest time is definitely breakfast, so the ladies are grateful to have an extra pair of hands in the dining area. I try to help wherever I’m needed, even if that means getting mice out of the bookshelves…unfortunately. I even got to fry my first egg ever! Since so many foreigners come in to the café, I am always getting to know new people. The world just keeps getting smaller the more people I meet. I even met one family who has a son interested in LeTourneau for mechanical engineering! I am truly loving my job. I am getting to know the ladies pretty well, and they are beginning to trust me more and more. In this culture, trust is very important and very hard to build, especially with foreigners. I get to start some new marketing things next week and look at a few different options for how things are done in the café. I am excited to see how it all goes.
life outside of work has been really enjoyable. I have made some new friends from the states that I eat and hang out with regularly. I am learning how important relationships are with people who are in a similar place as you. It has been very helpful having people I can talk to about things going on here. I have been trying to branch out in the culture more and more. I am finding myself adjusting well because certain things don’t bother me at all anymore. I found three huge rats in the kitchen the other day and I didn’t even scream. My heart doesn’t race when I step out into the traffic filled street. I don’t feel offended or violated when people stare at me or touch my skin in the market. Things are starting to feel normal, which is a huge blessing in and of itself.
Last week I traveled in to Phnom Penh with a couple of girlfriends. We had such a good time experiencing the city, surviving the Russian market, tasting new food (I actually ate fish!), and building relationships. We stayed with a family who has a started a day school at their home for local children called “Kids Club.” It is a place where families who can’t afford the demanding costs of normal schools can send their kids during the week. The kids learn about the Bible, study reading and writing, learn the basics of English, sing songs, and enjoy a safe place to play. It is a blessing in an area where blessings can seem few and far between. Phnom Penh is a very different place from Battambang. It is a culture shock in the way Houston is to someone from East Texas (that’s me). The streets are chaotic, the smog is awful, the poverty is nauseating, the people are mysterious, and the markets are overwhelming. I am really glad I had the opportunity to visit, but boy am I glad to be back in little Battambang! Well, my first month is over and I have one more to go. God has been so gracious here and I feel His presence constantly. He is teaching me so much about who He is and who He is making me to be. Everyday I am faced with the decision to trust Him or not, and everyday I am learning that when I trust Him, He never fails me. Whether you are in Cambodia, Germany, Africa, or the United States, God is with you. I hope that everyday you too are choosing to trust Him with whatever your life is holding.
Well friends I have started my second week of work and things seem to be going really well. Last week I did mainly observation around the café and helped out when I was needed. I got the opportunity to meet lots of new and exciting people since the café’s target market is foreigners. Basically I was told to observe how the coffee shop operates. Who comes in? How long do they stay? What times are we busy? What are the employees like? How does the atmosphere compare to other businesses? My yellow legal pad was exhausted by the end of the week from all the notes I took and ideas I wrote down.
This past weekend I was able to connect with a group from the states. About seven years ago, an organization was started here in Battambang called Rapha House. As I am sure some of you know, human trafficking is a growing problem in Cambodia. Rapha House Ministries is an organization that goes in and either tries to prevent girls from being trafficked or rescues already trafficked girls. The group from the states was coming with the American staff of RHM to see things up close and personal. On Sunday they allowed me to basically become a member of their team and spend the day with them. Going out to Rapha House was very eye-opening to this problem that exists right outside my apartment. Seeing all of these beautiful girls my age and younger, and knowing that someone who was supposed to be taking care them was hurting them in one way or another just absolutely broke my heart. Being with the team though, was an absolute breath of fresh air. It was a small group of all ages based out of Joplin, Missouri. They were a fantastic group of people, and I have no doubt that God brought us together.
This week in the café I am actually getting to do a lot of hands on work. Yesterday I worked from 8 in the morning until I left for dinner at 5:30. It made me feel so at home to actually be able to jump in there. I get to handle customers, take orders, make drinks, and handle money. The money part is definitely the hardest because I have to deal with U.S. currency as well the Cambodian Riel all at the same time – with no machine to help! I am learning to adjust to the difference in cleanliness, but it is very difficult. I am so used to way American businesses are run under the particular eyes of health inspectors and state codes. Needless to say, there is no health inspector here. I walked in on the ladies cleaning fish in the same sink we do dishes in…really?! It’s very different, but I think that’s what I am enjoying most. Who says different is wrong?
Well, I made it. I have arrived safely in Battambang, Cambodia. Battambang is the second largest city in Cambodia and is located about 4 hours northeast of Phnom Penh.
Out of the four airports I experienced in the span of the two days I traveled, I was surprised to find I could maneuver around the two non-English speaking ones much better than the two English speaking ones! Go figure. Upon arrival I was extremely exhausted from the three flights, but also very on edge from being in a new and strange place; I was ready to hit a boy with my purse who ran up and grabbed my suitcase, until I realized he was just putting it in the trunk with the hopes of earning a few Riel. Whoops. I stayed the first night in Phnom Penh and then took a five-hour taxi ride to Battambang. The taxi driver didn’t speak any English, but he understood bathroom, so I wasn’t too worried. I got moved into my one room apartment above the coffee shop, and I haven’t seen my roommates yet…though I’m kind of hoping I don’t. It’s a Buddhist holiday this week so the coffee shop isn’t open, but I start my internship Monday, and I am very excited. I have spent these first few days wandering around the city, taking walks, riding my bicycle, trying new foods and adjusting to the culture shock. I haven’t even been here in Cambodia for a week, and I am already learning lots of new things:
1. Clothing is optional for natives on especially hot days (good thing I don’t like blending in.)
2. Driving on the right side of the road is really more of a suggestion than a mandate.
3. If you want to cross the road at any point before tomorrow, don’t look and just do it.
4. If someone honks at you, they are just being friendly and letting you know you’re in their way.
5. Don’t spray pepper spray in a 15 ft. x 8 ft. room, even if you are just making sure it works.
6. Noodles are perfectly acceptable for a breakfast meal.
7. Wipe off your glass at cafés before drinking; you don’t know where it’s been sitting or if the guy behind the counter picking his nose was the one washing it.
8. Having no hot water can actually be a blessing.
9. Regardless of what they told you in elementary school, a smile is not the same in every language.
10. When you feel like you are absolutely alone and you can’t do it, mom is only a Skype call away and God is even closer.
Have you ever been stopped at a red light and glanced over at the car resting next to yours? You look at the individual seated in the driver’s seat and wonder where they’re going. Maybe I am the only person out there that is curious about a complete stranger, but I do it all the time. I see people in the mall, on an airplane, at the pump next to me at a gas station, and I am instantly curious about who they are. I never ask, of course, because that would be considered socially awkward, but I have always wanted to. I see dozens of people every day, and I am sure that each and every one of them have a story to tell. Maybe it’s a story of their childhood or their marriage. Maybe it’s a story that no one else would find interesting except those who were present, but it’s their story nonetheless. I’m pretty sure I’ve only had a handful of stories in my life that I’ve just been dying to tell people, and this is one of them.
Last semester I began to entertain a desire I had to study overseas. I knew I would be going to Australia on a mission trip in May and that after that I would just be itching to travel. After many lunch meetings and e-mails with my academic advisor and dean, Dr. Wharton, we finally came up with a plan of doing a service learning internship. The outline of my semester would look different from the other study abroad opportunities we have available here at LeTourneau. Instead of transferring for a semester to another school overseas and then transferring back, I would simply remain a LeTourneau student. I would work in an internship anywhere in the world and take classes online as a non-traditional student. The plan seemed crazy and perfect all at the same time. The only problem was that I didn’t know where to go. That was when the small country of Cambodia came into my life.
A guy named Jeff Davis works with an organization called Marketplace Ministries, and their goal is to reach people with the name of Jesus through the workplace. They turn ordinary businesses into amazing ministry opportunities. Jeff told Dr. Wharton about a small coffee shop that was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I have to be honest, when he told me about this opportunity I had to immediately pull out a map to find where Cambodia even was. Oops! I had at least heard of the country, but had no idea it was in Southeast Asia (for those of you who also just realized you didn’t know where it was either). After God opened this door for me, the pieces just began falling into place, and here I am.
My semester started August 23 and will look a little something like this: I am enrolled in two online classes, a Bible and a science course. I will be done with both of these classes at the end of September (6 hours done). On September 15, I will be flying out of Shreveport to head to Frankfurt, Germany. I have two cousins that live in Rothenburg, and so I will be spending 9 days with them. I will come back to the states for packing and goodbyes and finish off my two online courses. Then I will begin two more classes online, a business and another science course (6 more hours, done). On October 3, I will fly out of Houston, where my parents live, and two days later I will arrive in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I will spend two months working in a coffee shop with women who have been released from sex-trafficking (a huge problem in Cambodia). I will learn about the people through involvement in the coffee shop and the local church. I will learn the basics of the language as I take up to 10 hours of language class with a private tutor each week. I will be involved in the culture completely as I visit the marketplace to buy food that I will prepare for myself every night. I will become more business-minded as I research marketing possibilities for the shop and try to discover the best way possible for the business to run more efficiently. Most importantly, I will come closer to figuring out what it means to serve God in a business that serves others. Through this internship I will be satisfying the requirements of my business internship and a special topics class we are titling 'Business as Mission' (another 6 hours, done). I will fly back to the states on December 3 and then finish off my two online courses. It's an unbelievable opportunity.
My name is Danae Luckert, and this is just the beginning of my story.