Noisy Quietness and the Curse of Independence
Email #5

Friends and Family,

Wow, I can't believe it is March already.   Time is flying by, but I feel like there is still a lot I'd like to learn from being in Cambodia.   But you can't force these things ... they just happen ...

Last week I was sick.   I picked up a few microscopic friends from something I ate, and the next thing I knew I was violently expelling them from my system (in other words, puking my guts out).   I hadn't thrown up since I was just a kid ... but this is Cambodia.   It's very humbling kneeling over a toilet writhing in pain with that awful smell filling your mouth.   Yes, you feel in touch with your humanity at times like these.   Cambodia seems good for that.

February was a good month for me.   Besides getting all pukey, I also continued helping out at the New Life NGO.   The department I'm working with has been going through some changes, so there has been plenty to do.   They're starting to take more of an agricultural approach in their development work.   In rural areas, it's hard to start anything other than agricultural projects ... there just is NO money in the provinces.

I've also continued to enjoy life in Phnom Penh and it feels "normal" being here now.   Phnom Penh really is quite a noisy place ... sometimes I just can't help laughing at all the noise, whether it's the obnoxious dogs barking at all hours, the heavy machinery at the factory behind where I'm living, the children yelling at the elementary school next to the factory, or maybe just some random dude belting out his favorite tune.   There is so much noise coming from so many places.   But I've noticed an interesting contrast to life in the US.   In the US, our outward lives may be the model of peacefulness as we are careful not to disturb our neighbor, but inwardly we are a noisy mess.   The worries and distractions of life (relational, material, etc.) eat at us like a disease.   But in Cambodia, I've noticed an inner quietness ... I can actually hear myself think here.   You tend to realize how trivial the concerns of life really are when you are surrounded by poverty, plain and simple.   Life is more beautiful when you don't feel the burden to figure it all out.   (Is this not exactly what Jesus spoke about when he said that the "worries of life and the deceitfulness of riches" will choke the life out of us, leaving us unfruitful?)

In a recent article, I read that almost HALF of Cambodia's population lives on less than $1 a day.   After over a decade of international aid pouring into the country, Cambodia has few results to show for it.   Why such a miserable record?   The article blamed corruption and bad governance, which certainly have stifled development.   But after talking with people here, I think there are also deeper issues.

In America, we value independence, but Cambodia demonstrates how the spirit of independence can be a curse.   There is a noticeable lack of trust among Cambodians and a quite selfish outlook on life.   I hear that this has not always been the case.   I've been told that things were different before Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge destroyed the country with their revolution (1975-79).   Cambodia's devastation was much more than just the outward effects of war, but also a tragic change in mentality.   Under the Khmer Rouge, people were taught to look out only for themselves ... if the Khmer Rouge told you to shoot your parents dead, you didn't ask questions.   If you hesitated, you would be executed as well.   All relational connections were a danger to your very existence, and no one could be trusted.   Such brutality destroyed the country physically and psychologically.   Never underestimate the effects of war.   Now, it is hard for Cambodians to work together, compounding the effects of poverty and complicating the work of NGOs trying to help the country.

Well, once again, this is turning into another epic.   I appreciate those who care enough to read through my ramblings and hopefully learn a little about Cambodia.   I've posted another update of pictures on my webpage:


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