My last post left us sleeping in Newark Liberty Airport early Tuesday morning. Thankfully we didn’t stay there. Soon after I stopped writing Dad said we should head for our gate. We still had two hours, so I thought it was plenty early, but it was good we went as soon as we did. We hardly made it to our gate, because we had to go through security again. A 6+ hour flight to brought us to San Francisco. I won’t go into detail but our 2 hours there were hectic. Missed luggage, multiple security checks, and the wrong concourse had us behind schedule. We finally got to the overflowing boarding area at the right gate with minutes to spare…a very helpful crew got us on board after everyone else was already seated. Way to the back of the huge jet shuffled our tribe. It wasn’t long before we were settled in for our 12+ hour flight to Seoul, Korea. It’s strange seeing US soil vanishing from sight for the last time for a very long time.
That was the longest, but definitely the most comfortable flight I’ve ever been on. Asiana Airlines puts United to shame. Nice cushy seats, slippers, blankets, and pillows for everyone, free entertainment, multiple snacks…just a little into our flight, the stewardesses handed out hot, damp washcloths to freshen ourselves with, and soon served the first of two full course meals. Steak was on the menu for the first meal, Parmesan Crusted Chicken on the next. We barely made our flight in Seoul either after going through the long security line AGAIN. The flight from Seoul to Siem Reap was almost 7 hours long. Thankfully I was exhausted enough that I could sleep for most of the time. We arrived in Siem Reap Wednesday evening around 11 I think.
I can’t describe the feeling I had knowing that our journey was coming to an end, that we were in Cambodia. As the plane taxied down the runway…catching my first glimpse of Cambodia, walking down the steps to put our feet on Cambodian ground for the first time, breathing the warm sticky air and the peculiar smells…wow. I just can’t put my thoughts and feelings into words. And knowing that an even bigger journey was awaiting us…it seemed surreal, and still does in fact. We piled ourselves into the visa line inside the airport. Almost immediately one of the uniformed ladies seated behind the long, high desk spied Alaina. With a delighted grin she came around to her and asked if she could hold her. Alaina was surprisingly okay with her, and the lady went back around and showed off her find to the other ladies. They cuddled, ohhed, and ahhed over her until we were done with our paperwork.
And then it was on to claim our piles of checked in luggage…and then to meet these people we’ve been hearing about and communicating with for so long. Matt and Miriam Schmidt and their four girls, the schoolteacher Jasmine, and Sen, Frank, Chum, and Veasna were all waiting for us at the airport entrance. It was a bit strange at first, but when we piled ourselves into the various modes of transportation and started on the ride for ‘home’, things lightened up a bit.
I was amazed at the girls wrapped in jackets exclaiming over how cool (one little lady went so far as to call it “freezing”) it was this evening. “What have I gotten myself into? If this is cool…” Our very bumpy ride wasn’t too long. We slowed down and bit and I peered into the semi-darkness and spied it…our house. I recognized it from the pictures, but it was so much different driving up to it in person, knowing that this was where we were going to live for the next several years. Someone opened the big iron gate, the “Five Star” pulled up to the front steps, and we tumbled out. The boys immediately started unloading our belongings. Forrest and I stood on the porch with the others for awhile. The first thing I noticed was the tiny geckos residing on the orange walls. How cute! Forrest was enthralled with the little fish pool right off the porch.
And then we went on the grand tour of our new home. And it’s big! Pretty much mansion sized compared to the dear little house we left 48 hours ago. One favorite place was immediately the big balcony/patio on top of the roof. A perfect spot to go relax or do laundry, and the orchids hanging from the roof are stunning.
The patio on the roof already in use, and one of the lovely orchids.
After a bit more chit-chat, Matt’s family and the rest left us to straighten out the luggage and go to bed sometime. We worked on settling in for a while, waited for the AC to kick in and the water to get hot enough for a shower. Wow. That shower was wonderful. And the bed even better.
Most of us were up around six this morning, not used to the new time. Frank and Chum were around talking with the boys. At twelve, we went to Matt and Miriam’s house for lunch. The loklak with morning glory prepared by Maly was absolutely delicious. I remember Matthews and Larrys (who were here before us) telling us about loklak, and now I know why they liked it so much! After lunch the girls had fun getting to know Matt’s younger girls better. Anisha is 8 and Deanna is 7, so Carissa has two little ladies just her age. Jenna is just a month younger than Forrest, and they have become fast friends.
After a while, most of us loaded up on the Five Star and tuk-tuk and headed for town. Our first stop was the Old Market. Quite the experience! Colors – colors everywhere, with eager vendors reaching out beseeching you to buy something from them. Scarves, skirts, bracelets, blankets, purses, rugs, hats, cosmetics, shoes…you name it. Forrest was with me and attracted lots of attention. He heard “Hi, boy!” over and over. He wasn’t too sure what to think. In the center of the market is the food section – piles of fresh veggies and fruit, as well as all sorts of ‘fresh’ poultry and seafood. Forrest did know what to think about that. “It STINKS in here!” And whenever we started going towards the center again, he’d drag his feet and say, “Let’s not go in there!” And I agree…the combination of smells is rather nauseating.
Next we went to the Lucky Mall, which they tell me is the closest thing to Walmart in Siem Reap. We had some other various stops to make as well. At one stop, most of us stayed out in the Five Star while Miriam went in to make some purchases. An old man, definitely not Khmer, maybe Afghan, walked up and started talking with Matt. He said he likes Mennonites and has seen them in several places. One place he told about that he had seen Mennonites was in Costa Rica. And the place and people he described sounded just like Dad’s cousin Pablo. We don’t know for sure, but it proved to me again what a small world we really live in. =)
It wasn’t very late when we got home, but we were all absolutely exhausted. Mom said she almost fell over she was so tired. Miriam sent sandwiches over for supper, and soon after that we all tumbled into bed.
That pretty much sums it up right there…
Day 2 & 3
We basically spent these days getting settled in, sweating, and getting to know people. Thursday evening, we found out that Pastor Sen’s mother-in-law had passed away. Sen’s wife, Mum, was with her when she died. Sen, Matt, Miriam, and Jenna left several hours after they found out about the death, because the funeral was the next day, and it was a twelve hour bus ride to get there. Matts’ leaving left the girls at home alone, so they spent the next two nights at our house.
Dallas and Austin spying on the people fishing in the ‘pond’ across the road.
The boys spent time getting to know Frank and Chum. They are two Khmer men that having been helping ALAM with the well drilling projects, so the boys will be working closely with them. Frank and Chum helped the boys cut down sugar cane in our yard, and the children loved eating it. They also took Dad and me to town to stock up on groceries for Mom.
“Let’s try this sugar cane nonsense…”
Day 4 – Our first Sunday in Cambodia
Matt and Miriam came back from the funeral late Saturday night, and Sunday morning they came over a little early to help us set up for church in our living room. Frank and his wife came for the service, as well as several other native women and children. Since Pastor Sen was still with his wife’s relatives, Veasna, a young Christian girl who spends lots of time with Matt’s family, was the interpreter for Sunday school and the message. Listening to her rattle off in Khmer, I had to wonder how I will ever learn the language. It is so entirely different from English, and sounds very difficult.
After the service we all had lunch together. In the evening, Matts’ family along with Jasmine, the school teacher, and Veasna, came over for a time of singing and fellowship. While singing, something on the wall caught my attention. It was a very large gecko – at LEAST thirty-six inches long! Okay, that was an exaggeration…probably more like eight inches. But he’s still pretty big, and Miriam informed us that he lives behind our bookshelf. Oh joy. “But you want them in your house…they eat insects.” Oh. Hmm. I’ll have to think on that one a bit.
That evening when it was time for bed, Carissa came up to my bedroom and wondered if she couldn’t sleep with me tonight. “Why don’t you just sleep in your bed?” “I’m scared the gecko is going to come into our bedroom!” Forrest was scared of geckos too suddenly, and thus scared to go to sleep. But they soon got settled down after some assuring (although I wasn’t too sure myself) that the geckos wouldn’t bother us. And Jesus is with us in Cambodia just like He was at home, and he’ll protect us from lizards.
Well, I think I’ll bring this post to a close. I’ve been working on it since Sunday and it’s just getting longer and longer, because I have more and more days to cover. So more later…
Lea Heuy for now! (‘lee-hi’…’goodbye’ in Khmer)