everydays

4 December 2013 083 1200pxShe gets it, this girl of ours.

She gets that often we don’t fully comprehend or appreciate or understand the value of something that is familiar and everyday until we are about to lose it.

And she is about to lose most of her familiar and everyday.

So these past few weeks she has been putting much thought and effort into acknowledging and expressing gratitude to those who have been in her everydays which have woven into months and layered into years.

We are thankful that she realised this while she still had the opportunity to do her farewells well.

So we sat together, she creating green and red pop-up cards full of hopes to stay in touch.  And me with black ink on brown paper, simple words of thanks and faith and love for those who have been my Cambodian everydays.

She graciously gave me the gentle reminder to regularly notice and thank those in my everyday.  Not just when I’m moving country.

prepare

4 December 2013 073 1200pxThese last few weeks have been full of preparations.

Preparing to finish my job and hand over work to my replacement.

Preparing our girls to finish at school and farewell their friends.

Preparing to say goodbye to friends.

Preparing and packing, culling and consolidating our life into suitcases and cardboard boxes.

Preparing for the arrival of treasured friends to share in our final few weeks here.

And preparing our hearts and minds for the celebration of the Christ child.

In the busyness of all the preparations I have been absent from this space.  But I will return when I can to continue the wonderings.

May this Christmas season be full of wonder for you.

justees

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A river of contrasts, this Tonle Bassac river which slithers and snakes its brown path through the story of this city.  A story of those who have little and those who have much.  A story of high rises and cranes towering over houseboats and shacks clinging to muddy banks.

And in this community of shacks, this huddle of humanity, sits a small little place squeezed tight between neighbours.  Tightly squeezed but breathing deep.  Deep breaths of life and hope and compassion into some of this community’s families.

In a neighbourhood where lives and livelihoods co-habit in small spaces, the only thing that distinguishes this small space is the sign by the sliding metal grill door.

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Inside you will find cotton tees designed to give their wearers voices of justice and conscience and social change.  Clothing that is a conversation starter, a thought provoker, a silent loudspeaker.  Fashion that is more about what it says than how it looks.

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And Justees is about more than just getting the message out.  Its very essence is the justice and compassion that it puts on its tees.

Justees started when compassion for young men who had kicked their drug habit collided with their reality of poverty.

Justees gives these guys the chance to work for a fair wage in flexible working conditions – so they can pay for their schooling and also have time to go to school.  This is significant in a country where so many young people don’t complete their schooling because they need to start earning money.

So this Christmas, you can support these young men by buying some of their tees.  And if you order by December 10, your tees will be delivered to you by December 25.   You can order online – check out their range of designs, and they deliver around the world.

[detail:  That’s our girl, in her well-worn and cherished let justice roll like a river tee.  When we talk with our girls about what clothes we’ll take back to Australia with us, their one request has been to get a few more Justees tees for the journey.

And ok, I know that this post is an undisguised encouragement to support Justees.  I hope you do, because there are some amazing people over here doing some things which are amazing, but also require of them incredible love, generosity, faith, resilience, grace, patience and perseverance.  To choose to direct some of your Christmas expenditure into Cambodia would be wonderful encouragement for our friends at Justees and the young men that they work with.  Plus you’d get some great tees.]

reverse

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As we prepare to leave Cambodia, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the swirl of emotions.

Sadness.  Guilt.  Pain.  Tiredness.

And a list of potential outcomes which I feel I have failed to achieve over these six years.

It’s human nature, this tendency of ours, to focus on people’s outcomes.  I understand why and I do it myself – in conversations with others it is much easier, usually much safer, to talk about what we’re doing, the organisation or group we work for or are part of, to use tangible outputs to explain why we are in Cambodia.

It’s easier to talk about these things than to have conversations that poke and prod around our hearts.

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I hadn’t been here very long, but long enough to understand that my ideas of ‘helping’ were a bit idealised and often culturally irrelevant, when I met a woman.  We went through the usual introductions.  Children, yes.  Husband, yes.   Passport country, a bit of explaining on her part, but then these answers are always interesting in a diversely international community.

Her next question was expected, the script of meeting people is comfortingly predictable:  ‘So, what are you doing here in Cambodia?’  But the words that came, forming slowly, tentatively were not part of my usual, predictable answer.  ‘I’m not sure that my being in Cambodia has much to do with what I can do for Cambodians.  I think it has more to do with how God is transforming me through Cambodia and her people.’

I didn’t know it had a name, this reverse mission that I felt God was doing in my life.  Turning on its head my almost arrogant sense I had that we were going to Cambodia to help her.

Sure, our time here hasn’t been a waste at all and we could list of a range of outcomes achieved.  But what we hadn’t necessarily expected was the extent God would use Cambodia to work in our lives, and the Cambodian people God would use to teach us about love and generosity and kindness and acceptance and sacrifice and pain and suffering and perseverance and faith.  Gifts from people who in the world’s eyes have nothing to give.

Those whom the world has made victims God has chosen to be bearers of good news.

[Henri Nouwen]

So we will return to Australia with a mental list of outcomes ready for those quick conversations explaining what we’ve been doing these past six years.   And  in our hearts we will carry a treasury of God’s gifts to us in these years, and eyes and hearts open wide for the ways God will use this next adventure in our lives to continue His transformation.

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[detail: Henri Nouwen writes about reverse mission in his book Here and Now: Living in the Spirit.  “The poor have a mission to the rich…Those whom the world has made victims God has chosen to be bearers of good news.”]

still

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Still flat on my back.  Still waiting.  Still holding onto these words.

Enjoy your week-ending!

And if you still have a bite of time wandering around the web, you might like:

  • wonder through eyes of children as they explore art and creativity with the amazingly talented Melissa at weave+wonder
  • a beautifully simple and functional cabin in a faraway place which is home to a family of five – start here and if you like what you see explore Carmella’s inspiring blog a bit further…
  • art that makes me wish my creative bent was bending this way…check out Geninne’s gorgeous journal pages.  Oh my!
  • when I followed this link I discovered the whimsy and talent of street artists around the world…their creativity made me smile!

home delivery

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Home delivery, Cambodian style.  Most people buy enough food for today – often out of financial necessity or due to a lack of refrigeration – and a daily cart winding its way through the streets enables these women to shop in front of their homes and saves them a trip to the local market.

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The vegetables are fresh and crisp, an abundance of green leaf spilling over cart edges with splashes of tomato red, carrot orange, onion brown.  Plastic bags dangle, holding the overflow – long pale mushrooms, snaking long green beans, bright hot chillis, flavour filled condiments and spicy tingly sauces.

And meat lies in the timber tray, selected and cut and weighed by this beautiful lady.

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On this ordinary morning she and her customers were slightly bemused that I would want to take photos of them doing the ordinary, the everyday.  Shy that them living their days was photo-worthy.

There is beauty in the details of life.  Beauty that is not contained or constrained by our familiar narrow definition of the word, but rather beauty  in the ordinary that can be seen through eyes that choose to linger and slow and wonder, appreciate and notice and capture.

Because life itself is beautiful. 

[detail: I took these photos just around the corner from our home, and as you can see, we live very close to New York City.  That’s right, Cambodia has its very own New York City.  It’s a recent housing development down a street which was once muddy and rocky and narrow and is now smooth and widely concreted.  A street that takes you past small timber houses into a gated community of western style rendered brick houses standing neatly around a small green common space.  All around this city those who are financially poor live on the doorstep of those who are financially rich.

Cambodians generally aspire to certain aspects of western culture, particularly US culture, so it was no surprise when the name New York City was unveiled.  The growing private education sector is prolific in its claim on international educational institutions, with small schools boasting names such as ‘Cambridge Harvard International School’, and ‘New York International School’.  Some of our personal favourites are ‘The Ingenious Pencil School’, ‘American Idol School’ and ‘Angry Birds International School’.  Yes, life is beautiful.  And sometimes life just makes you smile.]

full stop

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It’s hard to stop, isn’t it?

Hard to move against the forward momentum of your days and just stop.  To mark a full stop in the prose of your days.

More than just a comma, more than a pause for a quick breath in the middle of the sentence of your life.  A full stop.  The end of something that allows space for breath and thought and reflection and savouring before the next begins.

A full stop.  To be.  And think.  And rest.

I like to think that we live fairly quiet lives with space for full stops woven into the rhythm of our days.  But for a while now the momentum has been building, partly due to external circumstances not of our choosing, and partly because of our decision to move back to Australia.

It feels like the story of my life lately has been one long punctuation devoid sentence gaining giddy momentum with packing up lives and wrapping memories in brown paper with string and storing mental snapshots of everyday life as it swirls around me while still working and making lunches and cooking dinners and hosting visitors and folding washing and helping with homework and wondering whether I’ll have space to emotionally connect in a meaningful way or whether my mind will be singularly focused on mentally ticking of my to do list as I board the plane before flipping over to another task list once I get off at the other end and unpack our bags and create a home and settle the children in school and then maybe with a hopeful heart I’ll have time for a full stop.

But now a full stop has come mid-sentence, most unexpectedly.  I have been lying on my back for the past four days.  Reading.  Thinking.  Praying.  Dreaming.  A full stop imposed on me by a very sore back and strict instructions from the physiotherapist to rest.

It’s not easy stopping against the forward momentum of days.

But now that I’ve slowed, I’m thankful for this lovely little unexpected punctuation mark.  This full stop. 

water :: four

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She smiled back at me, a few metres ahead on the travelator. It was this flat moving escalator, taking us and our trolley of luggage from one level of Bangkok’s international airport to another, that made her gush, “Oh Mama, this is a special kind of wonderful.”

It wasn’t the trip to Thailand for a conference, it wasn’t the excitement of meeting Daddy at the airport after he’d been away for a week.  It was a travelator, not often seen and rarely ridden.

And in that moment of joy and appreciation, the ordinary travelator became extraordinary to her.

A few steps on and she and her sister danced around the water fountain, pushing the button and slurping the cool, clean water. The ordinariness of clean water freely accessible to everyone was extraordinary to them.

We are thankful that our home has piped water that [mostly] flows when you turn on a tap, however the water is not safe to drink.  Our girls get excited when we spend time in Australia and they can drink tap water.  When we’re there they will often grab a cup from the kitchen and run into the bathroom to fill it up, just because they can.  They sip and slurp through giggles, the utter extra-ordinariness of it.  There they stand in the shower, tilt their heads back and open their mouths wide, gurgling shower water….just because they can, and so often they can’t.

I love that our girls have had the opportunity to see the world through different eyes, so now when they see what so many others take for granted as ordinary, as expected, even as entitled to, they have the ability to transform the ordinary into extraordinary.

Like clean water from a tap.

Water is one of our most basic needs – without it we survive barely days. And even if we have it, if it’s dirty it can make us sick or even kill us. We drink it, we cook with it. We use it to clean and we use it to wash. We play in it and play with it. We travel through it and we need it to grow our food.

Water truly is amazing.

And yet so many of us squander it and waste it and take it for granted.

This weekend, every time you turn on a tap, remind yourself that simple action is not ordinary.  It’s not ordinary because it’s not possible for nearly 1 billion people around this world of ours.  That’s how many people don’t have access to clean water, let alone having it piped into their home.

Remind yourself of this fact often enough and you might just start to see something as ordinary to you as tap water become a little bit extraordinary.

Because it is.  Extra. Ordinary.

[detail: 1 billion is one of those numbers which slips easily off the tongue but the magnitude or the relativity of it is often lost.  So maybe this will make it a bit easier to comprehend – imagine no one in Australia having access to clean water.  Not one single person.  Now think of Australia replicated 43 times and you’ll be close to trying to wrap your mind around just how many people 1 billion is and how it could be for that many people to not have clean water.]

water :: three

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He waits quietly, this man, wrapped in a cotton sarong, his chest bare.  This man, our neighbourhood’s patriarch, sits outside his small house waiting for his daily wash.  Our back balcony overlooks the communal concreted area shared by various members of his extended family and sometimes, in the midst of daily life, I am audience to a ritual of water and love.

His daughter uses the garden hose to wet him, and gently rubs the dirt from his skin.  His arms and his legs, his feet and his hands.  His back and his chest.  And then his face, the skin bumpy and scarred from leprosy.  There is rhythm and routine in this daily ritual.  There is a gentleness and beauty with which she cleans him which makes me pause and smile.

Aged care facilities are an unknown concept in Cambodia.  The closest thing here are the small timber and iron shacks which sit on the perimeter of a pagoda [temple/wat], the monks providing a home for those who have no family to care for them.  There is no pension system, no public healthcare.  Some end up begging on the streets.

For those who do have family, they join three or four generations sharing the same house, the same compound, the same lives.  Each member of the family cares for the others, completing the beautiful cycle of life.

And so the bathing routine continues, the younger caring for the older in the same way the older would have cared for the younger in days long gone.  She dries the water off his skin with a small towel and takes a clean sarong.  He stands and lifts his hands as she pulls it over his head and shoulders, down to his waist.  And a clean shirt too.  His blue plastic chair is repositioned in the courtyard and he shuffles over to sit in the shade beside his house.  There he sits and watches his family go about their days.  There he watches the days go by.

[detail: The tin and timber shacks in the photo are just down the street from us, part of our local wat compound.  Their bottoms have been exposed in the last few days with the perimeter fence being demolished and they are waiting, shyly looking out onto the street, waiting for a new fence to hide behind.]