January 21, 2003

new year, old temples, computers, and evangelistic meetings

Greetings from Kompong Thmal (Cambodia),

After I wrote last time (it was Christmas Eve) I met up with some friends and we went to see the local SDA school choir sing at one of the 5 star hotels in Phnom Penh. It was really nice to hear Christmas carols as we sat around the giant Christmas tree in the air conditioned hotel lobby. I even got to talk to my parents on the phone for a while before the singing started, which was a real Christmas Eve treat. After the singing was over we made our way to a friend's house for a Christmas party and then I opened my Christmas presents back in my room with Jonathan before going to bed.

On Christmas morning I opened one last present that had been stored in my freezer (it was candy) and then had a special breakfast of grape nuts. In the morning Jonathan and I watched a movie, then at noon we started the preparations for Christmas dinner. Several friends came over early to help with the cooking and everything was ready by 6:30 pm. We ended up with 19 people for a sit down dinner with plenty of good food and company. After dinner we exchanged gifts (each person brought and got one) and then had the 'cleanup party'. The leftover food 'cleanup' was tough and lasted several days but we made it through somehow.

The day after Christmas I worked in the ADRA office. Friday morning however, I caught a ride down to Ream National Park where the local pathfinders were having a camporee on the beach with over 300 people in attendance. I had a really good weekend sleeping in a tent, swimming in the ocean, showering in the open and eating Khmer food cooked over the fire. We got rained on the first night, but our tent stayed nice and dry. During the day the pathfinders had various activities including cooking competitions and the obligatory knot tying competition. On Sabbath the division youth director spoke in English so I was able to understand the sermon, which was nice. Saturday night they had a talent show which was quite interesting with some cultural dancing and some long winded Khmer drama performances. On Sunday I traveled back to Phnom Penh via a waterfall where we had lunch, cooled off in the water and took naps.

I worked in the Phnom Penh office on Monday and Tuesday and then went over to Hernan and Carina's house (they are a volunteer couple here from Argentina) to eat home made pizza and play games for New Year's Eve. We even had some sparkling grape juice to celebrate with at midnight.

After staying up way too late visiting on New Year's Eve I got up Wednesday morning and caught a taxi to Kompong Thom. I was supposed to meet up with the Preah Vihear ADRA team there and then travel on to Preah Vihear with them, but due to a communication mix up, I came a day later than they did. Upon arrival in Kompong Thom I hired a moto taxi to take me the 30 kilometers out of town to some temple ruins where I was supposed to meet the ADRA team. The moto driver decided to take a shortcut on a bad road (it was under construction in places) and we ended up with a flat tire along the way. While waiting for the tire repairs I lounged in a hammock and ate some pomelo (similar to grapefruit) that I had along. Eventually we made it to the temple complex and began asking around and looking for the ADRA people. Many people were quite helpful and a few even said they had seen the ADRA group and gave us directions, but of course it turned out that they had been there the day before so none of the 'sightings' were legitimate. Once I finally gave up on finding the ADRA people I decided to make the best of the situation and wandered around some of the temple ruins for a bit. The ruins are from the same time period as Angkor Wat and were fairly extensive. I didn't see all of them, but the ones I saw were interesting and it was very peaceful to wander through the forest and ruins with very few, or in some cases no other people around. By the time I gave up looking for the ADRA people it was too late to catch a taxi to Preah Vihear so I got a $3 room at a guest house in town ($3 gets you a mid-range room with double bed, cable TV, shower and western toilet in your own room). After staying up late the night before and then running around all day I was very tired and went to sleep early after a supper of mangostiens, oranges, french fries and coconut milk. In the morning I wandered down to the taxi stand and discovered that no taxis go early in the morning because they usually originate in Preah Vihear and then return there in the afternoon. After talking to several taxi drivers I somehow wound up catching an earlier one (only had to wait a couple of hours) that went where I needed to go. I think they actually were headed to a different village but the village with the ADRA office was on the way so they agreed to drop me off there. All the taxis to this part of the province are pickups and I splurged and bought 2 seats in the front (which is really just the front passenger side seat). The cost for my 2 seats for the 2-3 hour ride was a whopping $2.50. If you ride in the back of the pickup the price per seat is considerably lower, although we're getting into the dry season now so the roads are really, really dusty which makes the back extra 'exciting'. I finally arrived at the Preah Vihear ADRA office about 30 hours after I left my room in Phnom Penh.
I rode between the monitor and the driver
Oh, and by the way I was carrying my backpack and a 17 inch computer monitor box with me for the whole trip. The moto driver seemed happy with the $5 I gave him for the 60+ kilometer, 5+ hour roundtrip including time spent in the temple complex. I rode between the driver and the monitor, which was strapped on to the moto with bungee cords (I'll put a picture online later). The trip certainly was a bit longer and more eventful than I had planned, but I had fun and it sure was an experience!

In Preah Vihear I mostly worked on databases. Since I had lost a day to travel it was a little tight to get everything done that I had wanted to do, but I managed to finish it up on Sunday. At least I got to work in a nice setting at Ben & Sharyn's house the last day. I even worked using a laptop in one of their hammocks part of the time.

Monday morning I caught a taxi back to Kompong Thom, and then caught another one on down to Kompong Thmal. Satish was visiting from Nepal to help with monitoring and evaluation and I spent the week learning and helping out where I could. I know it sounds crazy, but some people in real life actually do use the stuff we studied in statistics class for something useful. In this case we were conducting a survey of people in the area covered by this ADRA project. The survey results should help to measure what ADRA is doing and show if certain geographic areas have different needs than others. Becky from ADRA International was also here to provide support for the Child Survival project and Ann came up from Phnom Penh for a day or two. It was a busy and fun week but it was nice to spend a little time back with the Kompong Thmal team after running around to other projects so much.

On Friday I came back to Phnom Penh where I had supper with Jonathan and his parents who are visiting from Germany. Monica, who is the new Public Relations / Monitoring & Evaluation person also joined us for supper after getting picked up from the airport. Monica was here in Cambodia for a couple of years several years ago, so she already knows her way around pretty well.

On Sabbath after church we had a nice potluck and I got to see everyone again after spending the past several weekends out of town. In the evening we played games with a big group and Jonathan's mom brought some really good homemade German treats for us to try.

I spent Sunday working and by Friday I had installed Windows and other software on 7 different laptops for various people and projects. We also had several people in the office play musical chairs as positions have changed, so I got to help them move their documents and settings around to different computers. Two new staff members needed help getting set up with computers and I spent some time helping another project plan their move to a new office. Our office in Phnom Penh has grounding for the electrical outlets, unlike most buildings here and I found out this week that one of the rooms didn't have the grounding wire yet. On Friday I got new wire put in so that the computers in that room no longer give you a jolt if you touch them. By the time sundown came on Friday, I was more than ready for Sabbath.

Starting on Wednesday I was also attending evangelistic meetings in the evenings which are being held in Phnom Penh. Mike Ryan from the GC is doing the preaching using newly completed multimedia aids which are on DVD and have been translated into Khmer. This is the first large scale public evangelism that the Adventist church has done in Cambodia since they started working here after the war time so it is quite historic. The first night they had somewhere around 1500 people in attendance and as a result of the work done by global mission pioneers leading up to these meetings, there were over 320 baptisms on Sabbath with another group scheduled for this coming weekend. After these meetings in Phnom Penh are over, copies of the DVD will be put to use by the local pastors in small groups and other meetings throughout the country. Please keep these historic meetings in your prayers as they are continuing this week and will conclude this coming weekend.

On Sunday I got a haircut for 75 cents and enjoyed a fairly low key day. In the afternoon I went to one of the International churches and then visited some friends for supper.

Monday I finished up a few things in Phnom Penh before catching a taxi up here to Kompong Thmal where I will be spending the rest of the week helping out with several projects. One side effect of all the computer juggling last week is that I no longer have a desktop computer to use in the Phnom Penh office, but now have an older laptop instead. This is the first time I've been able to take a computer with me on the road here and it is quite handy for things like writing this email.

Well, I think that's pretty much all the news from Cambodia for now. I haven't had time to put pictures online yet and this week I'll be doing email at the whopping speed of 9.6k so I don't think I'll be uploading them until the weekend at the earliest.

Until next time,


Posted by andrew on January 21, 2003