We have now been in Cambodia for five months – and what an amazing time it’s been! As we enjoy a Christmas break we look back and see all God has done in our lives since we arrived.
Settling into a new school with different routines and people has consumed most of our attention since we arrived. We have all been on a steep learning curve, not least of which was learning about 90 new student names for both John and I. We have just been amazed at how we have come 6000 miles to a different culture and yet because of the unity of the Church, we feel completely at home with all the people here. We have the same purpose and focus as BCS but with aircon rather than heaters in the classroom. The aircon gets the classrooms down to about 26℃ which feels wonderful compared to 32℃ / 80% humidity outside.
A different class leads each Friday assembly. The purpose of the school here is to serve missionary families by providing a God-centred education that is international in range and quality, so they don’t feel they have to choose between their calling and their children’s education. The vision of the school is ‘global-minded servant-leaders with a biblical understanding and application of knowledge, impacting the world for Christ’.
We are very blessed to have students with a great attitude to their education. Every day starts with staff prayers (at 7am!) and in September we have FLAG week (Forever Learning About God) where the whole school starts each day with worship and has teaching from different speakers. The parents involved in Christian work put on a Mission Fair to help students understand about the important work they do and to give them the opportunity to volunteer to help in various ways.
Lauren has started the International Baccalaureate programme here studying English, History and Biology at higher level and Spanish, Maths and Geography at standard level. She also studies Theory of Knowledge, Christian Perspectives and part of the IB is a component called Creative Action Service which requires her to log an average of 2 hours a week over 2 years of appropriate projects in the community.
Matt has found a small group of like-minded friends here and has a good social life centred around the church youth group. He and Lauren are about to go on the youth conference in the New Year. He also has to choose some ‘Vision In Action’ projects in the community and so has been teaching students in primary school how to code.
Tom is currently in his last year of primary school and so is on a different site to the rest of us. He has been having weekly swimming lessons in the pool next to school and is now a confident swimmer (though underwater swimming is his speciality apparently). Both school buildings have a library, if we ever want to track Tom down we just need to look for his sandals outside the library door.
Work on the new HOPE North school is going well. After a few days staying with the amazing Prothero family we moved into a house nearby. The Wilkins family had returned to the U.S. for 6 months so we rented their house from them. It provided us with a base while we thought about a more long term home. As the school is relocating to the North of the city in March we decided to move straight there, so a week before Christmas we moved into a brand new house just 1km from the new school.
This whole area was swamp and fields a year ago with a couple of unmade roads and local houses. It has been earmarked for development and is now a bustling community of housing and markets. We have 5 weeks of travelling to the old site until the school moves but we very much like our new location. The streets are quiet enough in terms of traffic for the boys to cycle down to the market and local shops for us. The streets are not quiet in the volume sense though. It is wedding season and weddings are celebrated in marquees put up outside houses, often blocking roads, the festivities go on for about 24 hours with loud music and Buddhist chanting through loudspeakers from 4am!
Before we moved we experienced the wet season and flooding. It is wonderful to be inside and watch the torrential rain storms but less pleasant was the walk to school through the knee high flood waters. I really didn’t want to know what the things were wrapping round my ankles. Our house was flooded once but it took us about a week to deal with the aftermath. We have yet to see if the new area floods.
Shopping here is quite an experience and takes up far more of our time than it used to. We are not fans of spending weekends at shops and were getting our food delivered by TESCO in the UK. We do have some small western style supermarkets here, they are pricey but keep us stocked with Frosties and French fries. We are slowly branching out food-wise: our cafe over the road makes amazing iced coffee (cafe tak-dako tak-kok?) and there’s a street vendor outside the market who makes delicious marshmallow-filled crepe cones for 16p each. The fruit is fantastic: familiar favourites like mango, bananas, watermelon & coconuts are a few pence each, and we’ve acquired a taste for local specialities like longan (bark-wrapped lychees), rambutan (pink melon-flavoured conkers) and mangosteen (hard purple shell, segmented grape-like innards).
John has tried Loklak (think spicy beef stew), and several fish amoks, Lauren’s had stir-fried tree ants, and we found a curry-house to rival anything in Bradford. Eating out is cheaper than the UK so we have indulged in that more often than usual.
Language learning is slow, more to do with finding time than innate difficulty. We learnt greetings and numbers fairly easily, and can get by in the market if vendors speak slowly, but haven’t really progressed to verbs and general vocabulary. Now we have moved we need to find a local teacher and start learning formally.
John somehow got roped into taking a small part as a drunken Cockney playwright in the Christmas Pantomime “Will Shakespeare” with the Phnom Penh Players. Twice-weekly rehearsals at the ‘Three Mangos’ bar (Angkor beer $1/pint) culminated in three performances in mid-December. Apparently his acting was so accurate that many attendees thought he really was inebriated. Art imitating life?
Meanwhile the school production ‘The HOPE Story’ is well underway. It charts the history of the school from its early days with a handful of homeschooled children to the relocation to our new facilities in the less built-up north-west of the city in March 2015. Lauren helped paint the scenery, as a contribution to the C.A.S. part of her I.B., and Matt shifted scenery backstage. Tom sang a solo as one of “We Three Kings” in the Primary production ‘The Innkeeper’.
So, a new house in a new area and half the school year done already. It has been a fast-paced time so far. We miss friends and family and green hills but also feel very happy and at home here. As we returned home from a meal out on Christmas Eve I wondered when driving my son on a motorbike through crazy traffic in an Asian capital city had become normal.
Prayer? If any of you can offer one up for us we appreciate prayer for:
Safety – traffic is one of the main causes of death here and our children cycle to school as it is too hot to walk. Motos are our main form of transport. Violence is a problem in certain areas and city centre protests are an area to avoid so we are careful where we go and when.
Health – we have all had a ridiculous number of mosquito bites and dengue fever is a real possibility in this area, many of the staff here have had it. It can have serious and long lasting effects and has no cure or vaccination. Infection in any wound is likely because of the environment we are in.
Purpose – we love our work but know we could easily be busy but not doing God’s purpose. We need to constantly keep focused on Him and listening to His voice.
Merry Christmas, and a God-centred New Year,
John, Cath, Lauren, Matt & Tom.