Saturday, January 21, 2017

Picture Time!

Spent some time this last week working in a village in Kampong Speu. One afternoon Louise and I went exploring. It turned out to be well worth it! Here are a few photographs from that adventure:

Lots of color and construction in the market area of town!

Bumper cars without a barrier! 

Louise photographing the market. 

Some local chicken art work on the walls.

My favorite place!

Not sure what the bunting was for but I loved it!

At the end of the bright alley was the river and a get-away boat.

Local wooden house.

Shabbat Shalom

On Friday night last I went to the local Jewish community center (yes there is one here in Phnom Penh) and celebrated the opening of the Sabbath. I have a few things in common with the Jewish faith, as a Christian I also believe that Saturday is day that God set aside for worship. It's the day that we spend with God and family as a reminder that He is God and to slow down and be present. It starts Friday night at sundown and goes until sundown on Saturday. With the big difference in our beliefs being Jesus. Even with that difference I appreciated the connection that I was able to make with the way that Jesus brought in His Sabbath all those years ago.

I went with Louise, the newest RAW Edu staff member and Olivia, the volunteer here for two weeks with an Eng literacy training team and who is actually Jewish. She was the main motivation for going, I wanted to help her find a bit of home in Phnom Penh.

We arrived a bit late due to confusion of where it was. The room had a small divider between the men and women. There were more men by far. Louise and I couldn't follow along in the book because it was all in Hebrew. At least I knew to read right to left and to open the book from right to left! The mens side was much more vocal in the leading of the prayers and there was a large variety of Jesish men. Some had the wide brim hat, the tight curl on the side of their face or just a simple yamaka. There was one older gentleman who had the prayer shaw for over his head and a young boy who was not yet of age to have his hair cut short yet (I may have called him a girl. . . an honest mistake for a gentile).

After our prayers we went up stairs to the dining area where we sat down to eat our three course Shabbat meal. It was amazing! The food was great. We had challah, salad, humus, fish and taboli for the first course, a chicken broth for the second and perfectly roasted chicken with fried rice (we were still in Cambo after all) for the third course. The rabbi shared from the Torah about Joseph and when his father Jacob blessed him and asked for his bones to be carried back to their country when they leave after the first course. There was much singing of Hebrew songs and lots of talking amongst all the people. I talked with a young newly wed couple that were on their honeymoon before relocating back to Israel where he will be in medical school. I wished them matzel toff just like in Fiddler on the Roof. There was a girl from Israel who is teaching English in a local private school and we also met an Israeli/Australian business man who promised to help us if we ever found ourself in trouble here.

Over all it was a beautiful experience that I was glad to share with Olivia and Louise. It was a blessing to bring in the Sabbath in such a traditional way. Maybe I'll make my way over there again some Friday night in the future.

A blurry picture at the end of a lovely evening. (me, Olivia and Louise)

Thursday, January 5, 2017


I am currently* sitting in a north bound Amtrak train towards Fresno. The sun is making it's way to the edge of the horizon and I'm reminded of the first time I made this trek north.

It was the summer of 2009. I had just finished my year as a boarding school chaplain at Georgia Cumberland Academy in Calhoun, Georgia. I was headed up to Camp Wawona for my first taste of Yosemite (yoh-sem-it-ee for all those Aussies) National Park. It's the place where I would be a part of a dream team programing staff that would have a lasting effect on my friendship. Side note: Chelsea, Anthony and I made dreams come true and magic happen at Wawona for some of the best summers ever. 

I remember sitting in the train 7 years ago thinking about my life and careers I'd had, wanted to have and was going to have. At the end of the summer I was moving to Norway for what I hoped was a dream job working with a mix of cultures and people. I'd still not found my niche in life. I remember talking to other passengers and them being impressed that I'd be spending my summer in Yosemite.

It's hard to believe it was only 7 years ago when it feels like a lifetime. In fact that reminds me of sitting in my bosses office at the end of that school year and having a conversation with him about where I wanted to be in 5 and 10 years. HA! This was never where I thought I'd be, yet I am glad this is how things went.

I was just telling my cousin about how amazing it is that God knew I'd need the last 4 years as a principal and teacher to give me the experience and background to do my current job better. Had I tried to plan out these last 7 years it would never had been to include principal-ing and several dead end plans. God knew I'd need experience in budgeting, working with a board, lesson planning, curriculum, running a school and teaching teachers. He's amazing to think so big and so vast and so incredible to care so much about people in Cambodia that He'd guide my life to include what it has so that one day I'd be able to help make a big difference in the lives of wonderful Khmer people.

Wow, what a thought trail just from sitting on a train and traveling north.

I can't wait to see what else God has in store for me.

*Technically I am sitting in a cafe in Phnom Penh but when I wrote this I WAS in a train.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Driving the ute in Phnom Penh

RAW Impact's ute after I drove it through the mud. Not the same ute as the story.
I'm not sure if I told you I have my Cambodian drivers license. I got it just in case I ever needed to drive the ute (that's Aussie for Utilitarian Vehicle, that's what they call anything that has a bed behind a cab.) and for driving my motor bike, if anyone asked me for it I'd be all clear.

The time came in the first week of December for me to put it to good use. Being the only RAW Impact staff to actually know how to drive on the right hand side of the road I think I'm most qualified to drive. . . but that's not really my point because honestly, HAVE YOU SEEN PHNOM PENH TRAFFIC?! No thanks. No way José.

Last week while I was working with a team at one of our partnering projects in Kampong Speu they needed someone to go get another bag or two of cement. Blake was leading the build and Brett was working on office work so I got chosen to go. I accepted the challange and drove on "Hwy"/big road 4. I drove with big trucks, small moto bikes and other utes. I survived! More importantly my passengers survived AND we found the cement place!

Then on Friday, after a long week of team stuff and building, Jared, one of our staff went for a nice dirt bike ride around the village and injured his knee by banging it onto a bolt protruding out of the handlebars, or somewhere on it. Don't ask me how that happened I still don't understand, what I do know is it took a small chunk out of his knee. Brett, also our first aid guy decided Jared should go back into Phnom Penh and get it taken care of that night because it would need stitches and antibiotics. As Brett was the team leader, he couldn't go and Blake was sharing his story that night with the team of students. It was up to me, I needed to drive into Phnom Penh to the hospital we use. I didn't want to drive back on my own so I asked Jay, a gap year volunteer, to join me as copilot. It was just before supper when we left. I grabbed some sweet bread to eat on the way and Jay grabbed a plate of fried rice that he ended up sharing with Jared.

This was quite possibly the drive of a lifetime. Jared is clearly the son of Stew our "dad" volunteer from New Zealand who is just one of those guys who can do everything. Jared rode copilot and coached me on when to push forward, who to not let in and when to honk. He was in pain but still able to coach, what a legend. We ended up stuck in traffic way outside the airport, again nearer the airport and then as we passed the airport. It took us a very long time, what is normally a 40 min drive was THREE hours or something around that, we listened to some music, talked and enjoyed ourselves despite the reason for driving. It didn't seem like that long because we were enjoying ourselves.

We dropped Jared off after circling the block a couple times to find SOS International Hospital and then there were two left in the ute. Jay was a lifesaver with the map skills. I would have pulled over and cried repeatedly without him. He navigated the horrors that are the roads of Phnom Penh with calmness and finesse. He even made some good jokes while we were on the beginning of our voyage. Then the next round of traffic hit. At first we were still in jovial spirits at just having conquered what is Phnom Penh roads but that quickly died after the first hour of sitting still in the ute surrounded by big fatty trucks. Our courage started to drain away and we imagined the rest of our lives lived out stuck in the ute. It was bleak. After two hours of sitting in a span of 4 or 5 car spaces all hope was gone. We were in need of a Christmas miracle. It was getting late, certainly after 10 pm. We had been in the ute since before 6 pm and had not eaten much. Bless us both we were going to go crazy. Finally whatever it was that had been holding us up was cleared. We were able to shift into second gear and clear out of there. THANK YOU JESUS!!

We arrived back at Jumpah with Brett opening up the gate for us at 11:30. We had been in that little ute for almost 6 1/2 hours. Jared was safe and sound with his stitches and Jay and I have an epic adventure to share. Luckily both he and I are owesom (that's awesome in Aussie) story tellers and will be more than willing to share the story with again you in person if you would like.

And that is the story of my first drive in Phnom Penh.

I'd like to thank Jay and Jared for sharing the adventure with me.

Oh and I only stalled the ute a few times. Mainly when we were in traffic and I kept getting anxious and then embarrassingly enough right outside the Jumpah gate because I forgot I was driving a stick and frankly quite tired by then.

The end.

Me, Jay and Brett at the build site at Jumpah.

Friday, December 23, 2016


Here's some pictures from the last month in Cambo. I need to work harder at posting updates! 


Chma (cat) at the hotel in Siem Reap

Me and Brett on the last build day with our team from Brisbane State High School.

The dirt road leading out to Koki, a village we work in. This village is in the red zone for the UN. It's the edge of survival.

The house we built with BSHS. The grandma has lived through a lot and we were honored to help her get her first house and out of living under a tarp since her old one blew over. 

A pretty lady just after getting her hair and makeup done at a local beauty spot in Kratié

I see this billboard all the time and I'm not a big fan.

A sweet girl in Koki who helped me move lunch to the community center.

Pidow and I at the home she helps run called Jumpah. She's a gem and helped me a lot with my Khmer. 

A little cafe near Jumpah where I went in the middle of the day to take a break and have a pick me up coffee.

Me with said coffee. See it was working already.

Hope you enjoyed. Hopefully more to come.

100 things to be thankful for

Okay, so this is a bit late but better late than never, right?

For my Thanksgiving tradition I have composed a list of 100 things I am thankful for. Here it is in no particular order:

  1. Cambodia
  2. Australian slang
  3. Adventure
  4. Purpose
  5. Family who support my life choices even if they think I'm crazy
  6. Mom 
  7. Dad and Deli
  8. Fifer, my kaka
  9. Andrea
  10. Rachel
  11. BurlyKim
  12. Xelxi
  13. messages from friends and family
  14. Gertie the Green Slug
  15. Khmer
  16. Donuts
  17. Khunara/Ra
  18. RAW Impact
  19. Cold weather
  20. Warm weather
  21. Rain
  22. Free Wifi and cheap data plans
  23. Tuk tuks
  24. Hope
  25. God
  26. Love
  27. Travel
  28. Music
  29. My flatmates
  30. Joma coffee in the morning with Brett and Jay (and whoever else comes)
  31. Khmer iced coffee
  32. Team trips 
  33. Outdoors
  34. Church
  35. Community
  36. Curly hair
  37. Sunrise
  38. Quite mornings
  39. English
  40. The corner restaurant
  41. Hanging out with the Family
  42. Kitten's
  43. Puppies!!
  44. Good office days
  45. Air con
  46. Fun bed sheets
  47. Line drying my clothes
  48. My porch garden
  49. Growing and learning
  50. Mexican food
  51. Trees
  52. Angkor Wat
  53. Running
  54. My $1 gym
  55. Rice
  56. Coconut everything
  57. Doctors
  58. Stick shift driving
  59. Laughter
  60. Happiness
  61. Innocence
  62. Kids around the world
  63. Good conversations
  64. Vulnerability, even if it is hard and scary
  65. New friends
  66. Riding with a friend on a motorbike
  67. Holidays
  68. Challenges
  69. Ice with a hole in the middle I can put my straw in
  70. The burrito place on St 155
  71. Kips (Aussie for naps)
  72. Color
  73. Dry Erase markers
  74. Tile all over the walls in my apt
  75. My teaching heritage
  76. The Andersons
  77. Brett
  78. Pete
  79. Abbie
  80. My mentors
  81. Thanksgiving Feasts
  82. Kindness
  83. Baseball
  84. Lazy Sunday afternoons
  85. Spontaneous Adventures in Phnom Penh
  86. The GUZMANS
  87. Kendra
  88. The Wiegs
  89. Diana Pleitez, who took over OACS as principal
  90. Beauty
  91. Simplicity
  92. Sleep overs in the village
  93. Hammocks
  94. Stars
  95. Curiosity
  96. Hope of Heaven
  97. Living a life for others
  98. God's calling on my life
  99. Smiles
  100. Courage 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Thoughts on not being a Teacher/Principal

I go to bed without running through a million scenarios in my head about school board meetings, teachers meetings, parents, students, lesson plans or any other million things.

I have HEAPS of free time on Sunday and by HEAPS I mean all day. I don't have to go to the school, write lesson plans, grade papers or brainstorm ways to recruit more students. 

I go into work at 8:15 am everyday.

I leave work at 5 pm everyday.

I am not having to "be on" all the time. 

I don't have to wear a million different hats.

I don't feel terribly inadequate, overwhelmed, stuck or like a fake. 

I still get to teach, brainstorm ways to teach concepts and ideas to students.

I bicycle to and from work most days (motor bike on days when I go to the village).

I don't have to shmooze or woo people to donate, volunteer, like me, like the school, or even care about anything when I am at church.

But mainly I have so much free time on Sunday. Time to explore who I am and the world around me or to simply sit and read or watch a million episodes of a new favorite tv show. 

I'm no longer stressed about life and work. It's a great feeling. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Summon the Courage.

I found myself looking for all my extra courage today.

I've graduated from the little moped bike to the one Kerry has been using. It's a manual bike. It's roughly the same size as the black moped bike, only it rides much different. I have to pay attention to the gears and shift up and down with my left foot. I have to break with my right food as well as my right hand all the while remembering the throttle in the same hand. I have to look around for drivers, pot holes and landmarks to know where to turn.

The thing is, it's hard. I enjoy being pushed to grow and learn. I often volunteer for new things. I like learning languages, leading groups of people and being the first to try something. This however is pushing me a lot. I want to stay in my comfortable zone of push bike. It's hard going out to the village on my own. I have a great coach here in Phnom Penh but he can't do it for me, he can't ride me out there. I am having to summon up all my courage and ride out there on my own because I have to.

I'm working on keeping my chin up and sights on the future but today I struggled. Today I went out to Taskor for the first time on the bigger bike and I wanted to be back where it was easy. I didn't want to learn something new. I wanted my comfort zone.

Nothing much more to say than that. An honest confession that I am not always brave, I am not always optimistic and sometimes I'd rather just not.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

I love this place.

*typical oozy Sonya happy gushing ahead*

Hi guys! Can we talk for a moment about things I love about living here in Phnom Penh? 

  1. My neighborhood. We might have a large populous of westerners but it's the best little neighborhood in all of Toul Tom Poung (that's the name of this area of Phnom Penh.) 
  2. Royal Mart. It's owned by our land lord but it's got the best prices. I save almost a dollar on my muesli. I can dash down to the corner grab soy milk and dash back up my stairs all during a commercial break.  Plus they all know me now and we swap smiles and small Khmer greetings. 
  3. The Russian Market. This is where I can go get my fresh veggies and dried goods. I have my regular stalls that I visit. We're friends and getting good at communicating. I can also stop by and pick up some comfy clothes that are made local. I'll take another blog to talk about this place in depth.
  4. Joma. I stop most mornings before work to hang out with a few other coworkers over a cuppa joe. The staff know us, what we like and always greet us with a smile. 
  5. My tuk tuk friends. There is a giant apt complex across the street, not a favorite, and recently a small fleet of tuk tuks have accumulated waiting around to take the westerners who live in giant complex where ever they need to go. They started parking in front of my gate so I engaged them in my limited Khmer. It's been great!! Now I have friends who look out for me and we practice conversing. It's a lot of sign language. But I LOVE IT.
  6. Location. We are a good distance from everything. Work is a mile, the ferry is 10 min, heaps of food, two to Russian Market and 4.5 miles to church.
  7. BICYCLE. I love ridding my bicycle everywhere. Sometimes I ride it around the neighborhood because just the mile to work isn't enough a day. I love Sabbath when I can ride to church. It's an easy route and I can peddle and think and pray the whole way. 
  8. Little traveling food stands. They are so cool. I might not eat their food but it makes the world feel a bit more like I live inside a carnival or that I'm at a baseball game. Love them.
  9. The gym. It costs $1 each time I visit and $2 when I need electricity for the treadmill. I even get a towel to use to sop up all my sweat with each visit. 
  10. Sounds. There are so many great sounds at any time of day. The city waking up around 5:30/6am. The squeaker sound from the recycle trash people. The squawk of prerecorded calls for warm bread etc. The light honk to let you know they are passing around another vehicle. The random banging of something against something else. The stinging song of a grinder being used to cut wood. The general hum of trucks and cars passing. I will note that we don't get too much traffic because we are tucked a bit back from the main roads, that's something else I like too.
  11. Flowers. I can get a few flowers for $1 or two. It helps bring joy to our apartment and remind us that there is beauty in the world.
  12. Tile. My apartment is almost completely tile. Not just on the floors but on the walls too. I write on them with dry erase markers ALL the time. I even left a note at a friends house on the floor for them. It's a teachers dream come true to have tile everything. 
  13. Mobile Coffee. They roast yummy beans and add gentle background noise to our kitchen. 
  14. High ceiling. Our living room has a two story tall ceiling, it really helps with the heat.
  15. Safety. I have not felt accosted by tuk tuk drivers wanting me to ride, men cat calling or making me feel less a human, or any of those things. I love knowing that I'm safe as long as I am making good choices and staying where I should be. 
See, there is simply so much to love about this place. I could keep going. Maybe I will later. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016


We recently had an office worship talk about all of us being different parts of the body of Christ. Brett, who gave the talk, focused on how we all have different skill sets and attributes that contribute to the smooth functioning of RAW Impact. The verses are found in 1 Corinthians 12. To bring it all home and make it personal he had us write our name on a piece of paper and that paper got passed around with all of us taking turns writing something we see as an attribute or a word to describe their unique skill set and what they bring to the team etc.

As a words of affirmation-love language person I loved the worship exercise. It was, however, a bit uncomfortable when at the end the person to the left read aloud the list of words used to describe me. Only because sometimes. . . okay, always. . .I find it hard to be the focus of a room full of compliments. I don't mind being the focus of attention when I am calling the attention, just not when I don't have control and it's a pile of nice things being said about me. To get through it I didn't fully hear what was read about me. I spent that time focusing on what I was going to read about the person to my right.

I didn't really get a chance to soak in the words till later that day and even into the next. Here are a few of the words used: friendly, funny, energetic, kind and compassionate. These are beautiful words that I've heard before. I'm grateful for them, they make up a large part of who I am. They show that I am feeling at home among these friends/coworkers. Indeed they also show that I am in a job that I am thriving in.

There was one word used to describe me that has not been used before: strong. I don't think it was meant in reference to me being able to carry heavy things (but on that note I did one time carry the Christmas tree into the house from the top of Kendra's car) I think that the word was used in reference to who I am as a person. The more I think about it the more I hope and pray it is true. I want to be a strong person. I want to be a person with strong convictions, strong hope, strong love, strong ability to get through the situation, to make it to the other side of whatever may come-a typhoon or a field of flowers.

It's a scary thing to say about myself but I will accept the complement and wear it proud because it is not me that is strong, it's Christ in me. I have heaps of weaknesses but those aren't what they saw, they saw Christ working through the weaknesses to make me strong.

 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. 
For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9,10

I am strong.