Sunday, May 29, 2016

Understanding Sonya

This is a note on how to help understand the things that are going to come in the weeks that follow.

In the next few weeks I may not be seeming to be my normal self.

I don't say goodbye well

When it comes to packing up I will find any and every excuse to not do it. I will put it off and wait until I am a few hours from leaving to pack. Understand that it's hard for me to leave.

I haven't been able to talk much about leaving to those I love here. I change the subject so as to not allow the liquid to pool up in my eyes. Yesterday alone I almost started crying twice. I know it's coming but I don't know how to accept it.

I'm a normal teacher and excited about summer break but at the same time I don't want to let go of my students. I want to keep on teaching them, encouraging them and being there with them. Cleaning up my classroom means I am leaving and saying goodbye. I just don't do it well.

I'm trying to be strong and brave about this but I feel the impending clouds coming. I feel the afore mentioned liquid brimming in my eyes.

I get overwhelmed easily with the task of putting most of my life into boxes, especially when I know I wont see the contents for some time (who needs to take so many books and sweaters to Cambodia?). I don't know where to start because I know that with packing there will be chaos in my room and piles of things that need to be put somewhere. Packing overwhelms me.

It's been a long time since I've had to pack everything up. I am hoping I have grown since then, at least a little bit. But in that mean time I think my roots may have grown deeper in this soil and pulling them up will be impossible. Oakhurst has been a good place, a place I love.

So to understand me know this: I need encouragement when you see me packing. I need someone to sit near by and refocus me when I put off. Help me figure out how to say goodbye.

But also know that if I step out of the room, look up and blink repeatedly, make funny jokes or want to hang out at random times it's because I'm struggling at saying goodbye.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Husband's Family

I said I would share about "the husband's family" and so I shall.

I was given a big brown bag/purse full of vitamins, lotion and some clothing items to schlep to Cambodia for Khunara. I was very willing to take the bag for the record! I always loved it when people sent or brought stuff for me when I was living away from my family! I was a bit nervous about making the exchange because I wasn't sure how well their English would be. I was also unsure as to what the expectations would be on both sides and what would happen.

Once I was in Phnom Penh I tried calling on the cell phone RAW Impact let me borrow the week I was there (which let's state also for the record how awesome it was that they gave me one to borrow. It had all the other people's numbers in it so in case I got lost or needed help. The were also able to connect with me to make sure I had a place to go for supper. Seriously, what a great org!). So I called the first number I had been given by Khunara and it was the wrong number?! It didn't even work or go through, oy, I hoped I wasn't stuck with the bag and no Cambodian to give it to! I waited a day and then asked the principal of Salt School, one of the schools RAW is working with, for help. She helped clear things up! I wasn't doing something right. Anyway, she helped me and we made contact!

Me and my little friend, the youngest family member. 
We figured out that we would meet at a local café and make the swap. I was actually quite excited to meet with them because I love making new friends and I love being immersed in a culture.

Turtle that was cooked for some customers outside. 
We met and they took me to their house for a visit. They have a store front and their apartment is behind the small store. They were so kind and welcoming! They offered me water or soda or anything else I wanted and in fact didn't listen to which I wanted and brought me both! Then they asked what I was interested in eating for supper. (I figured they'd want to feed me, mercy I love a culture that so completely opens up their home and makes you family.) After they asked what I wanted to eat I quickly shot out "chicken" for fear that I'd end up with some crazy meat. Then I hung out with the littlest member playing with the ipad and watching the craziest Japanese dubbed into Khmer soap opera I have ever seen. (Trust me I will be writing extensively about that Samurai soap opera.)

Mango and Jack Fruit with garlic salt to dip it in.
Supper came and we ate and I sat at the table for at least three rounds of people. The men where first, then the women and finally the last group were people that I didn't know who they were due to language barriers. Something good that this has taught me was to EAT SLOW! Otherwise I'm done and sitting with an empty plate. What else is there to do with an empty plate but put more food on it! Akkk. So full! I love the struggle of figuring out what I'm supposed to be doing, what is acceptable and what is being asked/said.

Okay, so this narrative is turning long. I don't want to bore you so I'll try and keep the rest short.

I walked home that evening because it turns out they only live 3 short blocks from the apartment I was staying in and most likely will be living in. Over the next few days I was called and checked in on daily, making sure I was safe, happy, fed and to see if I wanted to check out their village the next day. Such a great family!!

They also offered to take me to the airport that Saturday night.

That alone was awesome! They have connections and so they were able to go all the way with me from the front door (you can't go into the airport unless you have a ticket) all the way to my gate. I think I'm kinda a big deal around here *insert head tilt and eye roll here*. I had so much free time to wait around because I was the second person at the gate!

I am thankful for the local connections and excited to get to know the family better as well as practice my Khmai! Hurrah! Someone to talk to in Khmai! I anticipate more adventure stories with this family as I learn to be a proper Cambodian.

Here's to the blessings of new friends.

At the airport eating ice cream!
If you are interested in donating to my salary/living expenses in Cambodia visit here:

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Cambodia Video

I was searching "Sonya in Cambodia" on Facebook and I found this legit video. Isn't it oowesome? (that's how I phonetically spell awesome in Australian)


THE CAMBODIA from Jan Trnka Productions on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


In two weeks I will no longer be K-2 Teacher/Principal Sonya. I'll be in-between-jobs Sonya or as others might think crazy-adult-who-has-to-fundraise-her-own-salary Sonya. I say I don't mind the change but I do. I am going to really miss being a teacher. I daily have 8 students (we are a small school!) who I am privileged to help mold and form their little personalities. I love coming up with new ideas, adventures and ways to teach a lesson. For the last 4 years I have looked at the world around me and asked myself how can I teach this to my students? For three of those last 4 years I have had some of the same students. They came as little kindergarteners not knowing how to read and now they are plowing through books better than many 2nd graders. I have had them in my care more than some of their own parents! I can't imagine someone else teaching them!

I have loved sharing life with these kids.

I am glad to be going to Cambodia, for sure. Only it will be a different world from the one I have been living in for the last 4 years. It will take some time before I find my place in RAW impact and that might be a bit of a struggle, not knowing who I am or what my value is.

A few years back I was at Catalyst West Coast, a Christian conference, that year they had the theme of Identity. Phil Wickham was supposed to do a mini concert but had just been told he had an irregular issue with his left vocal cord, which kinda throws a wrench in identity with him being a musician who was in the middle of a tour. He came to the conference and couldn't talk, let alone sing. When he was to come out and sing someone else came out and read his letter to us and it struck a deep cord that needs to be re-struck. Here is what his letter said:

While leading worship last weekend on a tour through New England, my vocal cords hit a wall. I felt a drastic change in my voice, and I knew something wasn’t right. It was like a guitar with broken strings. I knew where the notes should be, but they just weren’t there. We cancelled the following shows, and I had to wait several days until I could see a doctor and get some answers.In the unknown of what was to come my reaction was one I wouldn’t have expected. I would have guessed fear, or frustration. Maybe even desperation. But it wasn’t those things. I felt lost.I realized right then how closely I tied my own worth with my voice. My worth as a provider. My worth as a leader. My worth as a person. Though now it sounds a bit melodramatic, I sat silent alone in my hotel room that night wondering, “What am I worth without a voice?” “Who am I without it?”After seeing a specialist this morning we found out there is an irregularity on my left vocal cord that was most likely caused from overuse. Thankfully, they believe we caught this early on enough that it can most likely be reversed without surgery. The only way to reverse it is total silence. No singing. No talking. The silence could be two weeks, two months, or longer.So I’ve been quiet now since Saturday, and you can imagine how the last 5 days have pretty much been just a wild series of nods, shakes, and gestures. It’s amazing how difficult it is to get the salt passed in your direction when you can’t talk.It’s also been a lot of listening. I’m starting to feel like I haven’t been listening enough because I feel like I’m hearing a lot more lately. The Lord has been speaking to me profoundly. I feel so at peace. So loved. Moments of fear are quenched with a thought of the cross. Moments of anxiety vanish in the whispers of His grace. And I am thankful for it.In light of the theme of this conference it seems a strange coincidence that I would lose the very thing I wrap my identity around. And since I don’t really believe in coincidence then maybe there’s something more here to be said. I think I’m learning something about identity, which weaves into calling which then becomes our legacy.I wonder if I have been finding my identity too much in the means and not enough in the end. I am learning that our biggest and brightest identity is one that we can’t ever lose. Voices, platforms, people, buildings, beauty, skills, relationships, Life… they can come and go. But our identity as a forgiven child of God, our identity as part of the redeemed bride of Christ. This our my capitol “I” Identity. This is the one that we will always have. This is the One that will define us forever. May we not define our worth by the praises of men, or the breadth of our influence. God defines our worth by running to us as he did the prodigal son, and wrapping us in His arms. And in this worth, in this identity we find our calling: to love Him who first loved us in such a way that it spills out of our hearts, lips, hands, and feet. In living out this calling, we have certainty that our legacy will be a joyous and eternal one. Amen!I am now literally excited, like I’m on the edge of my seat to see what God is doing and watch what HE is going to do through this time. I humbly ask for your prayers. Prayers for healing. Prayers of wisdom for the doctors. Prayers for my wife, Mallory, who has been a champion among champions in this whole situation, and for my two baby girls to help them understand why daddy can’t read them any books right now.I love you all and pray from the bottom of my heart that God fans a flame in your soul to step into your identity, chase after your calling, and leave an eternal legacy for Him. May his Spirit fall fresh and powerful upon you all. Bringing light to dark places, and water to the dry places of your souls. Grace and peace! Amen!

(article about it, or retype of letter. It is no longer available on his blog.)

I am more than a teacher, I am more than a principal. Lord, may I no longer define my worth by my identity as a small school principal and teacher. May I find my calling in Your love, You who first loved me. May I live out this love in such a way that it oozes out of me into my students for these last two weeks, and may it continue to ooze out as I move to Cambodia. May I always turn to You for my identity and may I be certain of Your calling on my life. Amen.

Friday, May 6, 2016


The week I decided to visit Cambodia to interview with RAW Impact, back in November, I was introduced to my new friend Khunara, known as Ra here in Oakhurst. She is a wonderful woman who survived a horrific time in Cambodia in the 70's. She is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge. Her story of survival is not one she likes to talk about very often. She was much younger in those days, a young newly wed and during that time she was separated, by force of the Khmer Rouge, from her husband for some time. During which she didn't know if he was alive or not. After a tale that is hard to follow at times, she was beautifully reunited with her husband. With herself and one other friend being the sole survivors of her village she and her husband made there way to the city of Los Angeles, California. It was there that she was welcomed to a country she now calls home. A place that helped her to heal from a terrible time. It was in this city that she and her husband had their only son and they learned the trade of making donuts. Like most of the Cambodian's they have moved on from the past and prefer to work towards a better tomorrow.

They moved up to Oakhurst and now run a much loved Judy's Donuts, open 7 days a week from 5 am till 2 pm. Most anyone who is anyone has been there and loves to eat a delightful donut. It is located right on the main road that drives up to the park (Yosemite National Park for those not from these parts). A box of a dozen or more comes in a delightful pink box, a box I like to think of bringing joy to all those near, young and old.

That week that I met her was the beginning of a God directed friendship.

She sat with me that Friday afternoon for almost an hour giving Mona, the friend who introduced us, and I coffee and a donuts. She asked questions about why I was visiting Cambodia and where I was going, what I wanted to do and if I would go see her village, meet her husband's family who live in Phnom Penh. She asked me questions and shared fractions of her story. I vowed then that I would start learning bits of Khmer (Khmai is what they call it in Cambodia) and that she would be my teacher, if willing.

Over the next few months as I could snag time I'd pop over for a donut and Khmai language class. She'd sit with me when the costumers slowed down and tell me how to say whatever it was I wanted to say. Patiently with a smile on her face I might add too.

The giant box for the trip!
When the time got close to go to interview we worked on connecting with her husbands nephew (she always makes sure to state that it is her husbands family, maybe because she doesn't have any left?) I made sure she knew that I wasn't planning on marrying the nephew too! Then on my last stop before heading out to the airport she gave me the prearranged bag to take to the family as well as a GIANT box of donuts, for the long plane trip of course!

I knew when I left that afternoon to the airport that I was going to love the people of Cambodia. That if they were anything like Khunara I would be well taken care of, loved and entertainment for any Cambodian-being a tall, talkative, animated American girl.

I was right. I fell in love with her husbands family and I kept them entertained with my fragmented vocabulary. I'll share about them another time, today it's about Khunara.

When I came back I schlepped a fatty box all the way back from her husbands family to her. It was heavy and I had to awkwardly drag it up a hill in San Francisco to my car! But I was so glad to be able to bring love to her from family, I was also thankful that I didn't have to put the stinky dried fish in  my suitcase! I ended up leaving the box for her because she wasn't at the shop when I dropped it off. Two weeks later when I was able to stop by for a Friday morning visit and catch Khunara was a magical greeting. She saw me, heard me shout, with a donut shop indoor voice, sock-sa bye? (formal how are you?) and returned with a huge smile and hand wave to come back to behind the counter. I wasn't sure exactly where she wanted me to come and she was helping the long line of costumers but when she got a chance she gave me a big hug and dragged me to behind the counter to stand with her while she was working so we could chat. I felt as if I had come home from a long voyage away to distant lands. I knew I must be family now. I asked if I could have some coffee and she said to not even ask and of course I could help myself to it! So I did. I even started helping the costumers who needed coffee, I haven't graduated to serving donuts yet. It's hard to count and subtract so fast in  my head, I also get distracted by all the sprinkles. After many of her hugs, arm touches, smiles and my updates and impressions of Cambodia I had to get going to school. On my way out she told me to take some donuts, she's always gotten them for me before but this time I had graduated to family and was allowed to get my own! I really had become family.

When I told her I decided to move to Cambodia she pulled me in the back and we called the family in Phnom Penh. We celebrated together over the ocean. We talked about them taking me to their villages and her village. I talked about one day when she comes to visit and take me herself to see the places she loves.

Since that first Friday morning visit, I've gone every Friday around 6:45, it's more than just a visit I've just been connecting. I'll try and help but I think most the time I'm just kinda in the way. Each time I'm told to go ahead and get my own coffee and donuts. Last week when I left I didn't want a donut (GASP!) and she gave me a runt banana, not one but three. I didn't want to take all of her bananas but she got mama bear ferocious and made me take them.

Keeping up with the Cambodian
news while baking and serving.
I love how my family is now bigger because of my travels. I love the connection I have to Cambodia. I love how I feel like I know Cambodia already because of my friendship with Khunara. I love that she and I are friends.

In the weeks between now and August 17, I appreciate how I can stay connected to a Cambodia world just by visiting with her. I'm excited to make her proud by learning how to be a Cambodian. I look forward to returning for a visit and having an almost proper conversation completely in Khmai.

All in all, God is good and I believe that He connected 
me with Khunara for a reason. If you are in Oakhurst please stop by!
 I'll even take you and we can visit. Her donuts are the best.

The view from behind the counter, cause I'm family.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Here and over there at one time.

I'm in a hard place right now. I am in the last home stretch of my school year, in fact it's something like 20 teaching days left. I want to soak up every last minute with my amazing students, revel in their awesome achievements of the year and party like it's 1999. This class has been a great one, honest. The second graders have been with me for 3 years now (2 out of the 3 students) and the other is in her second year with me. I have had them in my presence more than some of their parents!

But.... on the other hand I am so incredibly excited about the next phase of my life. I find myself wanting to talk about Cambodia all the time. I want to tell people about the country and her people, how they are a strong people who want a better life. I find myself dreaming about what I'll pack in my suitcases, dividing things into a need and can-survive-without-but-do-I-have-to piles. I want to say the Khmai greetings and small words I know. I want to talk about what adventures the job with RAW will bring me. I want to be in July already getting ready to head out.

But...I will miss this. I will miss Oakhurst in all it's country road splendor. I'll miss these people. Thankfully I'll be back for a visit how could I not?!

But...I can't wait to figure out how to cook the local food! I saw black beans in the market, those can taste yummy!

I can't wait to start ridding my bicycle. .. I guess I should say I can't wait to buy my bicycle! I want one like Harriet's. A basket on the front with a lovely zipper cover so I can put my bag in it as I peddle away.

I can't wait to be hot. I know, I know, that's dumb to say. But this last week I've been so cold in the mornings and in my classroom! I want to be warm and humid. (please take note of this and feel free to remind me that I have said such a silly thing)

I can't wait to figure out what my daily life will be like in the RAW office.

See what I mean?! Ugg, it's exhausting. I hope I don't bother anyone too much with either Oakhurst stories or Cambodia dreams. If I do, forgive me!

On the ferry crossing the Mekong in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Cambodia, a-hoy!

Okay, so let the blogging begin.

It’s been awhile since I have regularly written things for the blog. Partly because I’ve been in America working and it doesn’t seem as vital to my sanity or the cultural updates as when I am living abroad. But with the recent decision to move overseas again it’s time.

In the middle of August 2016 (a mere 3 ½ months from now) I will board a plane bound for Southeast Asia. I will be joining an amazing team of Australians and a few New Zealanders with RAW Impact. A sustainable project organization. I explain it easiest with the proverb “Give a man a fish feed him for a day; teach a man to fish feed him for a lifetime.” We’re doing the teaching part.

I went over for my interview in March and instantly fell in love with everything, the Cambodian people, the volunteers/staff and the structure and mission of RAW. The Cambodian people are a very kind, hospitable people who have moved on from the past and are gung-ho about starting fresh and fighting for a better tomorrow. The volunteers are more or less just like summer camp staff, which should explain why and how they are so awesome. If that doesn’t help then call and I’ll give a detailed 10 point explanation.

RAW as an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization), oh man. They are on point. The plan is to always be able to walk away from a project and have the locals running the whole thing. Whether it is a school, community center or an agricultural program. They might now have all the answers but they are doing things and working hard to make that corner of the world a better place and I cannot wait to be a part of it. The internal structure is quite impressive too. It’s not often that I have been involved with an NGO that doesn’t have the director calling every shot instead of delegating and dividing the work up. There are departments, like education, projects, growth, volunteers (I know, I know Brett, I didn’t put them in the right order or category but I was having trouble remember the right order and category. I’ll have to study it better once I get there). There is a chain of command and they follow it. It makes the small organized part of me giddy. Plus as an administrator how can I not love a good flow chart?

RAW is in its middle growth stage, they’ve been around for a couple years but are not yet to the giant mega organization stage. I am however excited to be a part of its growth. On the other hand though, being in the early stages of an NGO that pours all of its funds into the projects they run they can’t hire me as a salaried employee right now. So I am going to be working quite hard over the next few months to find people who also have the passion for sustainable projects and empowering a local community for change. If by chance that is you stay tuned in the next few days and I’ll be letting you know how you can help.

Well, I suppose this is a good start to blogging again. So until the next one, which could be tomorrow for all I know, cheers!