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.

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