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.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Dear OACS family

To my dearest kids at OACS,

Today was the first day of school at SALT School, that's the school where I am helping teach the teachers. The students were all nervous and excited and the teachers busy and tired. It reminded me of all our first days of school together. In fact, it made me think about each and everyone of you. So I decided to write you all a letter to say hello. So here we go, HELLO!!!!

I have now been in Cambodia for over a month! Which means you have all been in school for over a month! I left America the same week you started school! My flight over here was very long. I left San Francisco at a little past midnight on a Tuesday and I arrived in Cambodia on Thursday afternoon! Two very long plane rides!!

I live in the capital city of Cambodia called Phnom Penh (the h's are not really pronounced so it sounds more like Pnom Pen). It is a very busy city! The streets are almost always busy during the day but at night it gets quiet again. I live in an apartment on the second floor and have to take the stairs up because we don't have an elevator! My neighbors are from New Zealand and they also work at RAW Impact with me. We visit each other all the time. I also have friends who live a building over and others who live around the block and even more friends who live just a few blocks away, across Stinky River. . . we call it that because. . . well it's STINKY!!!! Sometimes when it rains a lot the river overflows!! EWWWW!!!!!

On some days I go to an office to work with other RAW Impact staff members. (they still have the handwriting boarder sheets I brought to give them last year during Spring Break! They love them) When I am there I check my email and reply to messages, I have meetings about ideas for Educate, I meet with the director and the principals of the school, I look for information about ideas for helping teachers in Cambodia on the internet and I sit in a chair for a long time. It's very hard for me to sit in a chair all day!! We don't even get recess! But I do get an hour lunch break. Sometimes for lunch I walk to my favorite restaurant where I order veggies and noodles and watch Japanese soap operas dubbed over into Khmer (that's the language they speak in Cambodia). Other days I ride my green bicycle, Gertie the Slug, home to eat lunch.

I get around the city on my green bicycle (or as they call it in Australia, my green push bike). I LOVE my Gertie the Slug!  It has a basket and basket cover, a light for when I ride at night and a place to put things on the back of my bike. It's nice to ride here because there are no hills! The traffic goes slow enough that I can get around easily. When I'm not at the office I'm usually out at Tus Kor village where SALT School is. To get there I ride a moped bicycle. I have to drive to the Mekong river and take a ferry across and then ride on a dirt road that sometimes has big holes in it that I must go around!

When I am out in the village at the school my job is to observe and help the principal. Some days I teach English to the teachers so they can speak it better and learn new ways of teaching things by watching me. Sometime we talk about lesson plans and how to make them or we make a craft that they can make in their classroom. Right now there are 5 teachers. The classes are pre Kindergarten, Kindergarten, First grade, English 1 and 2. The students go half a day to our school and half a day to public school. They like our school very much. Just like you like OACS very much!

Something else exciting that I get to do is help when big groups of high school, university, businesses or churches come over to run a mission trip. There was a group of Sophomores from Perth, Australia that were just here. I got to pick them up from the airport and help them get around Cambodia! It was so much fun! We all helped to build bamboo homes people who needed a place to live, dig and fenced in new gardens for people who needed a way to provide their own food and we even got to travel to see the really REALLY old temples called Ankor Wat, Bayon and Ta Promh. They were very cool!!

My days here are very busy! When I am free I like to go to the markets to buy my vegetables, visit my friends who are the cousins of Ra, the owner of Judy's Donuts, ride my bike, watch tv and read. On Saturday I ride my bike 5 miles to go to church on the other side of the city. There I go to a church very similar to the one in Oakhurst! We sing songs in English AND in Khmer. The sermon is even in both languages! I do miss Pastor Daniel's sermons though! I have lots of new friends at church and we visit together on Saturday afternoons. One of my friends even knows Pastor Daniel and Pastor Jenner because he went to Andrews University with them and he is also from California!

I am having a lot of adventures! I am learning so many new things. I am meeting so many wonderful people. But I will always hold each and everyone of you close to my heart. I think and pray for you often. I miss our recess times of playing Bird Alert, I miss our worships in the morning, I miss learning with you and mostly I miss your hugs and smiles. Please give my love to your families, Ms Sommerville, Miss Lizzy and Mrs. Pleitez.

Know that God is so proud of each of you as am I and remember Jesus will always be ready to help when you ask for it. I love you!

Miss Sonya

PS please feel free to ask me questions and I will write back the answers!

I got to ride back from the village in the rain!! I was very wet. 

First day of school assembly!

A donut and my California mug that remind me of you all.

Decorations from the most recent holiday, Pchum Ben. 
Me in front of one of the cool trees that is overtaking the very old temples called Ta Promh.

A tree and an old temple wall.

More tree and temple. They were my favorite!

Bayon temple. 

Angkor Wat

I helped make food for the groups. It was yummy stir fry!

This is a bathroom out in the village. The toilet doesn't have a seat, you squat over it! 

PUPPIES!! They were asleep on someones muddy shoes.

One of my little friends in the village. We play soccer together. 

There was a lot of mud on the road when I drove the truck!

There are lots of cows too! 
My green bike, named Gertie the Slug :) 

Sunday, October 2, 2016

My first team trip!

Two weeks ago I joined my first RAW team trip as the second logistics leader. Which basically means I was the person who helped make sure everything ran smoothly, from the tuk tuk drivers to the food service at the Titanic. I learned quickly and had great teachers. Here's a rundown of the two weeks the year 10 students (that's Sophomores to us Americans) had while here.

Day 1
Group arrive at airport dazed and confused :)
Shove all luggage into bus and pile in tuk tuk
Take the group on their first adventure to the hotel via busy, crazy roads.
Let them settle in for a couple hours
Go to fancy restaurant on the river front called Titanic (luckily there are no icebergs in Cambodia. . . )

Day 2
Embrace and understand the cultural day
Visit RAW Impact offices and learn what we do on a daily basis
Visit SheRescue office and learn about human trafficking and the journey Cambodia has been on to eliminate sex trafficking.
Visit S21 also called Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the former high school that was turned into a torture facility to 'hunt' for spies
Eat a quite lunch while starting to mentally process the history of Cambodia
Visit one of the killing fields outside of Phnom Penh
Go back to the hotel to regroup
Debrief the day as a group
Go to dinner on a river boat on the Mekong with yummy Chinese noodles and try and stay dry in the rain

Day 3
Head out to the village where work is being done on the bamboo buildings RAW is building in partnership with local village families in need
(I got to drive the ute ((that's Australian for a truck)) back to the school through mud and all sorts of adventure!)
Eat lunch on site
Work really hard all day and head back to Phnom Penh (45 min depending on ferry traffic .. . or fairy traffic depending on how much sun you might have gotten that day . . . )
Head out to another exciting restaurant just two buildings away from the hotel

Day 4
Work in village all day
Try to not get heat stroke
Eat amazing food on site
Drink lots of fluids
(I drove the ute again and got it less muddy than the day before)
Go back to hotel to shower and RnR
Go eat lovely food at another local restaurant

Day 5
Come downstairs prepared with all of your luggage- one pack for an over night adventure in the village the other packed for the next stage of the adventure (RAW staff too)
Work on site really hard so you can finish what you started
Pack up all tools a bit early
Divide kids into groups (via the sponsors) and give each group $3 to purchase food for supper and breakfast for themselves and the family they will be staying the night with
Head to the market, make fast purchases to beat the sunset, watch the kids figure out how to buy food and communicate
Get back to the village houses, send kids to their home for the night with a mat, mozzie (mosquito) net, towel and sarong for girls to shower with
Help monitor setting up and cooking of food (although mainly the house moms just take the food and cook giving the kids simple tasks to do ;) as well as the mozzie nets
Watch the kids learn how to express themselves in Khmer without knowing words
Watch the kids play in the dirt path with the local kids as it rains and turns into a muddy slip 'n' slide
Finally sit back and relax as everyone is settled in for the night (this is my favorite night)

Day 6
Load up all the campout gear into vans and gather the kids to head out
Stop at Browns coffee shop to appease the adults and their sore sleep deprived bodies ;)
Drive 6 hrs up to KratiĆ© with a pit stop to eat our baguette sandwiches from Phnom Penh
Settle in to hotel
Walk to another yummy restaurant around the corner from hotel

Day 7
Hunt for good coffee that isn't the thick Khmer coffee
Go to Koki village and help two local families who were displaced by the government create a garden (it took our kids a day and a half to do where as it would have taken the local family over a month to set up) These families are on the edge of existence. They are quite far from resources and don't have any real source of income. Out of all the work we do this is my favorite village
Sludge and work in mud
Drink heaps of water
Eat lunch on site (that I got to help cook in giant pots)
Half the group went back early to take the Tour de Brett around KratiƩ
Eat supper at yet another incredible place

Day 8
Discover good coffee
Go to Koki
Drink heaps of fluids
Sludge through even more mud
Take breaks in shade
Eat lunch on site
Dedicate the two gardens to God and pray for his blessing on the families
Head with second group on Tour de Brett. Get to see the three different housing types in a village
Feel like a celebrity in a parade as kids run out to the street to high five you as you peddle past
Eat supper at the same place as the first night, enjoy the food just as much
Fall into bed thinking you are too old for this summer camp life

Day 9 
Say goodbye to RAW project staff as they head back to Phnom Penh
Journey onward to Siem Reap with the team leader, the other logistics leader and a tired body ready to sit for several hours in an van with air con (that's ac to us Americans, the only nickname we use that's actually shorter than the Aussies)
Stop at lovely place in route for lunch along side a river with water lilies
Arrive in touristy Siem Reap
Hand out $20 to each person for supper that day and lunch the next day
Eat supper at different restaurants (if it rains and outside order a yummy hot chocolate and imagine it's fall)

Day 10 
Get up before the butt crack of dawn
Head to Angkor Wat for a magical sunrise
Wander around the temple as the sun makes its declaration for the day
Go back to hotel for breakfast and coffee
Go out to the head temple and tree temple . . . correctly known as Bayon and Ta Prohm
Soak in the beauty that man has made and imerse in the power that God has and can place trees where ever He wants
Deposit kids and sponsors at hotel for afternoon of free exploration in the many cheap markets and stores that Siem Reap hosts
Find a lovely place to get a pedicure
Wander through the many markets
Debrief the trip with the group in a beautiful circle meeting
Get impacted by wise words of year 10 kids
Get reminded that it was all worth it to have helped changed the life of the group
Eat our last group meal together, have last great conversations with kids and soak up the camaraderie

Day 11
Find good coffee or a hot chocolate and a fresh pumpkin muffin that is AMAZING
Eat late breakfast at hotel
Go with other RAW staff donate blood (unless the hemoglobin is to low . . . )
Gather the kids and sponsors to load up the tuk tuks for one last time as they are sent off to the airport with all their last minute purchases of faux-okleys and faux-nikes, etc.
Find coffee shop to sit at with amazing RAW teammates to decompress, debrief and watch the world go by on the sidewalk for HOURS
Wander around the markets
Meet up with other RAW staff for a brick pizza oven supper
Get the most amazing coconut oil massage of a lifetime
Grab rucksack (backpack in American) and load up in the overnight bus bound for Phnom Penh

Day 12
Arrive bleary eyed at 5 am in Phnom Penh ready for a few days off to sleep, sleep some more and wash clothes