Ask a missionary: some answers

Back in January, I wrote a blog post called Ask a missionary. Basically, it was a series of different questions that someone could ask a missionary as ice-breakers. I did create a video answering this first set of questions, but it was a while ago and it’s somewhere buried on my facebook page. I am currently in the UK, but this is only temporary, so the answers are still valid.

Where do you live?

I live in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. I live quite far in the north of the city, in an area called Phnom Penh Thmei (New Phnom Penh).

Phnom Penh Thmei

How would you describe your neighbourhood / village/ city / area?

I live in a borey, or a gated community. Basically, it is a set of uniform houses and there are guards the man the entrance and exit, especially at night. The houses are typical phteah lveng, or town houses. There are mango trees lining the roads, shops and cafes in this borey and it is just lovely. (Except the smelly stream through the middle and the rats.)

Phnom Penh Thmei is great but a bit far from the rest of the city. Phnom Penh city centre is vibrant, exciting, often chaotic, but also filled with oases of calm. I love the city. I feel so privileged that I get to call it my home.

What is your favourite thing about your area?

I love the little borey I live in and the fact I know quite a few of the Cambodian shopkeepers and guards. I feel really settled there. However, I will be moving in January (when I will have to write this post again), but it’s only 10 minutes up the road. I think Phnom Penh Thmei has the perfect mix of modern amenities without feeling too Western. Also, there are fields if you just go for a ten minute motorcycle ride, and cows, horses and goats roam around the area.

What amenities or resources do you have close access to?

I live less than a kilometre away from Phsar Chhouk Meas, the local market. It’s a very Cambodian market, so very vibrant (read: a bit smelly) and great fun. I still haven’t got into the habit of going there alone.

Phsar Chhouk Meas after rain.

There is One-and-One supermarket, and above that is Jars of Clay. That’s about 5 minutes away by motorcycle, and I love those places. They cater for the foreigners, but it is the Khmer staff that make it so special. They are warm, friendly and have the typical Cambodian smile. I tend to tip the moto guards (sometimes quite well, by Cambodian standards, 50p by UK prices), so they treat me like a VIP each time, which is simultaneously embarrassing and heart-warming.

Then, I can’t fail to mention AEON Mall 2. It’s a 15 minute drive. (7.5 minutes if Vitou is driving and he’s particularly hungry.) In AEON Mall, there is a Starbucks, Brown Coffee (the Cambodian equivalent that does amazing hot chocolate and some of the best pastries ever), a supermarket, Japanese dollar stores, electronic shops, bubble tea shops, Carl’s Jr. Again, I love it because it feels familiar because it’s just a shopping centre, but it is also filled with Cambodians.

What problems are there in your area?

The roads are getting terrible around where I live. Just two years ago, they were pristine and smooth. Now they are smashed up, full of potholes and the typical “chessboard” cracks you get in Cambodia. (Someone told me it’s because they tend to be reinforced with bamboo and when they crack, you get the lines across it.) It’s because there is such a huge house building boom around the area. Therefore, truck upon truck upon truck pass down the road, and they weren’t designed for such heavy traffic. The roads were still built when there were just fields to the sides, not new boreys everywhere.

There are also power cuts and water shortages, but this year was not as bad as 2019.

What grieves you about the area where you live?

There is a lot of trash everywhere. In the borey, it is clean (because you pay $10 a month for the guards, the trash collection and the trees and roads to be maintained). However, just over the wall, there is a large plot of empty land, which often becomes a temporary landfill. For a lot of Cambodians, even the small fee for trash collection is too much and there is no other means to dispose of trash. Often, it gets burnt, which makes your whole house smell of acrid smoke for the day.

Of course, there is the poverty as well. There are signs of it, with some shacks and small houses. You also see the recycling collectors, who push carts all day, collecting cardboard, cans, and plastic bottles to sell. Occasionally, you see them rummaging through the stinking piles of rubbish too. Often, when eating food at the market, you will get beggars asking for some change. These are usually elderly people who are not able to work, as there is no state pension here.

Across wider Phnom Penh, poverty is easier to notice. There are beggars and street children, slums. Even tuk tuk drivers, who often try to dress in a smart or professional way, have shirts with holes and tears in them.

How should I pray for where you live?

Pray for justice and those in poverty. Pray for local Christians to share a living gospel that speaks into these situations. Praise God that Phnom Penh is such a vibrant city and filled with such wonderful Cambodians.

What is your house/accommodation like?

My home

I am fully aware the the house I am able to rent is amazing for Cambodian standards. It is large, fairly cheap, with large bright spaces to study and do work. I have enjoyed living there, but I will not miss the house. This is probably because houses like these are typical of Phnom Penh, so I could easily find another one like it. There are also holes in the ceiling, rats, and issues with water pressure.

What’s your favourite thing about your accommodation?

The front room is large, so we’ve been able to host a few parties and events, which has been great. Sadly, COVID-19 meant I couldn’t use it quite as regularly as I would like. Also, my study room is unnecessarily large and pretty comfortable. So, I’ve really loved that space.

What would you change about your accommodation?

Rats. Water pressure. Holes in the ceiling on the ground floor. Also, my bedroom gets very hot, even at night. However, I’m moving, and I’ve already invested in an air-conditioner for my next room!

What daily hassles or frustrations do you have with your accommodation?

Rats. Or just the general fight with nature (ants, cockroaches, bed bugs). I woke up the other day to a rather large cockroach crawling up my leg.

Who do you live with?

I live with a Cambodian family. Vitou; his wife, Srey Touch (or known as Sophy – said “soapy”); and their three children: two twin boys who are nearly 9 and a two year old girl. They are Christians, and this was long before I ever arrived on the scene.

What are they like?

They are delightful. Vitou and Srey Touch are very generous with me and patient, caring, kind. Srey Touch cooks delicious food. The boys are cheeky and funny, they tell me stories everyday and like just sitting with me drinking tea, or eating pancakes together. The little girl is so cute and so naughty. She is really delightful and calls me “Pu Toemash” (“Pu” is uncle). While I’ve been in the UK, she has apparently been asking where I am.

How do they bring you joy?

Just all the time and every day. Vitou and I have coffee together every morning, and often end the day with a cup of tea. Every time I go down to the kitchen in the morning (I’m usually one of the first), one of the twins will hear me and join me. He never asks for anything, but will always wait until I offer something – bread, yoghurt, milk. His brother, comes down and then sees that the other one is eating or drinking something. I tease him that he can’t have it, but he takes the same thing as his brother anyway and delights in eating it rebelliously.

They are all just so warm and friendly. I love going out to Pizza Company with them or treating the kids to a session at the play park in AEON mall, or just buying them an ice cream.

Every morning, I wave them off (the children go to their grandparents while the schools are still shut due to the pandemic). Often they will hug me goodbye for the day and then wave as they ride away.

Vitou and I will often have times of prayer together as well, which is always encouraging.

It’s just so lovely.

What relational problems are there between you and those you live with?

Adjusting to living with a family was a little difficult. Vitou worried I would find it hard, but this was only the case occasionally. There is a Khmer proverb: the dishes in the rack with knock together. Essentially, whenever you live in close proximity, there will be some knocks. But none of the dishes break.

The most difficult time was when the schools first closed and everyone apart from Vitou was home all the time. The biggest issue was the fact the boys just ate all my bread and drank all my milk. I had a few times where I couldn’t have breakfast as I didn’t anticipate the fridge being empty and didn’t have time to go to the shops before teaching online. We managed to get into a habit where they have to ask before they eat any of my food. I will always say yes (except when I’m teasing them), but it’s just helpful to know when I need to go to the shops and get some more.

How can you serve those you live with better?

Wash up and pick up my shoes.

How can I pray for those you live with?

More financial stability, especially due to the pandemic. Pray that the children become really confident in their knowledge of Jesus.

Who are your neighbours?

I don’t really know my neighbours, although I know people from my neighbourhood.

What are they like?

Quite friendly, as far as I know.

What type of relationships do you have with your neighbours?

Not a particularly good one, as in I don’t know them. I will be moving soon, so it’s a bit of a missed opportunity. I think Cambodians can be shy of foreigners (although very friendly when they don’t feel intimidated anymore).

How can you better serve your neighbours?

Know them!

How can I pray for your neighbours?

Protection against coronavirus (Cambodia has so far been very lucky) and its financial impact on the country.

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