Thursday, June 10, 2010

Changes and Chances

Things have been moving too fast to even explain. I feel like I’m constantly playing catch-up.

But I’ll try my hardest to remember everything as Katy Perry sings about Vegas in my ear (that’s for you Katie Acheson)

We left off in Phnom Pen. The city of…dirty streets… filthy water… the poorest people in the world… you know the quality things in life. And at first, this is all I believed Phnom Pen to be. And we were to spend 5 days there…

But after learning about the landmines that are ruining the country side for farmers, The Killing Fields that were basically the Holocaust for this country, Aziza’s Place that is using art to heal and grow (Katie, I found you a place to work when you come live here), meeting SOMALY MAM one of the most incredible women in the UNIVERSE and meeting the women who she is rescuing, understanding how HAGAR is reaching out and accepting the hardest of human conditions… I think Phnom Pen isn’t so bad.

We also got to visit the waste pickers of the dumps in Phnom Pen and went to CSARO which is providing health care and schooling for the children of these sites. And they are children. We’re talking 3 to 12 year olds who pick through trash trying to find recyclables for their families to earn about 50 cents per child. They usually don’t have that many clothes on or shoes. We saw many examples of that in the children at CSARO, kids with white scars all over their brown little frail bodies. Many of them were sleepy because they were so malnourished. Unfortunately, they are a source of income and after our time with them, they shortly returned to the dump.

By far one of the greatest people we met was Sue with HAGAR. She opened our eyes to the extremely marginalized in Cambodia including those who are mentally disabled and Vietnamese. HAGAR is also more concerned with healing a person entirely from their trauma and getting them back on their feet. But they will also take as long as possible. They are by far one of the most thorough NGO’s we’ve been to. The best part was not only the food the restaurant produces but also when Sue explained Popeye moments to us. When Popeye sees Olive Oyl facing injustice he says “That’s it. I just can’t takes it no more,” pops open a can of spinach and kicks ass. As she left she reminded us, “Keep your eye out for Popeye, you never know where he’s gonna be.”

God’s heart is in Cambodia. God is in the Buddhist Temple, He’s in the scars and wounds on children, He’s in the dirty streets filled with durian and feces, He’s in the hotel rooms where women lose a little bit of themselves every night. More than anything He’s in the smiles of the broken hearted, He’s in the homes filled with love, He’s in the children who run naked into the water, He’s in Aziza’s Place and HAGAR and CSARO and Somaly Mam’s home. And I feel Him now, as I sit here waiting for time to bring me back to comfort and my normal life. With my nose plugged and suitcase packed, He keeps breaking my heart for the people who He loves.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Now Let's Review...

Elephant in Chiang Mai

So I now realized that I jumped from Pattaya to Chiang Saen. So much happened in between then! So I'm going to give a brief update from Chiang Rai to my current location of Siem Reap.

Chiang Rai

When we first arrived in Chiang Rai, the group did what we do best and that was eat. We got to try cow soy (not how you spell it but this is the way it sounds sooooo…). It was delicious! We learned about Doi Chang coffee which is grown in the old opium fields of the Doi Chang tribe (Elephant Mountain). The next day we went out to the SOLD Project Resource Center that is now the FREEDOM Project Center. After working with this Thai village outside of Chiang Rai, they realized that the children not only needed an education but they needed an environment that would promote the education they were getting. They need 7000 more dollars to finish the center, like putting walls on the bottom floor and computers for the kids to learn on.

We then went to the village to spend the night with our homestays. Courtney and I had the pleasure of staying with Cat, the first sponsored child of the SOLD Project. She was adorable. Living with her sister, brother-in-law and nephew, Cat is extremely studious refusing to even go out and play before she finished her homework.

Probably some of the most enjoyable parts of the homestay were the hospitality. They let us eat their awesome food, with our hands mind you. Cat even made herself late to school because we slept in. It was a bit of confusion because we were told they would wake us up so we were waiting for them. But they never came. Either way we walked her to school even when she wanted to take us to the resource center.

That afternoon we laid the concrete of the resource center for the whole ground floor even though the locals thought we wouldn’t be able to finish it in one day. It was a great accomplishment.

I then spent far too much money at the night bazaar in town but it was totally worth it for the bargains and sweet gifts I got.

Bug bites I got. We're guessing it was a poisonous spider. It made my ankles into kankles :(

Chiang Saen

Much of our Chiang Saen visit was explained in my earlier posts. But it should be said that the situation at the Golden Triangle (borders of Laos, Thailand and Bhurma) is devastating and there needs to be action on governmental and human rights levels.

It’s hard to write about the full day we spent with the children of Chiang Saen. My heart breaks for those on the streets, stuck seemingly between a rock and a hard place. But I have hope for people like Kru Nam, JK and NGO’s like Volunteers for Child Development Foundation (VCDF). They bring so much light to the darkest corners of these children’s lives. They care so much. They are truly inspiring.

Children at the Bhurma Thai border
Heidi and this handsome fellow
Chiang Mai

By far the most fun filled day starting with the Sung Tao ride from hell. Our driver didn’t understand what the break was. But the ride was worth it when at the end were elephants. Literally trembling with joy I had to hold back tears. I know it sounds weird but I never imagined myself to be in Thailand riding an elephant when I was younger. I never thought I’d be traveling considering I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to leave Portland. It was an amazing place to just stop and thank God for the opportunities and gifts He’s given me, not only through this trip but in my education, friends and family. And He definitely blesses me through elephant rides, rafting and bamboo rafts. Thank you Jesus!

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Here we visited the Angkor Tom which is where all the temples in Angkor are located. Yes, I went to Angkor Wat, one of the 7 manmade world wonders. I also went to the Jungle Temples where I got to take a picture that looks just like the one on my blog!

Although we had an incredible tour guide and his knowledge of the temples was fascinating and just plain cool, it was also 115 degrees outside and we all were having a hard time focusing. It was still worthwhile and very cool.

Today we went to the Landmine Museum and learned about all the landmines not only in Cambodia but also in Thailand and Vietnam. It’s devastating how often people are not killed but just destroyed by the landmines.

Unfortunately it’s midnight and I’m having a hard time staying up! But I love everyone. Thank you for reading.

If everyone could be praying for the group when it comes to illnesses I’d be grateful. The whole group is suffering from an assortment of sickness, including my roomie Kelly. So please keep us in your prayers!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I heart Thailand.

His hands are sticky in mine. Every once in a while he’ll squeeze it and point at something.Or just squeeze it because he can. We shift in sync of the tractor, crawling down the Thai freeway, slowly passing people on their bikes. His toothy smile is broken and stained, from what I’m not sure. Probably something to do with the fact that he’s from some Hilltribe, or maybe Bhurma, or maybe Laos. He isn’t a person to the Thai government. They don’t recognize him or his brothers as people. All of the children in VCDF’s orphanage aren’t considered people. They don’t recognize their hands as real, they don’t recognize their smiles, laughter or tiny toes as real.

One of the boys here could barely walk when he first arrived at the orphanage. Now he runs at any chance.

How they all got here varies. They may have asked to come, shown that they want to study, or worst case scenario they were taken from the streets due to abuse, whether it be sexual or physical. Many of their parents, if they are still around, are drug addicts and demand their children to beg for the money to fund their various addictions. So VCDF provides work and rehabilitation for parents that want to change and have better futures for their children.

We visited the Bhurma and Thai border. The children scream from the other side of the fence as we hand out food. They proceed to jump over and sprint at each of us. Immediately we are embraced, we are clung to. These children yearn for touch and don't hesitate to hold our hands to hold us as if we are their shelter. Hillary, Rachel, Kevin and Heidi buy all the children shoes because their feet are cut up. One girl we encounter doesn't have underwear. Her shirt is filthy. So Sarah buys her a new outfit. This girl's mother has been sexually abused and is addicted to the home made version of speed and caffeine pills. She leaves with us for the children's home.

These children amaze me. On this whole trip I've felt numb by my surroundings, unable to engage and cry and laugh like I feel I should. And this all changes with the children's home. They run to the car screaming and laughing before we even open the doors. They climb all over us. They laugh so loud and play tricks and make you feel like a freaking million bucks. There are scars all over their arms and faces. There teeth are proof of their poverty. And yet they laugh.

They've changed my life. I leave Thailand in less than an hour but this isn't the last time I'll be here. These children deserve to be acknowledged. They deserve to be protected and more than anything they deserve the love that Christ has for them. Nothing can change that in my mind.

I ride elephants. I got to pet a tiger. These are things that have brought me incredible joy. To the point that I was trembling when I saw an elephant. But I got to hold a child who needed it. I got to give them all my attention. And that's how I'll remember Thailand.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pattaya, Sweet Pattaya

Yes, I know.

Things Pattaya has taught me:
- Banana milkshakes are incredible
- Things aren't always as they seem
- Even in the darkest places there is hope
- People in Pattaya are the NICEST PEOPLE IN THE WORLD, even nicer than Minnesotans (sorry Susie and Amy)
- 7-11 is by far one of the greatest ideas ever

It's this kid again
So first things first, banana milkshakes.
On the left, behold the banana milkshake. On the right, the incredible butterfly. Sarah Chhummy in the background.

They are incredible. It's my staple down here next to the Tom Kah Gai.

At Big Buddha. We bought finches that were supposed to be released for good luck, Jasmine used them to symbolize the coming freedom for all.
Things aren't always as they seem
Not all women are trafficked into prostitution. Some girls really like being prostitutes. Some people (this includes men and women) become addicted to the attention and money. The sex industry has very little to do with sex and more with an economy, power and loneliness. Just because men come here doesn't mean we should judge them, they have their own reasons for the lives they live. Also not every white man holding a Thai woman's hand bought her. A lot of the people here actually marry the women and either vacation in Pattaya or live there together. Prostitutes are some of the nicest women around.
Outside a bar on Walking Street
Even in the darkest places there is hope
Two nights ago we walked down Walking Street and it was one of the darkest times we've had as a group. Because of the curfew (oh btw, there's a national curfew in 23 provinces) bars are either completely closed for the night or pretty empty. It just seemed like the loneliness and emptiness was amplified. One of the girls was nearly violated when a man said obscenities to her and tried to grab her crotch. As we rode our sung tao her words stuck with us all, "I have the right to get mad and I'm pissed right now. But all I can think about is all the girls who have to pretend they like that." As we returned to the hotel all the girls in the group congregated in Courtney and I's room to worship and read the Bible. But for many of us the words were hard to grasp between tears. It was the first time I had really cried on the trip. The hot tears moved down my cheeks and all I could think of was "Why did this have to happen Lord? Why does my heart have to feel this way?" But Jasmine's words echoed to me from the morning in that God is already here. He already conquered this earth and he's won the battle. He's protected me so far, why can't I trust His plan now? So I have to trust Him that He's teaching me how to make a difference. Earlier that day we had lunch on the beach where many homosexual prostitutes sleep because they are homeless. That's where we met Not. He was 18, had finished school and worked in construction. But because of problems at home with his step father, he ran away to Pattaya to try to get away from it all. Here he found friends, money and men who felt the same way he did. In a conversation with a few girls and I he stated that since he was four he loved men. He pointed to us and said "I will never love you." He then pointed to a man in our group and said, "He can love me anytime." They statement broke my heart because he didn't mean actually love him, he meant have sex with him and that is far from love. Our leader Ying, who you will read about in the next part, made a point to tell all the men how much Jesus loved them. For the first time I think I truly desired with all of my heart that they would understand what it really meant to be loved.
Yes, that's a child sleeping on a moped
People in Pattaya
Ying is the prime example of this. Not only was she an incredible translator, she taught us Thai, she got us front row for dinner and a cultural dance show, she is tremendously sassy in the best way possible and above all else truly takes God's word out to the streets and loves people with all her heart. But it isn't just Ying, everyone is nice! You can strike up a conversation with anyone and they will talk to you for as long as their broken English will get them. And then they'll use sign language. The prostitutes stop the white girls (obviously not me and my bronze skin) to tell them how beautiful their skin is, ask us where we are from and engage any questions we have. They wave excitedly at us when we smile and shout "Sawadee Kaaaaa!" They yell it back as loud as possible. When a girl's bra went missing from her room, the maid who came to help look for it joked that she would never steal it because it didn't fit her as she jostled her C cup boobs in her hands. Then she let out a loud laugh (comparable to mine) and said "I kid, I'm kidding, I joke"
View from a sung tao
I've narrowed down the facts of why this may be the greatest thing to hit Pattaya sine sliced bread (which is also very good here, and it's called brown bread).1. Everything is dirt cheap. Huge bottles of water for less than 50 cents. Koala filled chocolate treats for 5 baht which is like 6 cents. It's incredible.B. The cashiers are always nice too!Tres. The ice cream is DEEELICIOUS.Lastly, the place is air conditioned and as Hillary so wisely put it "When you step in that place it's like you suddenly need to buy everything."

So we leave Pattaya in 4 hours for Bangkok and then a flight to Chiang Rai, to experience a completely different Thailand. Not only is it north, but it isn't modernized and sex isn't slapping you in the face everywhere you walk. They have night markets that are dirt cheap and Thai massages that will melt your brain. It also is where we will meet the SOLD children, saved from a lifetime of sexual slavery. It should be incredible.But I can't help but miss Pattaya already. The city groans as the tide moves the furthest I've ever seen an ocean go. It yearns for the arms of someone who understands. The place flat out knows how to make you happy and enjoy yourself. Yet how to break your heart. How can I leave this place?Shoot this is only the first week. How can I leave Thailand?
P.S. I got tiny fish to eat the dead skin off my feet today. They are called Little Dermatologists. It was awful and awesome at the same time.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pattaya Pictures

A few pictures of Pattaya, they don't even begin to give it credit :)

My new favorite mode of transportation, sung taos!!!!

Chang water, our new best friend. Chang means elephant. Chang beer, not as good as the water.

Pad thai in an egg. Thai iced tea. It's all good.
Soy 6 during the day. Police in front of the Amsterdamaged bar.

Soy 6 again.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hope found

Soy 6. Next to Walking Street, this is one of the most popular bar spots.

Recalibrating hope. That’s what has stuck with me most these past days. We have to get a new idea of what hope looks like in a city like Pattaya. Pattaya. How you break my heart. But then I meet people like Pi Lye. She worked in a bar in Pattaya willingly for a year. She hated it. Her small hands wave around as her near silent voice tells of heartbreak, debt, abandonment, poverty. Her sons, because she left without wanting to tell them where or why, have developed deep trust issues and addictions to drugs. How does she feel about that? “She trusts that God will bring them in,” says our translator and new friend Ying. Ying feels despair, she talks about her disappointment. Yet her smile is hopeful and her words are kind. She knows that God must change things in this city. How does she feel about the political situation? It’s a blessing. Because people are traveling to Thailand, 10 major bars have closed in Pattaya. Things are shifting here.

Tonight we tried to walk down Soy Six, a street where nearly 60 bars are crammed into this tiny area. Signs have flashing lights and images of women stripping their shirts off, strap by strap. Yet we peer down the alley to see flashing red lights. The police are announcing things in an incoherent language, but the street in clearing. Once they near us they repeatedly state “Curfew now, get back to hotel.” We obey and hail down a sung tao to take our group of 9 back to the hotel. I can’t help but celebrate as I see men leaving the alley… without a Thai woman in tow.

We get word that Walking Street is closed for the night as well.

Things are shifting here.

But it’s bittersweet. While the women get to rest tonight I’m sure that they will still be charged bar fees and be collecting more debt. The rest makes them antsy knowing they won’t make very much money tonight. But at least they can rest, if only for a night.

I can taste hope. Meeting Ying and staying at Tamar Center for lunch you can taste hope. It’s cooked into their food as if it were a spice. The women consistently say how they now feel joy that they don’t work in bars anymore. One of the girls brings her children down for us to meet. She’s 18. They are precious.

Recalibrating hope means being thankful for flames engulfing a mall in Bangkok. It means praising God for humidity and rides on sung tao (my new favorite mode of transportation). It means holding babies and trying to not cringe at men who hold the hands of 14 year old girls, or at least not assume the worst. It means saying “Sawadee Kaaaaa” as loudly as I can to people on mopeds, buying roses from street vendors, and laughing at ridiculous dances. It means enjoying Thailand for the ways in which God is consistently showing me His glory, even in the most painful places.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Paint chips

The paint is chipping on the ceiling. It's only in one corner. My mom would point that out as being a flawed characteristic to this hotel. It just seems to be fitting.
The air conditioner is rattling to my relief, I wouldn't have it any other way at this point. Hopefully I'll get used to this heat.
I can still see Walking Street, clear as day, women in high heels, their hands intertwined with men three, four times their age. Or the image of a young boy wrapping his arms around the waist of one of our leaders. What is it like to have a school boy offer you sex? They keep waving cards in our faces, listing off the things offered in this massage parlor or bar. Some bars have women calling us from the street "Sawadee ka!" they shout. I just learned these words a few days ago. They mean "Hello." So why do I feel so dirty?
It's only the first day in Thailand. We took a 13 hour flight to Taipei, 2.5 hour lay over, 3 hour flight to Bangkok, 1 hour of waiting, finally a 2 hour bus ride to Pattaya. Guess what this town is known for? Sex tourism.
We settle into the hotel and decide to try and find Michelle a watch. Instead we encounter bars and massage parlors. We aren't even in the red light district. I thought the hotel my be a respite until I find the pool surrounded by old men in tired speedos, joined by their "girlfriends."
The only thing that gives my eyes a break is the Tiger beer and Tom Kah Gai in front of me. I don't even have to use my eyes for this. I can close them as the coconut milk infused with Thai peppers sears my tongue. It doesn't even hurt, it soothes. It soothes my hardened heart that won't let these images in. It erases the ideas of bondage and fear. It makes me forget for two seconds that girls are locked in rooms right now with strange men. Instead it just reminds me that there is something good in this world. And it reminds me of Stella Artois, with a Tiger beer cozy wrapped around it. This may be the first beer I really actually enjoy.
Gary Haugen says that they evil in this world shouldn't surprise us, that the Bible tells us how evil our world is. I've got to agree with him. So I try to observe Walking Street, to see it for what it is. I try to see women working as hard as they can to pay their pimps. I try to see men looking for an easy quench to their lust. But all I see is pain and flashing neon lights. There is no joy on Walking Street.
But that paint chipping on the ceiling... it reminds me of hidden joy. I want to peel it away. I want to see what is underneath. It reminds me of stories uncovered. So I'll probably be returning to Walking Street, to see what joy lies beneath caked on make up and six inch heels.