Today’s post comes to us from TCK Jonathan Macqueen, who lives (currently) in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This is his account of a service project he went on with kids from his youth group shortly after he arrived there (originally published on his family’s blog). He is a wonderful storyteller, so sit back and enjoy this tale from Takeo…
It all began when I went to the ICF youth group. Christina, the youth leader, had this idea to go with some local Khmers into the provinces to preach to the Khmer kids. A week before we set off Mark (a guy in my class who had quite a lot of influence in the project) left on furlough to see his new nephew. However we carried on and soon we met up at HOPE school and got on the big orange “Cellcard” bus.
The people who went are called: Tennyson, Caleb, Jerome (now since gone back to NZ to start uni) Zoe, Samantha, Chukk, Jesse (boy) and a buncha Khmers whose names I really can’t remember. Oh and don’t forget my amazing youth leader Christina. Also on this trip was an Italian called Jeremy who was working with an Italian NGO and had provided a new primary class building to the kampong that we were visiting.
We set off. The going was good, and soon we must of hit 40-50kmh as we got out of Phnom Penh. Now for you to understand the following dilemma you need to understand a few things. Only days before Cambodia had some of the worst floods it has had in years. 5 inches of rain in a matter of hours! This meant that the lower parts of HOPE were flooded and pretty much the whole of Toul Tom Pong (the Russian market area, where we live) was submerged, so much so that tuk-tuks were getting stranded and any Honda Daelims or any other motorbike under 110CC’s was stopped dead in its tracks should they plough into the muddy brown murk. Cambodia, being very much 3rd world in every way and being one of the poorest countries in Asia sat back and waited. The bridges were severely damaged, and vast areas of paddy field became inland lakes. So it won’t surprise you to know that after about 40mins we stopped dead in our tracks. The bus was too big for the bridge.
We had been paired up with the Khmer university students during these first 40mins and just as I was learning how to say hello in Khmer “Soo-a Sa-die” we stopped. We sat there for a while, ate some roadside fried banana and then broke out the guitar and a whole medley of songs. However, soon an alternative was needed, so the Khmers and a few staff set off piled onto 2 tuk-tuks – thus leaving us stranded by a roadside hut looking over a small lake eating some snacks and taking time to get each other’s phone numbers (unfortunately at this time of my life my phone charger had gone walkabouts so now everyone has my Mum’s phone number…). Soon a mini bus had been summoned for us and with a delay of just about over an hour we piled in (all 15 or so of us) the minibus. This meant that I was squishied against the window with Tenno on my left and Zoe and Sam further on. Now if you have never seen Tennyson then you should know that he is the stereotypical Aussie build, 6ft 1 and quite broad. Fortunately I squish quite well and all was fine. We sped along doing 80-90kmh for ooh, maybe half an hour, until we got stuck AGAIN.
This time, however, was more serious. Stuck in a bus with no aircon is not pleasant and with the absence of a breeze we were soon sweltering. We were caught in a massive jam. The bridge ahead of us was being strengthened before the floods and hadn’t been fixed and operational before the tidal wave of rain water completely swamped it. The original bridge had been utterly destroyed and now a raging river separated us from the other side. For another two hours we waited in that bus. However our spirits were still high. Although we knew that the before lunch programme had been absolutely blown out of question, we came up with the novel idea to combine both programmes and cut out some bits whilst keeping our secret weapons – the skits.
At around 11am-12pm (having started at 7 in the morning) we got moving again. We went down a little dirt track following the course of the river and waiting until we got lower downstream to cross the river. It was very stop-start with vehicles trying to squeeze past each other on what was meant to be a one way road.
Then as we got out for a leg stretch, my toe decided to get itself cut on the sharp underside of the chair in front of me. Fortunately nurse Zoe was very enthusiastic to use the first-aid kit and my toe was mummified shortly afterwards.
After about an hour the traffic eased and we were bowling along. By about 1 we had reached the lunch stop and settled down for a game of cards whilst waiting for our beef loc-lac to arrive. The following event was most strange but the long and short of it was: A man, probably drunk or something, came up to our table, took off Caleb’s glasses, asked for the cards and then didn’t let go. Fellow customers soon tried to retrieve the cards by force and broke a chair. The man took off never to be seen again… Fortunately the cards weren’t expensive but it was a very peculiar event.
We took shelter in one of the classrooms and whipped out face masks. We did a skit on the prodigal son and a skit about the lost sheep. We also sung the duck song “Five little ducks went out to play over the hill and far away, mummy duck said ‘quack quack quack’ but only 4 little ducks came back” After this we sang some khmer songs with actions and sang the English versions as well. After that we played a game to get them all into groups and split up to do hands-on activities. First my group drew around their hand and stuck cotton wool onto it to make a sheep. Then we played a game where a sweet is passed around a circle secretly and the middle child (who is blindfolded) has to guess where the sweet is. If they are correct they get a sweet. This was my favourite activity with the kids as the usage of khmer was limited and a smile and pointing could do just about the same as talking.
A bit worn by now we sang the song “deep deep down” in Khmer and English once more and then created a tunnel of arms which the kids went out of to get a choco pie cake thing. Buoyed by our success we got back on the mini bus and the Khmers set off on the tuk-tuks. The speed of the tuk-tuks was somewhat let down when the Khmers, who had a 20min head start, were caught up within about 5mins.
Going back, we got to the place where the bridge had broken and we were diverted and took a very wiggly windy road through Cambodian countryside to get back to the bus. From there it was a long slow journey back into Phnom Penh gridlock. Finally around 7ish in the evening we got back to Christina’s place and Jeremy made Italian spaghetti which was most appreciated. Whilst waiting for food we came to the decision that the only thing that we could watch was “The Wiggles” and as we came to the song “lil Dingo” Caleb (who had gone into a state of suspended animation) came back to life, singing to his heart’s content. The Wiggles had revived him.
All in all it was a great trip that really got me planted in the youth group and introduced me to Cambodia, mission accomplished!