“Oops” in Cambodia

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By Carol Van Klompenburg

We bounce over a progressively muddier Cambodian road on a trip for North Americans, hosted and planned by World Renew. The puddles widen and deepen. As we make a left turn, a dump truck blocks the road ahead, up to its lug nuts in sienna mud. It grinds in first gear, unable to move forward. It tries reverse, and slides toward a stick fence. Oh, no! I think. It is going to topple the fence.

Its backward movement stops. Oops, I’m wrong. After a few moments, the front of the truck bed rises, the back gate opens, and a flood of grey rocks pours out. It had to lighten its load. Now our path is blocked by a six-foot pile of sharp-edged rock. We can’t go further.

Sovann, our Cambodian host and driver, parks our 1995 SUV, and leads us–his three North American guests–around the pile on foot. Oops.

Villagers–men women, and children–surround the pile. They smile, chat, load rocks in baskets, and carry them to the mud puddles. They have accepted this unplanned hardship, I think. And they are taking advantage of an unplanned windfall to improve their road. It will take them days to move the whole pile!

v klomp 2A half-mile down the road, we stop at a wooden house with a large aluminum overhang. A half-dozen people are seated on plastic chairs that have populated the two-thirds world wherever I have traveled. The gathered group tells us about the village Savings Group, which allows them to start micro-businesses like the silk spinning that is done at this house. At one side of the overhang is an Asian bed platform, topped with a bamboo mat and a spinning machine and a bicycle rim. The spinner demonstrates: she spins rough silk strands through her fingers, converting them into fine silk thread which accumulates on a cardboard spool. She will sell these spools to help feed her family.

The visit finished, we make a right turn and walk toward another home. Halfway there, I startle as in the middle of tropical greenery, a loudspeaker blares music. I look backwards at the motorcycle that just met us. The music must be coming from the cycle.

Sovann tells us the loudspeaker is in the tree. Oops. It is the village form of internet, he says, asking for contributions for a collective need. “It may bother you, but for the villagers the loud music produces joy.”

v klomp 3In the second home a woman weaves silk fabric on a wooden loom, skillfully scooting a shuttle from one side of the fabric to the other to weave in each additional thread. There are many weavers in the village, she tells us.

Sovann talks with her a bit more in Khmer, the Cambodian language that sounds to me as if it is all vowels, although he has told us it has 28 consonants in addition to its 33 vowels.

As we retrace our steps, Sovann tells us that the pile of dumped rock was ordered by the villagers and paid for with Savings Group funds. Every two years the villagers need to repair the road, since the Cambodian government does not. Oops.

When we turn left at the corner I look ahead. The entire rock pile has already been moved into the puddles and low spots. The villagers, who completed the job in just a few hours, are chatting alongside the road. Oops.

We climb into the SUV, and I remember some advice in the materials World Renew provided to us before this learning trip, a Chinese proverb: To know and not to act is not to know. But, quoting C.S. Lewis, World Renew cautioned against leaping into action too fast. As the village disappears in the rear window, I caution myself against another leap: leaping to conclusions.

Perhaps one form of being still and knowing that God is God is to be still and pay attention to other cultures. In that stillness might lie power, the power of surrender. Surrender to not knowing. Surrender to the God in whom I live and move and have my being. And surrender to the One in whom other cultures do the same.

Carol Van Klompenburg is a writer and the owner of the Write Place, Inc. (www.thewriteplace.biz). She enjoys the stretching and growth that often accompany cross-cultural experiences.

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