Friday, May 15, 2020

Why did it feel like the world turned upside down?

It felt like the world had turned upside down, and yet at the same time stayed the same.

For the May Linkup on A Chronic Voice  I'm attempting to describe my experience of being an Australian in Cambodia during Covid-19. Part of the experience was scrolling Facebook and incongruously laughing at all the memes, so I've included some here.
Prompts for this month: foreseeing, upbringing, accessing, panicking, soothing. Sorry, they're a bit hidden this month. 


That was the sound of five heavy, rough stones falling into a small, thin, plastic bag in quick succession. It could really only fit two rocks, so the bag was painfully stretched. The weight and shape of the rocks was uncomfortable.  And the speed at which they were dropped in, almost all at the same time also caused distress.

It had already been sneaking into our lives, but in the third week of March 2020 the new virus really made its impact. We had been aware of it, but we didn’t foresee it turning our world upside down.

Only 1 confirmed case in Cambodia for the longest time, but in March they began to rise.  Schools in town were shut down in the first week of March, and the COVID-19 outbreak declared a pandemic. 

In hindsight I see these as heralding the changes to come. That Sunday, 15th in church Soeun explained hand washing and distancing. It turned out to be the last Sunday church service to date.

I felt like that thin, small, plastic bag the week beginning 16th March. By the next Monday I was so tense, anxious and confused, not even sure why it felt like everything was different. Because it also felt like everything was the same. 

So what was going on that week?  My husband being extra busy in new ways; his role as Christian leader morphed from teacher to a million other roles. Humid weather arrived, its stickiness slowing my brain and body down. People all over the world panicking, things in China seemed to be easing while in many other countries things sped up. While also slowing down. 

Into this busy, humid panicky backdrop fell those five stones, landing one after the other. 
Thud- thud- thud- thud- thud. Without enough time between them to see what they were.  All I knew is they were heavy and uncomfortable. It wasn’t until later that I was able to pull them all out and have a look at each one. Somehow it was soothing to examine each one.

1. Uneasy about accessing medical care in this country.

Confronted with a friend’s hospital experience reminded us health care in Cambodia was not pandemic ready.  When a fractured bone is left untreated, and yet still sends people into debt, you don’t like to think what would happen if many people were sick at the same time.

2. Undone?

Like a newborn baby our church community was only just starting to form. After about half a year of intentional bonding with church members and the leadership team suddenly religious meetings were banned. Making the abrupt change with a brand new group wasn’t exactly plain sailing. We are happy to stay apart to prevent the virus spreading faster and thankful for online connections, but wondering what all the newly formed relationships will be like when the dust settles.

3. Unexpected.

Air travel changed quickly, flights cancelled, extra travel restrictions and bans came into effect and borders threatening to close. The Australian government urged Aussies to get back while they still could, especially if they were in countries with questionable healthcare.  

I had not even considered this option before and suddenly I had to decide immediately. 

Amidst the humidity I tried to weigh up the dangers of travel verses the danger of getting stuck in South East Asia during a worldwide health crisis. I would have to start packing for the kids and I right away, if I was to get out before it all shut down. What kind of upbringing did we want to give them? If we left,  when would we get back to Soeun and our house where they are used to playing and learning?  

I saw the government message on Wednesday 17th, by the 19th two Aussie families I know had announced they were leaving. By the weekend they were on the plane. One, traumatically actually had to pack up her whole life in a day as they had to leave permanently.   

4. Economic uncertainty.

The sharp decline in tourism was being felt by a town full of people already just getting by. That was only a blurry background for me until seeing the desperation of a family known to us.  Suddenly, in that third week of March it was brought into sharp focus.  I felt like we were living in a town of hospitality workers who had not earned enough for a few months, and the months ahead looked like things would get even worse.

5. Unprecedented.

Like a giant game of musical chairs everyone suddenly jumped up and started racing around the world, hoping to end up in the right place before the music stopped. I saw (via Facebook) fellow expats around the world making a quick exit from their host countries. Often without goodbyes, and not knowing when they would be back. Some knowing they wouldn't be back.

While others who were meant to make an international move stayed put.  Also via Facebook I saw friends who were about to move overseas, or about to move back to their passport country having to cancel the long planned for transition. 

And still others got caught in a third country where they neither lived, nor were from. 


After I had looked at each "rock", and had time to get used to it all I felt much better. Uneasy, undone, unexpected, uncertainty, unprecedented. No wonder I felt overwhelmed and exhausted!

Although my daily life was almost identical to pre March 16th, the changes in our street, town and the world were filling the windscreen. 

I noticed on the Linkup Sheryl mentioned this is Mental Health month in America.

"It can be easy to get caught up in your emotions as you’re feeling them. Most people don’t think about what emotions they are dealing with, but taking the time to really identify what you’re feeling can help you to better cope with challenging situations."

For more about this see Owning your Feelings. 

Photo credit: Unsplash Fateme Alaie

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Staying at home with celebrations, storms and sickness. April 2020

Happily Easter was much more noticeable his year, it normally gets swallowed up by Khmer New Year as they often fall close together in mid April. We often don't have any special Easter thing at church, or sometimes we don't even have church if most people are away. And going out anywhere, such as church, is hot and chaotic, not very pleasant.

Palm Sunday

Thanks to Covid-19 the KNY public holidays and travel were cancelled, so the 4 of us were at home together for all of April. No travel, no relatives staying, no church. So great, I wish we could do it that way every year. Well, you know, apart from the unprecedented uncertainty playing in the background.

We spent the lead up to Easter reading out bits of Matthew, and then in the days before Good Friday reading some of Mark. And because Australians were also at home, we got to enjoy some extra things as everyone took their ministry online. Colin Buchanan started doing Facebook live concerts at home, Quiz Worx put some talks up with activities sheets and extra things. So great! We also watched the weekly Sunday school lessons from a church in America called Saddleback, just randomly found on Youtube. The first one we watched is here, in the lead up to Easter, then it became our weekly thing.

We had a Khmer zoom Sunday morning meeting, and there was also an English language church meeting by zoom in the evening, but we had a huge storm as mentioned here and power cut so couldn't join.

The next day was the first day of Khmer New year, and people welcomed the New Year angel around 8pm that night. It was so noisy and smoky! I think they usually visit relatives out of town to do it, I hadn't realised but I think it was the first time the kids saw and heard what I described back here- photos from 2009 but the post is mainly about 2007. 

The rain started the Thursday before Good Friday, and since then it has been stormy/low pressure so Soeun has been unwell since then. The cooler change meant I was feeling a bit more energetic though, after the humid weeks of late March and early April, so I started adding a bit of school work into the day. We don't really do much homeschooling in the hottest part of the year.

As far as hot season go, it wasn't so bad. In fact according the to BCI it was easier than normal. We only had a few short power cuts, and the pump only stopped a few times, probably due to lower water level underground. It was also much calmer than March, which I'm still getting my head around. And the stress that caused the blog black hole of Nov19-March 2020 took a back seat, so despite the humidity it was actually a pleasant month. The kids spent a lot of time drawing and playing together, I tried to take a photo of some of their creations and activities but I couldn't keep up!

Still reeling from my own March 2020 experience (hope to write about it here soon), I was reading stories like these: Aussies who stayed and Aussies who left.

At the start of the month we had just been through what felt like some quick, scary changes and were bracing for a disaster. On the final day of April I went to buy fruit and veggies at our local market as usual and felt like people in our village are more relaxed about it now. In Feb I was the barefaced white person at the market while most others were masked, but now on the other side of March, I'm still wearing a mask but less Khmer are.

The last time the kids left the house/yard was 8th March, 8 weeks ago! We have the space set up for our homeschool life, with a big yard and they are used to playing at home together, so its been mostly quite nice. Things are beginning to open up a bit now it seemed, although it doesn't feel like things will just spring back to normal in weeks. Maybe never? Siem Reap economy is missing the international tourists.

The kids just keep making things out of things they find around the house. Their ideas are like a tap that won't turn off, we have an endless supply of boats and spaceships.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Thankfulness? {fmf}

It looks like a flower but is it? pc unsplash

Seeing people post on Facebook what they are thankful for during the pandemic recently reminded me of how I feel something unpleasant (maybe cynical?) when I think about being thankful.

How did I end up here? And didn't I already think through this and came up with a new perspective back here? 

And then scrolling further I found some posts on "toxic positivity", forcing happiness. Maybe that's what I had actually been doing? I was calling it "being thankful" but another perspective one could call it toxic positivity.  During a difficult season I would try to find things to be thankful for- there were plenty I could list. I had food, shelter, friends. The Bible tells us to be thankful, wasn't that what I was supposed to do?

But this week as I've been doing the Velvet Ashes retreat and I'm wondering if what I was missing was focusing on the eternal. So I did have all those good things I listed, but I also had a lot of pain, which I didn't really know how to notice at the time. And there is always going to be pain this side of the new creation, but one day all will be restored. Maybe if that had been the one big thing on my thankful list I would have a better relationship with giving thanks now?

A Five Minute Friday write on the word PERSPECTIVE.

Sick, Stateless and Starving. (January 2020 catch-up journal)

"This month feels like an impossible mountain to climb. It also feels like time travel, as if we are back in 2006."

I didn't post on this blog for a few months as I lost interest in reading and wrting, but now I'm feeling ok, I feel like catching up. So here is a bit of what I wrote to friends in early January: 

"Hi friends, hope you are staying cool and safe today, the news from Australia is awful!

This month feels like an impossible mountain to climb. It also feels like time travel, as if we are back in 2006.

If we don't hike up the mountain of our January to-do list it feels like we will be sick, stateless and starving.

Happily we have reconnected with 4 friends from 2006 who are helping us with this mountain.

......... life admin is going to consume more time, energy and money than usual this month. Feeling overwhelmed!"

Expat life admin means a trip to the capital city

Also that month on Facebook I posted a link to a news article about a new virus. During SARS in 2003 I lived in China so I was interested to read about this new corona virus. 

I started remembering all the crazy things that happened during that time, and all the hype around it. 

Friends evacuated back to the USA overnight, no time to say goodbye. 
I had a go bag packed AND was stocking up on food. Go or stay??? 
We were constantly checking the CDC and the WHO websites, as well as news sites and exchanging all the wild stories people were telling. Thankfully no Facebook back then or it would have felt even crazier.
Those 5 days in quarantine  when a friend was in hospital as a suspected SARS case. 

I decided that I wouldn't get caught up in all the hype this time around, it was fun last time, but I don't have spare time and energy now, with a family and sickness. Planned to try to stay informed but to try not to become too obsessed. 

If I wrote this at the time I probably would not have thought to include a bit about the 'Rona, but as I'm writing in April, after it turned the world upside down, it gets a mention.

Photo credit: unsplash

Time capsule 2019

Contents page of my 2019 family news posts on the blog

January- New!
New! New! New? New year?

February (and a bit of March) Full of firsts and fun.

Hot season (end of March and April)- when I write it I'll link it here. Only a year late? I have notes and photos somewhere.. I did also write this: Hot season, homeschool and holidays

EDIT UPDATE: here is hot season 2019, 2 years late...

May? I think I just enjoyed the cooler weather and finally cleaned the homeschool room after letting it go over hot season.

June- 4 surprises
as well as A sandwich of sickness stories

July- Healthcation

August- September- more health posts such as I was happy to find out again that my thyroid....


...and then November and December I just didn't feel like reading or writing at all- weird.

Returning, Riding out 'Rona and the great rescue

Remembering God's rescue with the help of grape flavoured re-hydration drink.


So since November I haven't felt like reading blogs or writing here either, weird. It was the thing I did for fun, and to handle the stress of sickness. But just recently starting to feel a bit better and started thinking about the monthly link up on A Chronic Voice. Maybe I'm returning to blogging?

Stressing while riding out 'Rona in the Reap

As an Australian living in Cambodia, I've seen a few fellow foreigners make a quick exit . As the virus situation changed overnight, less and less flights available and borders closing. We are staying put here in Siem Reap. Two big stressors with that are that we feel cut off from good medical care, normally nearby Thailand would be our option for a big emergency, and the other one is that the whole town lives off an industry (tourism) which has sharply decline over the last few months with no end in sight. When will tourists come back? December this year? Not till next year?  This blog explains the institution here: Move to Cambodia, Staying in Siem Reap...

Celebrating Jesus' resurrection

In the weeks leading up to Easter we read out loud from an English translation of the Hebrew scriptures about how God saved his people out of slavery. We also read from the book of Matthew and Mark, the final chapters about the events leading up to Jesus' death and resurrection, also about how God saved his people. Our kids really got into drawing while we read out loud.

It felt like the whole world turned upside down in March, but also like we are still at home with our kids as normal.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Long time no write.

So normally reading and writing is fun for me, but in November last year I stopped reading the blogs I normally read and stopped posting here, I don't think I wrote much in my journal around that time either. I'm just starting to think about all this again, feeling a bit better.

 Like others around the world the first week of March was pretty normal for us, but after that it felt like the world was being turned upside down.  Expat life in the time of a new virus- these blog links below tell some of our life over the last 5 weeks, some of it happening to us, other parts happening around us or impacting us in some way.

"For most though, the decision has already been made and you are where you are for the foreseeable future. For some, that decision was yours to make. But for plenty of others, that decision was made for you…whether by your sending agency or home church, by airline cancellations, or by your host or passport country’s government policies that have kept you put where you are. 
Some are happy with the decisions that have been made. Some though are understandably upset that they were never given the chance to make a decision at all. Some are satisfied with where they’ve ended up and others are disappointed. Some consider themselves “stuck” abroad while others consider themselves “stuck” at home. 
Some people feel like others are overreacting, while some people feel like others are underreacting. People are getting angry and disappointed with the “others” for “not getting it.” "