Christmas in Cambodia
by Julie

As I scratch away yesterday's flakes from my red nose, five new mosquito bites emerge on my left hand. ' What could possibly be so appetizing about my dry fingers?', I half-consciously think as I roll out of bed and give Nigel a good nudge. 'It's Christmas morning! Can you believe where we are!?'. Where we are is half way around the world in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

Today I have a mission and there is no time to poke around. I'm determined to place a call home at 9:00 am, the time that I will call Mom and she will call back with her much cheaper calling card. So I drag my very sleepy husband out of bed (who went to bed at 3 am, typical, his most creative hour) and we hustle downstairs to our 250 cc Honda dirtbike. After three break downs yesterday, we don't have much hope for this bike. And today is no different than yesterday -- it may be Christmas but our motorbike isn't doing us any favors -- It won't budge.

I am determined to place that call, my only connection to Christmas. So we begin the two mile walk to the international calling office. It's an hour later, 9:30 a.m. I place the call. We wait. We get cut off twice. And then we have fifteen fuzzy minutes of conversation. It's done. I feel some what contented.

The second task of the day is to fix the dirtbike. The local mechanic motions us both on the back of his scrawny 100 cc moped to ride the two miles across town to our bike. The three of us sit in a snug embrace and shout over the engine while scooting down the pothole-ridden roads of Sihanoukville. The blazing sun burns my forehead as we fly past two monks in orange robes with black umbrellas used to absorb the sun. Giggles and screams of kids in the school yard trickle down the street.

It appears to be an average working, school day in Cambodia. We arrived here expecting to find a church, go to mass and feel like it is Christmas Day but it seems there is nothing of the sort here in Sihanoukville. So we decide on a day at a different kind of sanctuary, the beach. From our shady hut on the Gulf of Thailand, young girls pass by with baskets of fruit balanced on their heads offering up "mangos? pineapples? you buy from me?". In the distance, an ice cream truck plays calypso music as a little naked boy wobbles by with his bare buns. The water is calm and green and transparent bulbs of jellyfish the size of grapes wash up with the waves. One of the young girls selling fruit stops to chat with us and I ask why she's not in school. She explains that school costs $5 per month. A foreigner paid for her last three month's tuition but now she is back on the beach selling fruit. Nigel repositions himself in the sun, attempting to balance out a funny looking farmer's tan. The open sea lies ahead and a Khmer style hotel lies behind with awnings resembling the horns of an ox.

The big ball we call life pulsates in the sky. It begins to fall behind the line that marks ocean from sky -- the end of the Earth and the start of something mysterious. That same sun is now rising over my family on Christmas morning. I think of them waking with all the anticipation of Christmas morning. As the evening sky lights up with pinks and oranges, I become conscious of the spirit of Christmas inside of me. I'm reminded of my husband, my family, my health and my privileged life. I take a deep breath and gaze at the remaining sliver of light. My legs and arms ease. My worries evaporate. My heart swells with gratitude.

~ Julie



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