Friday, December 31, 2010

Dos Abuelitas en Barceona!

Hola amigos!
Barcelona - the recap begins! I can't begin to talk about Barcelona without talking about Isabel, half of the Abuelitas (the little grandmothers), who graciously welcomed me into her home and into her life. My trip was made because of Isabel and her fantastic family, Muchos Gracias!

Isn't Isa lovely?

Barcelona is a city that likes to have a good time! Where Rome reveled in the the formality of tradition and history, Barcelona liked to try new things and take chances. It was no where more apparent than in the unique and eccentric architecture which spotted the city. Gaudi's magnum opus, the Sagrada Familia ("Holy Family") is a whimsical take on a Gothic cathedral which was begun in 1882, and still has a solid 25-30 years before it is completed.  It's breath-taking, and a little alarming - massive sculptures are molded into the outer facade of the building. But is is truly a work of creative genius. It is the work of a deeply religious and immeasurably gifted man.

they're still working on it...

this rendering of the Crucifixion welcomes you at the entrance

The inside of the Cathedral is just as magical as the outside. The ceiling is lighted and seems to soar into the heavens. A ultra unorthodox crucifix, which Jesus suspended under what looks like a canopy (representing the Father) and encircled by what look to be a vine of grapes (the Holy Spirit) adorns a non-traditional altar.

Be inspired!

Gaudi took inspiration from all kinds of things, including the natural world. He was fascinated by the geometric shapes created in nature. He designed a new kind of column for the Cathedral interior which reflected a more complex ribbing based upon the way crystals formed. Amazing! And he incorporated food structures into his towers and spires.

Underneath the crosses, you can see Gaudi's uses of nature-inspired geometric patterns

I could spend the rest of this post talking about how much I adore Gaudi! He really is a hidden treasure waiting to be discovered. And, he incorporated the city's patron saint - San Jordi y el Dragon - into his design too!

do you see the teeth?

Barcelona has other arts as well - the Picasso museum (which was a little bit of a let down because all of his famous stuff is in other galleries, BUT it does have a whole room of his Las Minjas paintings), a Dali gallery, the beautiful marina and sea side (and if you have money, you can go sailing - I didn't because I'm a poor grad student), and some very fine shops. Also - there's a chocolate museum. RAD!

This is a close-up of the log I talked about in the video. I'm still not sure if I get the point of this little fellow, but it was a really fun tradition to witness. According to Isabel, this is a Catalonian tradition and wouldn't be found in other parts of Spain. How cool is that?!

I had an incredible time in Barcelona. Isabel and her family were peaches! The city is a vibrant, enthralling place. It's the kind of place I can imagine running away to, if I ever decided to try and make it as a writer. So now you know where to look for me if I disappear with my lap-top. :)

New Year is tomorrow - it always amazes me how time flies! Be safe all of you! 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Christmas 2010

Hello friends and family!
Christmas 2010 was an exciting adventure. For the first time in my life, I celebrate the holiday without my family. I was worried that I would be filled with homesickness, since all of my mom's family was together in Florida with my grandparents. But, my friend Amy invited me into her home and gave me a wonderful family Christmas, English style! It was so much fun - I plan on bringing back some of the traditions when I come home, especially kicking Christmas morning off with a mimosa at breakfast!

I had a great time, and am continually amazed at how gracious and loving people are. I miss my family, but found a lot of love here in England! :)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rome Adventure, Part II

Hello friends!
Despite some nasty weather and a 2.5 hour travel delay, I have returned from my trip to Barcelona! But all those misadventures will be saved for another day (like tomorrow). Now, I present to you, Roman Holiday, part two. :)

Rome really is an amazing place. The Roman Forum was jaw-droppingly awesome. There were so many ruins it was nearly impossible to look at them all!

The Pantheon, under renovation

The Coliseum 

Look how awesome it is!

I think this is Titus' victory Arch at the Forum

The Temple to Antonio and Faustina

Domitian's water garden

Marda and Josh puzzle over random ruins

Trevi Fountain!

Rome is a magical place. It houses some of the world's best-preserved ruins. It boasts many of the world's best known pieces of art. It ranks among the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. You could spend a lifetime and still not uncover all of the Eternal City's mysteries. No wonder people keep going back. :)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rome Adventure, Part 1

Hello friends and family!
I have recently returned from an amazing 5 day holiday in Roma - the Eternal City! My trip was amazing, and I've put together the first of two videos highlighting some of my adventures.

Like I mentioned in the video, St. Peter's reaches out across the Roman skyline, peeping through rooftops and tree branches. It became a bit of a running theme in my pictures.

Approaching the Vatican...

Getting closer...

Inside the Basilica

St. Pete's at night.

In addition to lovely and awe-inspiring architecture, I also gawked at some pretty amazing art. Bernini sculptures, frescoes by Rafael and Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel are just the highlights of the Vatican Museum.

A Bernini angel

Rafael's School of Athens

Open-air opera!

And this is Piazza Novona - my front yard for 5 days!

I'll have another post soon - hopefully before I'm off to Barcelona.
Happy Trails!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Long Awaited Thanksgiving Recap

So I had a very British Thanksgiving....

An Australian, a German, an Englishman and a Welsh lady all volunteered to play Native Americans for the Thanksgiving skit...

It was a TON of fun! We didn't have mashed potatoes and gravy (they roasted the sweet potatoes, it was really good!), and there arose a debate about the word pecan. Is it PEEcan, or PeCAUN. I'm a fan of the latter, and "peecan" just sounds rude. And I'm Southern, so I win. :)

I can appreciate the irony of the Pilgrims skit, though. It was the Church of England that the Pilgrims were escaping from, and here I am living with current CoE ordinands. The Lord certainly does work in mysterious ways! But more than that, seeing the churches that stood during the English Reformation, being able to walk in the footsteps of my forefathers and foremothers in faith (and as an American) is incredible. The past is ever present. And giving thanks stretches beyond my identification as a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant in America. It's thankfulness for my God, my freedom to worship that God without fear of persecution, for my security and peace. Thanksgiving should be a time when we remember too, all those people who cannot give thanks for those freedoms, and to hear to voice of God calling us to stand as witnesses against injustice. (okay, enough preaching...)

In addition to the actual Thursday thanksgiving festivities that were hosted by Westminster, I endeavored to cook a traditional Southern-style thanksgiving meal the following Sunday. I just couldn't go without Grandma's green bean casserole, or sweet potato casserole with melted marshmallows (that threw the Brits for a loop). So I cooked, and with the wonderful help of friends, had enough food to feed about 15 people. It was delightful!

Homemade mashed potatoes!

The dinner line-up...the boys were hungry after a morning leading worship!

We has chicken instead of turkey...some sacrifices had to be made.

But all in all, everyone enjoyed it! 
For my first attempt at cooking the traditional (to my family any way) Thanksgiving meal, I think it all turned out well. Maybe I'll do it again next year. :)

Friday, November 26, 2010

I am thankful...

I am thankful.
I am thankful for a family that supports me and encourages me to be adventurous, even when it hurts.
I am thankful for friends that love me through the tough times, who make me laugh and who tenderly wipe away my tears.
I am thankful for a God who sees in me the worth to call and ordain me to His holy endeavor.
I am thankful for a world in which I am free to believe as I so choose.
I am thankful for health, for my body and all my functioning faculties.
I am thankful for Cambodia And all I learned there.
I am thankful for Candler and Queens, because they formed me into who I am.
I am thankful for a broken heart mended.
I am thankful for Praxis UCC and the people who helped me articulate my own passionate faith.
I am thankful for my baby brother who is my best friend and for whom I would gladly lay down my life.
I am thankful for the men and women who serve in the armed forces – even when I don’t agree with the fighting, your bravery and courage is inspiring every day.
I am thankful for love and mercy.
I am thankful for the opportunity to live in England, for the opportunity to fall in love with this place of grey skies and cold winds, and to see myself grow, even over just 3 months.
I am thankful for Wesley House and the amazing people I’ve met here.
I am thankful for home church family who have been an incredible support for me.
I am thankful for numerous people – Marshall, Leah, Tim, Kristin, Sam, Aqsa, Rachel, Jennifer, Sarah, Susannah…you have believed in me, encouraged me, and loved me even when I’m far away; I can never thank you enough.
For the opportunity to see the world, to be bigger than my body, to be greater than the sum of my parts, to be the trembling hands and feet of my God, I am so very thankful.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving and Football

Happy Thanksgiving friends~

Clips of my first English football match! I hope t have a video of my Thanksgiving celebrations up this weekend. :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

Baking with Brekke!

So, I am trying to make gluten-free cookies...and I have learned that sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. But if it involves chocolate, butter and sugar, normally it's going to taste okay. :)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Theology on Tap comes to Cambridge

Back home at in Atlanta there’s this unofficial “thing” called Theology on Tap. It was initiated by an Episcopal church sometime in the early 2000s, and has become a mish-mash of small group gatherings, sometimes sponsored or affiliated with a church or other religious organization, but more often of thinking and drinking theologians. I found myself participating in a rather casual, unofficial version of Theology on Tap with my peers at Candler. We couldn’t help but gather around a frosty pint at the Brick Store (a beloved pub around the corner from where I lived that boasted over 300 different beers from around the world!) and chat fervently about theology, ethics, church history and our blossoming love for the Old Testament (thank you Brent Strawn). In many ways, it was these unplanned, ungoverned discussions that shaped and deepened my understanding of what we were studying in the classroom. We weren’t constrained by time limits, or a need to “stay on track.” The discussion could wander and weave as it wished, leading us down rabbit holes that later became serious theological reflection.  It was an opportunity to grow relationships with the Candler community, to connect not just topically with my fellow students who will go on to be my colleagues in ministry once I’m ordained. It was a hearty, honest gathering of people grappling with the various points of theological and religious conversation and owning it, in some ways.

Cambridge is missing this important space. Students don’t (at least not in my context) meet outside of lectures, or institution/denominational commitments to socialize and digest the dense quantity of information they’re being fed. There isn’t a space to let the theological banter roam free, winding around our own predispositions and asking the personal questions which seem inappropriate for the classroom or supervision group. Indeed, discussion in the classroom is a novel irregularity at best (because of the structure of the Cambridge term system). Here, more so even than at Candler, an open space to talk about theology, ethics, church history and how all of these relate practically to our ministries is extremely important. The cross pollinating of theological colleges is important too, since people from the same denomination live and eat together (mostly) and tend to stick together in small, tightly-knit groups. My hope with this first attempt to transplant something from the New World to the Old, is to facilitate talking – about our scholastic work, our personal reflection and across denominational and philosophical lines.

But maybe it’s just me – I mean, y’all that know me, know I like to talk! But I hope that it becomes a regular, useful space for future ministers of Britain to articulate their theologies, to own them, and to enjoy good conversation (and a quality beer) in the process.

So, tomorrow at 8:30pm (that’s 3:30pm Atlanta time) I’ll be “leading” the very first Theology on Tap in Cambridge! Huzzah!

Say What? American vs. British

Language, Derrida might say, is a slippery slope. It’s difficult to pin things down, to create concrete unmisinterpretable meaning (yes, I just made that word up).  That’s true enough when you speak a language fluently, but when you cross over into someone else’s linguistic territory, the ice you’re walking on becomes thinner and thinner, and the chances that you’ll make a dialect faux pas gets higher and higher. What do you do when diction damage has been done? Well, I blush, throw on my best Southern accent, and blame it on being from out of town. 

But, friends, I’m here to help prevent any such embarrassing flummoxes! Lest you commit a language gaffe, I have compiled a list of words and phrases which are not quite the same from America to Britain. I hope that this list prevents any future miscommunication, embarrassment, or insult.

We say ‘pants’ = they say ‘trousers’
We say ‘underwear’/’panties’ = they say ‘pants’/’knickers’
We say ‘sidewalk’ = they say ‘pavement’
We say ‘pavement’ = they say ‘asphalt’/ ‘tarmac’
We say ‘nerd’ = they say ‘boffin’
We say ‘hood’ (of a car) = they say ‘bonnet’
We say 'trunk' (of a car) = they say ‘boot’
We say 'I'm mad' = they say 'I'm cross'
We say "he's crazy' = they say 'he's mad'
We say 'she's a loony' = they say 'she's a nutter'
We say ‘I’m exhausted!’ = they say ‘I’m knackered’
We say ‘Bless Your Heart!’ = they say ‘Oh Bless!’*
We say ‘soccer’ = they say ‘football’
We say ‘football’ = they say ‘huh?’

I think this is a good start to keeping everyone from committing crimes against the English language. Hopefully, with these expert insights into our dialectical differences, we can move toward a greater understanding of our cousins across the pond.

* This confirms my theory that Southerners are really just Brits with better tea, and more charm. :)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Armistice Day. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month . The end of war in Europe

Remembrance Day is a big deal here in England. Weeks before November 11th, people begin wearing little red (and sometimes white) paper poppies as a sign of solidarity and remembering of those who were lost in the two Great Wars. It sweeps through the country, and all of sudden people are pinning poppies to their jackets and blazers, churches have displays where you can buy a poppy and there is a greater awareness of those who serve in uniform. It’s a different sentiment than how we celebrate Veterans’ Day in America.

Firstly, there is an awareness that Remembrance Day is not about the military in a narrow sense. It is about all people who died in wartime. Britain was bombed, and many, many civilians lost their lives during the blitzkrieg. Civilian nurses, aid workers and chaplains died throughout the Western front. Families were destroyed. Life was changed forever. Remembrance Day is about all the lives lost, both those who served in uniform and those who did not.

Secondly, there is still a major focus on the World Wars. They had a lasting impact on Britain – and Europe more broadly – that we just can’t fathom across the Atlantic. Pearl Harbor was horrible, but it doesn’t even come close to the kind of devastation places like Britain, France and Germany faced. It is a devastation that echoes in the land. It is real. It is tangible and you can still feel it. November is a gloomy month which ushers in the grey chill of winter. It is windy, cold and uninviting. It is the saddest season. How appropriate, then, that Britain pauses to stand in mournful awareness, in sober acknowledgement of the destructive power of the human will.

Unlike in America, where we parade around our veterans, celebrating their efforts and applauding their service, Remembrance Day is not about nationalism, but about history. In America, we invite veterans and soldiers to wear their uniforms to church, we sing nationalistic hymns, and we tip our hats to those who died “serving our great nation.” It’s bittersweet – the tart memory of the Vietnam War and the massive loss of life and unraveling of the American dream still fresh. It isn’t a long distance echo, but a clear current cry that we face in America. So, we dress it up, we celebrate the sacrifice and we forget just how devastating war is. We laud the uniformed but forget the many who died as unintended causalities of war. We turn a day of somber remembering  into an opportunity to be patriotic.

Perhaps this differing indicates a deeper chasm between America and Britain. It certainly shows the differing impact of the world wars for Europe than for America. It shows a gap in values, in emotional responses and, I think, in how we understand our relationship to both our country and our military. One isn’t better than the other; they are expression of the unique situations, experiences and personalities of the two countries. It just serves to remind me how different the world is.  

Friday, October 29, 2010

Trip to London, take 1!

A video update about my day trip to London. :)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Trinity Hall in waiting

So I have officially survived a month in Cambridge. There were a few moments that I wasn’t sure I was going to make it (in fact, the colder it gets, the less sure I am) but I have lived to see at least another day. There’s been much excitement afoot (including a trip to London and a black tie party!) but the most exciting news is that I have an official church attachment. Actually, it’s more like a chaplaincy placement. I’ll be a chapel assistant at Trinity Hall, one of the Cambridge colleges! So. Very. Exciting. !!

Not my photo, but a lovely shot. I'll take some pictures soon.

Trinity Hall (not to be confused with Trinity College, which is larger and more well-endowed) was founded in 1350 and is one of the oldest colleges at Cambridge (I think it might be third oldest, actually). It’s a small-ish college, with about 350 undergraduates and about 100(ish) graduates of different fields. It’s affiliated with the Church of England (I know, but everything is CoE around here). It’s sometimes called the “hidden hall” because it’s tucked away between two larger colleges (Trinity College and King’s college – which is ultra famous), and yet for all its obscurity it has a rather impressive history. Robert Runcie, a former Dean of the college, went on to become the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1980s. Consequently, there are two stained glass windows dedicated to him. It’s a neat little college, with medieval buildings and lots of personality.

Isn't the chapel gorgeous?! It's the smallest college chapel in Cambridge

At this point I am helping the two traditional Sunday services – which are Anglican, so I’m hoplessly lost – run smoothly. But, I hope to start a Bible study. I am going to work with the already active Christian Union to get to know the student body – undergrads and grad students. I’m being given a fair amount of freedom, which is exciting, but also nerve-wracking. I am really doing ministry. I am really going to be in situations where I’ll be asked theological questions I can’t answer. I will hear difficult stories. I will be a minister.

I am so excited! Being a university chaplain is my dream job, and this is an excellent opportunity to feel out the waters before being thrown in without a life jacket. I have a superb supervisor – his name is Rev. Dr. Stephen Plant and he’s the new Dean of the Chapel – who has every confidence in me (which is astounding as we’ve only met a few times). I am really excited to be working here, to be learning and growing in such a supportive and beautiful environment. Cambridge is lovely  - it’s hard not to fall in love with the place. The loveliness of the location reminds me that, even when I’m terribly homesick, God moves in mysterious ways to brighten my soul and remind me of my purpose.

Check out the Trinity Hall website! (

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Video tour, part 1

In which I give y'all a short tour of my "house" in Cambridge (it's like a mini college).

Saturday, October 2, 2010

England, Romans and a little theological discourse

I have been meditating on a passage of scripture for the last week or so. I arrived in England, welcomed warmly by the wonderful Amy Walters, and began the long process of unpacking my belongings and turning my room into more than just a storage space for myself and my possession, but into a little piece of home. I’ll eventually upload my pictures of Wesley House, and greater Cambridge, but this evening is dedicated to my meditations on a bit of scripture that I read my second or third night in England. I couldn’t pack many of my books, so I had to suffice with my Bible, Europe on a Shoestring (by Lonely Planet), the Essentials of Christian Theology and a novel called Looking for Alaska by the marvelous John Green.  I decided – rather randomly in fact – to read through Romans in anticipation of a year studying the New Testament. And a slice of scripture leapt out at me and had been marinating with me for the last week.

Romans 10: 9 – 13 reads (italics added for emphasis):

Because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the Lord shall be saved.”

This has been rattling around my brain for a few days. It’s been making me really think and pray. All who call upon the Lord shall be saved. That’s a statement with huge implications. It’s a statement that challenges us as Christians to love more widely and more deeply then we may want to or think is possible.

For example, the Church of England (furthermore referred to as CoE) is in a precarious position. They are having serious in-fighting concerning the ordination of female Bishops. Now, the Episcopal Church has blown through this (in fact they have a female Presiding Bishop), and I – naively – assumed that the CoE had already moved past these debates. But they haven’t, and they are hotly contested. In fact, when Katherine Jefferts-Schori visited Southwark Cathedral in London this summer, she had to carry her Bishop’s mitre (her special hat) rather than wear it, because the CoE doesn’t recognize her right to be consecrated as a Bishop (she’s the elected head of the Episcopal Church).  This same summer, we as the Presbyterian Church USA (henceforth, PCUSA) elected Cindy Bolbach as the Moderator – and she’s not even a minister! We have embraced the role of women as equal sources of scriptural authority. But the role of women is still being debated in the CoE – and sense I live with four CoE ordinands, we talk about it a lot.

What is comes down to, I think, is understanding the breadth of scripture. People quote 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 as reasons not to ordain women. I shake my head and think about this passage or Romans. “The same Lord is the Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.” God is generous to those who support the ordination of women (or gays, or divorcees, etc) and those that oppose it. God is generous to Catholics, Methodists and Presbyterians. God is generous to Pentecostals and Anglicans.  God is generous to UGA fans and UNC fans, alike (hard to believe, I know). God is generous. How simple, yet how profound.

Living in  Methodist house as a Presbyterian (who is still struggling with what it means to be in the Reformed tradition) , in a country with an Anglican state church has brought this passage of scripture into perspective. We will disagree as a Christian community. Sometimes we will disagree so heartily that it will be hard to stand in the same room. And yet, “the same Lord is Lord of all,” God is greater than our theological differences. God is bigger than our arguments about politics, or evolution, or the right to life. God is greater than all the things that divide us. While those issues are important, what is most important is the knowledge that God is generous to us and to those that believe differently. Stepping out of the comfort zone of American society – which with all its own hiccups and problems is still familiar – and embracing the discourse here in England reminds me of how essential this scripture is. We are one body – we will disagree, but God is generous to us all.

Thanks be to God! Amen. :)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Saigon by night

A clip from my brief trip over to Vietnam. Saigon is like another world compared to the sleepy streets of Cambodia.

Monday, September 13, 2010

As long as we're being honest...

Packing is really difficult. Especially when you're trying to fit nearly a year into two less-than-50lb suitcases. Praise the Lord for vacuum sealed bags. And luggage scales. we're at t-minus 1 weeks and counting! :)

Cambodia Revisited

Here are a few pictures that I've touched up with photo editing. As I pack for Cambridge, my thoughts are often back in Cambodia. Undoubtedly, my thoughts will be in Cambodia for a long, long time.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Little House of Dreams

My aunt and uncle's cottage outside Duluth, Minnesota. It's a picture perfect oasis of bright flowers, lush lawns and the friendly giggle of a brook. I couldn't dream this little haven up if I tried.

Praise God for small, nature-encircled mercies.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wanderlust and Christian Community

Why is it that we love to travel? This spirit of wanderlust as my friend Tim calls it lives and breathes inside me. It’s rather like an unscratchable itch: it is satiated but never exactly satisfied. There’s this desire to push a little further, go a little deeper. As I begin to plan my year in England, I am overwhelmed by the number of remarkable travel destinations that spot western and eastern Europe. I have a friend living in Barcelona who has graciously invited me to visit and stay with her family. A fellow sorority sister from undergrad is studying architecture in Rome. It would be a sin not to see the City of Lights at night, or (as the daughter of an art professor) amble through the Louvre. Should I make a break for it and head north, into Scandinavia and visit my fatherland? Is it worth the higher costs to visit Norway and see the lands of my ancestors? What about Britain; how much of this “small island” should I consume in my lust for engaging and imbibing new places, people and experiences? And, how much is too much?

I’m going to England to study theology. I am going to England to encounter God in the trappings of a different culture. I am going to England to engage the ecumenical Christian family in way that I cannot do in Atlanta. I am going to England to be a fish out of water. But, in my desire to take advantage of my proximity to the wonders of continental Europe, have I, am I missing the point? I mean, I have wanted to go to Paris and Rome since I was old enough to want to travel. The books of art with the fabulous color photographs of the Sistine Chapel and the assorted marvels of the Parisian art captured my imagination as a child. The history that unfolds within those old city streets has fascinated me, seduced me and excited me. Aside from Jerusalem – which is the single place I want to visit most in all the world – Paris and Rome stand at the top of my most-want-to-see list. And, I can’t deny that a significant reason I am excited about moving to England and going to Cambridge is that I will be able to go and visit these two and other places of interest. But at what point must I swallow that wanderlust and remember that I am there to study, to be a invested member of a Christian community? How do I balance my hot desire to see and do as much as possible, with my great need to commit to a community for all kinds of education and engagement?

 I have promised myself 4 trips while I’m gone. I will visit Paris, Rome and Barcelona. I hope that my 4th trip will be to Norway, although time and costs will directly impact its potential. I have a month off from December 3rd to January 3rd. Maybe I can take a week and backpack someplace on the warmish side. Other destinations of interest are: Amsterdam for the Tulip festival, Germany for Oktoberfest, Jerusalem (although I feel like that might be cheating myself out of really engaging Europe), Istanbul (I feel the same about this as I feel about Jerusalem), Bratislava and Prague where I have a family friend, and Athens Greece to see the ruins.

There are so many places to go and things to see. I could spend a lifetime discovering the hidden treasures of Europe. But I know that I must rein myself in and keep myself oriented around my work at Cambridge and my commitment to a community of faith. That is why I’m going, after all.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Cabin by a Lake

My family owns a small fishing cabin that sits right on the water in Ontario, Canada. The Cabin was built in the '70s and exudes the traditional (and loved but stereotypical) exposed wood interior. The scenery is breath-taking (and if I wasn't having to use a library computer, I'd upload some shots). I can look out onto the calm waters of the lake, surrouned by towering fir trees and covered by a wide blue sky. It's quite, and I listen to the shuffling of squirrels and rabbits, hear the squabbling of woods ducks and blue jays.
It's nice to get away from the constant to-and-fro, go go go of city life.
Mostly. I really miss having the Internet. Not being able to connect with friends and family at will is not only frustrating, it's lonely. Any half-spun fantasy I had of being a pioneer has been thoroughly dashed.
But, it is a beautiful country. Even if the wifi leaves much to be desired.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Travel By Numbers

I’m sitting in Phenom Penh International Airport. I’m waiting for my flight to Seoul to beginning boarding. There is a flat screen tv flashing an American documentary about AIDS in India. Four lovely Korea flight attendants in aquamarine silk suits have congregated about five seats down from me and are chatting warmly. I’m exhausted from an 8 hour bus trip (which included an 1.5 hour “lay-over” at the Vietnam-Cambodia border) that brought me from Saigon to Phnom Penh. I am looking at a 6.5 hour flight to Seoul, a 4 hour lay-over and a 13.5 hour flight to Atlanta. I have two carry-ons, one of which contains two stretched canvas painting of Angkor Wat in thick, bright acrylics. I stupidly paid an outrageous $3 for one iced coffee. There are four Westerners (including myself) waiting at the gate at this point. I have 22 minutes before boarding and 75% of my power remaining in my battery. I have exactly $15 left (which really is minus about $600 because I own my folks money due to unforeseen medical costs).  I have covered an estimated 20,000 miles in the last two months. I will have touched ground in five countries and two continents. I have interviewed roughly 14 individuals, written two official articles, two extended reports, 19 blog posts and only seven paper journal entries. I have 9 days until I leave for Minnesota /Canada and two months before I leave for England. I brought with me only three pairs of pants, one skirt, six shirts, two tank tops, one pair of pj bottoms, 16 pairs of panties, three sports bras, one sweater, one hat and a single, well-worn pair of chacos. My passport has three Visas – two for Cambodia and one for Vietnam – one of which will grant me return access until this coming December. I have spent countless hours writing, dozens of hours reading and too many hours incapacitated with illness. I watched all four seasons (roughly 50+) episodes of Ugly Betty. I take with me one colorful bag from Saigon. I leave behind dozens of co-workers, one awesome boss, one amazing friend and a single, humble piece of my heart.

Monday, July 12, 2010


His face was a charred, burnt red. Like roasting meat pulled from the flames, it was a deep, swollen burgundy. His right eyelid had been blown away leaving a milky white ball with only the cloudy remains of iris and retina. There were no protective lashes or thick brows to shield the exposed ivory bulb. His left eye, relatively intact, was a crisp mahogany; it wasn’t a depthless brown, but a rusted wooden floorboard brown. His lips were a faded wormy pink and puffed up in the right corner. There were shinny burns and hard sores that disrupted the surface of his haggard, tender flesh. His hands were charred stubs, thick scar tissue nubs sprouted from where his fingers use to be. He fumbled with a navy blue baseball cap and sloppily mouthed words that only spilled out like dried beans on a linoleum floor. Hobbling toward me he continued to mumble and I, despite a twinge of compassion, pulled away, averting my eyes and briskly stalking toward a secluded indoor cafĂ©.

He was a landmine victim. Cambodia is the single most landmine-ridden country in all of Asia. Every travel book and website I have read about Cambodia ominously warns against straying from well-worn paths, particularly up in the sparsely populated mountains and along the Thai border. Landmines are an American legacy; President Nixon had landmines planted during the Vietnam War, a measure taken to “quell” any insurgency that could be regrouping inside Cambodia’s borders. But it wasn’t the armed military or Vietnamese guerrillas who became the victims of the mines; women and children wandering across the open, grassy fields would be arbitrarily blown to bits. Pol Pot, the ugly and ferocious Marxist revolutionary, planted even more landmines – particularly along the Cambodian border with Thailand – to dissuade the victims of mass murder from fleeing to safety.

Landmines are indiscriminate killers. Princess Dianna knew this and campaigned tirelessly for the banning of landmine usage around the world. I saw the burnt face of the victim, now unable to work and to provide for a family. Begging and being paraded around like some guilt-machine are often last resorts of mothers and fathers with children to provide for. Medical care is limited and often costly. And landmines remain a major threat, particularly to the thousands of subsistence farmers etching a living out of the countryside.

I walked through a local NGO which has developed simple handicrafts that victims – who often times lose all or part of their legs – can make in order to live self sufficiently and with dignity.  Some of these women sat on the floor of the shop front and smiled at me. They busied their nimble fingers wrapping colored cloth around stings of bead, creating dainty necklaces that I couldn’t help but admire. In my limited Khemai, we made small talk, but their unblemished faces and warm smiles were enough. I bought a small stuffed elephant for a friend’s daughter, and a woman missing all of her left leg and her right leg up to the knee said “good choice, thank you for visiting us.”

The pulpy-faced man hung just outside the little shop. I slipped a few folded bills into a donation box, but kept my eyes on the ground and I tried to innocuously slip away. I still could not look into his torn face.  My heart split at the seams and I felt a mixture of disgust and compassion.   How would Christ respond? Is it enough to leave a few folded dollars? Can I launch a campaign like the late Princess of Wales which impacts lives and stands as a testament before foreign governments? What little thing can I do?

My tuk-tuk waited just around the corner from the little shop. I had only enough money left to get back home. My heart was bloated with emotions: concern, revulsion, empathy, guilt, fear, anger, frustration and a genuine inability to process what a Christ-like response to this kind of suffering would be.  But I did one small thing: I looked this disfigured man full in the face and smiled.  

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Top 10 Ways to Die in Cambodia, Redux

The longer Sara and I have spent in this wickedly wonderful country, we have discovered another host of ways one could perish. In honor of our nearly-complete summer adventure, I present to you Brekke’s Top 10 Ways to Die in Cambodia, Redux!

10. Falling off a Temple – Angkor Wat and the surrounding temple complex houses some of the world’s most stunning religious structures. Temples in all manner of degradation are sprinkled through tropical jungles. Ta Koa, a particularly steep Temple with miraculous views for those brave few willing to clamber to the top, has already claimed three lives this year. Because tourists are foolish enough to climb temples in flip flops, Falling off a temple ranks at number 10.

9. Being Struck by Lightening – The monsoon season has swung into high gear, and with the oppressing rain comes lightening storms. Although monsoon season has only been in effect about a month, 28 people have already died from being struck by lightning. The elements don’t play around in Southeast Asia! Because monsoon season is just beginning and the possibility for more lightning-related deaths is high, death by lightning strike is our number 9.

8. Being thrown from a moto – as your intrepid explorers moved from the country to the city, our form of local transport upgraded from our little rinky-dink bicycles (which we loved dearly) to speeding motos. It is customary for lady passengers to ride side-saddle as the whiz through clogged city streets. Unfortunately, this means perching precariously behind the driver, one butt cheek hanging off the back, legs dangling unprotected from oncoming traffic. Because of the destabilized position the risk of being rodeo-thrown into the street is high. Since only ladies ride side saddle, being thrown from a moto ranks number 8.

7. Spider bites – Cambodia has some of the largest spiders I have ever seen. Spiders the size of pancakes – no joke! – creepy-crawled through our field office.  The shrieks of intrepid explorers brought out spider-hunters who used gas, spray, shoes and a long pole to wrangle the beast. Because we’re now living in the city and marginally removed from nature, spider bites come in at number 7.

6. Snake bite – no, not the particularly tasty adult beverage, snake bites are common in rural Cambodia. Snakes and other assorted creepy-crawly creatures roam the countryside, lying in wait for unsuspecting explorers. Cambodia is home to an assortment of venomous reptilians, and Siem Reap (where Angkor Wat is located) hosts a restaurant that doubles as a snake farm for harvesting anti-venoum. Because snakes tend to stay in rural, forested areas, and we are now in the city, snake bites comes in just shy of the top 5 at number 6.

5. Dehydration, heat stroke, sun poisoning, etc – the sun is no joke here in Southeast Asia. Like the Central Americans, Cambodians take a siesta mid-day to escape the brutal sun. Being stuck out in that blistering heat has a plethora of adverse effects including: sun burn, sun poisoning, severe dehydration, heat exhaustion and ultimately heat stroke. With scarce and sub-par medical care, any of these treatable conditions can easily become life threatening. Because the elements are no joke (seriously, no joke), death from the ill effects of heat makes the top 5.

4. Murder-suicide form too much Khmer music – It may seem a little extreme, but a being trapped with constantly blasting Khmer music videos for a six hour bus ride is enough to drive any sane person to the edge. Pop music in Cambodia is quite different than Western pop music; Cambodians enjoy a slightly “edgy” (one might say off-key, leaning on intentionally sharp) quality to their vocal performance. In addition to bad 1980s keyboards, hours without respite is enough to gouge one’s eyes out, circumcise one’s eardrums, and blindly and deafly rampage through the crowded bus tearing out hears in the process. Think I’m exaggerating? Try listening to Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” on repeat for six hours and then you’ll get an idea (that actually would be better than Khmer music). Because we still have two 6-hour bus rides to look forward too, murder-suicide comes in at number 4.

3. Homesickness – the languid, wasting sickness that has claimed many a life of would-be intrepid explorers, homesickness strikes from out of the blue. The slow-killing disease rears its ugly head as explorers run out of minutes on their phone cards, episodes of Ugly Betty to watch, and consume the last few scraps of foods from home like raisin bran and cliff bars. Add any form of foreign illness to the mix and homesickness can be lethal. Because modern medications like Skype exist to alleviate symptoms, homesickness is our third worst/best way to die in Cambodia.

2. Worms or other assorted parasites – Contaminated drinking water, undercooked food, dishes handled by unwashed fingers can all lead to the contraction of worms or any number of unsavory parasitic creatures. These uninvited guests can range from relatively harmless belly worms, to little freeloaders who systematically attack your internal organs. Because it’s difficult to gage whether or not you’re infected and how severe the infection is, worms and parasites come in at number 2.

1. Being run over by a motorized vehicle – the transition from living in a predominantly rural town to a densely populated (yet mellow) metropolis is that traffic has increased about 3000%. While pedestrians are common, it doesn’t safeguard the walking citizen. Heedless SUVS, fearless motos and reckless tuk-tuks run stop lights, drive across sidewalks and engage in all manner of risky behavior – paying no mind to the helpless, slow-moving pedestrians caught in their path. As your intrepid explorers have given up their bicycles for the hustle and bustle of city life, walking is the main way of getting around. Because this is a new and improved for of auto-related death, it tops our second top 10 list as the number one best and worst way to die in Cambodia. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Day as Indiana Jones, a photo essay

Sunrise over Angkor Wat

The famous 52 faces of the Bayoun - plus one

Terrace of the Leper King

Remains of the Angkor bridge

Ta Koa

Ta Pram

Banteay Seri

Kbal Spean, "The River of 1000 Lingas"

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Children. The Bible tells us they are a “heritage from the Lord” (Psalm 127: 3-5). They are whimsical, carefree and downright adorable. They are innocent, trusting and unblemished from the tough lessons that we must learn as we grow older. In short, children are precious.  During my six weeks here in Cambodia, I have marveled at the children, who live joyously despite conditions that make my Western, sanitized heart rattle. The more I see this country, the more I fall in love with the shy smile and wide eyes of its children.

I have noticed, though, that the children here are more reserved than in the United States and in Guatemala (where I have done previous mission and humanitarian work). In Guatemala, children ran to me with open arms, flocked around me tugging at my blond hair and giggling at my broken Spanish. But not here; Cambodian children will watch me, their large dark eyes illuminated by curiosity, but they do not come near.  There is a consciousness that strangers may be entertaining, but only from afar.

In the United States, I have been a babysitter and part-time nanny. I have cared for twin boys (2 different sets, no less!), precious infant girls and an assortment of elementary aged tikes. They are silly, generally happy and willing to throw their love on any responsive stranger that comes their way (with a few shy exceptions). But not in Cambodia. Even after a morning of interviews and warm chatter with their mothers, children here are still shy. They are reserved and skeptical; hardened little observes that will watch you and even reward you with a smile, but rarely ever a hug or handshake.

This is a striking contrast to Guatemala where I was flooded by little Mayan babies. They loved to play, to dance, to take us by the hand and show us around. There was no bottom to the wellspring of enthusiasm that the Mayan children expressed for life. But in Cambodia, there is something that tempers this kind of reckless joy. It’s not that children are not joyous – they certainly are – but that they chose to reign in that abandonment when an outsider is around.

I am reading Samantha Power’s award winning exposĂ©, “A Problem From Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide, which is an expertly researched and engagingly written examination of America’s response to genocide in the 20th century. My boss lent me the book because it has a section on the Khmer Rouge and the “extermination” of the intellectual class in the late 1970s. Fascinating and heart-breaking, I have been reading about the systematic destruction that wiped about over 20% of the Cambodian population, from which children were not excluded.  In the wake of such a reign of terror, the hesitancy of families to be warm with strangers isn’t so out of place. But, why the children?

Children are resilient. They can survive trauma better than we adults give them credit for. They can imagine a world free of the shackles of the one in which they live. They dream. But, they also can pick up on and be influenced by the nuances in our adult actions and reactions. As I encounter and attempt to engage (i.e. snuggle and love) these precious children, I wonder if the trappings of fear and mistrust which are deeply women into the lives of their parents and grandparents are played out in their reserved response to strangers. And, if that is the case, how unfortunate to live with that haunted sense of mistrust bred by an all too real and horrible past.

Each child that breathes is a child of the Most High God. Each child is a precious gift, a blessing. No matter what country, what religion, what race, what gender, what language, each child is a light and a hope. In the eyes of Cambodian children, wide and silent, I see that small flicker of hope.