Housecleaners, Housewarmers, and Homecomers

The heat in Cambodia encourages people to leave their doors and windows open during the day, and since we lie in a flood plain, the ground is nothing but silt and sand. Those two facts combine to literally coat our houses in dirt. Besides the excessive dirt, household chores like dishwashing and laundry are not quite as automated as in the States, so foreigners living in Cambodia generally need the help of a national house helper. They are, in fact, expected to hire a helper, thus contributing their highly valued American dollars to the Cambodian economy. Having a Khmer person in your house regularly can also help with language acquisition. So . . . when we arrived here, finding a house helper was top priority.

God graciously provided a house helper within the first couple weeks, and I’ve fallen in love with her. She’s trustworthy, having faithfully worked for missionary friends for the past 6 years. She’s so efficient that my house is spotless in just 3 hours a day. She loves my kids like her own grandkids, and she wears a constant smile. She speaks no English, so our communication over the last 7 months has steadily increased from a baseline of zero. In the beginning a friend helped translate everything. Now, I usually understand her in 3 repetitions or less.

She recently finished building a new house and invited our family to her housewarming party. It’s common in Cambodia for people to celebrate moving to a new house (whether they built it or not). They invite their friends and family to their new home and serve them food. The guests, in return, give a gift of money, mainly to cover the cost of the food they will eat (it’s similar to the purpose of monetary gifts at a Cambodian wedding).

At the party, I was able to converse with my helper and her family in Khmer. I sat around a seafood-filled table near my American friend (for whom our helper also works part time).

Aside from the seafood, it felt very natural to be right there, at a Cambodian friend’s house in the Cambodian countryside. It was the first time I didn’t feel isolated at an event as a non-Khmer speaker. I could communicate information about myself and my children, and I could understand some of what they were talking about. Not all, and not without some slow repetition, and not without occasionally requiring my friend’s translating skills. But the experience was far removed from the day I first interviewed my helper and needed 100% translation help.

Although I was thrilled at how far I’ve advanced in this language, I also realized how much more I must learn. Thankfully, this was a pleasant cultural interchange that motivated me to want more. I did, however, marvel at the normalcy of my night. Four years ago when we first contemplated leaving America for the mission field, I never imagined I could feel so at home in such a seemingly exotic environment. God has enabled me to be far more adaptable than I would ever have predicted, and I’m reminded again that wherever He leads me, I can always feel I’ve come Home.

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