Exchange Theory

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins leaves his handkerchief at home and insists upon retrieving it before continuing on. The wise wizard, Gandalf, informs him, “You will have to do without pocket handkerchiefs and a great many other things before we reach our journey’s end.”  Indeed, there are things we must do without in Cambodia. But we also have Exchanges and Equivalencies for many aspects of our life in America.

(Unfortunately, this theory applies to unpleasantness as well as pleasantness. For example, I had mice in America. Here, I have rats. I had ants in America, and I have ants here. I had flooding issues in America; I have flooding issues here. My American laundry room housed giant jumping crickets, while my Asian laundry room houses giant flying cockroaches. In America, our neighbor had crying goats and squawking chickens. Here, one neighbor paints our pots, and another has screaming chickens.)

Now, on to the more pleasant Exchanges and Equivalencies. In no particular order, some of ours are:

– For van maintenance, we go to a guy named Noel instead of a guy named Ari.

–  We can drive up Bokor Mountain on the coast of Kampot, instead of Cadillac Mountain on the coast of Maine.

–  For our yearly family retreat we head south from Phnom Penh to Kep, instead of heading south from KC to Arkansas’s Camp Takodah.

– While traveling, we listen to the BBC instead of NPR. (We’ve decided we prefer British-accented news.)

– Instead of picking up last-minute groceries at our neighborhood Sunfresh, we pick up extra food at 1&1 Market.

– Instead of playing in our yard, we play on our roof and on the street.

– When we get tired of playing at our own house, we go to the park at Northbridge International School instead of Red Bridge Elementary School.

– Instead of buying fast (fried) food at the drive-through, we use what I like to call the Cambodian Drive-Through. This just means we can stop on the side of the road and buy practically anything. Sometimes we don’t even have to get out. We buy fast fruit, fast fresh bread, and fast Cokes along the road. (Betcha thought we were real healthy till that last one, huh? By the way, Jonathan says the Cokes taste better here. Must have something to do with the lack of high fructose corn syrup and addition of real sugar.)

– We even avail ourselves of the drive-through shoe department from time to time. (No joke. It’s quite convenient.)

– And when we are feeling especially unhealthy, we get donuts from USA Donut instead of Lamar’s.


– Gotta love those Cambodian skies. The clouds and sunsets here are the Best in the world, in my opinion.

– And also, Cambodian bathrooms. Love them.

These experiences do not in any way replace the people we have left behind. They simply make daily life easier and more comfortable. They are the myriad Exchanges and Equivalencies of our life. And in them, we find joy.



Kep at sunset

6 thoughts on “Exchange Theory

  1. Okay, you gotta explain the Cambodian bathrooms that you love so much. From my experience, that wouldn’t be my feeling about them!

    • They are so easy to clean. Just spray the cleaner, scrub, and rinse down with the shower head. When I need to wash my feet, which is often, I just walk in and wash, and the bathrooms drain themselves. No need to clean or dry them. They’re supposed to be easier for potty training clean up. They’re very easy to clean up messy children after meals, since Cambodian bathrooms are on every floor, and almost always right next to a kitchen. Just shower your kid, no trouble with clean up. Very convenient to brush your teeth while in a [cold] shower. And most important of all, no nasty shower curtains to clean!!! (I hated dirty shower curtains in America.) So many reasons, I’m sure other people have more reasons, but those are some of mine, and I do love my Cambodian bathrooms 🙂

  2. What’s the American equivalency of geckos greeting you in the Bathroom? ( : I must say you all have mastered the great attitude of having your cup half full! So wonderful to hear of your adventures, God Bless you as you serve Him in Cambodia!

    • I’m not sure what the equivalent of geckos is, Linda! I would have to think about that . . . But did you notice how all my unpleasant exchanges are pretty much critter-related?? I don’t like bugs and other larger vermin, but they seem to be on all continents, so I guess I just have to live with them 🙂 ~Elizabeth

      • Well Linda, I still don’t know about an exchange for the geckos, but this morning I remembered that once a bird got stuck in our basement in America, and once a bird got stuck in the boys’ room here. Strange that even small things like that have equivalents! I do have to say, though, that there were a couple things that happened to my house in America (I won’t describe them) that I hope don’t happen to me here. But even if they do, I also hope to avoid a repeat-breakdown if I ever encounter them again! Crazy that some parts of our life here could so closely mirror those 6 years in our beloved Parsonage, both the positive (like enjoying our neighborhood) and the not-so-positive (like the loud animals next door). 🙂

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