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Sharing life with the Slagels

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This trip to Cambodia, we didn’t do any touristy things. I didn’t want to take the girls to the Killing Fields or Tuol Sleng. And I really didn’t fancy hopping another flight to visit Siem Reap and watch my littles climb all over crumbling temples. What I wanted to do was share day-to-day life with Noelle.  I have one or two more posts about these experiences and then I’ll be back to my usual blog chatter.

Century Plaza

There is a sprawling park/playground near the riverfront.  We went during the day to play.  There I learned Cambodia has real “playground police.”  We had a whistle blown at us multiple times for climbing on play equipment as adults — even to rescue Asher!

We went once at night for a picnic.  It was vibrant and so much fun!  There was a giant Zumba class at one end of the plaza.  At least 100 people dancing.  Exercise must be a government focus.  Along side-walks, it was not unusual to see exercise equipment free for use. 

A giant fountain was lit up and the water show was entertaining. 

But the real fun for our kids was spontaneous dancing.  A guy was doing karaoke on one side of the plaza.  We never did understand why.  Regardless, Norah, Cedar, and Asher danced for over an hour; weaving through the passing people.

At one point, the kids had a crowd of people gathered around them and a few other kids joined the fun.  You can’t see them well in this clip but you’ll get the idea. 

Russian Market

By far, my favorite part of Phnom Penh is the Russian Market.  Hot, crowded, dark, smelly, dirty.  Stalls packed tightly together.  Bodies squeezing past each other.  Haggling.  Lots of haggling.  Sounds like fun, yes?  Oh my.  The last time I went, I was newly pregnant and the fish stalls/heat/smells almost undid me.  But the fruit, oh the fruit!

Jewelry, scarves, fabric, household goods, fruit, chickens, fish, clothes, DVDs, shoes, bags.  None of it priced.  Here is how it goes:  I pause to admire a dress.  The seller (a girl of maybe 20 yrs) immediately “you like?”  “How much?” I ask.  “For you, special price.  7.00.”  At this point, I have a choice to move on or stay.  Let’s say I stay.  She draws me into her little stall and begins pulling out dresses from thin air and handing them to me.  “Oh you look pretty in this one.”  “you are so pretty.”  “this one for you.”  “I give you good price for this.”  “2 dress for 10.00.”  And at that point, this super saleswoman has done her work:  complimented me, made me feel I have to buy something since she unfolded so many items, and given me a bulk discount.  But there is still haggling to be done.  It really is fun because the prices are low anyway and the sellers are so sweet, smart, and sassy.  And if I didn’t like something or it didn’t fit, I could bring it back (no receipt!) for a refund.  Here is my dad buying a tool to fix something at Noelle’s apartment.  I don’t know how he found the right things!

Now Cedar hated the market.  Because everyone touched her.  Her hair, her cheeks, her body.  They wanted to pick her up.  They laughed when she screamed at them “Don’t touch me!”  And Norah hated the market because it was hot and everyone noticed Cedar. 


One of the BEST parts of my trip was the last day.  I had a rough morning.  I got a facial at an NGO that employs women who have been pulled from the trafficking industry.  I cried a little knowing what this beautiful girl placing hot towels on my face had been through.  Norah was grumpy the whole time I was trying to relax.  We went downstairs for sweets and she threw a tantrum (!), kicked the plastic table with our coffee and smoothies.  I had to remove her and walk down a side-street until she calmed.  When I came back, Cedar had a tantrum and threw her large chocolate smoothie into the wall.  I cried.  So my parents took the girls and gave Noelle and I some time to shop.  But you know what we also did?  We sneaked in a quiet lunch at Cafe Yejj.  And I cried there, too.  Because I realized that emotional life in Cambodia is hard.  Evil is so visible there.  The heat is stifling.  Transportation is frustrating.  Communication is difficult even for someone who has learned Khmer.  Did I mention the evil so visible there?  And it brings out all your stuff.  All your issues bubble up and spill out.  My kids behaved very differently in Cambodia than in Thailand.  They were easily angered.  I was easily angered.  That is what I wanted — to share life with my sister.  I couldn’t understand this before.  She had tried to explain it to me.  Now I know, or at least I had a taste of it.  A bitter taste.  And I know precisely how to pray for Zach and her.   

The last quiet moment with Noelle before we left that night.  A sweet prayer, conversation, and tears shared over yummy food.

4 responses »

  1. I’m crying as I read this. You worded it so well. It is hard, even with the beautiful escapes and yummy cafes. It’s especially hard on nights like tonight, when it is so very hot, your whole family is sick and your air conditioner is broken. Yet we also have so much to be thankful for! Thanks for posting this!

  2. Now I am crying…
    Thank you, Julie, for beautifully describing this amazing trip. Such tender moments, along with the joys and harshness of sharing time in Cambodia with Noelle and Zach. I am so thankful that we can better understand how to pray.

  3. So beautifully written, as usual. I miss Noelle, Zach, and Asher. My prayers continue for them daily. Here I take so much for granted, blessings unnoticed. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Laughing, then crying! I love the the stories and love the amazing way you share them! Such a talent and I’m always craving more! Love you all/miss you precious Slagels so much !


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