31 December 2010

kirirom kamping

they say sometimes a picture is worth a whole lot more than words.

[photo by steveamie]

25 November 2010

blessed are those who mourn

[photo by Justin Mott for The New York Times]

blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted - matthew 5:4

[Photo by AFP]

[Photo by Pha Lina, Phnom Penh Post]

tragedy has come to cambodia, a nation who is no stranger to grief. & today the country is grieving. & mourning. & struggling to comfort one another. & perhaps for many, reliving loss & trauma from decades long past. please pray, for the healing wings of God to comfort those who mourn in Cambodia today.

emma leslie, the director at the centre for peace & conflict studies here in phnom penh, shared these reflections today. its a long read, but i think it really touches the core of why exactly this tragedy has felt so raw & overwhelming in this city.

Reflecting on Cambodia’s National Day of Mourning

The Water Festival is a time of great celebration in Cambodia. It is always celebrated around November but the dates are dependent on the moon. Some say it’s a chance to honour the rivers which replenish the soil for the harvest. Others say it’s to honour the spirits which make the river miraculous change direction and flow in the other direction. Mostly it’s the time where the people from Cambodia’s countryside take over the capital! Phnom Penh is theirs. They sleep along the streets, they cheer on the boat of their district, they stay up all night and enjoy the myriad of free entertainment from fireworks to concerts and traditional dancing. It’s a grand celebration of life!

The development of a new island in the river, accessed through such a beautiful bridge decorated with a Naga snake, was this year such a focal point for the celebration. So many went to Diamond Island over the holiday period for the trade show, the fun park, the free concerts, the displays and because so many other people were there to see! Such a focal point of joy and happiness, amongst Cambodia’s rural poor.

And therein lies the tragedy. Those that died on the bridge on November 22 were hardly Cambodia’s wealthy. They were yet again the poorest of the poor. Garment factory workers, usually young women out for a good time. Sisters from a tiny village disobeying their mother and running to the capitol to join the fun. They were slum dwellers from a nearby slum soon to be demolished. They were moto-dop drivers, garbage collectors, market sellers, rice farmers. And now 395 such people lay dead in the height of the celebrations.

No doubt there will much discussion and debate by NGOs and human rights groups in weeks to come. How the government could have protected them. How safety standards are not enforced. But this is not the day for such recriminations. Today a prime minister weeps openly with his people, and the streets are silent. Outside every home, along every street, there are the traditional offerings, candles and incense for those who have passed. TV channels read the names of those who have died, replay the footage of that fateful night and update the death toll hour to hour.

It is hard to watch the images without comparing them to so many of the images long associated with Cambodia. It is not a publicity stunt that so many of those interviewed by the media, including Hun Sen’saddress to the nation, refer back to the Khmer Rouge years. Not since then has there been such a tragedy in our history, they say. One woman wept, I lost everyone to the Khmer Rouge, and now I lost my son in this stampede. Who will take care of me now?
Over the past decade the international community has tried hard to persuade Cambodia that an international tribunal was necessary to heal Cambodia’s past, to reconcile the nation, to bring closure. To date the tribunal has seemed an alien legal process, far the from reality of everyday lives and certainly not a mechanism for healing deep seated pains and loss.

But the events of the past few days have felt very different. In every restaurant, in every market, along the street – people go about their business slowly and silently. People watch tv screens in breakfast shops and cry openly. On Wednesday I watched a military truck slowly make its way down the Monivong, the main road through Phnom Penh, filled with coffins. As it past shops and houses, guards, pedestrians, passersby, all stood, almost to attention, to pay respect and honour those nameless corpses going by.

I drove past the hospital and found people giving out water to the many people camped out there trying to find their family members. A huge billboard displayed the unidentified people still indie the hospital, and people clamber over each other to see if they can find their own.
While this has been a deep and great tragedy for Cambodia, something else is going on here. This country has become united in its grief. People are coming together to put right, something which was very wrong. They are standing together to mourn their country people, fully aware that those who died were the least among them, and now deserve the highest honour for their tragic end. And of course all of us looking on wonder how they can bear more suffering, more grief and more pain.

The late Maha Ghosananda, Cambodia’s peace monk often chanted;

The suffering of Cambodia has been deep. From this suffering comes great Compassion.
Great Compassion makes a Peaceful Heart.
A peaceful Heart makes a Peaceful Person.
A Peaceful Person makes a Peaceful Community.
A Peaceful Community makes a Peaceful Nation.
And a Peaceful Nation makes a Peaceful World.
May all beings live in Happiness and Peace.

Perhaps Maha understood that it is the yoke Cambodians must bear on behalf of us all. People who come to Cambodia often comment of the smiles of the children, the happiness of the people. They marvel at the sense of fun, and joy in simple pleasures. They speak of the open hearted way Cambodians welcome them, embrace them and befriend them. Perhaps this is what Maha speaks of – the joy that is born of suffering. Perhaps Cambodia suffers so much so that compassion can be.

For the past 48 hours Cambodian television channels have received donations from around the country for the victims’ families and the injured survivors. No amount is too small to announce on the television recognising the contributions of even the poorest people. From this suffering comes great compassion.

One boy told of a man who saw him trapped under the feet of the people on the bridge. He bent down and lift the boy up and put him on his shoulders so he was above the crowd. Later the boy realised he was riding on the shoulders of a dead man. From this suffering comes great compassion.

What we learn through the events of the past few days is that sense of national identity and reconciled togetherness cannot come from outside. It comes from the shared suffering, losses histories and processes which people experience for themselves. In many South East Asian nations those shared histories are days of liberation, celebrating anti colonial struggles and the pride of self determination. Cambodia has no just day of celebration or national unity. Cambodia’s unity seems always to come through her suffering. Piles of shoes belonging to the deceased – in the Khmer Rouge years and again today. The mass graves of the Killing Fields, parallel to lines of bodies along the river bank of the past two days.

Today is Cambodia’s National Day of Mourning. Today, one after another Cambodians are laying flowers and burning incense at the fateful bridge. This is their time, where they stand together as a nation and grieve. This is not just grief for those who died in this incident. This is truly a National Day of Mourning for all the suffering they have endured. This is the time they rally and unite to put right something which went very wrong. This is their moment of national unity. This is the suffering they bear, from which compassion is born. As a prime minister weeps with his people, Maha’s words echo over this timeless land;

"Our journey for peace begins today and every day.
Each step is a prayer, each step is a meditation, each step will build a bridge."

Ironic, yet true. Cambodians will wipe their tears, and continue to build their nation, heal their hearts and show great compassion. Not just to each other, but to the world.

Emma Leslie Phnom Penh, November 25, 2010

12 October 2010

& what do you do?

while we were in north american this summer/fall we made a few presentations about our work in cambodia. i thought i'd post the slides here, in case you've ever wondered just what exactly it
is we do here.
Talstras in Cambodia

and while i'm at it, MCC British Columbia just came out with its Prayer Booklet for 2011. If you have a moment, you can read about the experiences of MCC workers in British Columbia, Colombia, Cambodia, El Salvador, and Zambia. (we're on page 21 & 22, click the image to download)

3 October 2010


amanda: i had a dream that i saw our baby & it was a boy with very short legs

daniel: i had a dream you were a gecko

1 October 2010

what a shame! [laughter + swine flu]

while en route to north america & back again, we spent some time in the shanghai airport. both times we were entertained by this swine flu public service video playing at our gate.
the title is "how to protect yourself from being attacked by the influenza a(h1n1)"

i can't speak a lick of mandarin & at the risk of being hypocritical, we got a kick out of the english translation for this little ditty. some favorite lines...

"swine flue comes from America, spreads around the world...what a shame!"

"if you have a cough or sneezing, stop your mouse & nose with paper. throw the paper in the garbage can. social morality!"

"although the epidemic situation is nervous, we should have a good mood"

"don't drill the crowd to join in the fun. dangerous!"

"if there were patients in the place where you live, don't have a no purpose stroll outside"

expo + belly

[shanghai expo + belly]

29 September 2010


student pizza party

for the last 2 years one of my [amanda's] primary roles has been working with graduate students at the royal university of agriculture. its been a pleasure working with the same group of 16 students [15 boys & only 1 brave girl] studying english academic & scientific writing.
last spring to celebrate the end of the classroom portion of their masters program [now they begin research + thesis writing] we celebrated with a pizza party [!]

it was a good time of spending time with the students outside of class. they surprised daniel & i by having the restaurant play "happy birthday" over the loudspeakers [it wasn't either of our birthdays...] & presented us with a special mango cake. then each student stood up & gave a small speech wishing us "successful, more beautiful, & a baby"

house stomach [baby]

ultrasound - waving & foot
[20 weeks & a little wave]

in cambodia the word for "pregnant" literally translates as "to have a house stomach", which seems pretty charming, indeed.

we are excited & nervous & thrilled & thankful that amanda's [rapidly expanding] belly has become a home for this little person & we would love your prayers for his/her safe arrival sometime around january 29!

25 September 2010

mountains beyond mountains [visit to terrace]

the second half of our sabbatical this summer was spent on the west coast, most of it up in northern BC in daniel's hometown of terrace. we did a little hiking, biking, kayaking, ocean fishing, family reunioning, taco tuesdaying, celebrated jack & hilda's 35th wedding anniversary & several birthdays, explored prince rupert, had lots of evening fires & spent a lot of time catching up with old friends & family. it was lovely & a hard place to leave.

Talstra Family
[the whole talstra clan with sunflowers! & umbrellas! - photo by sarah zimmerman]

[snapshots from a month in terrace - by christina, nathania & us]


[& yes, we do have the cutest nieces and nephews ever]

20 September 2010

stitches of gold [sabbatical part II]

"Love is what carries you, for it is always there, even in the dark, or most in the dark, but shining out at times like gold stitches in a piece of embroidery. "
Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

apart from visiting with family, we LOVED spending our sabbatical times catching up with old friends. it was a whirlwind of visits, guest beds, tea, lingering evenings, quick catch ups, friends, friends, friends & we loved every minute of it.

dinner with dan & cindy
[a delightful night with our old menno house-mates dan & cindy in brooklyn]

[delicious ny style pizza with sylvia, friend & pastor of manhattan mennonite fellowship]

chris rae + lego mark twain
[picnic at the mark twain house in connecticut with chris, daniel's college housemate]

[mexican lunch with old chums mike & maren in philadelphia]

[seattle with dear, dear friends zack & amber (sadly not pictured!)]

[ottawa mark in rochester, ny]

jamie sue + jody zoe + amanda mary
[precious brockport high school pals]

[daniel's high school crew together again in vancouver]

[college roommates - katie & hannah & amanda celebrating in connecticut]

[vancouver visit with karla, baby drew, dave, liza & recent arrival baby vincent still in utero]

[levi & daniel as homeschool cool]

[visit in quesnel with the vanvught clan]

[settlers in terrace with high school friends - craig, anny & dave]

[picnic with kindred spirits cris, michelle, suj'n & shepherd in gasworks park, seattle (picture by suj'n photographer extraordinaire)]

[the boys - daniel, james & josh - in seattle (picture by suj'n)]

20 August 2010

as the north wind [blaine & lindsay's wedding]

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.


[picture by emily giese - photographer extraordinaire]

the biggest reason we chose to go home in august was so that we could witness & celebrate my [amanda's] brother blaine's wedding. he & his bride, lindsay, got married on a warm summer day in the finger lakes region of ny state.

the wedding was at a quaint little chapel on the grounds of a beautiful old victorian home. the service & reception were simple, elegant & lots of fun - just like the newlywedded couple themselves!

hastings family
[picture by kristen hamm]

it was a joyful celebration with the whole hastings family & the many, many friends who came to celebrate too.

blaine & lindsay wedding
[pictures by tim hack]

daniel played violin for the ceremony & i read a poem by Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese poet & philosopher, during the service.

On Love

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you.
Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height
and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots
and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart,
and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart.

-Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

15 August 2010

c + a = cranny

anny + craig

while we were home we also had the great fortune to witness craig & anny's wedding. from adventures in rural cambodia to dancing the night away in vancouver, we've made some really great memories with these dear friends & celebrating with them was a highlight of our time at home.



[wedding exuberance by infinity photography]

25 July 2010

poetry collides [katie & nathan get married!]

another exciting part of our sabbatical this summer was the happy occasion to join with katie & nathan to celebrate their wedding.

[photo by the amazing Christopher Kuehl, Denver Wedding Photography. click on the link for the most beautiful wedding photos ever]

to my great, great fortune katie & i were matched as roommates during our freshman year at university. we spent the next several years taking lots of naps, avoiding social situations, hiding in our room (with hannah too!), listening to our evolving tastes in music, & generally working out who & what it was that we wanted to be. i can still remember how completely heartbroken i was the day we moved out of our little dorm room - katie bound for martha's vineyard & i bound for alaska.

[ok, we have a bit of a height difference, but she must have been wearing heels in this photo, right?]

it turns out that katie wanted to be a whimsical, creative & beauty-inspired artist + musician better suited to the east coast than our indiana cornfields. & in that endeavor she stumbled upon nathan, just the dear partner, muse, encourager, & dreamer for her.

[& yes, they are hipster super models - a perfect fit! photo also by Christopher Kuehl, Denver Wedding Photography]

& so they decided to get married. & it was a beautiful, whimsical, deeply inspired creative celebration.


you can check out their latest musical endeavor, Faux Fix, here. full length album coming early 2011!

24 July 2010

uganda [thoughts of faith + provision]

in the early part of the summer, i (amanda) had the great opportunity to spend a month in kampala, the capital city of uganda. i was there as part of my studies towards a masters degree in international development from eastern university.

grad school cohort
[my amazing cohort + our disaster relief professor, francois]

although i didn't have many chances to venture out from the classroom, what i did manage to see was a beautiful country, full of boisterous people ("you are most welcome to uganda" was a popular greeting), bright clothing, eager smiles & delicious coffee. it was quite a contrast to cambodia, where people tend to be a bit more reserved, shy smiles are the standard greeting & the temperature is 20 degrees F hotter!


but the trip will always be tied with sadness in my memory. while i was in kampala, a terrible suicide bombing attack took the lives of 74 people, including aid worker nate henn who worked with invisible children, a group working to end the use of child soldiers in uganda. i was within 1/2 mile of the bombing & heard the bombs go off, although i thought they were fireworks at the time - how strange to be so close to such violence & yet so unaffected.

the experience gave me a lot to think about.

firstly, i was really thankful to be with a group of christians. we spent the next morning praying for the situation together & it was a reminder to me that we really are supposed to be praying without ceasing (1 thes 5:17), together as the Church & that i don't do that enough.

it was also a reminder that Satan really does prowl around like a roaring lion seeking destruction (1 peter 5:8), which doesn't mean i should be fearful, just that i should probably pray a whole lot more.

& finally it was reminder of something that i think i have been learning throughout these last two years in Cambodia (& that has really broken a lot of my theological presuppositions)

-- God doesn't promise us earthly safety & security & sustenance --

He promises us His presence & He sends the church into the world to provide earthly & spiritual sustenance & to work for justice & the oppressed (isaiah 58:6-10 & matthew 25:34-40), but those are signs of His kingdom that is here, but that is also not yet here & the "not yet here" part means that babies in cambodia will die simply from lack of proper food & babies in canada will have complicated breathing problems & even that i could be watching the world cup & be killed by a bomb.

i know that seems like a simple lesson, but when i draw from my own life & experiences, i see a God who always blesses & provides & so its hard to line that up when it seems like God doesn't always do that for others. but I know that God is so much bigger than my own experiences of Him & that i am called to be joyful & grateful for what I have, without ever thinking that God has promised me anything that I have, apart from His presence in the middle of the muddyness & messiness of life & death.

because in the end, God doesn't protect anyone from death, but He does offer us life that is greater.

& (aside from qualitative research, cross cultural studies, micro-finance, disaster relief & advocacy)
that's what i really learned in uganda .

20 July 2010

sabbatical [brockport]

We shall not cease from exploration,
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
-T. S. Eliot


this august/september we had the wonderful oppurtunity to take a two-month sabbatical/home leave. all told, we slept in 22 beds, took 16 plane rides, were in 3 weddings, & ate 2 pizza hut lunch buffets.

the sabbatical truly was a time of rest & renewal for us. we had an amazing time relaxing with with friends & family & enjoying all the comforts of being home. it was just the break we needed to came back to Cambodia with renewed energy & sense of calling as we begin our next two years of work here.

we spent the first half of our time in north america with my [amanda's] parents in western new york. they were such gracious hosts & we enjoyed whiling away the august summer days with them.

mom & dad

[lovely hosts]

summer picnic

[summer dinners in brockport]

[pool fun]


[boating at the thousand islands, the mouth of the st. lawrence river]

[picnicking on lake ontario]


[pizza hut lunch buffet - yum, i want it again just looking at these pictures!]

11 June 2010

blessed in battambong [christo & erica visit cambodia]

last month we were so blessed to round off our visitor hat-trick with a fabulous visit with our dear friends christo & erica. we loved showing them a bit of our life here, a bit of cambodia, & most enjoyed our long conversations & philosophical musings with these old friends (over philosophical gin & tonics to relieve us from the crazy, crazy heat!).

[in battambong ridin' that bamboo train - in the middle of terrific storm no less. this memory is etched.]

[always safety first when traveling with the talstras. always.]

[*our tour guide, mr. tin tin, showed us around battambong - to a mountain temple, cambodia's only winery, ridiculously cool fruit bats, the ruins of an ancient temple, and a rice noodle enterprise out of a family's home. but i think we will all remember him best for the time he took to share with us the story of his family & what happend to them during the khmer rouge regime. his stories of watching his immediate family die, one by one, told through the eyes of 10-year old boy really moved us. & his story of resilience & strength as he rebuilt his life showed hope emerging from all that tragedy. if you've ever in battambong, mr. tin tin is highly recommended.]

[by the rivers of battambong]

[fun with cocoons, at the silk farm in siem reap]

[daniel + buddha]

[* yea, we got matching shirts & wore them on the same day]

*pictures by the de klerks