Last week I made brownies to bring to a pot luck. Let me tell you the story.
My alarm goes off at 5:53 am. I feel remarkably well-rested, and I’m ready for the big day ahead.
Lately, we’ve been having an amazing stretch of unseasonably cool weather–highs only in the 80s, lows in the 70s. After I make my way downstairs, I open the doors and windows on the lower level to let the cool air in. I stand outside for a few minutes and breathe deeply in the fresh morning air.
Cereal. Coffee. Shower. And back upstairs for my morning devotions. I finally make it through the book of Ezekiel on my read-thru-the-Bible plan.
I go back downstairs around 7:30 and chat with Reatrey. He is making breakfast before he goes to school for his midterm exams. I check the fridge and we are low on eggs. I can’t make brownies without eggs, so I hop on my motorcycle and drive to the market.
At the market my meat vendor spots me as I drive past her stand. “Sir!” she calls out with her characteristically big smile. I smile back and wave. When I make it to my egg vendor, we chat briefly as she picks out my eggs, looking for the biggest ones. The eggs are even on sale, 10 for only $1.
When I get home, I mix up my brownies, throw them in the oven, wash dishes, and set an alarm as I go up to the third floor to my office to start work. About thirty minutes later, I am back downstairs to check on my baking.
Oh no! The brownies are goopy and the oven is cold. I am out of propane.
Back on my motorcycle to a gas shop in my neighborhood. It’s not the closest one, but that vendor once came to replace my little propane tank at 10 pm, long after all the other shops were closed. She won a loyal customer that night.
Her husband usually does deliveries, but he isn’t there. She assures me that he is coming back “now,” and he would bring a full tank over to my place.
Back on my moto and back home. Then, in just a couple of minutes, the lady shows up with a tank. She saw the anxiety on my face when I asked for a new tank, and so she thought she’d just deliver it herself.
We chat a bit. She praises my Khmer. “And you can even read and write!” she says. I know from previous interactions that she’s illiterate, and so I start writing out the receipt myself.
“How much?” I ask. “The same as last time,” she says. “$15?” I ask. “No, not for a regular customer. Only $14 for you.”
She actually bargains me down in price. Incredible!
I swap out the tanks, fire the oven back up, throw my goopy brownies back in, and set another alarm. Twenty minutes later, my brownies are baked to perfection.
What an amazing way to start the day! Fresh air, a market run and chats with vendors, and freshly baked brownies.
That’s only one version of the story.
Let me tell you that story again.
My alarm goes off. As I open my bedroom door, I’m instantly struck by the distinctive smell of propane gas.
I rush downstairs as fast as I can. The whole place smells like gas. Someone had left one of the stove burners on last night.
I throw open the doors and windows and go outside. I hope the cross breeze will clear the gas out. What even are the effects of a gas leak? Could my house blow up? I don’t even know. I don’t want to find out.
Finally, I judge it safe enough to go back in, and I go back to my morning routine.
After my morning devotions (can anyone really understand the book of Ezekiel?), I head back downstairs around 7:30 am to start baking. A guilty-looking Reatrey smiles at me. He’s toasting my bread and frying my eggs for breakfast.
Ugh. There had only been three eggs in the first place. Now I have to go to the market. That’s going to eat up at least 15 minutes of my time.
Whatever. When I get back, one of the guys is lounging on the couch. “Where did you go?”
Ugh, isn’t it obvious? Why are you asking obvious questions? I am holding twenty eggs in a plastic bag. Do you think I went to a farm to get eggs?
I snap, “The market!” Not the most polite, but at least I suppressed all my smart alec comments.
Finally, I can make my brownies. I mix them up, throw them in the oven, wash dishes, and set an alarm as I go up to the third floor to my office to start work. This is taking way more time than I expected. About thirty minutes later, I am back downstairs to check on my baking.
Crap! The brownies are goopy and the oven is cold. I am out of propane.
With a gas leak all night, of course I’m out of propane! Why can’t my housemates just be more responsible and turn off the gas? Ugh! What a pain. I have to go out again to get the tank refilled. I technically could call the shop but it’s a little hard to explain where my house is. There are no street signs. Nothing is clear or simple.
At the propane shop, the delivery guy is out, but he’s coming back “now.” Yeah right, I think. Ailov in Khmer doesn’t really mean “now.” It could be anytime between right now and thirty minutes from now, or an hour. Who knows? Or maybe “now” is just a face-saving way of telling me it’s going to be a really long time.
Ugh. So frustrating. Why can’t anything be easy? I just want to make brownies.
In the end the lady delivers my gas for me. I get the tanks swapped out, and I finally get my brownies back in a hot oven.
Ugh. What an annoying way to start the day! Really, why can’t anything here just be easy? I just wanted to make brownies. How complicated does that have to be?
So there it is.
One morning. Two versions of the story. Both of them are true.
When I lived it, I experienced it as the second one. An incredibly frustrating way to start a morning. It was only after I did a bit of personal reflection later in the day that I was able to see all the beautiful parts of the story that I was overlooking. I was focusing only on the negative.
A lot depends on the slant of the storyteller–what details to focus on, what aspects to leave out.
People who do work like I do often are tempted with slanted storytelling. Fill the prayer letters with success stories! Look at those baptisms! Pictures of smiling children! What wonderful relationships I have with local people! I’m making such a big impact! (please give money!)
That might all be true. But there’s also another side that often doesn’t make it into the prayer letters–frustrations, miscommunications, ministry flops, incredible “inefficiencies,” broken relationships.
And so I’m firing up my blog again. My goal isn’t to write complainy posts about how hard my life is (it isn’t). But I do want to give a fuller picture than what I’m able to convey in a prayer letter every couple months. A two-page PDF doesn’t leave much room for nuance.
Stay tuned here for some more posts. My goal is to write at least once a month to share stories, observations and reflections, and of course, pictures about my work and life in Cambodia.