Little Houses

Pushing the pedals of the bicycle feels much easier on the level landscape of Cambodia than on previously experienced steep hills in Colorado. The country presents very little geographic obstacles for a novice bicyclist like myself. Outside of the city is miles of rice fields and lotus farms. The dirt roads are void of traffic with the humming sound of cicadas. In the busy city of Phnom Penh, the streets are crowded and chaotic with cars, motorbikes, and fellow cyclists that somehow manage to flow smoothly. Although not completely free from risk of being run over, I feel safer here than biking in another cities I have lived in previously. The motorists accept bicycles on the roads and simply coexist.

Bicycling is a different experience than riding the motorbike. The world seems to slow down and I get to see more of it. I notice the children chasing each other barefoot in the street while grinning and laughing, or the dogs lying fast asleep on the hot concrete with the occasional chicken running freely around them. I notice the details of the wall to wall shops lining the roads with their various goods hanging in the wide doorways. Inside the shop owners recline comfortably in hammocks waiting for customers. The signs are proudly displayed with large curly letters. I don’t understand what they read, but the symbols still somehow are familiar. Many shops are also the owners’ homes, some with an upper level where the family dwell. At the front of the shops are spirit houses. They are small shrines that are tiny houses facing outward from their shop. Cambodians trust the shrines to give them good luck and fend away bad spirits.

I ponder on this sometimes and wonder about the thoughts of the people adding fruit and beverages to the shrine, an offering to sprits. They feel obligated to this, afraid that if they don’t their family will not have fortune. Not doing this, they fear they are at risk of being plagued by evil. Do they think that if they do have sickness, they didn’t offer enough? If they don’t have enough money to buy food, do they give even more of their already limited inventory? Should I stop and tell them that they don’t have to do it? Should I tell them that they don’t have to be afraid and that there is a Savior that asks for nothing but acceptance?

I pray for the courage and dismissal of doubt. Sharing the truth to them is important, even urgent. They need to know, they need to be free.

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