You say goodbye, I say hello.
Our six hour trip from Battambang to Phnom Penh was mostly uneventful. I've gotten pretty good at conveying across the countryside kids and luggage in our van — a 12 passenger, 2 liter diesel that can't exceed 63 mph — dodging cows, kids, bikes, tractors and the occasional monk. All was well until we hit construction traffic about 30 minutes outside of Phnom Penh, where we blew a rear tire. Thankfully, our staff had prepared the car well, and within 45 minutes we had found the tools (under the front passenger seat, of course), dislodged the spare and changed it out for the badly flattened original.
We took only a few minutes to relax at our hotel before heading out to our Prek Eng campus about a half hour outside the city. More driving than I'd have preferred for one day, but my family's time in Cambodia was limited, and we wanted to get as many minutes with our staff and kids as possible. Exhausted from the day's transit, I unwisely left my camera at the hotel, and thus missed some really sweet times of fellowship, including a feast provided by our staff and enjoyed on the front porch of Prek Eng 1, Sopheng and Somary's Home.
The next day, we spent the entire afternoon and evening with the staff and kids, visiting each home, playing games and returning to Phnom Penh for dinner. And then on Tuesday, it was time for one last opportunity to see all of the kids and staff. After breakfast and lunch in the city, we headed to Prek Eng and enjoyed the kind of long, summer afternoon evening with friends and family that kids remember wistfully for the rest of their lives.
As the afternoon turned to evening and then to night, I knew we had to get our kids — especially the little one — back to the hotel and into bed. But it was hard. Although we'd visit the homes one more time the next day, many of the kids would be in school and that this was, for a lot of them, goodbye until next year.
Yesterday morning, we got up early and grabbed breakfast at a reliable favorite, The Feel Good Café. It's easily the best coffee in Phnom Penh, and it's run by Marc and Jose, two men whose business ethics I admire greatly. I could write a whole post on them, and might do that later. At any rate, after a filing breakfast, we headed out to Prek Eng. A surprising number of kids were home from school — I wonder if some of them were there specifically to see us off.
After enjoying a delicious staff lunch at Prek Eng 6, Samnang and Son's home, we gathered all of the kids and staff together and spent the next 20 minutes mugging for the cameras, and hugging for the memories. It could have lasted for hours, but frankly, I hate long goodbyes. When I felt like we'd reached our threshold for sad adieus, I announced, "Okay, guys. Time to go." It took another 15 minutes to actually get into the car and exit the gates.
We were mostly quiet for the rest of the afternoon. We reached our hotel, finished packing the kids' and Kori's bags and unsuccessfully rested until about dinner time. Kori and I process these types of transitions differently. My instinct would be to spend the last few hours embracing, squeezing every drop of intimacy out of the day. Hers would be to sit quietly, perhaps even alone with her thoughts. We compromised by taking a nap. Occasionally a hand on a shoulder, a kiss on a cheek.
And then it was time.
We had to grab dinner first, and we decided on Sam Doo, a dim sum joint Pak had been bugging us to hit throughout the trip. After a preposterously difficult parking job, wherein we somehow jammed our mini-bus into a space more suitable for a Honda Civic, we plopped down quietly into the sticky white vinyl booths in the windowless first floor of the restaurant.
The food was good. Actually, it was great. It was plentiful, too. In fact, there were dumplings left over, something that rarely happens when Dyson (I mean Pak) is in the room. For that, I partially fault my tendency to over-order when faced with a multitude of small plates. But none of us were exactly at peak appetite.
After dinner, we drove to the airport. No real traffic, no delays. So we got there early. We were greeted by some of the kids and staff from Prek Eng 2, Narun and Sophal's house. And that was really nice. And then it was time for me to say my goodbyes. A little awkward with lots of people looking on, but I kissed my wife and daughter and hugged my son (sneaked a kiss on his cheek).
And then there were a few tears. I hugged Xiu Dan, and I felt her shoulders heave as she buried her head in my chest. I kissed her head and told her, "I've really enjoyed traveling with you. We have memories that will last a lifetime. I will see you very soon. You can FaceTime me any time you want, day or night. I love you." And I gave my wife one last hug and kiss and then stepped back. The Asia's Hope kids stepped back too, and blew kisses as my family walked toward the security guard at the front door of the international departure lounge. And then they were gone.
I drove back to the hotel and turned on the TV. I turned it off immediately when I realized it was all U.S. election coverage — as if saying goodbye to my family isn't discouraging enough. I took a shower, read a chapter in a book and went to bed. I didn't really sleep soundly until I'd gotten the text from Kori confirming they'd reached Bangkok and had gotten checked into their transit hotel.
I woke up feeling okay. I have a few hours of solitude, wherein I plan to buy a pair of glasses, maybe look at some shoes (mine are not appropriately dressy for the meetings I have scheduled with officials later in the week) and get ready for a month of back-to-back (to back) visits from sponsoring churches and funding partners.
I am, to be honest, a bit melancholy this morning. But I've given myself until lunch to reflect on how much I miss my family. After lunch, I'll start getting excited for the arrival of the first team — one from The Chapel in Akron, joined by my dear friend and fellow board member, Ron Biddle. The Chapel sponsors our Prek Eng 1 and Battambang 6 homes, and they're underwriting support for our new school in Battambang, opening August 1! I can't wait to welcome Pastor Tim and his team, many of whom are visiting Asia's Hope for the very first time.
Along with a contingent of staff and kids from Asia's Hope, I'll meet them at the airport around 10pm. The staff will drive them to the hotel, and I'll stay at the airport to welcome Sam and Rachel Cobb, owners of Real Wood Floors. Real Wood sponsors our school in India, and is expanding their production facilities in Cambodia. They'll join The Chapel team for the first few days, and we'll have a chance to compare notes about the kind of big, blue-sky thinking they're proposed for corporate involvement with Asia's Hope.
Even typing all that is lifting my spirits. I love this part of my job — showing off the accomplishments of our amazing staff and kids, boasting in God's power and love for his people, dreaming about changing the world with and for orphaned kids. I probably need a nap first, but I think I'm ready for this. Almost.