Greetings from Cambodia,
The following story comes from a local newspaper:
Supernatural sightings are being blamed by some for a rash of high school girls falling faint and writhing uncontrollably at two schools in Kratie province, local officials said. Dr. Cheam Sa Em, provincial director of the Kratie health department, said nine students from Prek Prasap district’s Chambok High School became faint and writhed on the ground while 10 other female students displayed the same symptoms in Kratie City in incidents that occurred on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Though the principal at one of the schools affected believes the convulsions were brought on by the appearance of a ghost, Dr. Sa Em offered a less spooky explanation for the girls’ strange behavior: bad diets. “The affected students were the same. They are on diets to be slim and only eating two times a day. They are lacking glucose,” he said. Dr. Sa Em said that the military police and doctors are investigating the incidents, closely monitoring what the girls are eating and drinking and have ordered the schools’ grounds to be cleaned thoroughly. He added that drugs or poison could also be a possible explanation for the students’ symptoms. However, Vin Sokheng, principal of Kratie City’s Preah Mohaksatany Kossamak High School, said that he believed the reason for his students falling ill was supernatural. “When they entered the classroom, they were scared, shouting and then some of them became faint and were writhing on the ground,” Mr Sokheng said of the possession-like symptoms of the teenaged girls studying in 10th through 12th grades. Teachers at the high school and parents of the students were not taking any chances either and invited local Buddhist monks and pagoda laymen to hold a prayer ceremony at the school on Thursday. However, two students showed the same symptoms on Friday and the religious figures were invited back to continue their efforts to bring to continue their efforts to bring an end to the problem. – Chansy, Chhorn. “Girls’ Convulsion Enigma: Ghosts or Crash Diets?” The Cambodian Daily
I would say that the above article provides a fairly fitting description of the spiritual mindset in Cambodia. Obviously, it is much different than what most of us are used to in the States. The Cambodian Daily is daily mainstream newspaper that is mostly written in English. I think that before I came here the only time I saw a headline like the one above was probably on the cover of a National Enquirer in a supermarket checkout line. Most Cambodians believe in a very rich supernatural realm. The religion here is usually described as a type of Folk Buddhism that is Buddhism mixed with a belief in guardian spirits, ancestral spirits, ghosts, and Brahman deities.
Back towards the end of October, I was walking around the Buddhist temple that is close to my house. A monk greeted me in English and invited me to sit at a table with him and talk. I spent about an hour with him. I did not really think that I would see him again when I left that day. But after about 5 months, I have been able to see him 2 or 3 times per month. He is in his early twenties and studying English literature. It has provided a good opportunity for me to practice speaking Khmer and to learn some about Buddhism, and he enjoys practicing his English. His main duty as a monk is to pray for people that come to the temple with health or other problems. Many of the prayers that are recited are in the Pali language, so the average person often does not understand the content of the prayer.
Language learning continues to plod along. I am getting more comfortable using what I know in talking with Khmer people. It is always a bit of an adventure talking to people when your vocabulary is so limited. It is a random of assortment of questions that I know how to ask now ranging from: “What is your favorite color?” to “Does your family have ducks?” so many of my conversations are not very cohesive. Please pray that my ability to speak Khmer progresses, and that I would find my strength and comfort in Christ as I continue to adjust and learn to function in this culture.