Day 7

It was refreshingly cool this morning as I woke up and headed over to Mindy's house. We had a breakfast of eggs and toast before we headed over to meet with the rest of our team to get a move on to Kampot. This weekend is our semi-annual team retreat. We got a fairly early start, and after finding that Google maps doesn't always tell you which roads are dirt roads we made it to our hotel.

Lunch was leftovers from the night before, and Mindy and I both hungrily ate it all very quickly. We arrived a little later than we expected, and perhaps ate breakfast a little earlier than expected. In any case, I was ravenous. I think I also drank too little water, as I had a headache all afternoon and evening. Annoying.

Dinner was a mild adventure. We didn't have the facilities to cook, so we had to hunt on the street. Thankfully we had a bit of leftover money, so that helped our budget. We finally settled on a rather eclectic dinner or lok-cha (fried, worm-like noodles), sweet pumpkin, a piece of steamed corn and a pack of dried noodles.

Day 7 food:
- Eggs and toast: $0.25
- Pasta Leftovers: $0.50
- Lok-cha: $0.50
- Sweet pumpkin: $0.18
- Corn: $0.16
- Dried Noodles: $0.10
Total: $1.64
prices above calculated from Cambodian Riel, won't always add exactly)
Grand Total: $5.99

We finished! I didn't calculate Mindy's final total, but hers would be slightly cheaper than mine. Her breakfast was about 500 riel ($0.12) cheaper per day.

Looking at the total for the week Mindy and I realized that we, frequently, for the two of us spend that much on a single meal. It's absolutely astounding that we ate for an entire week on what we can easily spend on a meal eating out.

It's easy to fall into, isn't it? Always looking for convenience. When I looked at prices in restaurants in the past I never really saw the cost of it. I definitely do now. One could easily argue the trade off between cooking at home and eating out. Labor speaking, this week was much more labor intensive than most of our weeks. Well, at least for Mindy. Going to the market takes at least an hour. Preparing the raw ingredients and cooking a meal takes time. Cleaning up takes time again. When we eat out, we're trading our money for that time.

Are we getting a fair rate though? And then, are we using the time that we bought wisely?

I confess that I don't always use my time wisely. l buy it, then waste it. Do you suppose it's any different than wasting any other purchased commodity? Pouring a soda down the drain? blending an iPad?I don't know. It's interesting to think about though.

I feel happy that today I have the freedom to go back to the way things were before. However, I'm also afraid that things will go back to the way they were before. Isn't the point of exercises like this to learn things and apply them?

I'm shocked at how much food we got over the week. If we'd been able to stay at home the entire week, even in absence of free lunches I have no doubt we could have survived, even flourished. This week we ate well, had company over, ate out a couple of times and still had a bit of money left over.

To get this result though we had to peck and pinch every bit we could. In a normal week we have the luxury of feeling or desire. If we don't want to eat rice, we can go over to Lucky Burger. If we don't feel like that, we can choose from any number of things. I think that was what I missed most at the end of it: freedom to choose.

In a normal week, I might have a coke with lunch if I'm feeling the urge. I might stop to get some fried noodles for a snack. I might get some sugar cane juice on the way home. I might pick up an iced coffee. A dollar a day meant intentional and planned moves. No spontaneity, no treats.

There is a certain joy that comes with that, and a certain weariness that settles on you from having to plan each second of your life.

I don't know if I'd ever felt that before.

I forgot to add them to yesterday's post. So today let's double up.

Today, pray for:

Development and aid efforts in Cambodia and beyond. Specifically:
-wise stewardship of financial resources
-the empowerment and independence of local people
-partnership between organizations
-A spirit of humility… global poverty and hunger are bigger problems than any of us can solve. Only God can turn our feeble efforts into something transformative.

And, Khmer New Year
-Khmer people who become Christians, but their families still expect them to participate in Buddhist rituals
-protection over the millions of Cambodians who travel over land on bad roads. Also protection during the lively festivities and water fights
-that the Spirit of God would be waging war in Cambodia this week as false gods are worshipped and honored
-that families would invite the TRUE Spirit into their homes this new year


"Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
do not refuse me before I die:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.

Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, 'Who is the LORD ?'
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God."

Proverbs 30:7-9

Day 6

Swimming day, and my last day of crab bread. Actually, that's probably not true - because I ate it all the time before all of this! But at least for the next week or so. This coming week is Khmer New Year, so Mindy and I are traveling a little bit. I woke up a bit groggy, but got on my feet and out the door more quickly than usual.

Mindy comes for lunch on Fridays so we can do pre-maritial counseling. It was one of my favorite meals: chicken, salad and soft bread rolls. The salad dressing they make at school is extremely delicious. I ALWAYS get seconds or thirds at this meal. It was hard to not go back for more.

Dinner was a bit delayed because of a Khmer New Year celebration at school. We went back to my house and made our most expensive meal yet: pasta. The tomatoes alone were $1! But, we were planning to make it last for 4 meals. (lunch for us both tomorrow) It was good, but not nearly as filling or price competitive as rice.

Day 6 food:
- Crab bread: $0.36
- Ice Cream: FREE (don't tell Mindy, it melted before I could give her any)
- School Chicken, Salad, Roll: FREE
- Pasta with sauce and Garlic bread: $0.55
Total: $0.91
prices above calculated from Cambodian Riel, won't always add exactly)
Week to date: $4.35

Making and eating Western food was a nice break. Stir fry and rice can get old after awhile. What I really think back to is Benin and pate. Pate ("paht") is the staple food in Benin. Basically, it's corn flour and water mixed up into a sort of paste. By itself it's pretty flavorless. Usually it's eaten with a tomato sauce, but there are other sauces as well. In any case, most families eat pate, and pretty much pate only. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. I think there is a bit more variety in the basic Khmer diet, but when you're in the village you only have access to what is around the village. It's doubtful we'd even get ripe, red tomatoes, let alone be able to find pasta there. Another freedom we have, and often take for granted is variety. It's nice to be able to eat a wide variety of foods, and it's definitely something that we don't often think about.

i feel a bit sheepish after my rant yesterday. Of course not everyone that's mentioned school lunch is setting me up to fail. I didn't mean to get quite so dramatic. Usually I read my posts through before I publish, but time wasn't on my side yesterday. It is a frustration to be accused of cheating. It's even more frustrating when you're making an honest effort not to cheat.

When we invited people we left it up to their own convictions. Some people we thought might like to do a dollar per meal, or just decrease their weekly spending in an intentional way. Would it be better to have more comprehensive rules? We sought to be inclusive, but does the lack of hard rules make it less inviting? These are all things that we'll have to think about for the next time we run this project.

Day 5

Today was a running day. I felt pretty good getting up. Today the crab bread was day one fresh. Sometimes it's a day or two old, and the taro gets a little bit gross and the bread a little dry. It's nice, soft and sweet when it's fresh.

Lunch was Hawaiian style pork with rice.

I came home extremely tired from work and with a headache.

Dinner was actually composed of the small amount of fried rice we had left and the pad thai from the night before. Mindy was still hungry afterward, so she made some garlic toast for us.

Day 5 food:
- Crab bread: $0.36
- School Pork and Rice: FREE
- Dinner of leftover rice and pad thai: FREE
- 1 piece of garlic toast: $0.10
- Adding in for miscalculated pad thai price: $0.21
Total: $0.67
prices above calculated from Cambodian Riel, won't always add exactly)
Week to date: $3.80

I was very surprised to see how much food we had left over from the week. In 'normal' life I try and avoid having leftovers. I don't know if it's the tales of the starving children in Asia that keep my plates and bowls clean, or if it's just that what's left over is so small. Whatever the case, I rarely have leftovers. It seems to me that not forcing myself to eat every bit and saving what's left over might actually benefit health and budget. It certainly helped us this week.

Talking with people about this project has definitely been met with somewhat mixed responses. I would say most people say something to the effect of "that's cool." But the next words out of their mouths are often criticisms for how I'm not being hardcore enough. How eating lunch at school should really count against my dollar, or just needling into the fine grained, micro-managing rules that they suppose should exist.

It's true, my provided school lunch does help in our budget situation. I am making a sustained effort to eat less than I normally would, but it is still free for me.

The fact of the matter is that, if we were looking at this experiment as a 'poor people simulation', we've failed from the outset.

Read economist Robert Heilbroner’s description of what stripping down to poverty looks like:

“We begin by invading the house of our imaginary American family to strip it of its furniture. Everything goes: beds, chairs, tables, television sets, lamps. We will leave the family with a few old blankets, a kitchen table, a wooden chair. Along with the bureaus go the clothes. Each member of the family may keep in his wardrobe his oldest suit or dress, a shirt or blouse. We will permit a pair of shoes for the head of the family, but none for the wife or children.

We move to the kitchen. The appliances have already been taken out, so we turn to the cupboards. . . . The box of matches may stay, a small bag of flour, some sugar and salt. A few moldy potatoes, already in the garbage can, must be rescued, for they will provide much of tonight’s meal. We will leave a handful of onions and a dish of dried beans. All the rest we take away: the meat, the fresh vegetables, the canned goods, the crackers, the candy.

Now we have stripped the house: the bathroom has been dismantled, the running water shut off, the electric wires taken out. Next we take away the house. The family can move to the tool shed. . . . Communications must go next. No more newspapers, magazines, books — not that they are missed, since we must take away our family’s literacy as well. Instead, in our shantytown we will allow one radio. . .

Now government services must go next. No more postmen, no more firemen. There is a school, but it is three miles away and consists of two classrooms. . . . There are, of course, no hospitals or doctors nearby. The nearest clinic is ten miles away and is tended by a midwife. It can be reached by bicycle, provided the family has a bicycle, which is unlikely. . . .

Finally, money. We will allow our family a cash hoard of five dollars. This will prevent our breadwinner from experiencing the tragedy of an Iranian peasant who went blind because he could not raise the $3.94 which he mistakenly thought he needed to receive admission to a hospital where he could have been cured.” (Revolution in World Missions, p. 40) [lifted from Mindy's friend's blog]

If we were really seeking to emulate the life of the poor, we wouldn't use the fridge. We wouldn't even be able to use our gas stove. I wouldn't be driving my moto to work. I wouldn't be working in air conditioning. We wouldn't be sleeping on mattresses. We wouldn't be using fans at night.

The point of our experiment is to invite our students and others to live life in a different way. Not to become poor, or to forgo everything. We're just trying to encourage learning, to encourage a different way of looking at daily life. Maybe exposing excesses in one small area will make us think about the excesses we have in others.

So, I'm sorry that I'm eating school lunch. I'm sorry that I'm not hardcore enough. I'm sorry that our rules aren't as comprehensive as Deuteronomy.

I don't think I would probably react differently, so the real question is - why are we looking to make people that try something different fail? What threat do new ideas, or new experiences, on the part of others have to us?

-That God would meet families’ physical needs as well as their spiritual needs
-For the strengthening of marriages, including protection from the rampant sex industry which accounts for about 100 new HIV cases daily in Cambodia.
-For children who are growing up in homes of poverty to have opportunities for education
-For the thousands of orphans and others without families

Day 4

It was a warm night. I'm thankful for my fan, but it seems almost useless when all it does is blow hot air on me! I woke up on time and ready for my swim. I had my usual breakfast of crab shaped bread filled with taro. I'm finding that if I eat it slowly over an hour or so I'm not as hungry by lunch time.

Lunch was fried noodles with mysterious green leafy vegetables. It's one of my favorite meals in Cambodia in general. The school, sadly, doesn't do it justice. But it's delicious. The problem is that they don't fill you up very much. I was really hungry by the time I got home.

Mindy was already well into preparation of her famous pad thai, which I got to eat for the first time. She's said that she'd wanted to make it for awhile, but we just never got around to doing it. There was plenty of food, even enough to share with a visiting friend.

Day 3 food:
- Crab bread: $0.36
- School Fried Noodles: FREE
- Pad Thai: $0.44
Total: $0.79
prices above calculated from Cambodian Riel, won't always add exactly)
Week to date: $3.13

We're doing pretty well! Day four and we're almost a dollar ahead! We have enough leftovers from the past couple of days that we'll eat them tomorrow for dinner. On the way home yesterday I was thinking about the unintended consequences of our project. Banding together does mean that we have more purchasing power and can eat a more varied diet. It also means that we're sort of stuck together though.

For example, normally on Thursday nights I take the evening for myself at my house. Dinner is usually on my own and I sort of hang out and do whatever it is that I feel like. This week I won't get that though, because I want to eat. I might be able to find something to eat for the rest of my daily budget, but it would be small. It's better for me to forgo independence and stick with my 'family unit'.

I'd never considered the effect of poverty on interpersonal relationships in this way.

Overall I'm feeling humbled. Going into this project I thought it would be a mere test of will. I didn't really think it would change my view or experience of poverty. I mean, come on. I lived in AFRICA, right? If anyone should know poverty, it should be me. It was AFRICA for goodness sakes!

Turns out I had more to learn than I thought. That in only 4 days I've learned more about this experience than in all of the omphaloskepsis of the past 4 years speaks volumes of how little I knew.

I feel like we're just scratching the surface.

Today we'd like you to lift up the church in Cambodia. I think we could spend an entire week devoted to this subject alone. Briefly, pray:
- For Khmer pastors and elders, that they could be encouraged in their ministries, find rest and unity in their home and family life and that they can have a heart for good theology and not just what 'sells'
- That the body and lives of the church members extend beyond just Sunday services. That support, faith and service to community and church can be daily acts.
- That the church always extend hands outside - to the community at large, but in particular the poor. Pray that there can be an excess of love for those that have nothing at all to give in return.
- For the financial well-being of the church in Cambodia. That giving on the part of church members is consistent, and that church leaders can steward well the resources granted.
- That international and local churches not be separated by a rift of language and culture. Pray that there can be strong partnerships and support between national and international bodies.

Day 3

I woke up with little vigor, but knew that I had to stick to my plan. All of it. I've started exercising in the morning in an attempt to get a little bit back in shape. I'm running again, but sad about how pathetic I've become. This week I'm running around 20 minutes. It's tough, and made no easier by our food.

Again, crab bread for breakfast. Lunch was fried rice with chicken and tofu. It was good, and definitely got me through the afternoon.

Tuesdays are choir days, which means that I have to get going from school. It was also rent day, so I had to stop by my house. After all taken care of, I went to Mindy's to find dinner already on the stove! Awesome. We had fried rice, using the leftover vegetables from the day before. Cheap, plentiful and delicious.

Day 3 food:
- Crab bread: $0.36
- School Fried Rice: FREE
- Mindy Fried Rice: $0.12
Total: $0.48(
prices above calculated from Cambodian Riel, won't always add exactly)
Week to date: $2.34

Fried rice twice in a day sounds boring, but it was actually good. Both were different, delicious, and most importantly: filling. It was also nice that we could use some of our leftover vegetables from the day before. The main cost of our meal was the rice, and a single egg (1 egg is about $0.08). No snacking today, and I didn't even finish all that I could have at dinner. All in all, today was much easier than the past days.

We did use our leftover vegetables, and Mindy is eating leftovers from the night before for lunch. In a way, by using the fridge to keep things fresh, we're cheating the system. A fridge is a significant initial investment, and a significant cost each month. My fridge costs about $17 a month to run. It doesn't sound like much, but we're talking about 50 cents per day! A significant investment to be sure.

I'm also feeling that Mindy and I, for all our efforts, have actually secretly been living decadent lives. We'd always thought that our $1-$3 per dinner (per person) is a nice balance between richesse and 'living among'. I'm not sure if that's true though. We've always eaten out because it's less work, and because it's quite inexpensive. I think we're both finding that, in most cases, it's really not that inexpensive.

Today pray for the students of this nation. Cambodia is at a unique point in history: in essence, a rebirth. Their educated class was nearly obliterated in the not at all distant past. Only today are the first students of the developing education system graduating and taking jobs that will lead the course of this nation. Only today are the young people faced with the moral challenge of furthering a system of corruption, but in so doing saving themselves, or taking a stand and helping stop the injustices of the past.

Mindy and I each have a heart for students, and we both believe in empowering them to change their own country. We're nobody, powerless and under-informed in a system neither of us well understands. The students and young people of this land have the power to change things. Pray that they can realize that. Pray for wisdom. Pray that they can look outside of themselves and see that the plight of the nation rests in the smallest of actions.

Et Cetera:
Shane sent me a link showing what people eat around the world. It's a series of photos depicting what a typical family eats in a week, and its associated cost. It's very interesting, take a look.

Day 2

I woke up at what I thought was 5:55, hit the snooze and then got up and got ready. It turns out I got up a little later than I thought, so didn't get quite the early start I wanted. Stopped by my favorite bakery (the one that sells crocodile bread) for the larger crab bread. 1500 riel.

This is my normal breakfast during most weeks, so not much change.

I arrived at school, did my swim and went through the day. I was really hungry by lunch, but that's pretty normal. Lunch at school is free and all you can eat, but in the spirit of the week I'm trying to keep things smaller. I had one small pork and pickle sandwich. Not my favorite meal on most weeks, but it tasted more delicious this time.

Our staff meeting usually has fruit, so I had a couple of apple slices before I headed to Mindy's. Sadly, she was out and the only lock I don't have a key for was on the door. I sat around waiting for awhile, before a student showed up and we hung out until a key arrived. Mindy was still a bit away, so we didn't get dinner going until about 6:30. We made a stir fry with 100g of pork, cabbage, carrots, onions, green peppers and ginger. It was actually quite good. I was surprised by how much food there was.

Day 2 food:
- Crab bread: $0.36
- Pork Sandwich: FREE
- 3 Apple slices: FREE
- Vegetable Stir Fry w/ rice: $0.50
Total: $0.86 (prices above calculated from Cambodian Riel, won't add exactly)
Week to date: $1.86

Rice is definitely the key to success. It's filling and delicious. It also helps here that you can buy very small amounts of things. Mindy bought the cabbage as an afterthought with the 300 riel (7 cents) she had left over from other purchases. It was just a small, small wedge. But it was nice that it's something that can be subdivided so small. Dinner was surprisingly plentiful.

Being poor really means living on the edge. Mindy talked about how she had to avoid sellers that would charge her just 100 riel more (2 cents) and that even small discounts were great concessions. We're fortunate in that in our experiment it's only food that we have to grapple with. With so many more factors like rent, electricity, water... not to mention shakedowns by the police or other forms of corruption. It's easy to see why there is so much distrust of other people here.

Today, pray for the government officials of Cambodia. In particular, Hun Sen, the prime minister of Cambodia. Currently, Cambodia rests at number 158 of 180 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index. The divide between rich and poor is growing, and a sea change in legislation and attitudes towards the poor at the highest levels could transform this nation. Of particular interest is the controversial anti-corruption bill. Pray for wisdom for our leaders, wisdom for those that enforce the law and for trust to be re-established between those under the law and those that make the law.

Day 1

Mindy had planned on going to the market, but ended up getting food poisoning from the food we'd eaten the night before. She managed to take a couple of pieces of toast, and I one, before I headed off to Easter service with the students.

With only a slice of bread in my belly, I was happy that there was some free food at Church. I didn't go crazy, and made sure I took exactly what I ate for Mindy back home.

Lunch was a simple bowl of duck flavored instant noodles. Actually quite delicious, but not very filling.

By 5:00 I was in a bad mood, had a headache and was really ready for dinner. Markets were closed, so even though Mindy felt a bit better we were a bit stuck. We went to a local restaurant, and spent $1.50 (for both of us) to share a dish of sweet and sour pork. We shared a plate of rice, and saved about 1/3rd of the dinner for Mindy's lunch tomorrow.

I felt better, but still had a headache.

Day 1 food:
- 1 slice of bread: $0.05
- 2 small cookies, one piece of cinnamon bread: FREE
- 1 pack of duck flavored noodles: $0.21
- Rice/sweet and sour pork: $0.75
Total: $1.00 (prices above calculated from Cambodian Riel, won't add exactly)
Week to date: $1.00

I think that rice is the key to success here. I was the most full from our last meal, and buying our own rice and ingredients will be much cheaper. 1kg of rice is about $0.61. Vegetables aren't too expensive. I'm glad that Mindy and I can budget the two of us, because there are more options with $2 than with $1. Tomorrow should be easier.

Living on a dollar a day sucks. Small things like sickness throw off your perfectly balanced budget. It's easy to see why malnutrition and sickness are a vicious cycle. I'm surprised by how much I think about food. Not the sort of Peace-Corps-dreaming-of-bacon sort. Just that constant gnawing, and counting down the hours until next meal time. I count myself fortunate that I know that I do have a next meal coming.

Remember the billions of people who live lives of hunger, poverty and difficulty every day. 40% of Cambodians live on a dollar a day. Most of them are agricultural workers in villages in the countryside, supporting large families. Most Cambodian villages still do not have access to clean water, basic medical services, or sustainable income. A growing segment of Cambodia’s poor also live in the slum communities in Phnom Penh. As Phnom Penh faces rapid growth, many of these communities are faced with the injustice of forced eviction to make way for more profitable developments.