The past two weeks came and went so quickly that, despite all my good intentions, I failed to post about their events in a timely manner. I would apologize, but as I continually mention when moments such as these happen; I would rather live and experience everything going on around me, than pause to write about them. Sorry if that is not exactly what you, dear reader, wanted to hear. However, look on the bright side: the post is here! Relax, be merry, and let your eyes feast upon the following slew of words that are my fifth and sixth week in the Kingdom of Wonder.
Where do I even begin? What a stupid question. Seeing the elephants in Mondulkiri; obviously one of the most incredible moments in the past two weeks. While I originally held some reservations against standing face to face with the magnificent creatures, afraid of being squashed or something else ridiculous in hindsight, I found myself staring at them in awe. No reason to be afraid and nothing but excitement coursing through my veins. I felt like an explorer, like a professional travel writer from National Geographic, like someone whose wildest dreams just came true! I wrote an entire blog post dedicated to my sheer bliss from seeing the elephants, so take a look at that if you somehow missed it.
Apart from walking with my favorite animal in all the world, staying at the Nature Lodge in Mondulkiri was also fantastic. For quite some time, the idea of sleeping over in a tree house seemed magical and peaceful. I thought it would be something far out of reach, as many of the tree house vacation homes nearby me in California were too far out of budget. However, with Cambodia’s low cost of living I could finally live out another dream of mine. Sleeping in a “tree house,” (more a jungle bungalow than a tree house to be honest, but it felt enough like a tree house to me) was relaxing and whimsical. I felt connected with the nature surrounding me, and it was beyond nice to get away from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh. Sitting with my book in a hammock, listening to cicadas and crickets; it was truly wonderful.
Rewinding back from the weekend adventures, this week I also began volunteering at my new NGO placement! I will admit, I was very nervous to begin volunteering there. While I knew that I wanted to volunteer with NGOs, they were supposed to be my career goals after all, that gave some sort of odd pressure. What if I didn’t like it? Would that put my entire life’s purpose into question? Luckily, so far I have not had to worry about these questions, as I have really enjoyed volunteering. The NGO I am placed with is called Youth Council of Cambodia, or YCC, and they work to empower youth and encourage them to participate in the advocation of democracy, good governance, human rights and other issues for the peaceful and sustainable development of Cambodia. Being part of this organization is inspiring and educational. I am learning about issues of youth development, community building, and politics. Already, I have been entrusted with writing proposals for funding and gathering information on ongoing projects. I not only feel useful, but like I am using my strengths and doing something that I am good at and enjoy. I am so excited to see what the next months of working there will bring, and what else I can contribute to the organizations mission.
Finally, like a few weeks ago, a book must be included in the highs of this week. For the past two weeks or so, I have been obsessively reading and listening to The Goldfinch on Kindle. From the first few sentences, I was hooked, captivated by the intricately crafted sentences and the hauntingly beautiful descriptions. Everything about the book is incredible, the plot, the characters, everything. The entire six hour bus ride to Mondulkiri and the entire bus ride back, I listening to the book, finding myself almost disappointed when the bus came to a stop and I was forced back into reality. This is one of those books that I cannot read fast enough, but I am dreading finishing because I can’t imagine not reading it everyday. I would highly recommend it to anyone. It will enthrall you, mesmerize you, make you laugh, make you cry; it is quite possibly one of the best books I have ever read.
Fortunately, not many unfortunate things occurred these past two weeks. The hardest thing was saying goodbye to many of the volunteers. As I write this, new volunteers are arriving to the house, and only two people remain from the ones I originally started this journey with. It presents me with a hard realization, that in another few weeks time, everyone who was here when I first arrived will be gone. The prospect of having to make new friends feels daunting, especially with most volunteers only staying for short periods of time. While I would still love to make friends, the lifestyles of a short and long term volunteer are very different. Two or three weekers can afford to go out most nights, treat themselves to massages and nice dinners, while I must be budget conscious and more frequently opt for nights in. Hopefully a few people staying for longer periods of time will surface and we can become friends, otherwise I’ll be a bit of a lonely Travelsmith in the weeks to come.
For the majority of the past two weeks, I have felt content in the most beautiful way. I am settling into my routine here and getting used to the daily life. Cambodia, despite its extreme foreignness, feels like home in some ways. Being here feels right, and I am reminded almost each day some way or another, that I made the right decision in coming here.
Despite my contentedness, I have also been feeling a bit homesick lately. Cambodia is beginning to feel like a home, but I still long for the comforts of my Northern California residence. I miss my own bed, a clean floor, sweet potatoes, and watching TV shows at night with my family and a cup of tea. The idea of eighteen more weeks here is exciting, however at times, it feels a little daunting. But when these thoughts strike me, I try to do no more than simply acknowledge them, because I know they are few and fleeting. More than anything, I want to enjoy my time here. The chance to go home will always be there, but to explore and travel and, most importantly, be in CAMBODIA; this is an opportunity that exists in the now.
While I do not have many travel plans or exciting adventures in mind for the upcoming weeks, I am planning on changing up my day to day. How you ask? Next week I plan on purchasing a bike. Inspired by my friend Laura, and wanting to save the $25 a week a tuk tuk cost me, I want to try biking to my placement each day. Over the weekend, I tested it out, and while slightly terrifying trying to navigate through the heat and the traffic, the journey was simply and took about twenty minutes. With bikes costing around $40 for a nice one, it seems worth the investment. And why not give myself a chance to get some exercise to consume extra smoothies in return?
Six weeks. Six weeks have passed. It seems short and long all at the same time. Being in Cambodia so far has been a blessing, an incredible gift, and I cannot wait to see what will come in the time I have left here. I am ready to continue to open myself to opportunities, to adventures, to learning. And moreover, I am ready to give more of myself and open myself up to everyone and everything that comes my way.