Two months, eight weeks, 62 days… When I first arrived, I wondered how I would make it through the first two days, and now after two months, I find it hard to comprehend leaving Cambodia. While at times I long for the comforts of home, and more than anything a hug from my mom, the idea of actually leaving and return to a life of normalcy, in comparison to the adventurous lifestyle I live here, feels strange. I am not afraid or ashamed to admit that I struggle with Cambodia at times, often wishing it was not quite so hot or the floors were not quite so dirty. But after two months of slowly letting everything sink in and allowing myself to adjust to the culture, I have a slight inkling that it will be my home that feels foreign when I return.
So many incredible things have happened over the past two weeks, but by far the best thing was receiving a care package from my grandma. Of course I love my grandma to the moon and back already, but after opening a package to reveal not just the chap stick, bug bite cream, and vitamins I felt so lucky to have her send me, but also cookies, chocolate, granola bars, and other snacks… I nearly burst into tears. I feel so very lucky and grateful to have such a wonderful grandma. My grandma, or Nini as I call her, has always spoiled me rotten and been the absolute best to me. She is such an amazing person, and inspires me so much with her travels and her attitude towards life. And since I know she reads these posts, I would just like to say again, thank you so much Nini. I love you, and I’m munching on the ginger snaps you sent me as I write this.
Speaking of food, eating lunch at the Daughter’s of Cambodia Cafe was also a memorable event of the past two weeks. Last Saturday, Laura, Rebecca, and I treated ourselves to a lunch out along the riverside after a week of hard work. The Daughter’s of Cambodia Cafe is both a cafe and a NGO. All the staff members are survivors of human trafficking, and work in the cafe to learn professional skills so that they may change their lives. The mission of the cafe is inspiring, and it was a humbling experience to be surrounded by young women (and men) who had survived such tragedy in their lives. Of course, the food was also delicious, and I enjoyed eating a tasty lunch while looking out at a gorgeous view of the riverside.
To top off my seventh week in Cambodia, I went to see Beauty and the Beast at the cinema. It left me speechless and weeping. While I do like the original Beauty and the Beast, I must admit that it is not my favorite Disney film and I never quite understood everyone’s obsession with it. However I love Emma Watson, and live action remakes of Disney films in general, so naturally I knew I would be seeing this film no matter what. I am so glad that I did! Emma Watson’s portrayal of Belle was amazing. She was confident, empowering, and such a good representation of all Belle’s good qualities. The cinematography of the movie was beautiful as well, and it was a sheer joy to watch. I do not want to give away any spoilers, so I won’t say anything more about the film, other than to say that I recommend everyone to see it.
Moving into the eighth week, as I promised myself, I started riding a bike to work! Riding my bike is exciting and sweaty. I love getting that little bit of extra exercise in the day, even if it comes with a back drenched in sweat and smog in my eyes from all the traffic. My daily commute is a bit stressful, as I cross many of the main roads of Phnom Penh. Since traffic laws do not really exist in practice here, it makes for a hectic ride, but one that I am getting more and more used to each passing day. I must admit, I do miss how when I took a tuk tuk to work, I arrived looking and feeling fresh. However, saving $5 a day by riding my bike is worth looking a bit disheveled.
While the past two weeks boasted mostly exciting things, a few unfortunate events happened as well. Last week, I said goodbye to my friend Rebecca who had been volunteering with me at YCC. I got quite emotional saying goodbye, trying very hard to fight back tears and maintain my composure, which if you know me, I am not very good at doing. Rebecca is such a wonderful human being. She is funny, kind, and I appreciated her friendship so much over the weeks that I got to know her. With her gone, it also means that I am now alone at YCC. Being the only foreigner in the office is a bit unnerving. While my coworkers are nice, they rarely talk to me despite my attempts at small talk, which has meant quiet days and a sense of loneliness in the office. It has left me feeling a little bit unsteady with my placement, and at times I do find myself wishing that I was back teaching or somewhere else where I had someone to talk to during the day. However I know that this is just a temporary emotion, and that I do love my work. Everything has a way of working itself out, and I am sure things will get better after a while.
Another sad moment of the past two weeks was finishing my book The Goldfinch. For the past few weeks, I have been obsessed with this book, reading it as if it were a drug and I was the addict. As I mentioned in my last rewind post, the book is truly a work of art, with sentences that will captivate you and swallow you whole. Upon finishing this book, I cried. I cried because the book was so incredible that I was overcome with emotions, and I cried because I could not bear the fact that it was over. It was such an epic tale told so beautifully, and it had consumed me so fully that I did not want it to end.
At the beginning of this two week period, I felt very uncertain. My battle with uncertainty has been a reoccurring theme throughout my entire two months in Cambodia. I can feel on top of the world one moment, and in a bubble of anxiety the next. Most of it stems from the fact that I signed myself up for such a long stint of time here. Even in the moments where I love Cambodia, the fact that I might have four more months volunteering in the country feels quite overwhelming. I am not sure why this is exactly, and perhaps not knowing why I am having this struggle is the most unnerving aspect of my emotions of all. It makes me feel a bit like an impostor.
However, I know that is foolish to think like this. Of course I am not an impostor, I have already been volunteering in Cambodia for two months! I have traveled, I have volunteered, I have adventured; I am the embodiment of the travelsmith that I am and aspire to be. Perhaps I simply need to stop fighting this emotion, and embrace it instead. It is okay to feel unsure, to feel uncomfortable at times. I do not need to doubt myself and think it is the foreignness of Cambodia causing this, as I have certainly felt similar emotions back at home. While I was in university I often felt incredibly unsure of myself and where my life was going. The same feeling crept up and overwhelmed me when I was working at my previous job, and it was that feeling that prompted me to come to Cambodia in the first place. There is nothing wrong with having emotions of uncertainty or anxiety, so long as I can stay afloat above them and prevent them from consuming me whole. And so that will be my goal: to recognize the emotion, but take hold of it and have command over it, and not let it control me.
Perhaps the most exciting thing coming up in the next few weeks is the arrival of my parents! Words cannot describe how happy I am that my mom and dad will be coming to visit me for a week. I still get choked up thinking about it. While, thanks to technology, I have been able to keep in good contact with my family, I still miss them terribly. I am very close with my family, especially my parents, and being away from them this long has definitely taken a toll on my emotional wellbeing. In two weeks, Mama and Papa Travelsmith will be landing in Phnom Penh international airport, and a week of sight seeing, eating, and general merriment will commence. Needless to say, I shall be a very happy travelsmith in the weeks to come.
In addition to the arrival of my parents, starting tomorrow a new volunteer will be coming to YCC for two weeks. I am so happy at the prospect of not being the only foreigner in the office. While my coworkers are nice enough, I do often feel outnumbered and a bit outcasted, so having a fellow native English speaker to chat to will be nice. I met the volunteer yesterday, and she seems very friendly and I think we will get along great. She also just of happens to live a few hours away from where I do back in California! What are the chances of that?
And finally, the next thing coming up will be some new blog posts about my travels to Kampot and Kep. This past weekend, my friend Laura and I went to Kampot and Kep, and it was the best thing I have done in Cambodia so far. We ate delicious foods, swam in a river, and rode a motorbike up a mountain. I won’t say anymore than that, but will just leave you with a picture of this view to give an idea of how incredible my weekend was. Be sure to keep an eye out for that blog post.
With that, two months in Cambodia has passed. The time has felt both fast and slow at the same time. While I cannot believe that it has already been two months, at times I also feel like, how has it only been two months. So much has happened, from personal growth to actual events, that I feel like time has truly become relative. My life in Cambodia almost feels like a bubble, where I am slightly cut off from reality and the rest of the world. I am intrigued to see how my remaining time here will feel. Will it fly by? Or will it feel like it is barely passing? Only time will tell…