Outside of home country and home comforts

street view

LIVING ABROAD. It can sound romantic when you think of the movies or books where characters explore the world in backpacker fashion. 

But there is a difference, some may say a deflation, in the realities settling into a new home that is far from your old comforts: loved ones, familiar foods, destination which Amazon Prime delivers to.

Knowing I am not passing through but trying to make roots that- for me- mean that I am staying. Not to fool myself into living out of my suitcase for a whole year. But to let myself invest in friendships here and become involved in activities that keep me coming back. I have some rhyme and reason to my days now. Monday begins my work week and I put on my business casual clothes (different from the jeans, converse and t-shirt I’m used to when working with teens) and play the classic “stop and go” game at the light with my fellow cars and motos heading to work. I go to lunch with co-workers where I still do not always know how to order…English remains second to Khmer. Tuesdays and Thursdays after work I go to language class. I have serious admiration for those in full time jobs AND school. Because after just 1.5 hours my brain usually feels like a scrambled egg.

It’s these elements that create a home for me; letting patterns and normalities form. Not in hopes of controlling my environment-not possible- rather to signify to myself that this is not transitory. I am here. Living in Cambodia.

Today I was sitting in a meeting offsite which was all in Khmer. And with little to know understanding, besides knowing the general subject matter, I have another one of those “aha” moments. I AM NOT IN AMERICA.

I am the minority: in culture, language and physical appearance. In these ways I am the abnormality rather than the norm. There is a difference, I’ve felt, between traveling and moving. I won’t wake up in another city tomorrow (most likely) and there are not as many “first” experiences in Phnom Penh as I had initially coming. There is a type of settling that’s occurred and it has required more of my courage to let myself invest in the life I am forming here. So without concrete plans after IJM, the adventure remains with the future and what is in store for me beyond tomorrow, next week or next month.

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Elephantés

Mid May some friends and I decided to take a trip to the jungle for some much needed time in nature. We bought our bus tickets, booked our lodging and got ready for a weekend in the jungles of the Mondulkiri Province- East of Phnom Penh, near the Vietnam border.

We connected with a friend of mine in Phnom Penh who had connections to a tour guide friend in who led treks to see the elephants. So, naturally, I jumped on this and called Cham, our local guide and human jukebox extraordinaire.

LET ME BACKTRACK TO OUR DRIVE TO MONDULKIRI BECAUSE IT WAS MEMORABLE. We chose to travel by mini-van for the cheap price and short travel time. The company we chose said 5 hours and they meant it!  Our driver was really wanting people to WATCH OUT because that horn was being used so generously that it became like white noise as I was trying to dose off. The four of us were in the back-row playing a comical game of Tetris with our limbs and backpacks. Add to the mix sweat, despite there being air-con, and the thought of making skin-to-skin contact with another human seems unbearable. With the sweet melody of a honking horn, a driver who drives like he’s auditioning for The Fast and Furious* and the occasional bump that sent us in the back-row a little more air-born than the rest of the travelers…It was a EVENTFUL 5 hours, ha.

*A slight exaggeration though in the moment it felt accurate

WE HAVE ARRIVED AT THE NATURE LODGE. All well and giddy to see the elephants the next day! Cham, our trusted guide, picks us up and introduces us to his breadth of knowledge of American music. Like I said earlier, a human jukebox. We meet up with our group and start our trek through jungle, making our way to a waterfront for lunch and, where we hope, to hang with some elephants in the water.We had brought enough bananas for a small army in hopes of meeting a hungry elephant along the path. And less than an hour into our hike we are greeted by a friendly giant!

A note: We had just seen Jungle Book a few nights before and I was HYPED UP at the thought of being the next Mowgli who will befriend an elephant and wander off into the jungle with my new best friend… Happily Ever After

I restrained myself. Tried to play it cool and casually agree to feed my secret best friend a banana. It was awesome! Elephants: just cute enough to maintain my childhood-okay, adulthood- image of them and large enough to keep me from running up to one to give it a big hug.

From what I could gather, the elephants we saw are part of a  local community that consisted of 2 villages who raised these elephants. They do not have saddles and they roam the forests with these people and respond to the local language the villagers speak. They seemed more used to being around people but I was definitely listening to the locals on what was safe and kind treatment of these incredible creatures.

ONCE AT THE WATERFRONT, we swam and just enjoyed the refreshing feel of cool water during the hottest part of the day! After lunch the elephants came back for there own dip in the water and that’s when the fun began. I couldn’t take my eyes off their big feet as they made their own path to the deep end. Walking over the slick and wobbly rocks that I previously fumbled over. It was bewitching to watch, like I had uncovered a secret oasis where I was allowed a closer glimpse of God’s creation. Then we had a water party once each elephant was comfy in their spot in the water. We scrubbed behind their ears, welcomed the water showers from their trunks and I remained IN AWE that this was all actually happening!

The rest of the trip was wonderful. The hiking, visiting a coffee plantation, swimming were all secondary to the overall retreat Modulkiri created to be amongst the trees and greenery. All I have to say is that Jungle Book could have been filmed in Mondulkiri.

group- jungleelephant and meelephant behindelephant bath_n

heart mondulkiri