The new and the old

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I have been home for almost 3 months. And for a while I couldn’t call the US, Texas or Dallas “home”. Rather, I would call being here as “stateside” which felt distant but how I felt. I was not sure how I would relate back to the culture or those around me. Being in Dallas, TX creates such a contrast to Phnom Penh, Cambodia in most ways so allowing myself to integrate back into this setting seemed like an insult to all I learned and experienced abroad. I cherish my time in Cambodia. I cannot say enough of what I have loved from the people, food, culture and way of life. Yes. There are aspects of the lifestyle/beliefs/norms that I clashed with… no place is perfect. But, goodness, did I enjoy the simplicity of my day-to-day. The breeze I would create when driving my moto. Walking down the street from work to grab a cheap bowl of Pho. Saturday’s in the market, meandering through the narrow lanes, bartering for fabric in Khmer (at least attempting to). Most importantly and dearly missed are the people. My friends at work, the ladies from church and my housemates. These were my family away from home and became the support, confidants and goofballs I would call ‘my people’.

I am now able to remember and love what my time in Cambodia was for me while absorbing the goodness that being back in Texas and with friends and family has brought. God has without a doubt met me where I was, arriving at DFW airport and unsure how the next few days, weeks and months would unfold. The friends I have been reunited with and introduced in Dallas has reassured me that there has been as much purpose for my time abroad as my time now. I have been traveling and living for short stints in various states and countries since graduating undergrad.  I find great joy in exploring new places and different cultures. Each trip shows me more of the diversity and beauty in the world while teaching me about myself in deep ways. With all the goodness the has come from the transitoriness, I am now looking forward to a different adventure that has me more grounded and looking deeper into the ways I want to learn and impact the communities around me.

With that said, I will be going to graduate school this coming Fall for Social Work master’s program at UT Austin. It has been in my mind since undergrad and has finally been confirmed this is the time. It will in know way be an easy next step but good and timely.  I haven’t shared on this platform in a while and there have been many transitions I have been going through since returning home.  This is just a little update that I hope those I don’t see or talk with daily can read and know how I love each of you. Distance can be a painful reality. The world is just too dang big and I haven’t heard of teleportation being possible… yet. So until I get to each of you next, know that my mind swirls with dreams of visiting each state and country that you each live in.

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Ho Chi Minh: Day 4

Today has been the Ultimate Food Day, wow!

Starting the day with a morning roll (something new from the local bakery… could not say what is was filled with). What began as an ordinary day of a simple breakfast, pho for lunch and a coffee afterwards turned into a FANTASTIC evening with a deluxe food tour by a local guy from the hostel. I AM STILL AMAZED.

So, from this evening’s local food tour here were our courses:

 

Ho Chi Minh: Day 3

Day 3 of the food tour. Had two of my favorite dishes, Banh Xeo and Pho with some Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk (not for the faint of sweetness)!

One way I’ve measured the authenticity is how how many foreigners are present… so far I have been one of the only ones. Accurate or not, it says something

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Banh Xeo for lunch
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Iced coffee with milk…for snack
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Walk back to hostel this afternoon and I see some of my first flowers!
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Beef Pho, delicious!
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Simple dessert on the street: cake in the middle and thin pancake on the rim

Ho Chi Minh: Day 1 & 2

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Dinner last night: crab noodles
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Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica
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Lunch: beef pho. This is only the beginning
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Coffee break (with a side of mint ice cream) and sustenance for the long walk back to the hostel.
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HCMC traffic. May not look like much but crossing this very much feels like a game of Frogger!
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Walking back to my hostel. Hello Kitty fans, you may want to visit HCMC.

Leaving Cambodia

I have made it to Ho Chi Minh City. And it is now hitting me, as I was gathering my luggage from the bus, that I am no longer in Cambodia…and that I should stop saying “Akun” to everyone.

This is my second-to-last move with this luggage (my life in bags). The next time will be to the airport in HCMC, destination: Dallas, TX.

I not in Phnom Penh. I am not driving my moto or speaking Khmer (the little I know). And I am not surrounded by the close group of friends I’ve been with for the past year.

Now, I am drinking my tea, soothing my exhausted body int eh silence of the hostel room. As everyone else’s night has begun mine is gloriously winding down. I have space to be still, think, inhale and exhale. I’m not in a moving bus or in traffic. I’m stationary for the moment and soaking in the stillness and quiet (with the exception of the occasional dogs barking, but it’s become like white noise to me now).

My time in Cambodia is hard to succinctly describe. It has been a remarkable experience living in Phnom Penh (outside of the US in general) and quite the journey. I miss my friends and the city that was my home. The culture, food and transportation, each taking time to adjust to. And once I gained more experience, more time living there, my understanding grew of the city which comprised the people, culture, food, language, and yes, traffic. I have deep affection for this place: Kampuchea.

I believe there are seasons in our lives of change, consistency, challenge, comfort. A past co-worker from IJM Cambodia shared a verse from Isaiah during my last day in the office and it has stayed with me:

For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you”.

-Isaiah 41:13

To my dear friends in Cambodia and international family, may God be with you and may He bring us back together again.

Here are just a few of my favorites from this year…

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Elephants in Mondulkiri
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Fourth of July in Cambodia
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Khmer class in the market
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Kate’s farewell
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Christmas in Cambodia
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My farewell with Maggie driving behind my tuk tuk

A drive to the suburbs of Phnom Penh

The Aftercare ladies that we work with wanted to have the interns and fellows over before we departed from Cambodia. We spent the morning playing games then eating Khmer style (sitting on the floor and sharing dishes… usually going back for seconds, thirds and even fourths!)

During the drive to our friend Sopheap’s house this morning I was able to think about my time in Cambodia. I’ve done some of my best thinking while driving lately. Being on the moto provides space and time needed to process: what I’ll miss about Cambodia, the anticipation to be stateside, what makes me nervous in my return etc. This is of course possible because I’m becoming a little more use to the “wall wall” (crazy) traffic.
With last day in the office quickly approaching (next week!), I have been thinking a lot on what re-entry will look like for me: re-connecting with friends, changes while I’ve been away, the unknown struggles. Many expats say re-entry to your home country can be more of a struggle than moving abroad. I am not sure how true that will be for me but I’m not going to wait and find out without some preparations.

For one, I am trying to enjoy my last weeks in SE Asia. It’s easy for me to be in planning mode and think of “what’s next”. The beauty of the future is that it is inevitable and will unfold as it should. The past can’t be returned to so soaking up Cambodia–my friends here, the culture, food– is irreplaceable. Secondly, preparing emotionally that, yes indeed, people’s lives back home have continued in my absence and that returning I’ll be catching up and adjusting to the new present. It is hard to feel the tug of two lifestyles: rooted in one place and exploring new places. There is a time for both and I am actively reminding myself that I am right where I need to be.

Back to the present. I’ve found myself being more irritable to little hiccups throughout the day. Things that i would normally brush off have stuck with me, like toilet paper stuck to your shoe, that I cant shake. Is this typical before leaving somewhere? I’m not sure. I love the life I have in Cambodia and for better or for worse, I have made it my own. There have been plenty of challenges (no rose colored glasses here) but they have been outweighed by the goodness in friendships and new experiences.

I will miss this place. I cant say goodbye because that is too concrete and, to be honest, I don’t know what the future holds. So I will remain hopeful that I my path will cross with the sweet friends I have gained here and I’ll return to SE Asia and Cambodia, my first international home.

“Normal”

I read a post yesterday from a young woman currently living in Uganda. She writes about normality and living abroad from her perspective as a foreigner.

I began thinking about my time abroad and what I have used to gauge ‘normalcy’. I realized that I have been using American culture, more specifically how I grew up, as a yard stick to measure my experiences against. It is done subconsciously and not intended to be prideful or assuming America is the greatest, though I think some may intend to send that message. What was around me became my own normal and what was familiar to me.

Reading her words as another American living abroad, finding comfort in small ‘normal’ things like finding cheddar Goldfish at the corner mart or eating a raw salad (they’re hard to find, trust me), I realize that what is familiar to me is not the scale that other cultures and differences should be measured against. If so, then we are missing out on some incredible parts of other cultures. For instance, why are coconut carts not a thing back in Texas!? Besides that fact that the climate may not be ideal. Just imagine a person pulling a cart full of fresh coconuts (an a small machete) just ready to be enjoyed.

Tomorrow morning you wake up and at the same time there is someone in the world living a different life than you own but seemingly ‘normal’ to them. Who’s life is normal?

Forget normality and enjoy the differences… I’m sure we can each learn something new.