Friday, May 23, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Cambodia

I have started to think about what I have accomplished and experienced in the past 6 months and the people I have met along the way. What an amazing journey it has been for me!  Today is my last day at work and tomorrow is my last day in Cambodia.

I'd like to introduce you to some of the amazing people that helped shape my time in Cambodia. They enhanced my journey by sharing their stories and personalities with me. They turned what might have been awful experiences into a meaningful memory. They inspired me to grow and showed me how much more there is to learn in this world.


Anjana

Anjana is from Nepal but currently living in the United States. She is one of the kindest people I know. I met her on my first day at work and knowing I didn’t have a place of my own yet, without hesitation she allowed me to stay with her until I could find an apartment. It was wonderful to discover Phnom Penh together during her last few weeks here. I am glad I was able to show her another side of the city.

Jenny

Jenny was born in Sri Lanka and raised in Germany. She was my first ever roommate. I loved coming home to her everyday because it was always so much fun chatting with her about our work and the cultural differences we faced every day. She became my family.

Nikunj

Nikunj is also from Nepal but has lived all over the world and I am many envious of her many passport stamps. We met through Anjana and bonded quickly over our long distance relationships and love for travel. She recently moved back to Nepal but had been living in Cambodia for one year while working for an asset management firm. It was lovely to meet a smart young married woman pursuing her career while also maintaining a long distance relationship with her husband.

Jessica

Jessica is a young and motivated Australian. She is my neighbor at work and makes me laugh every day. She is really passionate about international development and loves food. You hear her say things like, “I can’t be bothered being hungry.” I mean how could you not love her? She also asks a lot of meaningful questions that most 23 year olds don’t ask. She is going places.

Ra

Ra is a recent Cambodian college graduate. Jessica, Ra and I spend a lot of our downtime at work chatting about local affairs.  He has also served as a cultural guide for us, always explaining local customs and traditions.  I have great hopes for Ra because of how dedicated he is to Cambodia. He genuinely wants to change the country for the better and I know he will.

I will miss them and my life here but having said that I am ready to start the next chapter. I feel so lucky to have seen all that I have seen and felt all that I have felt. When I look back to my first week, I remember feeling anxious, depressed and confused. I am now leaving feeling hopeful, excited and grateful.

This experience has allowed me:
  1. To be comfortable with truly being alone. Friends and family are always available but sometimes the time difference requires you to face challenges and emotions alone and that has been an extraordinary experience.
  2. To be able more comfortable with, and even look forward to, spontaneity and happenstance.  As someone who loves lists, I think about planning ahead but I have learned that the future can't always be prepared for. You have to be able to go with the flow and the rhythm of those around you.
  3. To be fiscally responsible. Writing down my daily expenses has really allowed me to see how little is needed to be happy and healthy
  4. To learn so much about Southeast Asia. I had never experienced this part of the world before, and everyday here was an education. I will always remember its beauty and keep for it a special place in my heart.
  5. To put myself out there. It is so easy to stay within your comfort zone but it is eye opening when you step out of it. You learn that a smile and hello go a long way.
I hope I remember these lessons once I am home because they have really allowed me to appreciate life for what it is and how to make the most of it.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Weekend in Kampot

Zuhair arrived on May 2 and with only 3 weeks left in Cambodia, I wanted to explore a new part of it with him. Turns out Nikunj's husband was also in town and she had the same goal in mind as well. She suggested we head to Kampot for the weekend. It is only two and a half hours away and perfect for a weekend getaway.

We left early on Saturday morning and arrived in exactly two and a half hours, which was a refreshing change from Cambodia's constant bus delays. We rented some scooters and made our way to the beautiful digs at Eden’s Eco Lodge. Eden's is off the beaten path from Kampot’s city center, about 15 minutes down a dirt road. There are 8 lodges on the river; none have any electricity or wifi. We only had a hammock, beds, cold shower, and solar lamps. It was simple and forced us to enjoy nature in all its glory. You can choose to close your doors but we opted to leave them open so we could see and hear the river. It was a great way to unwind, catch up and rest.


We opted to get lunch at the lodge and the menu for the day was grilled fish with tamarind sauce. It was so fresh! We digested our food over good conversations on the hammock while waving at the boats that slowly cruised by. Our environment caught up with us and all we wanted to do was take an afternoon siesta which is exactly what we did for almost 2 hours. I can’t remember the last time I slept that well in Cambodia.

We woke up just in time for sunset but unfortunately cloud cover diminished our chances of seeing anything so instead we focused our energy on finding dinner, specifically some of Kep's Crab with Kampot pepper. Luckily, we were pretty resourceful and found exactly what we were looking for and as an added bonus the restaurant was also on the river.

Dinner was delicious, messy and a little unsafe. While attempting to open up my crab, I cut myself twice.  I hope to master the technique one day.  I  also strayed from my technology free existence by using the restaurant's wifi to quickly speak with Asghar, post a picture on instagram and say hi to my mom and Chrissy.

We left dinner stuffed and opted to drive around town for a bit to experience the night life. We stopped at Rusty’s Keyhole for a drink and it reminded us of why we weren’t staying in town. It was filled with tourists and expats and felt like we had entered another world and caused us to leave pretty quickly. The drive back to the lodge was spooky in the dark. We could barely see the road ahead of us. It is amazing to me how quickly things can change in a matter of a few hours.

Upon our return, we saw a tree that looked like it was decorated with Christmas lights. This was known as the firefly tree. For some reason, fireflies flock to this type of tree and do so in large groups. I am almost glad a camera couldn’t capture this moment because it forced us all to take a mental picture. 

The sounds of morning prayers from nearby mosques woke us up the next morning. This area of Kampot has a large Cham Muslim population. After tossing and turning, we finally fell back asleep around 4:45 am only to wake up again at 7 am for breakfast. We thought we were going to drive up to Bokor but decided against it. Instead, we opted to lounge around in the hammocks again. The hammocks were addictive. After an hour or so, we took a local boat across the river to explore the local village and its wat. The boat ride was an adventure of its own. There was a hole in the center of our wooden boat and water was slowly coming in during the ride. The boys squatted in the middle and Nikunj and I sat on the edges. None of us know how to swim and this made the ride a little bit more exciting. 

Drenched in sweat, we got back to the lodge to shower and pack up. We needed to return our scooters by 11 am. On the way back, Nikunj and Aarjan got a flat tire and had to walk their bike for about 15 minutes in the scorching heat. They still managed to meet the deadline though! Their reward was a delicious lunch at a local Chinese noodle place where we had the most amazing noodles.  After resting and hiding from the sun , we finally braved the heat again to catch our bus back to Phnom Penh.

This trip made me really nostalgic about my life in Cambodia and how soon it will all be over. I am really excited to see what the next chapter holds.