A Year in Cambodia
Today marks one year in Cambodia. My memories of that first day include:
- Thinking “dang it’s HOT!”
- The airline had lost my luggage and I thinking “I hope this isn’t a bad sign”
- I went straight to the office and was so overwhelmed with names and accents I couldn’t understand. I was scared I’d never understand my co-workers or learn their names.
- Wondering how the heck I would navigate this city since the roads are chaos and there were barely any street signs.
- I got an iced chai latte from a place that could be Starbucks and a chicken burger that was basically like Chic-Fil-A and I thought “hmmm, this place is kinda western that’s lame. I hope I get the full cultural experience.”
- I was so grateful for the IJM interns and staff for making me feel like I was an old friend and welcoming me immediately.
My memories of the following days included:
- I was eaten alive by mosquitos and my ankles were swollen from the bites.
- Our office had a failed rescue operation and I learned quickly we don’t win every time, but we learn and try again.
- Everywhere I went there were smells that made me sick to my stomach and I questioned my ability to adapt.
- There was a thrill to the adventure of learning to live in the grit of Phnom Penh.
- I was given so many research reports, documents, and information at IJM my head was spinning and I had no idea how I was going to be of any service as a corporate attorney in this fight against sexual exploitation.
- I felt dirty, sweaty, and ugly every day and wondered if I’d feel like me at the whole year.
- I felt liberated from my old routine and excited by all the unknown ahead of me.
- I wasn’t sleeping (and didn’t for the next almost 3 months).
On my one year anniversary this is what I can tell you this year was like: I’ve learned to ride a moto quite well. I was mugged. I’ve eaten durian, snake, tarantula, cricket, cockroach, silk worm, and fire ants, along with a whole host of interesting recipes with fish and other meats. I’ve learned some very basic khmer. I’ve met clients so grateful for our help and seen them gain power through the restoration and legal process. I’ve met women who wanted nothing to do with mine or IJMs help. I’ve encountered the horrific things people can do to each other. I’ve met some of the most giving, selfless, and humble people I’ve ever known. I’ve learned what damage uninformed “do-gooders” can do. I’ve seen brilliant and creative people do revolutionary things to aid people in need. I’ve seen families living in abject poverty on a daily basis. I’ve seen affluence and greed at levels that made the rage shake me from the inside. I’ve cried myself to sleep out of despair from all the need in this dark world and my overwhelming feeling of inadequacy to help. I’ve traveled to absolutely breathtaking places and been overwhelmed by beauty in this world I didn’t think could really exist. I’ve been living in a culture of people who are broken by oppression and war and live on fear and survival. I’ve been living in a culture of people who will not give up and are slowly reclaiming their history, their dignity, their culture, their country and press on each day in hope. I’ve fallen so far away from God I couldn’t bring myself to even pray or talk to God and was filled with nothing but anger. I’ve clung so hard to God and felt His power and love engulf me and I’ve seen Him work miracles in our work. I’ve sat at my desk with no idea what I’m doing or why God called me to Cambodia to serve. I’ve been able to use skills I didn’t realize were needed in the most surprising ways.
So you see, after a year I can tell you this year has been SO many things. I just can’t describe it in a nice little package. I’ve been humbled in so many ways. Moving here stripped away all the comforts and distractions in life that I didn’t realize helped me hide from my own “junk” like pride, greed, idolatry, a need for control (just to name a few). Being here has been lonely. I left friends and family, and life moves on for them. It’s not that they don’t care, but I’m half a world away and life is busy for all. I’ve made friends, some that have changed me forever, some I will be friends with for life, and some made me realize we just aren’t all meant to be friends. Phnom Penh has changed a lot in this year as well. New import laws have brought in items never before available in Cambodia. A rising middle class of Cambodians and expats has created a bigger demand for restaurants, shops, and other “pleasantries” and the market has responded with a surge of all these options around town.
For those of you who don’t know, I accepted a contract with another organization in Phnom Penh that will keep me here until October (Hagar). Since I’m staying in country, I’ve also extended my time with IJM through August. I’m continually surprised by ways I’m able to help. I’m grateful for the skills I’m gaining as I learn from some truly remarkable leaders. I have to admit, I’m glad it’s not time to go home. For better or worse, this experience has been one I will never regret. As expected I’m changed forever, but time will tell what that actually looks like. I’m nervous and excited by the unknown ahead of me. Do I stay after my contracts are over? Do I go home and back to my old career that I also enjoyed (and was pretty good at)? I don’t know. I haven’t had this life changing “this is what I’m meant to do with my life” moment. But you know what? I’m actually 100% ok with that. At 32 years old I’d rather not know what I’m doing with the rest of my life. I’ve learned to walk through the open door of each opportunity. Do whatever is asked of me as well as I can. Learn what I can. And never settle for comfort, but strive for purpose.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me this year financially, through encouragement, and prayers. Thank you to the people who sent me care packages. Thank you to the people who spoke truth to me when I was filled with fear and doubt. Thank you to the people who kept me a part of their lives by sharing even the silly little things of life, so I never felt fully detached from home. Thank you for the skype dates. Thank you to everyone who read my monthly newsletters and my blog posts and stayed on this journey with me.