Ain’t No Mountain High

Thou shalt not lie. Forgive me, for I have sinned. I promised to blog, and what do I do? I find every excuse to not write. I should probably never be a professional blogger. Is that a job? When did I update you last? Like, after my first week? I really deserve to be liked slapped on the wrist or something like that. Except, I’ve been told corporal punishment is not the way. I digress.

Cambodia has been a blast and a half, but it has also been full of lulls. Peaks and valleys, people, peaks and valleys. And that is something that I am coming to terms with. Well, coming to terms might be an overstatement. I am actually quite accustomed to dealing with lulls. And unlike many Westerns (and this is a stereotype that we may or may not have been told is prevalent in Cambodia), I don’t require to ALWAYS be doing something. Instead, I tend to revel in the moments where I get to sit and be by myself. If you don’t know this about me, I am actually quite a loner. That is not to say I don’t have friends. What I actually mean is that I am pretty anti-social, in that if given the choice, I would rather be by myself. And there are times where I force myself to go out with my friends, not because I need to, but because it is important that I maintain friendships and don’t turn into a recluse, which I have thought might happen in my future. And don’t get me wrong, I know how to go out and have a good time, and I almost always do enjoy going out with my friends. But I tend to need my alone time, without the constant feeling have trying to interact and talking and doing stuff. It is just who I am.

With that being said, Cambodia has been full of excitement, but also has had its fair share of downtime. After my first week, my parents came to Cambodia on vacation with my sister, my aunt, and my aunt’s (semi) brother-in-law. Brenna and I spent the weekend with them, first seeing the sights around Phnom Penh and enjoying their (air conditioned) hotel rooms. We had a lot of Blue Pumpkin, which can now probably be referred to as the Starbucks of Cambodia. Between the coffee, the pastries, the smoothies, and the food, it is a watering hole for people visiting Cambodia, aka tourists.

I returned to work, where I prepared for another field visit to see how my organization’s home-based care team operates. I learned some useful phrases for the field and got a mini Khmer lesson from our supervisor in order to prep for the visit. However, after the visit I realized that I was more ill prepared than I had assumed. Language was just one issue. The other was a lack of truly understanding what “home-based care” meant and what my organization could and could not provide for these people living with HIV/AIDS and their caretakers. This all made for a moment of humbling and challenges as I tried to grapple with what my role was in these situations. Ultimately, I realized that if I only observe what was going on during these visit, it was time well spent. I was able to see what it was like to live with/care for people with HIV/AIDS. I got to see what these people do day in and day out to survive. I got to see that HIV/AIDS isn’t as dire as it is sometimes made out to be, as many of the children seemed happy and healthy and the parents were either working or seeming pretty alright given their situation. While it obviously could be improved and they need more support in order to truly be okay, the smiles on their faces as we entered their homes painted a picture that they weren’t letting it get them down too much.

*Note: I learned that the government supplies these people with the necessary antiretroviral medication for free, which I found to be quite cool*

After this visit, there was one of those lulls I talked about. In order to prepare for a new project that my organization is working on, many went to a meeting in the Oddar Meanchey province near the Thai border (so like, a century away). They left me with some work to do, but it really only took one morning to complete before I realized I had little work to do around the office and no field visits scheduled. What to do with that time became the real challenge, and one I am still working on figuring out. Lulls are just that, lulls. It really is up to me to figure out how to make the best of them and turn them into something productive, eh? Yes. That’s why I haven’t written anything.

The weekend consisted of Sihanoukville and Siem Reap with my parents, which was fortunate enough to fall on a Cambodian national holiday. The thing about Cambodia is that they have many, many, holidays. This one was the The Former Queen’s Birthday. Sihanoukville is the premier beach town in Cambodia. It rained the entire day, which was unfortunate. But we were still able to take a short walk on the beach in the short reprieve of rain and take a short dip in the ocean (reluctantly, I might add). Siem Reap was full of temples and tourists. It is the home of the mighty Angkor Wat, so it is the go to destination in Cambodia. Because of this, Siem Reap has turned into a small city where there are probably more foreigners than locals, all crowding around the couple of streets lined with bars and restaurants that make up the heart of the city. We also visited a silk farm just outside of Siem Reap after temple hopping (which is a sport that requires a considerable amount of endurance which my family really lacks) to see how Khmer silks are made and some of the local artisans responsible for the creation of this Khmer tradition. It was really mind-blowing the amount of work that goes into the weaving of this silk, one strand at a time, until it forms into a beautiful pattern. The silk does come at a rather steep price point, but if you see the work put into it by these trained artists, you’d probably pay up. It’s all about quality people.

That pretty much ended my outings with my family as they were due to fly back to the U.S. to enjoy the comforts of their own bed. And so ends this post because it has already turned into a mediocre-at-best novel. And so brings another week of work, with sights to see and things to do.

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