I obviously need to stop with the Phillip Phillips song references. But, hear me out as to why it was the most apt title. I have now finished up my last week in Cambodia, a week that seemed so far off when I arrived. And I will be frank, after my first few days, I wanted to pack up and run. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, maybe I missed home, maybe it was too hot, maybe I wanted the summers I had come to expect. Or maybe I was just unready to deal with the fact that I would be without the comforts of my life in the U.S (too many maybes? Maybe). Whatever the reason, as the excitement and anticipation slowly faded into reality within the first week, I was ready to call it quits (and you thought I was just having a merry little time didn’t you?).
Ok guys, stop judging. I hear your little minds rattling about how I should stop whining and seven weeks really isn’t that long. Call me spoiled, call me privileged. You would be right and I will gladly agree with you on all counts. But as I laid in my bed during the first nights, hot as *expletive*, all I yearned for was some commonality between Cambodia and my life in the U.S. (mostly air conditioning). Things weren’t going to change though. And with all that in tow, I quietly told myself that I had to find a way to make the best of it. I didn’t exactly know how, but the only certainty I had was that there was no going back.
I wasn’t really sure what I was doing in Cambodia. From trying to tackle the challenges at work to witnessing the poverty without being able to really do anything in those moments, general confusion consumed me. Coupled with the fact that as everyone looked at me they just saw an American Khmer boy with a lot of money (not that I have a lot of money, but that is just the general assumption of Americans), I felt completely out of place. And with these feelings there was a moment of paralysis. I found myself unable to initiate any change. I was convinced the haze wouldn’t lift up.
In this moment of self-reflection, my first weeks in Cambodia taught me that you have to get used to a new place. I probably should have already known that, seeing as I packed up my bags and decided to go to school in California (without ever seeing the college I will have you know). I had a vague notion of this idea, but it has now solidified. The energy that it took to carve out my little place within the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh would soon be followed by the comfort of knowing that I at least somewhat belong. Well, at least I found myself feeling less and less like a foreigner. I even developed the habit of only staring at white people looking out of place against the brown peoplescape (is that rude?). This, however, might only reinforced my already dire habit of blatantly staring at people. But there is one reason why I am no longer singing the same tune as seven weeks ago: it takes time to settle down.
How exactly, you might ask, did I settle into this place? Well, I am not really all that sure myself. Somewhere along the way, things became a lot easier. Each day I found myself at the end of the day, tired and happy. Each morning, I woke up glad to see the new day. It didn’t mean that things changed from day to day. In reality, most of my days revolved around going to work, going to my cousins to eat, studying a little for my MCAT, and then chilling with a book, the TV (CNN really as it is the best English thing we can get at home), or with my housemates. But creating a routine and finding where I fit in within work, within the city, within the country of Cambodia, has been deeply rewarding and satisfying. Upon arriving, Leo (the German if you have forgotten) told us that it took him a while for Cambodia to feel like a home. And now I see what he was referring to. It takes some getting used to. It takes some stamina and a lot of patience. It ultimately takes time. Essentially, the doom and gloom left me and I had made this place a home (SORRY NOT SORRY). Thank heaven almighty for that, because seven weeks of what I was feeling to start would not have made for a happy Christopher. However, the heat still gets to me and will be something I never get over. READ Mother Nature: bestow upon this land a sense of cool (Berkeley has obviously made me weak to my Texas roots).
Now that I have reached the end of my stay, I can say for sure that the time spent in Cambodia really has been too short. I’ve established myself and at that moment, I have to leave. I will miss Cambodia dearly. It has been an amazing time getting to know this charming little country my parents hail from. Everyone keeps telling me that I can come back to work in Cambodia whenever I want. I don’t know when I will be back in this part of the world, but it will happen eventually I am sure. My world may have been a little hazy to start (due in part to the smoke and smog of Phnom Penh), but it is clear now that this was something worth doing and finding a way to settle into this place has made it a time I will never forget.