After an entire year spent in Cambodia, except for two uneventful hours spent just on the other side of Cambodian border in Thailand and a few days as a movie extra pretending to be in Thailand, I visited Canada for a month, and then Greece for a week, before returning to Phnom Penh.
It had been a year without things like hot water, doors that locked, carpets, stop signs taken as more than suggestions to yield, and pants designed for women taller than 5’2”, so I knew being in Canada would take some adjusting.
I already felt out of my element while in transit from Cambodia to Canada. I flew out of Bangkok and gawked at its magnificent light-rail system, and all the people on it after eight o’clock at night. In Battambang, you turn to stone if you are out that late on a weeknight.
Recently, going from Toronto to Athens took me 22 hours instead of the scheduled 12, an incredible accomplishment considering you can get from Canada to Cambodia in 24 hours.
Thanks to the magic and confusion of crossing time zones, these 22 hours were stretched across three different days, and each of them were mundane, tedious, dull, tiresome, monotonous, and even boring.
Let’s see the play-by-play.
Friday, August 22
8.10pm. At the Toronto Pearson airport, Alitalia, the airline I’m taking to Rome and then to Athens, has made it impossible to enter the line to check in and drop off baggage. The rope forming the queue winds around but doesn’t provide an opening to enter the line. I duck under the rope and instantly regret missing the opportunity to do the limbo.
9.15pm. The world’s only security personnel with a sense of humour works at this airport. His one-man show culminates in a plea for everyone to drink their tequila before they reach the front of the line, where he’ll have to drink it.
It’s June, and all is quiet in Battambang. Too quiet.
It’s time to shake things up.
Sarah, a former Battambanger, manages a rustic campground on a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand, inhabited only by a few fishermen and some cows (we’re not sure how the cows got there).
We decide to spend a few days on the island. There are total of 12 of us committed to lounging on a beach and uncommitted to the idea of personal hygiene.
We envision a weekend that will look exactly like this, except of course we are not as fit as this group of people, nor as ethnically diverse.
Everything is always
it is blue, it is green, it is white.
It is floating open wide light
it is slim shoots spread fields
it is white clear see-through shine
It is gold-laughter ribbon hanging like chimes
it is rosy bright air before descent
it is unscrewed stars where maybe meets yes.
From sky smile sound
it is always, it is wow.
About three weeks ago, a friend returned to Australia for a job interview. The plan was: two weeks in Sydney, then back to Cambodia for a few weeks before he and his girlfriend return to Australia permanently.
We said goodbye one night at a bar following a poetry reading, where I happened to read a poem about saying goodbyes. I thought of giving him a hug, but didn’t; I would see him in a few weeks anyway.
Then two weeks became three and now it turns out he’s not returning.
I wish I’d given him that hug. Continue reading
A few days ago, a friend took me outside of Battambang. We drove along dusty roads, past rice paddies stretching to the horizon. Looking over the fields made me miss Canada, and the wide expanses and open skies of the Canadian prairies, where I was born and raised.
It’s been over a year since I’ve been out of the country, which is the longest I’ve ever been away, and while I love Cambodia, I miss Canada.
A Canadian flag in Barcelona.
Life in Cambodia isn’t always easy. Sometimes you’re waging war against rodents, sometimes friends are insulting your cooking, and sometimes power outages interfere with charging your iPad.
Fortunately, I was raised on a farm in rural Canada. The Canadian prairies have some surprising similarities to Cambodia, making me uniquely equipped for life here.
You’d be surprised how this environment prepares you for Cambodia.
Things are starting to disappear from my apartment. Small things, like a piece of banana here, some mango there.
They re-appear as mouse droppings.
Realizing they have found the home of someone lazy and complacent, the mice become bold, darting around my feet when I am cooking or sitting at my desk.
“I can see you!” I yell at them as they run out onto the deck, then withdraw back beneath the wardrobe, their home base. A smaller one pops out again and I think for a moment, ah, it’s kind of cute- NO DON’T HUMANISE IT IT IS THE ENEMY. Continue reading
The other day as I enjoyed an afternoon snack of chilli on unripe mango, it struck me that I was enjoying chilli on unripe mango.
Not something I was in the habit of doing in Canada.
I’ve lived in Cambodia for nine months. Given this is enough time to gestate an entire human being, to form someone else’s toes and eyeballs and spleen (not that I have, Mom, I swear! There is still only one spleen in my body) it’s definitely enough time for living in a foreign country to change you.
Here are some ways I’ve changed.
This post originally appeared as part of a series on learning from diversity called What I Learned at Djibouti Jones, which features a lot of great thoughts on living abroad.
I’ve lived in Cambodia for over eight months, in a small city called Battambang. It feels even smaller than it is when you’re limited to interacting with other expats and the Cambodians who speak English.
That’s one of the appealing things about Battambang; its small size makes it easy to get to know everyone else.
Yet that doesn’t mean it’s easy to establish a diverse group of friends that includes Cambodians.