Monday, November 11, 2013

Why Moving Forwards Means Going Back

I moved to Cambodia in 2007 to teach English for a year.
I was nineteen.

That year changed me forever. I had the opportunity to meet and teach students with whom I still keep in contact. I got to travel and see parts of the world people only dream about. It was quite a wild ride. But that year also wrecked me. During my time there, I battled an eating disorder, fought depression, questioned God and my beliefs, was hit by a car, and was sexually assaulted. It was a hard year.

I will never forget the day I left Cambodia. I packed every last remnant of myself--any proof that I had ever been there--into two pieces of luggage. I drove past the street vendors, the kids who used to harass me on the street, and the stop light everyone ignored. I checked my bags and got through security; happy to move forward and not interested in looking back.

I sat down in a cafe near my gate and a girl my same age struck up a standard you-look-like-a-foreigner conversation: "Where are you from? Where are you going? How long have you been here?" and so on and so forth.

She had been in Cambodia for two months working with some sort of NGO medical team. But the way she described Cambodia--this place I had just spent the last year of my life--felt so foreign to me. "I love Cambodia," she told me. "I don't want to leave, but I have to get back to school. I'm hoping to return next year."

I couldn't quite understand her: hoping.
She was hoping to return.
On purpose.
Because she loved Cambodia.

And it was in that moment that I felt like I might've missed something.

I was pretty sure that I had just lived a year in a place that some would describe as "beautiful" and "magical" and I had missed it. Most of what I encountered was fear, isolation, and shame. Smothered in my own mental health issues and struggling to see much else.

I went to Cambodia a naive, nineteen year-old Christian with anorexia.
I came home a bitter, twenty year-old agnostic with bulimia.

Gratefully, time and space do much to heal. I resumed life in the States. I leaned heavily on good people. I wrote a book about my experiences called Honestly, I'm Struggling. I recovered fully from the eating disorder. I graduated from college. I got married. I moved on.

Now, I write from Korea. A very different Asian country. I live here and teach English with my husband, Jeremy. This has been a wonderfully empowering experience and I'm grateful for each day that we are able to be here.

Even though Korea and Cambodia are completely different places, I am still often reminded of some of the similarities between the two places: things like, the transportation, the motos, Buddhism, music, food, smells. Cambodia is rarely far from my mind, but not necessarily because I miss some one or some thing. Mostly because, I was broken there and I feel like this is a good opportunity to make peace with that.

So, we just bought plane tickets for Cambodia.
January 18th.

It both thrills and terrifies me.

What will I see?
What will I remember?
Who will I bump into?
How will I handle it?
How will it feel?

Gratefully, I don't have to know the answers to those questions.
But I do know this:
Jeremy and I will go there together.
I'll get to show him this place that has meant so much to me.
A place he's only heard stories about.
We'll see Tim and Fay.
Visit the school where I taught.
Get ice cream with some of my students (who are now in college!).
Look around Phnom Penh.
And make new memories.

I welcome any prayers or well-wishes you can send our way.