Thursday, January 23, 2014

Growing Up

I woke up this morning in Vietnam to the sound of birds chirping outside our beautiful, wooden bungalow. A huge change from Phnom Penh.

I think I really needed this.
To see Phnom Penh and then to take a step back.
To figure things out.
To take it all in.

Coming to Cambodia, I knew I had changed. I had grown up.
But I didn't expect that Cambodia had grown-up some too. 

Cambodia Adventist school looks completely different now.
There is a real, concrete school building and not just the bamboo shacks I taught in. 
They have a decent science lab and some greenhouses. Whaat?!

In the city, there are more paved roads and fewer dirt ones.
There are more bridges which lead to slightly fewer traffic jams.
There are trash cans (trash cans people!), even if few people use them.

There are more traffic lights, even if they aren't always obeyed.
There are sports complexes where there used to be trash dumps.
There is a Dairy Queen and several other western franchises.
There's an air-conditioned grocery store that has more variety than ours in Korea!

There's a ton of foreigners here now, too.

As Jeremy and I sat people-watching from a restaurant, he said, "Wow, look at her" as he pointed across the street. It was a young foreigner, probably my age, walking alone down the crowded street with her arms folded across her chest, taking quick footsteps looking straight ahead as men jeered and called to her. No expression. I noticed how much she looked like I did then: closed off and tough. And this is the posture of most foreigners here. Because it feels like the only way to endure. Survival mode. We bristle. We put on a hard shell because sometimes just walking down the street feels like an attack. Bombardment. Phnom Penh is not the easiest place to live.

But, my experience in Cambodia has been quite different this time around. Men don't harass me on the street because I have Jeremy with me. He holds my hand and lets me cry and that makes all the difference. Because when you don't have one safe place, one safe person to talk to, it can be hell.

I remember hell.
This no longer feels like hell.

Phnom Penh is just a city in Cambodia. A city full of people with friends and family trying to find their way in the world. Trying to make sense of it all. A city with corrupt people and good-hearted people. Just like anywhere else. The people may look different. The neighborhoods are a bit run down. And the culture takes some getting used to.

But Cambodia was never the problem. 
I carried the problems on my own shoulders
Sometimes unable to let them go.
Sometimes unwilling to let them go.

All-in-all, as I showed Jeremy around I regularly wanted to say, "Well, it wasn't this easy before. Everything's changed. It was a lot harder six years ago!" As if I had something to prove. Something to defend. That somehow the presence of a shiny grocery store would've dramatically improved my experience.

I look around Cambodia and I see changes and progress.
I look at myself and I see changes and progress.

I'm proud of both of us.


kristaturner said...

I'm enjoying reading about your experiences Heather. Sometimes I wonder if I should go back to Argentina and try and make peace with my SMing experience there. I admire what you are doing.