Days are fleeting, and regardless of how hard I will myself to “stay present” and “cherish the moment”, time is a stubborn SOB, and nevertheless persists. Concepts of time are strange that way. The first three months of this fellowship felt like a lifetime, perhaps because everything still carried a scent of novelty, as if each hour was an entirely different experience from its predecessor.
But once settled, and the newness wore away, Siem Reap became less a place of exploration and searching, and more a place resembling home. And then what happens, once something new becomes commonplace? Time softly falls away, in simple moments of pure joy, frustration, exhaustion, humor- just like life would in any other city or circumstance.
Month one became three. Month six: I blinked and the end is visible. The topic of going home arises more and more in conversation. With Dan over lunch, with friends, the teachers at the school, strangers in restaurants, even Mom Pov, who tells me each day, using a hybrid of Khmer and English, just how much longer we have together, becoming progressively more sad with each declaration.
I have this picture painted in my mind of my going home. Those first lazy, rainy days at home in bed with my dogs, my mom yelling at me to get out of bed to do something productive, joy-filled reunions with friends and family. I’m excited to be home, don’t get me wrong. But there is something missing in my daydreams of my homecoming: the fact that I will have left behind a new home, with new dogs, new family, and new friends.
[If you’d like to understand this feeling, listen to Two Places by The Wood Brothers]
With this awareness, I have begun to see my now-home once again as a place of exploration and searching. I deliberately open my eyes and see something new each day, desperately trying to etch scenery into memory. I often have to stop and remind myself that I don’t have to try so hard to find newness each day- it’s here, I just have open myself to welcome it.
This became very apparent to me just a few weeks ago. There was one student who, in all this time, I just hadn’t been able to break through. She was always closed off to me, harsh, and often sullen. I learned from the parenting workshop that her life hadn’t been easy. At 11 years old, she had dropped out of school , had suffered abuse from her father and two different step fathers, and most nights, her homework and studies were interrupted by drunk adults and having to take care of her baby siblings. These stories are not uncommon for TGC students, but this student personified her pain more so than the others. With over two thirds of the fellowship complete, I had deemed our relationship a failure.
A few weeks back, I declared the last hour of every Friday “recess” for my grade 6 class. The kids jumped for joy every time I said, “alright, let’s go outside!” But even still, this particular student remained apathetic.
Almost every month, the kids have a different game they obsess over. This month, it was a game with intricate rules that included chucking a shuttlecock at each other as hard as they could (Cambodian kids apparently don’t feel pain the way I do). After protesting this harsh game for a few weeks, this particular Friday, I felt daring, and decided to get involved. I was obviously hit first. Doubled over in pain after being pelted straight in the ass, I look over and see my sullen little student on the ground in full hysteric laughter.
This game continued for another 30 minutes, and soon became a one-on-one match between me and this student. I survived, bruised and battered and with a very hurt ego. At the end of the game, the student came up to me to say: “Teacher! That was so fun. Play again next week?”
As easy as that, I had torn down a wall I once deemed impassable. Ever since, I’ve been greeted with sweaty hugs throughout the days, and now, although the kids have moved onto a new “game of the month,” I have a newfound friendship to cherish in my finals months in Cambodia. There’s always a way in.
And there will always be something new- something to do, something to learn, something to break, something to build. Sometimes we just have to wake ourselves up to realize the stagnation of our senses. This lesson I will carry wherever I go.
So, if you need me, I’ll be squeezing every last drop out of this fellowship. On Saturday afternoons advising TGC’s first Environment Club (!!!), or on Sunday mornings at our community outreach program, or during the week, at school, learning and teaching and playing games and still building new friendships.
As the concept of leaving my new home is slowly becoming tangible, this is how I am coping.