Friday, November 20, 2015


Years ago I borrowed a copy of Rosetta Stone's French lessons from the library. I distinctly remember sitting on the couch in my house repeating the French words back to my computer as prompted. The meter on the screen measuring my pronunciation would occasionally refuse to hover anywhere else except the red zone. No matter how carefully I pronounced the word back to the computer, the meter wouldn't budge. Eventually, feeling ridiculous that I was practically yelling into my computer again and again as clearly as I could, I gave up. There was a glitch in the program...

Tuesday I was brought right back to that memory. I sat in a wicker chair on our school's makeshift rooftop classrooms repeating the Khmer words my teacher, Retsmia, prompted me with. She simply shook her head, again and again. She said the word, and I repeated it. No. She said the word, and I repeated it.


I could hear no difference whatsoever in the sounds coming out of my mouth and the sounds coming out of hers.

Our language school is just beyond those gates.

We went back and forth five or six times, and I began to wonder if I had slipped into some alternate universe where my mouth or my mind (or both) had betrayed me. To be honest, I was beginning to panic. Just as I was beginning to feel truly demoralized, Retsmia looked at me sternly and said, la'aw. 

La'aw. Good.

Our last few weeks have been full of these kinds of moments. Tasks that we thought should be simple became impossible. And then a minute, a day or a week later, we looked around, and they were accomplished.

We knew that most apartments in Phnom Penh came furnished with at least major furniture items, and we were relieved that we would not need to source much more than kitchen appliances. We were relieved until we made a list of all the things we needed and spent an entire day crossing off precisely two things.

How long would it take us to get all the plates and bowls and spoons and a dustpan and a microwave and...??? 

And now, after two weeks in our apartment, the basics are all done.

Simple to impossible to done. I could give a dozen more examples. I could also give you another dozen things that are still in the "impossible" stage! We are still trying to say tongue twisters like "ny'eye nung nyeye aye?" and figure out how to keep our refrigerator full when we can only buy as much as we can carry.

Yet, I'm trying to settle into this new rhythm. I'm trying to talk myself out of the panic reflex. I'm trying to lean into my strengths and also my limits. I'm trying, despite the tongue twisters and sweaty shopping trips, to enjoy this new process. I'm learning to have faith that when the simple turns impossible, one day, it will be done.
PS. For those of you who have asked, yes, we did figure out where to put our trash. Now for the recycling...