Friday, November 4, 2016

ONE YEAR IN CAMBODIA: LESSONS LEARNED


David and I just recently hit the one year mark for our time in Cambodia. It seems hard to believe that we have been here for longer than 4 months...or less than 4 years. Time had done a strange dance over the last year! Thinking back over our time here, I realized part of the reason I feel like we have lived here much longer than a year is that I have learned so many things in such a short amount of time. On the other hand, it feels like we have only been here a handful of months because we still have so far to go!

As I sat down to think about some of the big and small things I've figured out in my time here, I thought I might share a few:

I've learned:
  • that starting-cross cultural work overseas is like entering into a second toddlerhood. 
  • that people with the patience to speak with folks just learning a language have hearts of gold.
  • how to bargain hard for tuktuks or items in the market (ok...or how to bargain harder than before!)
  • that Cambodia is rough on the hair
  • that language learning makes you hungry! We had to up our breakfast game and find snacks just to get us through our morning classes without getting shaky or hangry. 
  • that Cambodian beef is tough, but I finally found a way to make it melt in your mouth (or...at least to chew it!). It's easy and tasty, and now I love to share the recipe with everyone (link). 
  • the tune for the ice cream cart, the "snail lady" or the coconut man by heart. 
  • similarly, that loud noises really grate on me over time. A tough lesson to learn as we have had construction behind and beside us for months now!
  • that fish sauce is weird, tasty, and should not be sniffed straight from the bottle. 
  • to appreciate worshiping with only fans cooling us in 100+ degree heat and children screaming. It seems normal now. 
  • that Cambodians like to add MSG or sweetened condensed milk to just about everything.  They are not good for you, but they do make food or drinks tasty!
  • that mid-day sun in the hot season is not joking around in this part of the world! (And the meat section of the market in the middle of the day is not for those with weak stomachs)
  • that it's harder to manage your energy than it is to manage your time. 
  • how to live peacefully with geckos on the wall. 
  • that our English alphabet is tiny. I learned how to read and write 33 consonants, 32 sub-consonants and 44-ish vowels (no one quite agrees on how many vowel sounds there are, but there are a lot!). 
  • the difference between the three different "n" sounds in the Khmer language and how to actually make them myself. 
  • how to use Whatsapp, Facetime, Skype, Google Chats, Zoom, Go To Meeting, etc. (Thanks be to God for technology that makes friends and family feel closer!)
  • that the ability to download e-books from the library in the States instantly and for free is magical. 
  • how to hop in and out of a tuktuk, even in a dress.
  • that Cambodians, as a whole group, have some of the best smiles around. 
  • how to rock pink surgical masks when out and about to cut down on the dust and pollution we inhale. 
  • that book worms and worms in apples (and eggplants and cabbage and potatoes and...) are real things. Someone please explain to me why the US has cute cartoon versions of those for teacher mascots!
  • that the ants in my kitchen are relentless.
  • how not to drink water from the tap and how to safely wash dishes with it. 
  • that the secret to crossing even large streets here is to slowly just keep moving. People just go around you (...usually).  
  • how to cook and eat all kinds of interesting Asian vegetables. 
  • that community in general and especially a faith community in your own language is a true gift and one of the things we miss the very most. 
  • that rainy season is messy, full of mosquitos...and my very favorite season of the year!
  • that attempting to be advocates and friends requires doing a lot of learning and listening up front. From language skills and cultural dynamics to preferences and personality quirks, we have spent the last year trying to cultivate ears to hear. We want to respect the people we have come to serve by understanding them as much as possible which, we have learned, requires a lot of (sometimes tedious) work up front before we can start offering any kind of suggestions. 
From big to small, quirky to profound, we have learned a lot this year. Most of all, we have learned to love Cambodia and to make it our home. We've realized how much we have been blessed and how much our community of partners and encouragers mean to us. So, thanks for following us on this journey! And, here's to many more years to come,