I’m spending my final week in Cambodia, relaxing in the sparsely populated northeastern part of the country. I’m also enjoying the cool weather (I’ve worn a sweat shirt more times here than in my entire 2 years combined) and the quiet, a rarity in a country where noise ordinances are unheard of. I also finally got the chance to ride an elephant.
It’s been a good time, except there are a lot of mosquitoes here. So, I’ve taken to getting rid of them the Cambodian way – with a tennis racket that electrocutes them.
Before checking out a new part of the country, I said goodbye to my village. I had pretty low expectations since Cambodians rarely say goodbye. Most people don’t leave their hometowns permanently and phone conversations generally end with an abrupt hang up. If you’re lucky, they’ll say “yes yes yes” before ending the call.
However, everyone was incredibly warm. They reinforced the pride I felt about what I accomplished here and how close I’ve grown to many of the people. A typical goodbye conversation involved people telling me how much they would miss me, that two years went fast and that they wish me happiness and good luck. Many people would also ask if I was going to find a wife immediately upon returning to the U.S. I would tell them that I want to find a job first. Then, they would talk about how high my salary would be and ask when I was coming back. I’d reply that once I have free time and enough money I’ll come visit.
People also threw goodbye parties. One party involved making these Vietnamese pancakes filled with meat. Some women cooked for four hours and made enough for the party and to share with the neighbors for two days.
We also exchanged gifts. I gave the people I was close to photo albums or framed photos, while the gifts for me ranged from massive pictures with fake gold frames to knickknacks like tiny stuffed animals.
My school director served 13 chickens at the party he threw for me (one chicken for every two guests). They deep fried a lot of them and were so proud that they did it like Kentucky Fried Chicken. In Phnom Penh, eating at KFC is a special occasion and people dress up for it. Another curiosity is that the beef is too low quality in Cambodia for McDonald’s to open a restaurant here.
The chicken preparation:
There was also lots of beer.
Here are some other group shots from the going-away parties:
To say goodbye to my students, we went on a trip to a nearby mountain that had a Buddhist temple.
While walking up the temple steps, we saw some creative ways of begging; I didn’t know monkeys could ask for money.
The whole group of students .. .
…fit into one van!
Saying goodbye also involved getting rid of old clothes and things I didn’t want to bring back with me. What’s great about giving things away in rural Cambodia is that they treat second-hand gifts like new gifts. My host-brother took my broken speakers, brought them to a repair shop and then was thanking me like I bought him brand-new speakers.
Giving away things even involved creating a Mets fan.
I’m definitely going to miss this place. My collaboration and relationships with people in a vastly different culture is something I will remember forever. There’s nothing like being welcomed by strangers whose lives are vastly different from mine, and it led me to understand more about the world – and about myself. I will always be grateful for everyone who supported me on this journey.