Siem Margaritaville Reap
When I signed up for this thing, I somehow missed the fact that I’d be living in the Cambodian equivalent of Key West, Florida. But indeed that’s where I am. Makes it so much easier in certain ways, and so much harder in others.
I’ll never run out of toothpaste, or tampons, or anything else. There is a 24-hour supermarket as nice as any Key Food (Or Kroger, Albert Heijn, Tesco) a few blocks away. I can choose to eat pizza, burgers, tacos, or tapas instead of rice and amok. There are at least four sports bars playing “Welcome to the Jungle,” several hipster organic cafes with free wifi, and 1,000 other places designed for the rich, sweaty, hungry international tourist.
For $2 you can get 2 beers or an iced coffee or a 10 minute tuk tuk ride. For $6 you can get a lip wax or a 1-hour foot massage. For $5 you can get 4GB of LTE data on your phone. According to internet-sourced experts, you can even brush your teeth with the tap water.
Last night I sat in the tourist epicenter to drink a few $ .50 beers and watch the parade go by. I invited a woman sitting alone to join me for a beer, and she was relieved to be asked. We had a nice dinner together — separate $5 checks. I’ve never been so thankful for the warm and neighborly Michigan upbringing that made me fearless about chatting up strangers.
I thought: well, shit. This is too easy. WTF? I guess I *hoped* it would be more challenging, and that I’d be forced to question everything about everything. Maybe I should have made this harder for myself by going to Tanzania, or Bangladesh, or even to the countryside of Cambodia. Perhaps I should have planned to live in a bamboo hut on stilts.
Then this happened last night: I lost a fight with a mosquito, stepped in a truly disgusting puddle while wearing my sandals, and got lost in the dark on my way home. Then I got completely creeped out at my Airbnb all alone. After a lifetime of wearing an eye mask to bed, I seriously wanted a nightlight.
I finally took an Ambien at 2:00 am and then flipped out when my next door neighbors *blasted* music at 5:20am. (My Airbnb host warned me a wedding was scheduled, and that it would start early.) When I stepped out to my patio in the very loud darkness, I could see right into my neighbor’s upstairs bedroom window. Several women were starting to primp themselves and the bride-to-be for the big day ahead. It was so perfectly familiar and sweet — so comforting.
I’ll start my “job” as a volunteer on Monday. I’ll make countless cultural mistakes with my colleagues, will be frustrated that I’m just moving folding chairs around when I want to make a real contribution, and will be generally intimidated by heaps of other things. I literally won’t stop sweating, and nor will I stop missing John and my friends. All the time. I probably won’t have a normal poop for several months ;)
When you have money in your pocket, there’s almost always the option to arrange for familiar comforts, and that seems reasonable for a tourist. But I’m NOT a tourist this time. The harder choice is to stay open and embrace the new circumstance fully and deeply. Doing that, in itself, will be just one of the big challenges ahead of me.
I’m concerned, but not really concerned. So probably it’s perfect.