Wednesday, May 04, 2016

A Farewell (for Now) to Cambodia

A few days ago in Phnom Penh, I packed myself up, grabbed a tuk-tuk to the airport, and flew out of the country back to Australia. It was a bittersweet farewell.

Let's start with the bitter part....

A lot of my time in Cambodia was framed with unforgiving heat and constant sweating. By the end of my visit, Shana and I found ourselves sitting in our common room staring at each other with dazed expressions, carefully keeping body parts away from each other to allow for sweat to dry (I was always covered with rashes and blisters from the sweat).  And the oozing heat was combined with a dangerous ongoing drought that is beginning to threaten food security (read: looming food crisis). So I won't miss that too much.

Also, I dealt with the long and arduous rites of passage of white foreigners that are GI tract issues. I had amoebic dysentery and a number of food poisonings during my stay. Even during my last week, right when I began to feel nostalgic for a country I've learned to love, I was reminded not to love any place too dearly because of some rotten food. Shana and I found ourselves clutching to bathroom doors with food poisoning from a nearby restaurant. Back in Australia now, I can say that my GI is on the mend and I am thrilled to feel less likely to get ill from the food (though I'm still wary of leafy greens). I definitely won't miss that, either.

Overall, though, sweetly, I found Cambodia to be a lovely place to be for a while. It is so easy to be a foreigner there - the country is brimming with NGOs and development work, and the country (the city especially) caters to the palates and whims of Westerners at pretty decent prices. I never felt like my safety was compromised while I was there, and the Khmer I met seemed more concerned with my well-being than even I was. So many of the people were friendly and generous to a humbling degree.

Also, I discovered my love of bobor/congee, for which I am grateful - I have a new comfort food! I was fortunate that Virak took me to get two heaping bowls of bobor a few days before I left.

Sure, there's issues with corruption and more political issues than you can shake a stick at (I'd rather not get into it at the moment), but the country works and grows in spite of those challenges. The economy is shifting and booming, and the changes are easy to see even over a brief stint like mine. I mean, a Krispy Kreme was about to open down the block right after I left! I cannot imagine what Cambodia will be like in a few years.

In fact, those challenges helped remind me that no country is immune to problems - especially the US. Though I admit, I am happy to be back in the developed world and am enjoying the comforts of my upbringing - the air is fresh, the food is clean, and the streets are quiet!

Final thought: I look forward to going back to Cambodia sometime soon (though, I hope, with cooler temperatures!).

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