Before I leave Cambodia in a week, I wanted to make one last post about the end of service...
During our close of service conference in May, a returned Peace Corps volunteer played a game with us. It was simple enough, one volunteer had a ball and threw it to another volunteer, then picked a question out of a hat to ask the other volunteer. The questions, however, were commonly asked questions upon returning to the States. While some were ignorant in the true sense of the word ("Wow, Cambodia. How was it living in Africa?"), while others were simply offensive. One question that the group was rather upset about was "Are you ready for the real world?" I was asked a variation of this question before I left- "Oh, joining Peace Corps. Running away from the real world for two years?". I didn't go into detail then, and I won't upon returning to America, but here I would like to clear the air. Simply put, I joined Peace Corps to join the real world.
While studying as an undergrad at Seton Hall, one particular International Relations class that I took focused on development. One day in class, the teacher offhandedly mentioned that 80% of the world lives with 20% of the world's wealth, while the other 20% lives with 80% of the world's wealth. I was lucky enough to have been born into the minority with the majority of the world's money. This statistic was one of the driving factors that solidified my decision to join Peace Corps. So questions or comments about leaving or reentering the real world are ones that I just simply disagree with. I wanted to leave America and see how most of the world lives. And in two years, I was able to live like 80% of the world's population. I'm very proud of my service and the Peace Corps.
The things that I have learned range from very personal ones to universal themes. I have been able to grow professionally, as a teacher, person and woman. Some of the lessons are ones that I expected 100%. These lessons include:
- How to create a project in the developing world with very little resources and money
- Khmer culture ranging from religion, customs, traditions, relationships, education, etc
- How important personal relationships are
- Encourage the youth just a little and they can soar
-I can't change the world
These lessons are all very universal for Peace Corps volunteers. There is no way that one can transfer these lessons to another, rather the volunteer must learn these lessons for her or himself.
In addition to these lessons, there are some skills that I attained, that I am extremely proud of. These are skills that I think only Peace Corps volunteers can learn. Most volunteers in Cambodia live on their own, so they can avoid learning these skills. While they have been annoying to learn, I think that it sets us apart from other volunteers and has brought me closer to my family and community.
- How to wash my clothes by hand
- How to shower at a well outside and be properly clean
- The appropriate hand positioning of greeting children, peers, elders, monks and the king
- How to shower using a bucket and rain water
- How to eat rice three meals a day
- How to navigate the market and find the best fruit
- How to use a squatty potty (porcelain hole in the ground) and not pee all over my shoes (too much information?)
- How to use the bathroom without relying on toilet paper
- How to properly pray in a Buddhist pagoda
- How to cross the street on a bike without being hit by motos coming from every direction
- How to use chopsticks to pick up just about anything
- Khmer slang and swear words
- Read Khmer body language and pick up on when someone feels- sad, mad, confused, doesn't agree, uncomfortable, etc.
- How to sleep through funerals, weddings, rooster crowing sessions, dog fights, crying geckos, mice scurrying, cows mooing, babies crying and motos/cars/trucks honking. And I used to be a light sleeper....
Learning these lessons has taken a long time. While some have come naturally and others have been difficult to learn, I am happy that I have learned so much about Cambodia.
But where does this leave me now? Peace Corps has three main goals. First, the volunteer provides technical training to host country nationals. Second, the volunteer teaches his or her community about American culture to increase cross-cultural awareness. Lastly, the volunteer teaches Americans about his or her country of service to increase cross-cultural awareness. These lessons will not have been learned in vain, since I plan on coming home and finding a Khmer community to be a part of. I also plan to make presentations where ever possible and become a part of the teams to help recruit more volunteers. I wasn't able to express this properly to my community, but Cambodia will always be a part of me and I will continue to work for the development of the Cambodian people for the rest of my life.
I left my community yesterday. The week leading up to my departure was uncharacteristically sad and dreary. I had a lot of loose ends to tie up (cleaning, packing, various purchases) and a lot of goodbyes around town. It was a draining week. I didn't sleep that well on account of the stress and emotions. The last few days already seem like a blur between spending time at home and seeing all of my friends and students all over town. My host family had a party for me on my last night at home. I had been giving out gifts all week and I received some pretty incredible and touching gifts that will decorate my future home. My sisters cooked fried noodles and spring rolls and my host siblings and their families all came over. I supplied the wine and we had a low-key, but nonetheless fun party.
The following morning, my host siblings and three students came over to "see me off". We waited at my house from 8:00 until the us picked me up outside at around 9:20. My host mom avoided everyone else because she was crying all morning and I teared up a few times but kept it together to spend the last few minutes together on a happy note. Then the us came. The tears followed immediately. We all walked out to the bus and it felt more like a funeral procession. We loaded my bags then I said the final farewells to my incredible family and students. Crying so hard, I sat on the front of the bus to tell the driver when to stop at Darlene's. At Darlene's house, we did the same. Darlene and I cried all the way to the next big district. We were exhausted and devastated. I forgot how tiring it is to be that emotional about these things.
Although it's so hard to leave, I believe that it's a good sign that I am so torn up and the people who matter so much to me were also sad. If I didn't feel so sad, it would be a bad sign. One friend once told me that the most worthwhile things that we do are always the most difficult. And it's so true.
Thanks for your support over the two years. It has really meant a lot to me and kept me positive when often times it was easiest to be negative. I hope that you have enjoyed learning about my experience as much as I have enjoyed sharing it with you. I should be seeing you soon!