As I write this post, I will be leaving my home in Cambodia in approximately 24 hours. There will be the ride to the airport—not too far, really, but in the rush hour traffic, it will seem so incredibly far. Then we’ll arrive at the airport, check in to our flights—hopefully with no last-minute issues regarding the cats’ reservations in the hold of our plane—and wait. I probably will be surprised yet again by how small the airport is; I never seem to remember just how small it is compared to what you would expect for a capital city’s connection to the world. We’ll wait for several hours, as our allowance for rush hour traffic probably will put us at the airport, checked in, and through security with more time to spare than we would prefer, but we know not to test our luck when it comes to traffic.
How will I feel tomorrow? I’m not certain. Probably stressed most of the day, as I finish the packing, take a last shower to hold off the grime of the journey as long as possible, and prep the welcome kit for pickup by embassy personnel sometime after our departure. Once we’re in the van, my anxiety will shift focus: the packing and preparation will be done, but the next hurdle will be delivering the cats to their check-in area, and preferably leaving them with some confidence that they will be cared for adequately. Then, finally, I’ll be free to relax—at least as much as it is possible to relax in an airport with an almost-3-year-old who’s approaching, and then passing, her bedtime.
Underneath those emotions, I expect to feel others. Excitement about what God has in store for us in Kosovo. Anxiety about our adjustment there, especially Alexa’s and mine; Jeff tends to have an easier time of it, since his daily routine doesn’t change as much as ours. Sadness at leaving our friends here in Cambodia. But what I wonder is how I will feel leaving Cambodia itself—the country, and the city of Phnom Penh—not just at leaving my friends here.
In the past, I’ve felt nostalgic for places that I was leaving before I even left. I would look out the car window at the trees lining the highways in Maryland, or the domed mosques in Cairo, and I would feel a sense of loss. I’ve felt that here, too, right after we were asked to leave early and again when the date was set. I would look out the side of the tuk tuk—no windows needed—and see the distinctive Cambodian rooflines, the monuments, and the parks, and I would feel a sense of loss, a grief that these scenes no longer would be everyday sights for me. I haven’t felt that for a while, probably because I’ve felt busier and under more stress with this move than with past ones. It’s sad to say, but the fact that neither Alexa nor I have been sleeping well the last few nights is probably causing me to feel less of an emotional connection with the whole country!
Regardless of my emotions right now, I do know that I will miss Cambodia. I will miss the spirit houses outside each building, the brilliant saffron robes of the monks, the friendly greetings from strangers I pass on the streets. I will miss the people and their dedication to children, their willingness to work extremely hard, and their commitment to education and self-betterment. I will miss the stories of people like our long-distance driver, who could have had a good government job because of the identity of his wife’s relatives, but who chose to make his own way in life instead. And I will miss my housekeeper, not only because of how clean she keeps my house, but because of the obvious love with which she and my daughter regard each other, the humor she brings to our days, and the insights about Cambodian life that our conversations have given me.
Right now, Cambodia is a country caught between two worlds. Rural Cambodians live much as they have for centuries—no electricity or running water, strict social rules that give everyone a role, and hard work. Urban Cambodians enjoy more modern conveniences, but still miss out on many that Westerners consider basics (washers and drying machines or dishwashers, for example); they have a more relaxed attitude about what behavior and dress is proper; and most still work very hard. In each Cambodian with whom I have regular interactions, and in most Cambodians with whom I’ve had more intermittent or single interactions, however, I’ve noticed commonalities: intelligence, a strong work ethic, and a desire to be and to do better—for themselves and for their country. Maybe I’ve interacted only with the cream of the crop; stories certainly abound about lazy workers and corrupt officials, but my experience—with my housekeeper, our tuk tuk driver, our driver for long trips, the employees at our favorite children’s venue, the locally employed staff at the embassy, the movers who packed our things—has been different. My experience has been of a society that wants to retain the best of the past while pushing forward into a better tomorrow. And I wish them the best of luck, and more importantly, the blessing of God, in that endeavor.
Fare thee well, Cambodia. I will miss you.