It’s been two years now since I stepped foot in the lands of The Kingdom of Wonder to make it my home. It’s actually not difficult to remember how I felt those first few hours off the plane.
Being picked up by my mom who at the time lived here and somewhat paved my way into Cambodia, and sitting in her orange and white tile checked kitchen smoking Esse menthols and listening to the geckos chatter outside on her patio. I won’t forget the first week when the luscious scent of frangiapani overwhelmed me as I roamed the quiet back streets, the soothing sound of monks chanting in the morning from the wat across the street, the romanticism of this foreign world and all that it introduced me to, the people I first gazed upon, and the will to create something of my own.
In these past two years, I’ve been through what seems like a lifetime of experiences. Relationships both romantic and platonic have danced in and out of my life, I’ve changed jobs, lived in a bubblegum pink apartment, traveled, tested, fought, loved, worked, lazed, hated Cambodia, adored Cambodia, and have settled right in between. The intent was never to stay here in this dusty alien place, not for more than a year- and definitely not to make it a place where I would actually reside for a long period of time. While two years isn’t long compared to many other expats who have been here for decades, it’s still a milestone that both scares me and makes me proud.
Finding that I can live and thrive and fail in a country outside of the one I was born and mostly raised in (the United States) has empowered me and gives me confidence that it can be done other places, whether first world, third, or emerging. I find that even while things frustrate me and make me want to give up and leave many times, I haven’t- and in those instances I feel like I’ve achieved a small victory. Living in Cambodia for two years and not having any intent or plan on moving anywhere else for the time being also terrifies me. After spending time in the UK for the first time and knowing what life is like back in America, I know what things are like to an extent elsewhere. Where public transport is reliable, taxes are enforced as is schooling and healthcare whether good or bad, where things are terrible and wonderful, and where you don’t know whether a nicely packaged life is worth the headache of seemingly always scraping by. Working for the weekend. Living to work, working to live. But all this questioning comes from me as an expat living in a country where things aren’t so easy, to put it lightly, for the vast majority of others.
I don’t have any answers for people who ask me when I’ll move again, where I’ll be going, and why I don’t know. How could I? I had never expected to live abroad, especially in Phnom Penh, and if you’d asked me five years ago where I would be, who I would be with, and what I would be doing my answer would likely be very different than the truth that it is today.
My life here hasn’t been extraordinary. If anything, it’s quite simple. I don’t go on mountain treks every weekend and I don’t fly in helicopters to document exciting things happening around the country. I don’t know a lot about politics as they’re always changing and I never know what’s right- if there even is one. I haven’t made a significant mark in any way, but that doesn’t make my time here meaningless. The people I have best connected with (who I shared Freebird delivery and Monster Munch and wine with last night), the people I love, the small impacts I can make do make a difference and if not to anyone else, then to me. I appreciate the simple things, although it doesn’t mean I don’t aim high. I love my cats, ordering in pizza and watching a movie sprawled out on my big couch covered in blankets with the airconditioning blasting. I dwell in moments in the humid nights spent at my friend’s restaurant sipping on champagne cocktails and looking at tiny frogs and chatting at another’s hair salon when it feels like there are pop rocks on my head from the bleach. From those times, I pull inspiration for the things I love to do and keep pushing for: writing, designing, being an entrepreneur. I am constantly in flux, moving forward into something I can’t make out. While that bit is especially nervewracking , it’s just one more thing I can take away from being a guest and a visitor in a country that has given me so much.
Here’s to another year, and who knows how many more.