At first, you waltz in ready to save the nation – guns blazing, and all. You are a naive rookie. You have no idea what goes on here. Everything is romanticized. You are in this foreign new world, one that you have been searching for a long time. Your long search has come to an end; you have arrived at your destination. What a feeling that is. You are on top of the world.
After a while, things start to piss you off. Small things like the road rage that you have crippled yourself with must be contained because you know you are no longer at home. These rules aren’t yours to judge. Fuck, that is tough to navigate your way through. Thank fully, my defensive riding skills have kept me safe, but I won’t lie, there have been some close calls. Sorry, Mum.
Things that are completely unacceptable in Sydney are made part of the norm on these roads. You have people crossing big intersections, running through red lights and people pulling out in front of you, completely unaware that you are cruising at 40km/h. They don’t even look back, so it’s up to you to see them and dodge. If you don’t take responsibility, you ruin the day for the both of you. As raged as I was at first, I had no choice but to keep my composure and ride proactively.
Once the romance dies down, reality kicks in. There are no more big celebratory nights. It’s basically just you and your work colleagues. For me personally, I love alone time. Alone time is my most valued time of the day because I know if I give it to myself, I will be better off for myself and for those around me. But, I was not expecting this type of alone time. Alone time gets too much, so you immerse yourself in work. It’s not an issue for the first few months, if anything its enjoyable. It gives you something to do and when that work involves your passions and your self-growth, you give it all the love in the world. It’s an obsession more than anything else. You get to a stage however, where you begin to feel a little empty. You are happy and you love your work and you feel as though you are on the right track, the track that you want to be on, but then you start to wonder what else life may have to offer. I came to learn through my loneliness, that there is a lot more to life than your work and your passions. That’s all part of the ego. I’m talking about love, connection, laughter and support. These are far more profound concepts.
The upside to all of this is you now start to build new social networks. They can’t be compared to the ones back at home. However, they hold a very valuable place in your heart. When you are out here and life feels so intense on the inside and out, it’s always good to know that you have good people around you. The friendships I have made here are nothing but genuine, honest and supportive. I have no time for anything else. If someone shows genuine concern for me, I make sure I keep them close and I look after them just as much as they look after me. I have Australian friends here, I’ve met a fair few expats who live here and I have a lot of Cambodian friends. These are people who let me in their houses and the kitchens of their restaurants. I’m part of the family and I get invited to all family occasions.
After a while, you start to really settle in. You begin to learn the ins and outs well enough to go into semi auto pilot. This is one of the most interesting parts. This is when reality really starts to hit home. You realize how rough life can be here. I never really understood what human suffering in the third world was actually about. It’s interesting when I witness this type of suffering and then I think back to the suffering back home.
After building connections with people, you start to become emotionally invested in them. What went from chaos in which I felt so detached from now becomes a personal. It’s as if, every time I hear about the suffering that occurs here, I start to feel it in my bones. I feel it for the people and most of all, I have started to feel the pain of my friends. It hasn’t always been this way. In fact, I have spent months trying to reconcile with the fact that seeing poverty has had no real impact on me, emotionally. I have met people personally who are living in some of the poorest conditions, yet those moments were never enough to have me as emotionally invested as I am now. I guess, being emotionally detached can be a good thing out here. If you break down and lose your composure, you will pay for it. For what you witness here, it requires a strong stomach. There isn’t any time for dwelling. It’s all about getting down to work.
Now days, my connections with certain people have become so strong that I feel the pain. I witness the everyday struggle and it has started to wear me down. I feel for my friends. This has become personal for me now. To be able to witness life here in the depth at which I am witnessing it right now has been my fuel for achieving as much peace as possible.
You can’t save the world – it’s that simple. Sometimes, that is the hardest thing to accept. However, you begin to notice the nuances. Something as simple as spending a couple of hours mentoring someone can go a long way. Those moments of one on one mentoring have been the most fulfilling yet. If you can just make a small difference to someone’s life, then they can go on to do the same for someone else.
People are so grateful for the fact that I have given my time and energy to help them. I tell them that it comes at a cost, however. That cost involves using the knowledge that I have shared with them to bring someone else up when the time is right. Ambitions and aspirations of the young people are quite different here. It seems as though career goals have more to do with helping the community rather than buying a beach front property with a 10 car garage. That’s the beautiful thing about the people here. Never have I felt a sense of community like this one before. This is on another level, and I guess it has to be that way. It’s a matter of survival.