It’s been 4 months since I returned home to Sydney after a whole year and a half spent living in Cambodia. The most exciting part about the journey so far is how new things continue to pop up in my mind, even after it’s completion.
New memories and new perspectives collide to create a different way of reflection and contemplation.
So many lessons were learned, and I continue to learn more about my experience as time goes on.
What did Cambodia teach me?
1) People are everything. During some of the later days, I would sit there and long for the closest relationships in my life. I didn’t even want a chat with anyone from back home, I just wanted their presence. Although it may seem like an abstract idea, and we take it for granted because of that, it is so much more simple and fundamental than that. Real human connection was the big theme, as I watched the families and communities show love, generosity, patience and acceptance to one another.
2) The human spirit is extremely resilient. You have your education system destroyed, your whole society is faced with absolute darkness as people are murdered in horrific fashion. The collapse of Cambodian society 40 years ago was so catastrophic, Cambodia continues to pay for it every single day in the present. Everyone struggles over there in their own ways, but their spirits are always high.
There is a sense of purpose, but rather than it coming from the individual level, this is on a collective level – loads of local humanitarians, educators, medical professionals and entrepreneurs who want to contribute to their society in some way. Many of the people in these roles come from tough times that proved to be a foundational key to their service today.
3) I feel like the Cambodians taught me a lot about food. Not only am I referring to the nutritional side of things, but also to the experience of eating. I had lost touch with this before my trip. Sydney can be so fast sometimes, you get caught up in convenient foods because you always feel like you have some sort of time constraints. It can be a go, go, go type of thing. Because of this, many people have lost the ability to sit and really internalise and experience food. You just gulp it down because it’s in front of you and you just want to hurry on to the next thing to do.
The Cambodians had a great food culture. The night times would be vibrant, with street food stalls and restaurants buzzing with all different groups of people. Every night is a full experience. People will sit, eat and talk for hours every night. What they are eating isn’t too bad, either. I was always envious of the energy they showed. You see them constantly smiling and laughing and bouncing around. A lot of the Cambodians my age have this kick in their step and I wanted to know why. This food was so rich and diverse, with fruit, veg and good meats in abundance. They loved their culinary experiences and they had the vibrant energy to show it.
These 3 things seem so simple, yet they are so profound. These more subtle things get taken for granted sometimes because they tend to hide behind the busy minds of modern day living in Sydney. But these things are so fundamental, I believe they should not be ignored.