feeling homesick

I’ve left Cambodia nearly 3 months ago. After 12 months I needed and wanted to leave, I was ready to go some new place and see what else I might come upon. The past weeks I have constantly been on the road. First New Zealand, then California, Portland, Seattle and now Canada. In a few days, I’ll be in New York and after that finally back in Germany.

While I certainly enjoy getting to see so many places and meet many different people along the way, there is one thing that doesn’t change – I miss Cambodia. More than I thought I would. Everyone told me that this would happen, the frowned upon “reverse culture-shock”.  Knowing about it, unfortunately, hasn’t made things any easier. Now when I feel like I’m in the wrong place and wonder why no one else appreciates the fact that I always pay using two hands or feel overwhelmed by so much luxury and materialism around me, I know that this is a culture-shock but besides that, it doesn’t make things better.

Missing a place where you cannot be is annoying. I can tell myself that it is alright, that I will get used to my “own” culture again and that, if I want it enough, I can just go back to Cambodia (even though it won’t be the same). But all these options involve patience, which I am not the biggest fan of.

My life in Cambodia was fulfilling. I had a job that made me feel like I was doing something good with my time instead of procrastinating. I was – and still am- grateful & proud to be working for SCAO. Even though Phnom Penh is far from the cleanest and safest city I’ve ever seen, I miss its vibe. The various smells on the markets, motos on the street, the praying of the monks, chatting with the street vendors and eating fried rice in the tiniest plastic chairs. Trying to speak Khmer with my landlady, getting fried banana before class would start at 5.30, hearing the same excuses for why we really shouldn’t write the vocabulary test today over and over again and hanging out with the other volunteers on countless rooftop bars throughout the cities. Weekend trips to small islands, ancient temples or bungalows in the jungle. Famous dinners at 18 and endless waiting for food and drinks at Score. Endless ceremonies, all dressed up and hidden behind what felt like 10 layers of make-up, being late for work because of the rain in Phnom Penh and water fights with the children when the heat got too much. Rice for breakfast and noodles for dinner. Frozen energy drinks and other snacks, including sour mango with chili and salt, cream-o’s and coconut-ice from a small plastic bag.

And yes I know I’ll need to wait a bit until I can come back, but one thing is for sure – I am going to be back. Even if it will test my patience.

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On the road again

Phnom Penh to Bangkok

I left Phnom Penh on the 6th of September to fly to Bangkok before starting my huge journey.
Many of my students and the Center Kids surprised me and brought me to the airport. I was so grateful to them for seeing me off and being with me until my very last minute in Cambodia. After a lengthy goodbye I had to hurry to get through security and to boarding and didn’t even have time to stop and realize that I was about to leave the country that had become my home for the past year. It wasn’t too big of a problem and neither was saying goodbye, because I was and still am sure, that I’ll be back to Cambodia in no time. Knowing that I’ll come back made leaving a lot easier.

Upon arrival in Bangkok I took a cab to town and checked into the hotel my mother had booked for me. After the flight I was so happy to arrive and just fell on the bed and ordered some room service.

The next morning I set out to explore Bangkok and then ended up visiting two really interesting pagodas and a bunch of jewelry shops and tailors, where my (female) TukTuk driver had convinced me to go. After a year of living in Asia I usually didn’t go along with offers like this, however my driver told me she got free fuel at every station we made and she only wanted me to pay 20 baht for the whole tour which was about two hours long – so I visited every single shop and pretended to a) have the money to buy some fancy jewelry and b) to be really interested but never quite sure about the investment. After collecting a bunch of cards, sneaking pictures of the rings and inquiring about rubies, emeralds and lapislazuli I was finally finished with the tour. Then I took the water taxi – more like a water bus actually, a rather big boat going up and down many of the Bangkok canals for 10 baht, to the Siam Square. There I wanted to visit some of Bangkoks biggest malls and make contact with the western culture again. A huge chunk of my time was spent just aimlessly wandering around one of the malls and looking around. I was so overwhelmed by the building, the amount of people and shops and couldn’t really bring myself to do anything besides buying food and later leaving for my hotel again.

The day after I had originally planned to do some sightseeing, but I wasn’t feeling well and suddenly had no interest in Bangkok at all. The city was weird for me; on one side it constantly reminded me of Phnom Penh and Cambodia on the other hand it was the complete opposite. It was so much more developed, the language new to me, the people treated me different, the food was spicier and there were so many western aspects that confused me. I felt lost and helpless and just wanted to go home to Cambodia. Instead I set out to find a post office to send some of my stuff to Germany. Before making my way to the office I had already wrote down the address of an nearby office and showed it to the cab driver, it shouldn’t have been more than 5 minutes from my hotel, however after driving for about 15 minutes I was convinced the driver had no idea – nothing that was completely new to me, but still different because this time the driver didn’t understand a single word I said. One and a half hour later I ended up in front of one of the biggest post offices in Bangkok and a few kilometers away from my hotel. The rest of the day was once again spent in the mall, skyping with friends and family in Germany and packing my package.

On the 10th i didnt do much before my flight other than enjoying the rooftop pool and getting ready for New Zealand. At 19.50 I finally boarded my plane to Christchurch and said goodbye to Asia for the next few months.

Leaving Cambodia and what’s coming up next

After one year of living in Cambodia it was time to leave this beautiful country and set off to new adventures. Even though there were plenty of times I thought I might just stay in Cambodia forever, I have now officially left the country.

My year with the Save poor Children in Asia Organization had been more than I would have ever expected and more than I could have ever hoped for. I made so many new experiences – good and bad ones, meet amazing people, got introduced to a whole new culture and it’s many traditions, learnt to speak another language and faced plenty challenges – none of which I will ever miss. I will be forever grateful for these 12 months and to all the people that have somehow contributed to it. Thank you.

I also want to use this opportunity to promote the building of the third school of SCAO. Many engaged and passionate people at SCAO are working really hard to get this all going. Please check it out at this webpage, spread and share the word with your friends and if you would like to support an awesome project like this, donate something. Every contribution helps!

www.scao-school.org

Originally I had planned to go back to Germany after my time in Cambodia and start university somewhere. However for a few months now I’ve been planning something completely different. Thanks to my wonderful family and my friends, I’ll be travelling through New Zealand, California, Oregon, Washington, back to Vancouver Island and later New York before returning to Hamburg in December 2014. Naturally I’m really excited and also a tiny bit nervous about this odyssey coming up. I’ll try to update this blog, but everyone who has read this over the past year knows how bad I am at posting things regularly.

May, June and July – Catching up Part 2

Visit from Zoe

Due to national holidays in Cambodia, i had another week off in May. Lucky me got a visit from Zoe, my friend from Hamburg, who was swinging by on her way back to Germany from New Zealand.

It was great to have someone who i knew from home here in Cambodia. We had a chance to catch up and i got to show her my life in Cambodia.

We stayed in Phnom Penh for a few days, where I introduced her to SCAO, took her to various markets and went to a Khmer fotoshooting together.

Then we decided to head to Mondulkiri for a few days. I had been there before, but I really wanted to go again and we craved some jungle instead of lying on one of the beaches of Sihanoukville/Koh Rong. Like my first trip to Mondulkiri, the second proved as an adventure.

We rented a moto, explored the countryside, stood under a huge waterfall, ate the most delicious soup in the middle of nowhere, jumped town a smaller waterfall and rode an elephant – just for 20 minutes though. Even though i came back with a bruised ribcage from the jump down the waterfall, the trip was worth it and it was wonderful to spend time with Zoe.

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Visit from Marie & Inken

Looking back i really had lots of visitors during my last months in Cambodia.
Beginning of June Marie came along and stayed for about a month. Not only did she stay at my place, she also worked at SCAO for about 2 weeks. It was great to have her as a volunteer and share some work experience with her. Together we went to Sihanoukville and mainly watched the World Cup in Cambodia – which meant waiting for a game to start until 3 am and stay up until 5 am at least and then going to SCAO on the next morning.

End of June another friend of ours, Inken, visited Cambodia on her way home from New Zealand. The three of us went to see Battambang and Siem Reap together.
In Battambang we explored the surrounding temples and mountains and went for a ride on the bamboo train. After two days in Battambang we took the bus to Siem Reap, where we visited Angkor Wat. I had already seen parts of it when I was there with my family in December but it was worth going a second time. Especially with the two girl it was a lot of fun. Besides temples and ancient ruins we enjoyed a lot of massages and shopping in Siem Reap.
I had an amazing time with them and it was a bit hard to readjust to live without them when they left for Germany again.

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Birthday Celebrations and World Cup finals

My 20th birthday was spent singing Karaoke and watching the Germany vs. Brazil game at 3 am.
Emilly, Steffen and Fabian had bought a cake for me and brought it to the sports bar beforehand and then surprised me with it and the whole bar singing “Happy Birthday” right before the game started.
Even though I was tired from all the singing, we were watching the game and soon enough were celebrating the German team and their 7:1 win! This was probably one of the greatest birthday gifts ever.
The next morning I was luckily able to sleep in and only had to teach one hour at SCAO. When I came to my Pre-Intermediate class in the evening one of the girls tried to distract me by telling me there was a snake outside the classroom and when I turned around my whole class was singing for me and two students were bringing in a bright pink and white cake. We all took pictures together and later had a wild cake fight. I am still so grateful to all my students and will never forget this special birthday with them.

The World Cup final took place the weekend after my birthday and Emilly, Steffen and Fabi convinced me to go up to Siem Reap with them to visit some other volunteers and spent the weekend there. We were also invited to a Cambodian ceremony, which was somewhat similar to the baptism of a child and visited some of Steffens friends in the countryside.
The whole weekend was topped off with the World Cup Final which Germany won against Argentina! Because no one could decide on where to watch the game and changing our location about three times just before the game started we later ended up watching it in the Pub Street in Siem Reap, which was quite similar to public viewing outdoors. There were several screens throughout the street, loud music so you couldn’t really listen to the commentator of the game and no seats, however no one cared about that once Germany had won the game! The celebration was great and quite passionate, it seemed like all German tourists/backpackers/volunteers etc. had met at the Pub Street and the Khmer also happily joined in, in the various songs being sung/shouted.

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Frankfurt, Doha, Saigon and finally PHNOM PENH

On Friday i finally left Hamburg and started my journey to Phnom Penh. My wonderful friends and family brought me to the train station, where me and my mother took the train to Frankfurt. We spent one night in a hotel close to the airport, ordering pizza and watching our favorite tv show. This was probably the best and most relaxing way i could say goodbye to my mother.

Saturday morning my mother brought me to the airport in Frankfurt where i met the other volunteers from the German Red Cross Schleswig – Holstein. After a 6 hour flight, in which we spent a lot of time trying out the on-board-entertainment-system and watching movies, we landed in Doha, Qatar. Outside it were about 36°C and we realised for the first time how hot and wet the climate in Cambodia would actually be.

3 hours later we boarded out flight to Phnom Penh, via Saigon (Ho Chi Minh – City), Vietnam. Most of us were able to get at least some sleep and when i woke up, it was already broad daylight outside. In Saigon we waited on board of the plane for about an hour until we took off again to fly back to Phnom Penh.

Upon Arrival in Phnom Penh we had to get our visas, which was, aside from a few difficulties, relatively easy. We got our suitcases and were picked up at the airport by our mentor Andre who brought us to a guesthouse, which is exactly where i’m sitting right now.

Later today we, the new volunteers, are meeting up with other volunteers from SCAO who already spent a year here, to welcome us and introduce us.

So far i’m overwhelmed. Even though i couldn’t see that much yet, what i saw during the car ride from the airport was already enough to fascinate me. Phnom Penh is completely different from everything else i’ve seen in my short 19 years and even though i read a lot of books and blogs on cambodia, it is different from what i’ve imagined.

I’ll write another post in a few days, describing my first impressions, since i’m way too overwhelmed and tired at the moment.