Living an expat life
As I sip Chinese tea sitting in my balcony, I try to look back at the time spent in this country.
I live in an urbanized village of Siem Reap, Cambodia. There is no electricity in the area for last 3 hours and I am told that around 6 years back they had electricity for only 3-4 hours a day. It’s quite an improvement, they say. The morning is not very hot … a cloudy day again.
Awesome Sun emerging, overpowering the dark night.
The tea is prepared on a small gas camp stove; the only stove I have for cooking. I gaze into my cup. The tea is almost colorless and tasteless without milk or sugar… does it remind me of something? Is it like my life here in Cambodia?
Negotiating tuk-tuks, laundry, cleaning, buying food/grocery, cooking (from tea to a basic meal) & managing with just one stove & just one vessel, 2 plates, 2 spoons and a fork sometimes question my decision to volunteer here. Why am I here and what am I achieving? It’s not a very hip thing as it looks like from outside, especially if you have to manage every single thing with your limited budget, resources & time.
There is something in the air which makes me feel lethargic. I am tired, always tired… from waking up early for the school till I finally go to bed at night. Back in India, I don’t remember waking up early everyday for someone who won’t even remember me after a few months.
I am not a tourist here but I am not a local either. Locals treat me as a tourist and the tourists see me as a local, going to local market to buy vegetables. I feel like a torn person who has lost his identity.
Everything is different here. Language, culture & customs, the food habits and food itself. Mostly I use sign language to buy things. Some things are exchanged without a sign … for example a smile 🙂
The locals’ behaviour baffles me as well. At times they look confused, and at others they are street smart to make as much money as possible. Sometimes when tuk-tuks quote $5 for a distance of 3 kilometers, I prefer to walk… reeling under scorching Sun. It has tanned me so much that I can’t recognize myself!!
I am not backing off.
I am trying to soak in the local culture as much as possible. This weekend I’ve booked myself for a cooking class to learn some Khmer cuisines. Let’s see how it goes. I have already learnt the counting till 5, some greetings and names of a few ‘safe’ dishes which sometimes I order for dinner when I am too tired to cook.
In my neighborhood, I have seen, experienced and shared a few things. A cat giving birth to her babies, a little boy’s first day of school, a woman washing bucketful of clothes from a single tap in common area, a mother running after her kids to feed them …. all daily chores which tell me, not everything is different after all!
There is something which keeps me going.
The people want to learn, want to work and earn a livelihood. Most of them are simple and humble. Men and women work hard to make both ends meet. And they appreciate any kind of help that comes their way. The cruel history of this place and the pain people have endured, saddens me.
At school, everyone eagerly waits for me. Everyday the students as well as the teacher look forward to learn something new from me. And I think that’s what should matter. I am sincerely trying to teach them things with a hope that it will be etched in their memory and they may remember me for that. In return, I am learning a few things from them … to be more humble, grateful and patient.
A bright day to start with.
Now I see a bright Sun emerging, overpowering the dark night, spreading its Sunshine to bring us a bright day ahead.
It’s another 3 weeks before I’ll be home. Till then I am living an experience.
P.S.- I wrote this when I was a bit low during my volunteering period in Cambodia.