It was wonderful to have family come and visit us. We’ve had visitors before and that had its own joys. Family visitors provided different joys on top of friends visits. Family visits make the new place feel more like home as we make ‘family’ memories with our extended family in our current home. This certainly helps the settling in, but also helps family feel more connected with our new home. One of the ways that our family visit helped us was to see the way they reacted to life in Cambodia. Their reactions became a glimpse back to our reactions a year ago. The outcome of observing them is we get to remember what it was like to arrive in Cambodia for the first time and then reflect on the ways in which our life in Cambodia is no-longer new. ‘Oh, we don’t notice [blah blah blah] anymore.’ Below are some of the ways in which Cambodia is more normal1 to us now than it was a year ago.
‘Tuktuks are faster than I expected’ Getting used to Cambodian traffic, whether it be the speed of tuktuks, getting used to the general flow of traffic or the riding principles (principles rather than laws…) on Cambodian roads, takes some time to get used to. I remember the early days of riding around. The combination of not knowing the area or general principles of riding on Cambodian roads makes those early days hair-raising experiences. For me now, Cambodian roads (generally) are no problem. In fact I thrive on riding in Phnom Penh.
‘You take a stick when walking the dog, and its not to play fetch…’ The presence of dogs and cows on our streets is now for us common place. Many of the dogs in our neighbourhood are not locked away in their yards, but rather, they roam the streets near their home, often defending it as people walk past for exercise. These dogs do not like it when other dogs walk past. Hence the stick. Our neighbour (a 7 year old boy) had his granny visit and she commented on seeing cows on the road in nearby streets. Her grandson’s nonchalant reply reminded us of the normalcy of seeing cows on our roads. While I’ve seen many country roads covered in sheep, I’ve not seen many roads in Australia, certainly not in the city, covered with cows. For that you need to visit Cambodia.
‘You’re speaking in Khmer seems so natural’ My response, ‘Great, I’m glad it looks natural, because most days it feels anything but’. Learning a new language, one of the hard things is getting perspective on yourself to see how much you’ve learnt. Just like having kids and not being conscious of how much they are growing, so too with language. You can get so used to the normalcy of attempting a new language that you forget how weird it is to be able to do it, and jut how far you’ve come in such a short time.
‘Wasn’t expecting this much rubbish’ Not everywhere in Cambodia is flush with trash. There are many trash free zones and there are many other places where trash is well hidden. Yet there are so many places where it seems like trash is almost on display. Once I’d realised the extent of it, I think I’ve started seeing it less. Does it bother me? Not like other things do. While the amount of rubbish is unfortunate, for me it’s not a constant stressor. For me what is worse is that people have to live around it or in it. Honestly, the fact that I am not too phased by it says more about me. It probably reflects the distance that I have from it. I’m removed from having to deal with it and so it doesn’t affect me. Maybe it should affect me more?
‘Wealth and poverty live right next to each other’ This is not the post where I’ll dwell on the issue of poverty. There is much that could be and should be said on this topic. That said, like the rubbish issue, there are days when I notice it and days when I don’t. There are days when I clearly see the gap between the have’s and have nots and days where I’m oblivious. Days where I feel that gap more and days where I should feel that gap more. One of the challenges of living with poverty more in your face is that its easy to distance yourself as a coping mechanism. One of the privileges of living in this sort of environment is it gives you different eyes from the eyes I had in Australia. It changes you. Do I still want stuff? Of course. Do I want it as much? Maybe not as much as I did before moving here.
Family visitors helped us to be reminded of what we were like when we first moved here and gave us a glimpse at how things have changed for us since moving here. It was a real blessing.
- By ‘normal’ I’m not making a value judgement on the place, but simply saying we are more used to life here. ↩