Yesterday, I was sitting in my haven of a bedroom, on my bed, in tears. It was likely the heat. Or the perpetual jackhammering of the construction. Or the revving of the motorcycles across the way. Or the children screaming at the school next door. Whatever combination of those things it may have also been about, it was definitely about the work.

I get overwhelmed sometimes by work, all the while being underwhelmed by how much it all feels as frantic as work back “home.” Sometimes I can laugh it off, but other times it all just feels like too much. Nothing is easy. It all takes more time than expected, and there are more tasks on my workload than I ever could have imagined. I’m trying to find and interview interpreters to interpret for the class since “my” interpreter isn’t available any more. I’m trying to assuage the fears of greenhorn instructors and interpreters who have hearts of gold but need guidance and reassurance at every turn. I’m trying to generate content for my own sections that is engaging and culturally sensitive in a context that seems to trip me up at every turn. I’m trying to tread lightly in so many work-related political arenas that I feel like I need some goddamn ballet slippers. Stat.

After I unloaded heartily to J about what was going on in the newest turns of events, he replied (after some very kind assurances that I likely wasn’t going crazy), “What happens if by chance things just don’t go perfectly or terribly well?”

Well, shit. Thanks for the reframe.

Worst case scenario? Literal, absolute worst case scenario? I walk away in a little over two months with a bit of a bruised ego and a failure under my belt. But not even a colossal failure. A beautiful failure from which a lot can be learned, paving the path a bit for the next person who decides to walk it.

Also included in that scenario? Personally, I still walk away with an experience that could never be duplicated. With the experience of practicing defining boundaries with my time and my energy. The experience of living and working abroad in Cambodia. Of meeting incredible local people and people from around the world that have opened my eyes to a new “normal.”

Did I mention that this is still worst case scenario I’m talking about?

And today it rained, which seemed to cool everything down.

Lost in Cambodia

Okay, I’m not lost in Cambodia. But my debit and credit cards are.

If you know me, you know this happens to me. Or really, more accurately, I make this happen. I lose my keys (sometimes even down elevator shafts), my wallet (sometimes in places that get recovered months later), and more than occasionally my mind.

But this time, losing my cards made me momentarily lose my mind.

I had them out to try to book some things for my Vietnam trip. They were on the coffee table. I started doing some work on my computer, ended up leaving to go print some things for the class I’m teaching, came back and did a load of laundry. When I tried to book a taxi for myself and some other gals to go to Sambor Prei Kuk that weekend, I realized I couldn’t find my cards.

I took three hours to tear apart the apartment. Every inch of it. My mattress came off my bed so I could check under the frame. My armoire was emptied. I checked the washing machine, the balcony, the kitchen cabinets, the freezer…. I looked everywhere. Six times.

I slept on it, thinking maybe it would come to me that I had put them somewhere. No dream-inspired insight this time. I tore the apartment apart again in the morning. Still nothing. Time to act as if they’re gone.

Now, if there were a functioning mail system in Cambodia, this would’ve been no problem. I’d have my bank send new ones. There’s no functioning mail system here. I’ve heard stories of things never making it here (even when you have a P.O. box, which is evidently the only way to get anything by mail ever), or never making it out of here when mailing things home. I’ve heard stories of things taking 9 months to get here. I’ve heard nothing that has made me think there’s a way to get new cards here without someone hand-delivering them. (Although a recent conversation made me think it may be possible via other routes — perhaps an experiment for something a bit less important at a later date…)
As luck would have it, the course I’m coordinating/teaching, has a series of guest instructors coming, some of them from the U.S. So here was the plan I decided to put into place, should everyone choose to accept it.

  1. Convince my bank that the gal calling from Cambodia really is me, and that you should mail new cards to an address that I don’t have on file with them.
  2. Convince my brother that the address they should use is his address.
  3. Convince one of the visiting instructors that they should be willing to carry a couple of credit cards to the other side of the world for me.
  4. Now convince my brother that, when he receives the credit cards, that he should quickly send them to said visiting instructor.
  5. Wait until October 7 when she arrives.
  6. In the meantime, convince the guy who’s paying me here to wire my second chunk of payment to me so I can actually access it.
  7. Since he’s not sending it until the end of September, and I’m most certainly going to need money before then, convince my brother (again) that he will need to wire me some cash after I transfer some money to him from my bank account.

Dear. Sweet. Jesus.

But everyone agreed. Without fail, they agreed with a hearty, “No problem, Julie!”

And even when the money wiring became a bit of a pain in the ass on my part (a couple of hours of flitting around the city and eventually being denied because not all four of my names were listed) and likely even more so on my brother’s (this required a return trip to the money wiring place to add in the rest of the names), he still didn’t hesitate for a second.

But before everyone had agreed then completely stepped up, when I was sitting on the couch in the apartment (the ubiquitous rattan couch), I thought for a second, “Well, it’s going to be really hard to get food starting in about a week,” and then I thought about the truth of the situation. My people “back home” continue to support me in ways they probably never could have anticipated. And in a country where I’ve only lived for a couple of months, I’ve been given a support network that makes sure that my needs are met. People I’ve met only weeks or months ago offered to float me cash until things settle a bit. It’s actually pretty damn amazing when you think about it. I didn’t really, for more than a split second, have to think about the possibility of ending up without a meal in my stomach or a roof over my head. 

And, sitting on that couch, I let my sensitive little heart fill with gratitude, thinking of the people back home who support me without question and without fail. Thinking of the new people I’ve met who’ve stepped up as a new support system. Thinking of this daaaaaaaaamn charmed life.

(A huge shout out to the guy we affectionately call “Bubs!” Thanks for everything. Always.)

Gettin’ Groceries

So, as everyone knows, there’s very different food stuffs to be had on the streets of Phnom Penh (and everywhere around Southeast Asia, for sure). I’ve had frogs, but not much else in the way of crazy stuff. I don’t always like eating things for the shock factor, especially if it used to be alive. Don’t get me wrong – clearly I do it occasionally, but it’s not a frequent thing. This is why I call myself a “loose” vegetarian, after all.

Regardless, there are still things that are out of the ordinary even in the vegetarian world. And they’re even at the grocery stores (although much of it seems to be imported from the surrounding area or from France).

Since I’m not feeling too much like generating public words right now, here are some non-shocking, mostly-grocery-store pictures of food for you (some from markets, roadside stands, from carts, from the kitchen…). Just a tiny smidge outside of the ordinary. Enjoy!

Bean and Nut Yogurt
Bean and Nut Yogurt
I *think* this is aloe yogurt…
Who knew aloe could be so delicious???
This thing was like a Zinger! Remember those things? Except made by a real bakery and with a fraction of the sugar.
Taro popsicle? Holy goodness! Also a bus treat…
Boiled peanuts. No, thanks. I’ll take mine not boiled next time.
This one’s included only because a sweet student bought it for me one night!


Had to get these. They’re evidently mine.
These tasted like ass.

Behind on Blogging (…and about the Beach)

People say they want me to post often. And, trust me, it’s not for lack of raw content. You should see my Google Keep list of possible blog topics and my ongoing blurbs that I’ve saved in Docs when I get three minutes to write. But, honestly, I’m not sure where to find the (1) time, (2) energy, or (3) processing abilities to post more often! Whew!

I find that, every time I actually find time to write, too, I end up with seven different posts in every writing. So I delete and expand and cut and delete and cut and go back to the cut content to expand on it and scrap all the stuff I’ve written and start over and… You get the idea. It’s never a “sit down with an idea and write about it within a tidy little package until you are done” situation. 

Also, while my topics may at times seem incredibly “surface” (shallow, unimportant), it’s the processing that goes on behind the scenes that takes the energy. Sometimes, all the heavy stuff, the stuff that makes me exhausted, that keeps me up at night, that brings tears to my eyes, that leaves me feeling simultaneously overwhelmed and empty? Much of that stuff ends up on the proverbial cutting room floor in favor of a story that gives a better view of how “different” things are here.

But it is those differences that are interesting, aren’t they? The different food (don’t worry, this is a blog post in the making), the different cultural aspects (don’t worry, this is a blog post in the making), the different work I’m doing (don’t worry….)…

Some things, can feel pretty damn familiar, though. I found myself, after working 12- and 14-hour days for days on end, loudly thinking, “If I’m going to work this much, I could be working this much at home and making ten times the money I’m making here!” And then I thought, “But Julie, you’re HERE!” And so while the number of hours right now might be the same, it IS different work. With different people. With students who speak a different language. In a different country. On a different side of the globe. And for a gal who actively values the different, this is a goddamn gift, really.

My biggest fear is that the whole course would be too serious. Fear assuaged when I laughed hysterically with this group starting on the first night and haven’t stopped since.

And the minutes in-between those long work days? Well, when I get invited to the beach for the weekend by SLT1 and newly-met SLT3, it makes it all worthwhile. They beat me down there as I had to teach all day Saturday, but when I arrived in Otres Beach, the 5-hour bus ride was worth it. Over the next day and a half, I saw beach dogs that made me want to snuggle them until they scratched hard enough to convince me it wasn’t a good idea. I slept under a mosquito net (I looooove me a good mosquito net!). I took a boat trip and snorkeled where I saw coral and urchins that looked like living cartoons. I saw the water turn a lovely green when a storm showed up in the distance. I snorkeled (again) above fish that looked like they were rainbows incarnate. I got a pedicure/manicure/massage on the beach. I shared drinks out of coconuts (and had plenty of drinks out of glasses). And I found myself, multiple times, spontaneously giggling and dancing jigs in disbelief at my luck at this charmed life. This different life.

The view from our room.
This dog and his best buddy next door (not pictured) were incredibly entertaining!
The colors of the water changed so drastically with the changing sky.
Beached for lunch.
Our boat driver (is there a special word for that?) couldn’t have been a day over 12, but he not only navigated the boat well, he started the engines by holding a wire connected to a battery to another wire on the engine with a cringe that belied the pain he knew possible with this connection, and he led us up through the jungle to jump off a cliff. In his underwear.