Thursday, February 25, 2010
Should I use this as a space to document ailments affecting the Cambodian people during this year, to remember in systematic fashion the wrongs against which I will advocate? Should I use this space to document my own frivolous musings, which, I believe, will become more and more necessary with my increased entrenchment in human rights work? Or, as one friend suggested, should I use this blog to document only the beautiful things in my experience, to create a safe bubble into which I can retreat when the darkness looms?
From my brief journeys there, the country has so much of both beauty and horror, a duality that only magnifies each.
I'm undecided. But I'm throwing those thoughts out there for now.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
I am a pack-rat, a collector of many things. It must stem from my upbringing because neither my mom nor my dad seem to be able to get rid of things.
For as long as I can remember, I have owned or coveted a navy blue sweater or navy boy blazer. In fact, I have two hanging in my closet, both of more substantial weight and unlikely companions in Cambodia. But what about this little number by Steven Alan? Over my many lightweight dresses? A friend in monsoon months?
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
As my remaining days in Portland reach single digits, I'm feeling melancholy. I fell in love with Portland, Oregon after a spur-of-the moment drive from Los Angeles (then my home) to Vancouver BC. I still remember driving up the I-5, the concrete jungle giving way to abundant nature. And there she lay, this little city in the forest, a gem.
I moved to Portland with hopes to study environmental law. I did. But what I gained during the last six years was so much more than that: friendships and loves that have shaped, grounded and inspired me, an understanding and curiosity of systemic societal contradictions and ailments that has compelled me into the field I am now entering, an appreciation for good coffee, micro-brewed beers and seasons ... and I managed to buy more Mayle during my stay here! Ha.
How will I spend my final days in Portland? Besides the necessary purging-packing-storing-repeat process, I will spend time with friends. I will walk outside my neighborhood and enjoy the rain and rare sunbreaks. I will drink coffee and micro-brews as only Portland can do.
Tonight, however, I am taking a walk around my 'hood with a friend.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Monday, February 15, 2010
First, my dear friend, Jason, has agreed to visit me during my last weekend in Portland and to help me in the 16+ hour drive down the lovely I-5. What a great friend! I don't know if he can handle my endless chit-chat for 16+ hours. I usually torment him at all hours of the day with my stories of the universe and synchronicity. Ever the logical anchor, he usually tries to ground me. Lately, however, that has been near impossible, and we have had to agree to disagree.
Second, Jeanice is planning to meet me somewhere between or in Thailand, Hong Kong, or Singapore in June! I will be settled into Phnom Penh by then and likely up to my eyeballs in human rights lawyering 101, but I look forward to seeing a familiar face for a weekend in any SE Asia locale. Even more, I am excited for her foray into SE Asian travelling.
Last night, I dreamt that I made the move to Los Angeles and was en route to Cambodia, when I realized that my apartment, my cats, and all other belongings were accidentally left behind in Portland. My heart raced, and thoughts of how to get my cats and belongings out of Portland consumed me. Utter panic.
And then, I woke up.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
Unlike Laos, which lulled me into a peaceful stupor, Cambodia was demanding and raw, a country of mind-boggling, head-turning contradiction: of dark and light, beauty and horror, life and death. In the few days I was there, I managed to experience many emotional highs and lows -- really, there was hardly an experience that elicited a safe middle-of-the-road response. Even more jarring were my constant confrontations with my own prejudices and presumptions. It was emotionally draining, and ultimately with all the stressors involved, I became physically sick.
One of my most memorable days in Siem Riep, Cambodia was the day I visited an orphanage with Arlene -- this is true even among the chaos and illness that engulfed me that day.
As soon as we arrived at the orphanage, we were greeted by a crowd of curious faces. The children were of various ages, from two-year old toddlers to eighteen year-olds. They slept eight to ten to a bed. Since school was an expense, the children rotated between morning and afternoon attendance. The rest of the day was spent in "classes" at the orphanage.
Within the course of a day, Arlene and I worked with 20-25 children in art class. We taught English and answered questions about our homes. In the late afternoon, two medical students from Belgium (regulars at this orphanage) joined us and brought water balloons. The children went wild! We played with them in the adjacent grassy field, piggy-backing, jumproping, and racing until the sky grew orange.
The emotions I felt during the departure from the orphanage lingered after that day and will likely stay with me for years to come. Our goodbyes were met with a mob of hugs -- and not the kind of hug we as Americans give to strangers and even to our friends (i.e., hugs that create, respect, or are indicative of some space between individuals). These embraces were hungry for attachment, for love; they clung. And there were many of them, at the same time.
It was overwhelming, and soon I felt the burn of tears in my eyes. I was thankful for the cloak of night.
Luckily, also inevitable is an apology within a day or two.
I relish this time. No one else understands me quite this way, knows what buttons to push, deciphers the meaning of a fleeting glance or a quick purse of my lips. And, very few others can fully comprehend the distances each of us has travelled nor support our choices unconditionally.
So to Jen and Jack (or Jack and Jen, whatever), this Valentine's Day weekend, I also celebrate you. Love.
Friday, February 12, 2010
I travel light, squeezing everything into my bright Le Sportsac bag, which is tiny relative to other backpacks. I (happily) make do with much less. In the Gobi Desert of Mongolia, for example, we slept without electricity, relying on cow poo fires (really) to warm us in the gers and the rising sun to serve as our alarm clock. What water was available was saved for the livestock -- that is to say, there was no running water, no showers, no bathtubs. And, in spite of these inconveniences, the 8+ days I spent in that desert gave me some of the best memories of my life so far.
But I am moving to LIVE and to WORK in Cambodia, in the field of human rights law. If you have been to Phnom Penh, you know that, even though it is the capital, it is a poor city. The undeniable charm of the decaying French colonial infrastructure ultimately gives way to a backdrop of constant hub-bub, of crime, garbage and the other realities of living in a developing country.
So, what goes, and what stays? What about my trekking trips to places like Myanmar, Tibet? What about my weekend trips to places with more Western comforts, like Hong Kong and Singapore? And more importantly, what of my pretty dresses?
I have a headache.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
For A New Beginning
By John O'Donohue
In out-of-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety,
And the grey promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plentitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning,
That is at one with your life's desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
I am sitting at Via Delizia, after a day of absolute unproductivity, of endless cups of Portland coffee drinking, of too much creme brulee cheesecake eating, and mindless, yet lovely, banter with neighbors. (The owner, a lovely Italian man who appears to work endless hours every day, never seems to mind that I sit in his cafe too long.)
After peering at my gorgeous cappuccino this afternoon, I realized that these experiences are limited: I have just over two weeks of Portland time left. And, within those two weeks, I will have to somehow purge the non-necessities, pack up my belongings, complete my contract work, say goodbye to wonderful friends, and drive Betsy, Odo, Brooklyn and myself to Los Angeles.
My complaints about wet, gloomy, dark Portland days will come to an end. But, I will no longer be able to walk to Mami's, to walk to Whole Foods, to walk to countless cafes, shops, dance and yoga studios in my neighborhood. There will be no need to grapple with the concurrence of my love-dislike concerning my residence in the Pearl District. And, my winter coats will be useless, discarded for perpetual summer clothes, placed in indefinite storage.
A period of my life will end.
If that isn't enough to think about, I will simultaneously be working and planning the biggest move of my life, to a country where I know not a soul.
A year ago, if a stranger had sat at my table at Via Delizia and told me that I would be moving to work in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in a year's time, I would have laughed off the prediction as ridiculous, implausible, far-fetched.
Life never fails to surprise me.