My plans for a big Thanksgiving dinner at my house did not pan out. A Japanese colleague, from an organization that does similar work on ADB projects, planned a visit to town, so off we went to the provinces, back to Battambang and to the border town of Poipet (on the Thailand-Cambodian border).
On Thanksgiving day, I found myself hanging on to the back of a motorbike, as we made our way through the narrow, intricate alleys of a slum community in Poipet. For most of that day, we bumped along the non-paved road near the derelict rails, I (somewhat successfully) ducking as we weaved in, out, and beside makeshift homes pasted together from from stray wood scraps and rubber, vegetable stalls bursting with greens, sewing shops, semblances of village offices, staring children, scratching dogs, cats, chickens, and the occasional bicycle vendor. All this life teemed, cramped together in these small spaces, a vibrant community built on the rails.
This Thanksgiving dinner may go down in my memory as one of my seedier ones. Poipet is a necessary stop on the overland border crossing between Thailand and Cambodia. Most people will tell you not to stay, as hustlers abound. I don't disagree -- the city is a mix of neon-lighted amusement parks, casinos, and general squalor; wares and women are pushed into all hours of the night.
That evening, my colleagues and I sat on the man-made river, taking in the bright lights with a meal of papaya salad, larp, sticky rice, and sauteed fish. I tried to explain the Thanksgiving tradition of going around the table and giving thanks, but my request to do so fell flat.
Nonetheless, I shared briefly what I remain thankful for: My incredible family and friends, who have been overwhelmingly supportive of me, my new friendships in Cambodia, and the unexpected adventures life takes and the opportunities it presents.
P.S. That's a picture of my grandma, who I will see very soon! So excited.