Heraclitus reportedly said that, “No [wo]man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and [s]he’s not the same [wo]man.” And so it is with this in mind as I stroll around Phnom Penh, that charming and peacefully chaotic city that I spent two months in several years ago. I had an urge to come back, and on the urging of my friends, I came back. I had almost two months of happy memories that compelled me. Not necessarily happy in the hedonistic, saccharine sense, but in the sense of accomplishment, moving out of my comfort zone, and doing what feels right.
I threw myself into a new situation, followed my heart by working with an organization I had long admired, led my a man I would consider one of my heroes. The students were great, the experience was challenging but incredibly rewarding, and personally, I got to meet fascinating people (including my hero), and travel to some amazing places (Holla Angkor Wat!).
Everything worked out so well and all my boxes were ticked. And so I wanted to come back and experience it again. Alas, as we read in the opening lines to this post, things don’t work that way. I booked my ticket a few weeks ago then contacted the organisation I worked with before. They didn’t reply for a week, which was unusual, but when they did, they said they were so sorry but they didn’t need me as a volunteer at the moment. They had grown so big and become so popular that they were now only taking people for long periods of time. I understand it’s better for the organization (and probably the volunteer) to stay for a longer period of time, but I was a little miffed and disappointed.
I thought I would find another organisation to work with but now that I’m here, I don’t feel like it. I don’t need to do that anymore. I will resume my idealist, do-goodery-save-the-world shtick when I’m sixty, like the other single, divorced ladies I met who last time who had property in New York and LA and could afford to now devote themselves to causes they cared about.
And how about Phnom Penh? I was disappointed to see my quaint little neighborhood, while still teeming with unruly trees and flowers and the chaos of motorcycles and tuk-tuks, had developed in the wrong ways. Now there are endless construction projects from Chinese companies building McCondos for the privileged. The incredible masseur who diagnosed all my old injuries with his mere touch has disappeared and in his place is a longterm expat hairdresser. While I went in to see if my guy was still there, two Korean guys came in with little English, read the menu and insisted they wanted Brazilian and bikini waxes respectively. The hairdresser told them to come back soon and there would be a guy to do it. No, no, they insisted, they wanted a woman. I wonder what exactly they think they’re in for.
The spa around the road where I went almost everyday for pampering has been turned into a wedding dress shop. The funky little pizza place has been replaced by a techno-playing bar and flashpackers while the indie venue where local and expat bands played and where there was salsa dancing on Wednesdays is still there, it’s just that it’s been closed and chained behind an iron fence for months, waiting for someone to buy it and turn it into another guesthouse.
Indeed, it’s not the same place and I am not the same woman. That is both good and bad. In those almost four years since that time I’ve had a few different jobs in addition to my current gig. I’ve travelled to all the continents except the big white one. I’ve developed emotionally and I’ve definitely matured. I’ve struggled to learn a new language and I’ve loved and had my heart broken, survived it as well as the demise of friendships, a large amount of money being stolen, the death of acquaintances. Life is long. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, but the turtle and the hare both need to keep moving forward, regardless of how fast they do so. I have sat on my laurels when I shouldn’t have. And of course, with all this time on my hands, there’s plenty of time for self-flagellation. I’m trying not to go there.
Where will I go? I’m not sure yet, but I don’t think I’ll be staying here.