Sara Klassen is a junior interdisciplinary major. She is currently in Cambodia on SST.
After one bus, two planes, three movies, four foil-wrapped meals and 23 hours of travel, our group arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport at 10 p.m. on Thursday to muggy air and a 12 hour time difference. The next evening we were put into the care of host families.
According to Keith and Ann, our leaders, those first 24 hours in a new “home” are the hardest part of SST. It’s a transition mania we might never experience again: jet-lag, new housing, diet shift, language, an unknown family with unfamiliar customs, bathrooms with sprayers instead of toilet paper (spray your butt? wipe with your hand and spray the hand? Wipe and spray at the same time? Drip dry? I’m still not sure). Here you are, now live.
Despite the cheery smiles in all SST blog posts, there is more than giggles and thrill. There are tears and loneliness, diarrhea and rashes, fear and utter exhaustion.
I went to bed that first night content and excited about my playful family. Nevertheless, when I couldn’t sleep anymore at 5:30 the next morning it took a while to get up and face the day. But then I read a passage from Eckhart Tolle’s Stillness Speaks. I’ve paraphrased:
To take responsibility for life is to take responsibility for this moment—Now. Now is the only place where life is found. Taking responsibility means not opposing the “suchness” of this moment or arguing with what is. Responding to life in the moment means saying “yes.”
There are some very timid, nervous parts of me that want to say “no” to this moment because I don’t want to mess up. Later that day, when emotions and homesickness caught me by surprise, I said yes to it. I sobbed into my pillow and thought about all of the faces, places and hugs I know well. Then I said yes to the alarm clock that told me it was time to hop on Thom’s moto and learn the route to school.
I find things on the table I don’t know how to eat. I’m slow and stutter when Ma asks me questions in Khmer. I wear dorky clothes and stick out like a sore American thumb, but I’m saying yes to it. This is all I can be, so I might as well do it enthusiastically. And I’m having a blast.
These five days have been rich with sights like a Chihuahua on the back of a moto, fruit flavors I’ve never tasted (tiep and sour mango) and great eruptions of hearty laughter with my siblings. There will be days I feel overwhelmed again, days when I’ll think I’ll never make it back in Goshen and nights of achey-back sleep, but I will say yes.
SST requires a “yes” every moment: order food, give directions, ride a bike in crazy traffic, eat quail brain. But the most challenging yes is not agreeing to do something, but to be something, and to be at peace with what is.