Studying in Goshen is the closest I have ever been to living a city life. Now, for the past six weeks, I have called Phnom Penh, Cambodia–a city of two million–home. The transition into living here is something I sometimes take for granted because when I clear my head long enough to think about my life now, I marvel at its contrast to my life during a normal spring semester.
On a typical day here I haul myself out of bed around 7 a.m., dress in my school uniform and head out on my bicycle. I blend into the swarm of tuk-tuks, Lexus SUVs and motos carrying well-dressed students to school. My morning trek takes me past stands of women selling mussels where the pungent smell of fish lingers, past people eating their morning noodle soup, past small shops that “sale all kind of thing.”
I spend the morning trying to absorb Khmer, eat rice and meat for lunch and then learn about Cambodian culture in an afternoon lecture. Daily sights of a hen and her chicks hanging out at a gas station or adults out in their two-piece pajama sets make me smile, but here these things are unquestioned. Daily, my mind is in overdrive as I sift through a blending of cultures and things that I have no explanation for.
But February is slipping away and by the time you read this article I will be downsizing my luggage in preparation for the next phase of SST: service. Joel Meyer and I will soon move to Kampong Pluck, a small village along the Tonle Sap Lake.
To accommodate the yearly floods, residents’ homes are built on tall stilts and daily life revolves around fishing. This village is not so remote that the infamous Gangnam Style has not found its way there (as we discovered on an earlier visit), and yet I expect that my daily necessities will be stripped down to the basics.
How curious I am to experience a life that ebbs and flows with the Tonle Sap Lake, utterly dependent on the natural world. Life as I know it has been structured, prioritized and categorized, and time has been more a means for productivity. I am looking forward to leaving those things behind in Phnom Penh and adapting myself to a schedule that begins and ends with the sun. I anticipate time spent with family and days of being rather than doing. This excitement, albeit tinged with apprehension, is not my experience alone. Most of us here make funny exclamations and giggle nervously when we think about heading out into the Cambodian countryside this week.
In a country whose people have survived one of humanity’s darkest hours (which was really 3 years, eight months and 20 days of genocide), I have found that I listen more than I speak and learn more than I give. When I reflect on the difficult path that Cambodians have traversed, and as I prepare myself for a slower life among the people of Kampong Pluck, a verse that has often been relevant to my life comes to mind again.
“…And what does the Lord require of you but to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
Audrey Thill is a junior PJCS and sociology double major. She is currently in Cambodia on Study-Service Term.