December 21, 2013 / Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia
I remember back in Bobo never getting used to the all night sounds of donkeys and village dogs or avoiding the early morning wakeup of roosters. Someone that doesn’t even make me stir now. And the omnipresent low frequency sound of generators powering the film wagons outside my apartment in Los Angeles means the village generator behind my house here in the village is no problem at all. But the dark is terrifying. I haven’t slept in darkness since Samokov. New York City, Los Angeles and Seoul all taught me to sleep under a million lights – from the skyscrapers to the strobe of the ghetto bird to the flashing neon of the love motels that turned my Korean apartment into a Las Vegas signboard all night. The city was always pulsating.
I wake up here in the middle of the night and can’t see anything – it’s a frightening feeling. It’s like my body and mind can’t fully be at ease. Between dream sequences I awake to the dark and force myself back to sleep ushering in another vivid, somewhat disturbing segment of dreamland. Dark is the ultimate quiet time – visual quiet. That doesn’t come easy.
By the time I do wake, the village has been up and at it for hours. I leisurely walk through passing stares and exuberant waves and hellos the entire way. I never minded the fishbowl. Maybe that’s being an attention whore. I smile all the time here. I realized while in Korea a few weeks ago that at some point I stopped smiling. Perhaps it was in Korea where that’s kind of weird and a bow will suffice for all the non-verbal communication. In LA, no one cares enough to look at you and smiling is kind of creepy. Plus I had no reason to. But I’m happy I’m back in the world where positive energy radiates through the face and I can receive it and send it back out.
As I sit at the one restaurant in Banteay Chhmar slurping ramen and tea, I think about busyness. I reflect back on arriving in *Bobo and Mama Vanya taking me by the arm toddling through the neighborhood on a walk with my practically dragging her with my burzo burzo [hurry hurry] city footsteps. We had nowhere to be. Or sitting for hours in in the *flealess with the ladies playing endless rounds of rummy. Those were such difficult things to get used to. America implants in the mind the need and desire for busyness. And not just of time or daily life, but of thought, desire and ambition. Overconsumption. Too much of everything. It’s exhausting and I no more keenly aware of that than now. But how do I shed what I’ve been born and bred with? I realize Korea is much worse with this in some ways, but I don’t have the pressure to fully partake.
I want a quiet place in the sun and head to the pagoda. The monks don’t seem bothered I’m around and I find a warm bench beside the cement temple with an ornate, colorful top. I’m eyeing an empty camo printed hammock clearly designated as the monk’s afternoon sleep spot, but maybe I’ll brave stealing it another day. I sit and read my terribly written book on Buddhism and ponder life and existence.
I head to Enfants du Mekong for the rest of my afternoon. I help the Belgian couple there teach computer class to the high schoolers. I realize how many things about life I completely take for granted in places like this. Being a digital native is the one for today. Watching these students painstakingly try to use a mouse, highlight, select and type, I add computer skills to the list with swimming and English of things I’m glad I never have to learn. I’m happy to be back in a classroom and feel like I have something to offer and provide people. But do I just like this because it makes me feel important? Or needed? And if that is the intention, is it impure and one I should change? Or a characteristic and need to recognize and work with?
On the walk back home I think that in this moment, I am happy – and maybe I could be forever in a place like this doing such work.
*Notes: Bobo is the nickname for the Bulgarian village I did my Peace Corps training with 3 other girls. The flealess was one of two cafes in the village. Unlike the other, it did not have fleas. During this time I lived with a host family and the mother’s name was Mama Vanya.