I collapsed on my back, across my bed, corpse-style, arms and legs configured into an “X,” daring the fan, mounted on the wall, to hit me with all of the air that it could possibly spew forth. It was Saturday, March 30, 2013.
The weather was committing an inhumane act by subjecting the (air conditioning-deprived) residents of Phnom Penh to wilt and inhale 90°F (32°C ) air at 9 o’clock in the evening. It had been 28 days since I last slept at my house in Phnom Penh (the placed I moved to in January 2013 after Aunt Sumpha died) and I could have imagined a homecoming that was more welcoming. I heat-drunkenly attempted to recap the madness that accompanied my month of March:
- 24,126 miles (37,274 kilometers) flown between 10 airports on 10 airplanes;
- Four countries on two continents, within the span of 11 time zones, and experiencing temperatures between 39° to 90°F (4° to 30°C);
- Two bus trips covering 280 miles (452 kilometers);
- 6.6 pounds (3 kilograms) of dried shrimp and one unknown, wildly heavy item disguised in newspaper that I was charged to carry from family in Cambodia to family in the United States;
- 1,000 packets of Splenda sugar, two bottles of Lubriderm lotion, and one small container of Lancôme eye cream that I was charged to carry from an Amazon shipment in the United States to family in Cambodia;
- A dry, flaky forehead, nose, and pair of lips, and subsequent liberal applications of moisturizer and chapstick;
- One dog bite on my right leg and a total of 45 pills and four shots (as of today) administered by a Chinese clinic to protect and bolster my compromised not-vaccinated-for-rabies immune system;
- Skin several shades tanner, or “blacker” by Khmer standards;
- An indeterminable number of sand fly bites, mosquito bites, and spider bites; and
- Loss of water and excessive strands of hair, and whatever else is released as a result of steady perspiration and stress.
While on my bed, again perspiring, I was glad for the moment to be still and collect my thoughts, but I was tired – physically, mentally, and emotionally. I felt dirty (I was disgusted to find black grime on my fingers after scratching an itchy neck), I felt unmotivated (my enthusiasm for research was comparable to a dying, wriggling earth worm), and I felt like crying (except that most of the moisture in my body was being channeled away from my tear ducts and towards my sweat glands). I could not stop thinking about all of the travelers I observed at Pochentong airport earlier that day, checking in for their flights, about to take off for other places, maybe home, any place of stability and familiarity. I wanted to leave too. But then I scolded myself for carrying this defeatist attitude, ashamed that it indicated ungratefulness for the opportunity to live and work abroad.
Now one week later from that evening, after one week of checking back into my former routines in the city, trying to decide which graduate school program to start this next fall, catching up on correspondence to assure friends and family (and especially my parents) that I am alive and not chronically depressed, and backtracking to where I left off with research, I have, as is appropriate for the new life that traditionally comes with spring, created goals for these last three months left in Cambodia:
- Get the Kbach Untitled site updated and back into shape;
- Prepare a manuscript for a small book about my research and print one copy of it at one of the ubiquitous print shops that flood Phnom Penh;
- Smile or offer a respectful nod at people more often, rather than appearing pissed, aloof, or expressionless;
- Be grateful that my allergies are not active here;
- Visit more temples and sit down and talk with monks – their hospitality is infectious and puts me at ease;
- Spend more time with family;
- Finish reading at least one book not related to research, preferably fiction;
- Avoid doing any work after dinner;
- Avoid eating dinner late;
- Keep my distance from street dogs;
- Take advantage of mango season;
- Write more letters; and
- Survive the madness and heat of the Cambodian spring.
P.S. Why can’t the world settle on using one system of measurement?