I have been living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for five years now, and Asia for six and a half. I arrived wide-eyed and upside down after graduating university in Toronto with a degree in Philosophy and Political Science, with a sturdy backpack, and a naivety that was scrubbed off me quickly by the steel-wool challenges of living abroad.
I didn't know what i came to Cambodia to do, but this country has a way of taking you in hand and telling you what she wants--and not always nicely. But she has been kind with me: I run a successful yoga studio here, the first in the country, and have the privilege of working with a small but inspiring group of expat and Cambodian clients, friends, trainees and staff.
Being a yoga teacher was unintentional and since the beginning, I thought this was something that i would do for a while and then go back to the Real World and get a Real job. I was afraid of getting lost in an upside down world so far away from home, like so many other expats and permanent travelers who leave their country and leave behind responsibility and obligations.
But after five years of learning about Cambodia and integrating with the people here and with an international development community, I find both sides of the planet increasingly similar, and similarly real/unreal. Cambodians and Canadians are not so different in their behaviour and motivations, only in their circumstances. What can be created in Cambodia, in terms of business, relationships or sense of self, is no less profound here than in the West (just a little less paperwork). And a life crafted from foreign material and made free-floating according to one's own intentions and motivations entails more freedom in many ways, but also more responsibility that is too easily abandoned when there are no social mores to hold it in place.
I respect the challenges I face living in this country, and I appreciate the opportunities to craft my own mind and self according to the requirements of this country. I learn equanimity here; i learn how to be unattached to objects and material possessions; i learn how to acknowledge injustice and the limits of personal power, and how to generate strength and joy and all the good things that people are capable of in the face of tragedy. I have been able to cultivate a perspective about what is valuable in human relationships that are applicable against any cultural backdrop, whether it be an ongoing relationship with a Cambodian orphan or a fleeting encounter with a person in a New York City grocery store.
This part of the world is not my home, it will never be my home, but the gifts it has given me are essential parts of my self now, and i no longer worry about competing definitions of reality that are contingent on which side of the planet i happen to be on. Despite what the twentieth century tried to convince us of, I suspect there are universals in human nature, certainly in human experience.
People always ask me how long i will stay in Cambodia. I have commitments here to a group of five young yoga trainees and a slightly more senior Cambodian yoga teacher; i have promised them a future in the practice and the lifestyle. As long as these six young people are looking to me to help them up, I will stand by. I have no idea how long that will be. Anything creative Acknowledging fear; feeling satisfied with what i have done; maintaining a daily self-practice when there is so much else to do in a day! I do not consider myself an expert in anything. But, I practice bringing people's awareness to their body and mind, and teaching people that these things are theirs to use as they will.
My Vision for the Future
I don't believe injustice and pain will ever stop. My dream, though, given that perameter, is a land where people decide that love is possible even in the face of injustice, and realize their own inexhaustable capacity to generate joy.