On June 22, Skip and I are boarding a plane to Phonm Penh, Cambodia.
We’ve talked about this for several years now; the idea of living in Asia, experiencing a new culture and changing our lives but it’s hard to believe that it’s only HOURS away.
We’re moving there to work in a volunteer capacity in a one year commitment but we intend staying for longer. We’ve sold our house and our cars and either sold, stored or given away all of our possessions with no intention of returning anytime soon.
It’s a surreal feeling.
Over the past few weeks, I’d find myself working out in the gym, drinking coffee with a friend or walking through town and it suddenly hits me. A combination of disbelief, excitement, nervousness and overwhelm. A feeling so strange I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s almost like the butterflies you get when you’re about to perform in a play, compete in an event or give a speech in front of a large audience. The sensation of knowing it will turn out just fine but still reeling from the immediacy (and enormity) of it all.
It’s not as though I’ve never done this before. My life has consisted of multiple moves, many times to countries where I knew no-one and had very little knowledge about the place I would live.
It started when my family moved to South Africa from Bahrain when I was 16. Even though we had distant family living there, we didn’t know anyone and I knew very little about the country other the fact that I’d be going back to school in my teenage years with a lot of strange girls.
From there, it was my unplanned move to the U.S., the end-result of a “vacation” with a girlfriend which turned into a permanent move when I decided I’d like to explore a new life in America.
Then there was the move to London (where I did know people) followed by another transatlantic move to Washington DC where I didn’t know a soul and was, quite frankly, reluctant to live at the time.
Each time felt like an adventure and the experience turned out to be perfect at the time. So why should this time be any different?
The very same things which give me moments of panic are also the same things which make my heart beat with excitement.
Learning a strange new language. Meeting people from different walks of life. Iintegrating ourselves into a new culture. Exploring the city. Finding a new place to live. Discovering places where the locals eat and shop. Learning how to do without some of the familiarities of home (such as garbage disposals, Cheddar cheese and a car). Working in an office and communicating with fellow workers. Figuring out how to get to work and how to live without transportation.
The list goes on and on. And, while I want to read and explore and know everything before I go, I also like the idea of arriving and figuring it out along the way.
In the meantime, as we make this transition and divest ourselves of most of our belongings, I’ve discovered quite a few things along the way.
· You can manage perfectly well with very little “stuff”.
· Separation is hard and sometimes irrational. Even though we decided to get rid of our cars, I don’t like the thought of a stranger driving away in my little black convertible.
· Things only have meaning when you attach a memory to them. Our Irish antique hutch was a great piece of furniture but what made it really special was the memory of how we found it tucked away In a European import store and proudly placed it in the first home we bought together
· There’s an incredible poignancy in seeing things for what may be the last time..The boats on the harbor. The moon shining on the ocean outside our window. My cat curled up on the bed. The old lady from around the corner who we always bump into around town.
· It’s when you’re about to leave that you see different qualities in your friends. I’ve observed how some have made themselves more absent while most of our true friends have persistently grabbed every opportunity to get together.
It’s really not a rational feeling, any of this. It comes from the pit of the stomach – the place which speaks to you in the middle of the night and grabs you by the throat, causing your heart to beat fast and your palms grow sweaty.
For me, it’s really about the transition. About letting go. And also in knowing that, once we pass through the security gate with our suitcases and passports in hand, armed with our Cambodia handbooks and Khmer language tapes, I will not look back.
In the meantime, as I pack boxes to put into storage, there’s a different feeling this time. Sometimes it is so powerful that I want to weep as I wrap the fluffy bunny my mother gave me or the box of cards my husband wrote to me or the candleholder we received as a wedding gift.
I couldn’t quite figure it out till earlier this week. Then I realized where the feeling came from.
In the past, I’ve packed boxes knowing I’ll be at the other end to unpack them. But this time, they are going into an impersonal storage unit where they may not see the light of day for years. While I rarely look at the bunny or the greeting cards, there’s something reassuring in knowing they are close at hand. This time, I don’t know when I’ll see them again or where I’ll be when I once again open the boxes.
So, for now, I want to savour every moment, every experience, every tide and full moon and time with friends. I want to see the expressions on people’s faces and the beauty of the bougainvillea blooming in our neighbor’s garden. I want to sit quietly with Gracie on my lap and try to breathe deeply during this flurry of activity.
For, while we will soon be arriving in a new world with exciting new experiences, and starting to savor a new chapter in our lives, I know this stage will be forever etched in my memory.. The last days of our lives here in this beautiful little town, surrounded by wonderful friends and a life full of meaning.
It will also signify a period in our lives when we decided it was time to make a change. When, no matter how content we had been in our lives, we decided to let go of the trapeze and grab for the next swinging bar. Headed to a place where we know nobody, don’t speak the language and have no knowledge of the city.
It’s our adventure waiting to begin.