This weekend, we stayed in a hotel in Phnom Penh. We walked along the riverside with backpacks strapped to our backs and took photos of the Royal Palace. Tuktuk drivers asked if we wanted to go to the Russian Market or the Killing Fields. We felt – and looked – like tourists in our home city.
The home we’ve had for the past three years, that is.
But tonight we hop into a tuktuk as we’ve done hundreds of times before. We head to the airport as we’ve done countless times in the past.
Then we’ll do something we’ve never done before: Leave.
The mere thought of it makes me well up with tears and savour every second of this last day. I’m seeing sunsets tinged with more gold than usual, feeling cool breezes when I’d previously experienced sweltering heat and looking longer into the eyes of people squatting on the street.
I don’t want to go but I don’t want to stay. I want to see the magic in other parts of the world but it’s hard letting go of the hand we’ve held for more than 1,000 days.
At the same time, I’m bursting with excitement to see Otto, my 21-year-old nephew who I haven’t seen for more than a decade, and thrilled to be spending Christmas with mummy, Jonathan, my beautiful nieces and some of my dearest friends in the world.
It’s this in between time that’s the hardest – saying goodbyes, seeing things through the eyes of last times and waiting for the next door to open as this one slowly swings shut.
I’m not so sad about leaving friends, as I know we’ll be in touch with the small special group who will be forever in our lives. Facebook, Skype and email make that possible. And some of them, I know, will be visiting – or perhaps living – in one of the places we end up.
It’s the Tonys and SomOns that will be hardest to leave and those we’ll think of often. The Saraths and the Heangs. The camp waiter at Brown’s who giggles when we order coffee. The receptionists at the Himawari gym and Miss Care Spa and the young girls serving cupcakes at Bloom. The joking, poking and cajoling of the tuktuk drivers who cackle when Skip stops by to tease them. The melodic announcement of the egg and bread sellers as they push their carts along the street and the haunting sound from the pagodas when the monks chant in prayer.
It’s the comfortable familiarity of walking along broken up sidewalks and dodging motorbikes bearing tiny brown-eyed children. The time-tested knowledge of how to cross the street, order meals in Khmer, give directions to tuktuk drivers who don’t know the way and knowing who to call and where to go for the best pizza in town, the fastest bus to Mondulkiri and the most enjoyable foot massage.
It’s the aroma of stinky prohok wafting up from our downstairs neighbours and the blistering sun on my back as I walk to a yoga class. The feeling of being part of the chaotic mess of humanity, dogs and rubble wherever I meander during the day.
It’s the little people and the street people who I know we’ll never see again. The smells that are only found on the streets of Cambodia. The sounds we’ve awoken to and the warm nights we’ve fallen asleep in. That’s what I’ll miss the most.
And I know – no matter where the next door opens – when the wheels of Korean Air Flight 690 leave the ground tonight, Skip and I will hold hands tightly and choke back tears when we see the lights of Phnom Penh fade into the distance and the stars come out over the mighty Mekong.