I am sitting, as I do every once in a while, reading back through my blog and poring over countless numbers of photos from Cambodia. It’s super easy to get lost in my thoughts, taking a few minutes to place myself in reality and understand that all this time has passed since then.
Except this time it’s a little more special; it’s been one exact year since we returned home in fact. An entire year since we walked out on our lives and had to focus on rebuilding our old ones back home. A year since tuk tuks were our form of daily transport and we ate rice three times a day. A year since we have seen the children.
The passage of time has been a huge vortex. In some ways, it feels like only yesterday that Lexi and I were crying our eyes out as the plane landed back in England (and as Kian pretended not to be associated with us). The tangibility of sitting speechless and shaking in a Costa Coffee on the journey back home from Heathrow feels like a recent memory, having no real clue about what was happening or what was about to happen.
Then again, Cambodia feels impossibly far away (in no way helped by the fact that the huge world map in my bedroom illustrates the physical enormity of it’s distance). We are no longer there. People move on. The children have, our Cambodian friends have, and so have we. Sometimes I completely forget about details of our year until Lexi reminds me. I think how on earth could I have forgotten one child’s name, when before we were so familiar with every intricacy of their personality.
It was two years ago that we set out on this journey, three if you count the initial journeys up to that little Scottish Island which started everything off. Rarely do I now get that harmless but excruciating question: ‘How was Cambodia?’. For me, the only way that the perpetual passing of time and this painful distance can be spun into a positive is that in no way do I feel I have lost the person I became during that year. This constant fear which has played out in the back of my mind since returning has never materialised. I understand that to many this might seem silly; how on earth can an experience like this be forgotten? But with the onset of new challenges, and the process of slowly taking things like hot showers and Topshop for granted, I have sometimes worried about losing my way.
Certain things have helped me maintain my bearings. Firstly, and most importantly, have been the people around me. Lexi and I still come as a pair and I don’t think we will ever be without each other. To be able to vicariously relive our Cambodia experiences through each other, but also share our ongoing post-Cambodia lives, has made adapting to being home much easier than I could ever imagine.
I am beholden to my family and friends that have been there for me when I have cried in the pub because I have forgotten how to hold a social conversation which doesn’t mention the word ‘Cambodia’, or have hugged me when I have those pretentious ‘gap yah’ wobbles where I complain about my spending of money or my life being too hedonistic. Aware that all of this makes me sound completely selfish, I must say that I am so grateful to all of these people for accommodating me back into their lives. A year is a long time to be away, and it was a long and hard lesson to learn that a lot has gone on without you.
I think University was the perfectly logical next step, acting as wonderful ground for me to continue to develop and enjoy my independence. Studying Social Policy is a joy, and means that I can continue to engage with the real world. It has taught me that I can never be still and should always be aware of the inequalities that disadvantage so many people. In Leeds I have made strong friendships, people who are like minded and people who are different to me. But for the first time in my life I feel in awe of my friends; I am surrounded by so many people who I can be completely myself with, so many good people doing good things.
Sure, there have been difficulties in getting to where I am now. It was hard when people’s eyes would start to glaze over at the mention of Cambodia. My year was suddenly reduced to funny anecdotes to bring up in conversation. After a year of enormous satisfaction, seeing the children make progress every day, it is difficult when days are mundane, and the most productive thing I do is a shop at Morrisons. But this is real life now, un-ending time stretching out before me as opposed to neatly compartmentalised months with a clear ending date. It seems true what people say about the best things happening in time periods that were destined to end. The only thing I can do is accept my future whole-heartedly, appreciating my fortune and continuing to take a little bit of Cambodia with me every day.