Socheata Poum

It is exactly one month and five days from today before I have to leave Canada and go back to Cambodia. There are many things going on in my mind that I have tried to keep it under control so that it won’t lead to anxiety (one of my goal for the year was to nail this). Which I believe I have done not bad so far. I don’t say that I am not excited to go home. I really am. However, it is not that kind of feeling that you go on a trip for a while then go back home and thing is going to be back to what it used to be. If this is anything, I know for sure it is not that case.

People who know me from home could read this in many this different way. Some may get excited for me, some may be worried / annoyed / rolling-their-eyes that I am going to be a different person to them, some may not even care (which is the kind I prefer for less complication). The truth is I am not sorry that I am not the person I was when I got on the plane 11 months ago. I have grown through learning and perseverance to accustom to where I am now. I have a family that I feel belong to, I have a community which I know exactly who I am to them and what my contribution is for them, I have the sense that I am part of something here and I have learnt to take comfort in that when I am inclined to get homesick. Going back, no more I be able to continue doing what I do, meeting the people I meet and making my contribution.

 Don’t get emotional for me! I have prepared for this when I chose this path. I prepared for the entire “hello” and “goodbye”, changes, weathers, differences in culture etc. In fact, those are the reason that I lead me here in the first place. I do not come just to travel for the taste of new experience. I come here for the “Revelation” of my perspective and my identity. I think I get what I come here for when this question comes up by reflex – “what would people at home think of me now?” I have also learnt to turn down that kind of questions because it is the last thing that I want to care about – “what would people think of me?” Yeah! I am on my way to actually pass that! The hard part is that some of the people who would have their opinion about me are the people who I love dearly and care about. Thus, I have to be considerate of their feeling and learn to response in a way that is insightful and compassionate! Yeah, it’s all about the never ending process of learning!

There are many aspect of life that I have to consider about as I go back. Three main aspects that I will talk about here are family vise, church vise and country vise. Caution is that you might not like what you will read but I am just trying to be honest.

 In family as a daughter, there are things that I will need my parents to hear me genuinely with all due respect and love I have for them and as an adult, not a child anymore. When I am back at home, I know for sure that I am at a stage of my life where I want to have more of meaningful and insightful conversation with my parents rather than just small talks like a teenager. My problem is how do I talk to my parents so it will not be awkward with our language barrier? I speak Khmer to them, however in term of expressing myself I have limitation in Khmer language that I cannot make it out properly and smoothly without feeling very awkward. I know it is a shame that I do not know how to demonstrate that in my own language. I don’t even know if I am the only one with this problem or else. Like seriously, Khmer young people who have learnt English since a very young age would know what I mean. You can’t simply tell your parents something like for example “I want you to believe in me” casually as “ខ្ញុំចង់ឱ្យអ្នកជឿលើខ្ញុំ” (source: Google Translate) without feeling like you are being cheesy and ending up burst out laughing out loud during your attempt to have a heart-felt conversation with your parents so that they could take you seriously. For the record, Google Translate cannot even figure out a not awkward way for such expression in Khmer.

 Another thing is the context of the conversation. There is no guarantee that my parents will be happy to hear that at one point I would have to leave them again and how would my dad feel that I decided not to follow his path? These kinds of conversation are already very uncomfortable on its own without the language barrier. I know enough that no matter how uncomfortable they are, these conversations need to happen. Because I want the people, I love to know their importance in my life before it is too late. If anything I have learnt this year is how powerful conversation is? Which is so uncommon in Cambodian culture. We would talk about many small stuffs, gossips, and politics, but not what really matters in our relationship toward each other.

 Church vise, as a Christian, church is a very important part of my life. The nature of how I went to church was set by default for many reasons. I went to the church I went to because the elders in my family went there. I could not afford other options because I was young I needed breakfast and transportation on Sunday morning to get to church and it was possible only if I followed the elders. If there is one thing, I am certain of about what Christianity is? It is about relationship and encountering God personally. For many years I went to church under the influences of the elders that at some point, I even made going to church become a toxic Sunday routine that I could not escape because I’ve always been a big fan of Jesus.

 Having gone to churches here and almost at every countries that I have been to, I have avoided being judgmental by weighing and comparing which is better or worse because that is not my job to do. However, there are always differences that are there to spot and I think (biblically and rationally) is okay to do. Some questions I ask myself when I go to church, do I see God at church when the music went silent and the service ends? Do I feel like the same body of Christ – the congregation also represents Christ outside of the church and on a non-Sunday day? I have not notice that during my over 10 years of going to church at home. I was busy choosing the right outfits to wear to church so I would not give men at church a chance to sin from lust of the flesh. So what do churches focus on actually? Denomination? Church structure? What the crowd represents? How big the crowd is?

 For years I still have not figured it out and I think I will never be able to. I have come to accept that it is a part of faith to be okay with not knowing the exact answer. To believe that there is still a divine plan when something goes beyond comprehension.  As a result, from letting my always-seeking-for-rationality-to-make-believe-self go I have learnt to cope better with this. Instead of being confused and doubtful, I learn to find joy in this divided world. I learn to enjoy Jesus through relationship with people who open to things that are different from what they are used to. I learn to take advantage of the freedom that Jesus has opened up for me when he says “love your neighbors” because I have learned that by neighbors he means everyone in general regardless of their churches’ denomination, religions, races, genders, political views, occupations etc. I felt God was smiling on me when I was invited to be a keynote speaker to speak at a Muslim community gathering in Canada as they go through a hard time. I felt I got to live closer to how Jesus did when I talked to homeless people on the street compared to when I sit on the church pew listening to a sermon.

Last but not least, country vise. I am not going to do any comparison either. In fact, I have learnt to see how it has shaped me in a unique way. At some points I realize because of where I was born, I have become immune to thing that people in many cultures would find sensitive. One example is I remember I have been made fun of my whole life according to the color of my skin (LOL) that at some point it does not bother me anymore. At this point of my life, I felt like a hypocrite feeling disgusted with Donald Trump for his racism behavior when I have let people got away with this kind of racist acts that have been done to me. I would say I did not care enough of how I looked to get back at people. However, my shame is that I chose to be ignorance toward this hateful behavior. Which could mean I am telling them that it is okay to address someone like that. Sometimes it is not okay to be okay!

 What I am trying to say here is that, Cambodians somehow have grown a very strong immune system toward injustice and inequity. There are many other examples of how people choose to tolerate rather than speak up. Our culture, has given authorization by default to certain category of people like elders, employers, the rich, people of higher positions that it have taken away our ability to explore and seek our full potential just to put it out there as it is supposed to be even just to see what it’s liked. I am lucky enough that my parents have raised me to be an independent thinker and decision maker but I am still not sure if they are ready for whom they have raised me to be . So as many other things that happens in the country like people would say “We value freedom” but when people use their “freedom”, the society seems to be caught off guard and goes like “whoa, we are not ready for such foreign acts!”

 To sum up, it is going to take time. Time for me to settle back. Time for people to take me back. Time for me to be aware of my boundaries and learn to response and adjust to what my country is accustomed to without having to compromise my value. It is just all going to be a new adventure and there are endless of possibility that awaits. However, I am optimistic that it is just going to be another stage of learning for me. I am home, but I am not where I want to be yet. I am excited because I see this as a transition into a new season of life and I am determined not to settle for anything less than my dream.