Miriam Feder home


Report 17: Yes, I love long goodbyes, why do you ask?

I’ve been sentimentally leaving Cambodia for a week now. My camera aims better, deeper, more carefully knowing it may be the last market photo. I’ve taken more time consciously for myself, trying that last dish at Frizz (which has been my even-more regular hang than usual) napping, going to the doctor (why has my right ear been plugged up for the last three weeks? No eardrum problem—that’s good.) And arranging last meals with everyone I know, which it turns out, after the departure of the other AJWS volunteers, is only about 4 people, outside of work. (And squeezing as many of these farwell meals into the delicious and lovely Romdeng restaurant, now that I finally got to try it.)

I have come to know that when there is not much happening on the outside, there’s usually a lot of silent work going on inside. Outside I’ve been letting of my little home, routines, and my people and girding myself for the road. Oh yes I want the road, but it’s not an easy place to be. After all, as my co- worker volunteered when asked if he liked his trip to Vietnam: no, they speak Vietnamese and use Dong (the currency.)

Yes I’m comforted; if these are the biggest problems with Vietnam I can handle it. I’ll get used to the conversion rate of 20,840 Dong to the Dollar (note to self—a 100,000 d note is a five.) I’ll get used to another foreign sound in my ear and some additional panto. I’ll strike up new conversations and have instant dinner company some nights. I’ll soak myself in the sea. And I’m ready enough.

Enough is my favorite word, by the way. It’s a good punctuation mark and even better as a qualifier. It reemphasizes my commitment to non-perfection, as if life doesn’t remind me often enough each day. It’s a very good theory—on the road and off—and it ought to be cross stitched somewhere, by someone who does such things. And I hope it has a perfectly delightful flaw in the stitching—that will be good enough.

Today is my last day, a full-day staff meeting. The morning is updates by all the staff including me. I share achievements and experiences, present a plan I’d like to see implemented, and teach the group how to update the website, or at least have that recorded in a document. I thiank my colleagues heartily—they have really made this work for all of us and I’m delighted to have worked with them. I’m free early and sneak in one last massage. In a short while I’ll be off to a solidarity/farewell dinner for me that suddenly jumped into an evening gathering at the Vini Garden.

Question from the trenches: Have I become the old hand. advising new travelers?
Yes. My landlord has brought several groups to see about renting my apartment. I vouch for the location—I’ve been really pleased about my location: close to the river, close to good restaurants and things to do; definitely in the old part of Phnom Penh (near lots of parks) but not in the seedy and crowded part, yet close enough to walk there easily when the attractions of that sector beckon. I rarely need a tuk-tuk for city activities, which shakes out the bones nicely in the evenings after long days at a desk.

I have shared my restaurant favorites and recommendations I’ve received. I’ve tried to spread the gospel of early mornings. I have grudging admiration perhaps but no converts to the early am watch. That’s fine. I would have thought I’m crazy too. I’ve steered some people away from visits to the Royal Palace and some not. I have extolled the riverfront.

I have also counseled the Cambodians I work with that democracy doesn’t mean your problems are solved. It just means there are processes that are likely to be adhered to, that you probably won’t get thrown in jail for going to a protest or writing an article, that before the government throws you off your land, in this day and age, there’ll be a hearing and a check. But you still have to work as hard as you can to protect a resource, to secure a right, or to exercise a privilege. You still have to listen, read, learn and think a lot, because some people are wrong, mean, greedy or stupid. The government will do a lot of things you won’t like, but there can be a good degree of openness about it (with some pretty major exceptions like: drone strikes; nuclear testing; arms sales to Iran; torture; charges—if you happen to be a Guantanemo detainee; etc.) As Winston Churchill said: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

And I hope, wish, want good things for Cambodia, for the naked children playing in my street, for the animated daughter at my laundry, heading off to kindergarten. Children are everywhere; the population is so young. It’s hard not to think about their future. It’s impossible not to be grateful for the chances I’ve had and the opportunities I could provide my daughter.

I’ve rushed out to see the sun rise over the Mekong and Tonle Sap each day this week. Goodby to these legendary rivers. Thank you for your tasty fish and startling sunrises. Hello to the Sai Gon.