In light of my first post, in which I explain how much I love life in Cambodia, I felt it necessary (in the interest of honesty, which is, after all, one of my highest values), to talk a little about our first month here.
IT WAS TERRIBLE.
And we even had help. Lots of help:
Help #1: My mother-in-law and sister-in-law came to Cambodia one week ahead of us and bought the essentials like beds, washing machine, kitchen appliances. Apparently it was not the purchasing of the beds and refrigerator, but the transporting of them up to the right floors, that was quite the feat. (They may even have this on video.) Bonus: They stocked that fridge and made those beds, and when they were all done with that, they picked us up from the airport.
Help #2: A different sister-in-law made the 24-hour long international flights with us, our 4 (sometimes motion sick) children, and 16 pieces of checked luggage. Bonus: She stayed for an entire two weeks to do whatever we crazed parents needed her to do, like, say, wash the dishes, or watch the children. This was not overkill, as I initially expected it to be. When Mommy got holed-up-in-the-bathroom-sick, she was there. When Mommy was camped-out-on-the-couch-wanting-to-die (that’s not a joke), she was there. Her and her Angry Birds game.
Help #3: When I was brand new to the country and didn’t know how to cook or grocery shop, three different families brought us meals.
That first month was the worst month of my life by far – and that is no exaggeration. Our luggage got stuck in Seoul, South Korea, and didn’t land in Cambodia with us. It didn’t arrive until midnight the next day, leaving us without such luxuries as diapers, shampoo, clean clothes, and tooth brushes for yet another 24 hour-period. (If any of you know my obsession with careful attention to clean teeth, you understand what a hardship that was.) I think I had brought some deodorant in my carryon. Oh yeah. I was real prepared for missionary life.
Fresh off the plane and smack dab in the middle of Transition.
Note the missing shirts, proof of our lost luggage.
Mosquitos ate us alive. Hannah and Faith were jet-lagged. We were jet-lagged. Jonathan had to drive that very first day in country (remember the lost luggage??). As a newbie driver, he got pulled over by police four times that first month — twice on the first day. Such a wonderful welcome to the country, don’t ya think??
One meal was just . . . rice. Another was eaten in the haze of burnt French toast. The plastic-y cheese on those first grilled cheese sandwiches never did melt. Even our kids have bad memories of those days.
I didn’t have any privacy — we didn’t have curtains in the bedroom yet. We didn’t have padding or carpeting for stair safety, and the gates hadn’t been installed yet. (Everything is concrete here, and the stairs are majorly steep. My Harm Avoidance had kicked into Overdrive.) And I couldn’t for the life of me convince the hot water heater to produce hot water, no matter how many exasperated sighs I let out. (My husband, on the other hand, had no such issues with the water. He did, however, find the nightly sighing sessions quite humorous.)
We didn’t know where to buy anything, and we didn’t know the language to negotiate a reasonable price if we had.
And everywhere we went, Cambodians touched my kids. They hated that.
My feet ached from walking barefoot on the concrete floors.
I was so hot. And we came in cool season.
Everything was so dirty.
And I was so miserable.
While Help #2 watched the children, I lay on the couch and wanted to die. Jonathan cried. That’s very characteristic behavior for us, by the way. Under the influence of stress, I shut down; he cries. (He tells me this is the Trotter Way, and he is ok with it now.)
We sent out a desperate “please pray for us” email. (Thank you for praying! We felt all your prayers from the beginning and continuing throughout this past year.)
Then one day, three weeks in, I got curtains in my windows. Privacy! Yay! My stress levels went down by 50%. That was the day I decided I could live in this place. (“They” say transition ends when you make the internal decision to settle in the new place.)
Then a week later, gates were installed on the stairs. Now I didn’t have to follow my toddler around every.waking.minute. My stress levels went down by another 50%. If you’re calculating correctly, I was now functioning at 25% of the first week’s stress — although it’s debatable whether lying on the couch wanting to die counts as “functioning.” That 25% slowly but steadily dropped to pre-flight levels over the next couple months. (Sporadically, levels do pop back up, but only temporarily.)
That first month is what we call Transition — the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad period of physical, emotional, and spiritual Chaos. (To read actual journal entries from that time, click here.)
I’d like to take a moment here, to say, that without the training and support we received from Team Expansion, we’d probably still be drowning. We use the material from Team Expansion’s required training multiple times a week. Our sending church’s elders also requested that we attend a week of intensive marriage counseling before leaving the States, and we use that material nearly every day as well.
I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Transition is Terrible. Sending Agencies are Amazing.
While my first month overseas was by far the hardest month of my life, it does not follow that my first year overseas was the hardest year of my life. That distinction belongs to 2008. I do not merely speak for myself in this; Jonathan agrees. That was the year he began work as a first-year nurse in Truman Medical Center’s Emergency Department, while continuing to work part time at Red Bridge Church of Christ. He had to work nights and attend extra trainings and was extra tired. I was pregnant with Hannah, endured intense morning sickness, and fought overwhelming fears about health throughout my pregnancy. 2008 definitely beats out 2012 for the Hardest Year Award 🙂