In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins leaves his handkerchief at home and insists upon retrieving it before continuing on. The wise wizard, Gandalf, informs him, “You will have to do without pocket handkerchiefs and a great many other things before we reach our journey’s end.” Indeed, there are things we must do without in Cambodia. But we also have Exchanges and Equivalencies for many aspects of our life in America.
(Unfortunately, this theory applies to unpleasantness as well as pleasantness. For example, I had mice in America. Here, I have rats. I had ants in America, and I have ants here. I had flooding issues in America; I have flooding issues here. My American laundry room housed giant jumping crickets, while my Asian laundry room houses giant flying cockroaches. In America, our neighbor had crying goats and squawking chickens. Here, one neighbor paints our pots, and another has screaming chickens.)
Now, on to the more pleasant Exchanges and Equivalencies. In no particular order, some of ours are:
– For van maintenance, we go to a guy named Noel instead of a guy named Ari.
– We can drive up Bokor Mountain on the coast of Kampot, instead of Cadillac Mountain on the coast of Maine.
– For our yearly family retreat we head south from Phnom Penh to Kep, instead of heading south from KC to Arkansas’s Camp Takodah.
– While traveling, we listen to the BBC instead of NPR. (We’ve decided we prefer British-accented news.)
– Instead of picking up last-minute groceries at our neighborhood Sunfresh, we pick up extra food at 1&1 Market.
– Instead of playing in our yard, we play on our roof and on the street.
– When we get tired of playing at our own house, we go to the park at Northbridge International School instead of Red Bridge Elementary School.
– Instead of buying fast (fried) food at the drive-through, we use what I like to call the Cambodian Drive-Through. This just means we can stop on the side of the road and buy practically anything. Sometimes we don’t even have to get out. We buy fast fruit, fast fresh bread, and fast Cokes along the road. (Betcha thought we were real healthy till that last one, huh? By the way, Jonathan says the Cokes taste better here. Must have something to do with the lack of high fructose corn syrup and addition of real sugar.)
– We even avail ourselves of the drive-through shoe department from time to time. (No joke. It’s quite convenient.)
– And when we are feeling especially unhealthy, we get donuts from USA Donut instead of Lamar’s.
– Gotta love those Cambodian skies. The clouds and sunsets here are the Best in the world, in my opinion.
– And also, Cambodian bathrooms. Love them.
These experiences do not in any way replace the people we have left behind. They simply make daily life easier and more comfortable. They are the myriad Exchanges and Equivalencies of our life. And in them, we find joy.
Kep at sunset