Well, it's over. And I know it's been a while since the program actually ended, but I guess before now I haven't really had a chance to sit down and just reflect on it all. I honestly don't know where to begin, so forgive me if everything just seems like rambling and mixed up.
What will I remember most? Everything. At least, I hope so. I'm afraid that one day I won't. I want to remember everything from the awkward first few days of class in LA to our last meal as a family at the Ethiopian restaurant after our presentations. Every moment was special, meaningful. I can't help it, but now that I'm back in the US I find myself looking at people, strangers, and thinking You have no idea where I just was, what I did, the things I saw and what I heard. You have no idea. Then I find myself severely missing Cambodia and our time there; if I know one thing about myself it's that I definitely get nostalgic about things pretty quickly, and I wish a million times over that it were one, two, three weeks ago so that I could start it all over again. I start to get sad, because it's over, but then I have to tell myself: What a great opportunity. It's over, but think about all that you learned and all that you experienced, and use it, embrace it, remember it. And I know that everything I learned and everything I experienced I did not have three weeks ago, and then I can smile because it's over.
I wish I had felt this way after China. I don't think I really knew what to feel on May 28, 2008 when I landed in San Francisco after being gone since August 28, 2007. I miss Cambodia, a lot, but I have no regrets. I love thinking back on our trip, even if it makes me sad for a moment. I think about it every day, every day I think about the people there. Those are the memories most prominent in my mind now, the people whom we talked to and interviewed, and those I pray stay with me for a long time. I won't forget the Cham Muslim woman I interviewed, my first (and only) interview, even though I felt she was holding back. I won't forget everyone at DC-Cam who suffered through our questions and archival demands and long drives out to the provinces. I won't forget Sokly, my monk friend I met at the National Art Museum and who is now my email pen pal :)! Most of all I won't forget the two women from Takeo province, the one passionate, determined teacher and her sweet, forgiving friend, my adopted "grandma", Lok Yeay, if you will. I won't forget her. She held my hand during our interview and just smiled at me. Even though I looked like a German who dressed like a Cambodian, she called me granddaughter (according to Kosal). I think of her very often, I'd love to go back and find her and really talk to her. She touched me more than anyone else, I think. I'll never forget her smile and her kind eyes.
I certainly won't forget S-21 or the killing fields. The minute I got home and saw my best friend I took the book on the Cambodian genocide I had gotten from DC-Cam, thrust it into my friend's hands, and said, "Here, learn about this." When I look at people, people I know and strangers, here in the US I think, among other things, What do you know about Cambodia? What do you know about the Khmer Rouge? Nothing. I find myself burning with a desire to tell everyone about everything I learned in four short weeks, everything I saw. More than that, I'm burning to just talk about Cambodia. It's like a bad itch you can't scratch away. I want people to bring it up so I can talk about it, I want to show them my pictures and narrate them and just talk to people all about it. I want them to know about Cambodia as I now know about it. All of a sudden Cambodia is fixed in my mind, fixed in my life, and I need other people to know about it. I think the killing fields made me feel this way. Or the faces of those we talked to. Or the stories themselves. Maybe it's just a combination of everything.
I sat in the backseat of the car with my family, my real family, driving from Beaune, France, to Lake Annecy. I slumped against the window, staring out at the beautiful hills. On my iPod came a song that, because I like to do this, I had had on repeat for our long drives out to the provinces in Cambodia. To me that song had seemed a perfect background music to the kilometers of rice fields and whatever thoughts from the day that were dancing around in my head. Five hour drive to Kampong Thom, three, four hour drives to Takeo and Kampong Chhang, I mostly listened to this one song, thinking or not thinking, sometimes just staring out the window. Now as I sat in the car driving through the French countryside, rice fields became grape vines. Villages with wooden houses perched high on stilts became little towns built of stone and ivy. Instead of pagodas, orange and gold piercing through the green like elegant raised hands, somber churches, bells tolling. Now I sat comfortably in the back, the warm sun streaming through the window, and I thought of bumpy unpaved roads and rolling clouds that gave way to afternoon thunderstorms. The song ended, and I put it back on repeat. The perfect soundtrack to my thoughts and my reflections.
My heart bursts with joy whenever I think of Cambodia. It makes me feel so many things, happiness, pain, hope, nostalgia, practically every emotion. I like that. Things that stay with me most are things that can give me such feeling whenever I think of them. That's usually how I judge the extent to which something means to me, by what it makes me feel and by just how much. I want to return to Cambodia. I want to tell everyone I know about it and it's past. I could spend days talking about it, even just thinking about it, and I'd be happy. I'm always thinking of Cambodia now, and I'm always feeling so many things. At the end of the day, everything is good. Even if I miss it and I'm mad it went by so fast, those feelings turn to reflections on everything I learned and was so lucky to experience. Cambodia is so often present in my mind, so maybe all this isn't really over.