January 17, 2013

Sara’s Reflections

The following post was written by SSTer Sara K and published in this morning’s Record back on campus. We are posting it here as well so family and friends can have easy access to her words, which she shared with the group last evening:

By Sara K

After one bus, two planes, three movies, four foil-wrapped meals, and 23 hours of travel, our group arrived at Phnom Penh International Airport at 10:00 pm Thursday to muggy air and a 12-hour time difference. That was five days ago.

I have never felt so many different extreme emotions in so short a period of time. I was calm on the plane, maybe numb or in denial. I thought we’d be mid-atmosphere above the ocean forever. Then early Friday when I watched the sun rise over Phnom Penh from the roof of our hotel and saw the city in daylight for the first time, I thought my cheeks might explode from smiling so big. I did not understand the word thrilled until that moment as I soaked up the sounds of beeping tuk-tuks, rumbling motos, and the lilting twang of a chanting monk and gazed over rooftops, water and Wats.

That same evening we were thrust into the care of host families.

According to Keith and Ann, our leaders, those first 24 hours in a new “home” are the hardest part of SST. It’s transition mania to a degree we might never experience again: jet-lag, new house, diet shift, veins flushed with a cocktail of malaria medicine and vaccines, an unknown family with unfamiliar customs, bathrooms with sprayers instead of toilet paper (Spray your butt? Wipe with your hand and spray the hand? Wipe and spray at the same time? Drip dry? I’m still not sure) and don’t forget a language of which you remember, at best, a few phrases. Here you are, now live.

Despite the cheery smiles in all SST blog posts, there is more to it than giggles and thrill. There are tears and loneliness, diarrhea and rashes, fear, and utter exhaustion.

I went to bed that first night content and excited about my playful family. Nevertheless, when I couldn’t sleep anymore at 5:30 the next morning it took a while to get up and face the day. But, I read a passage from Eckhart Tolle’s Stillness Speaks. I’ve paraphrased:

“To take responsibility for life is to take responsibility for this moment—Now. Now is the only place where life is found. Taking responsibility means not opposing the ‘suchness’ of this moment or arguing with what is. Responding to life in the moment means saying ‘yes.’

There are some very timid, nervous parts of me that want to say ‘no’ to this moment because I don’t want to mess up. Later that day, when the explosion of emotional overwhelm and homesickness caught me by surprise, I said yes to it. I sobbed into my pillow and thought about all of the faces, places and hugs I know well. I said yes to the deep inhales that follow a good cry, the relaxing of shoulders and throat. Then I said yes to the alarm clock that told me it was time to hop on Thom’s moto and learn the route to school.

I find things on the table I don’t know how to eat. I’m slow and stutter when Ma asks me a question in Khmer. I wear dorky clothes and stick out like a sore American thumb, but I’m saying yes to it. This is all I can be, so I might as well do it enthusiastically. And I’m having a blast.

These five days have been rich with sights like a Chihuahua on the back of a moto, fruit flavors I’ve never tasted (tiep and sour mango) and great eruptions of hearty laughter with my siblings. There will be days of overwhelm again, days when I’ll think I’ll never make it back in Goshen and nights of achey-back sleep, but I will say yes.

SST requires a “yes” every moment: order food, give directions, ride a bike in crazy traffic, eat quail brain. But the most challenging yes is not agreeing to do something, but to be something, to be at peace with what is.

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Comments (7)

  1. Great post, Sara. Thanks for being so honest. I didn’t know you were such a good writer!

    Judy Roth January 18, 2013 |
  2. Keep smiling. Keep crying. Keep being. We love you.

    Mary Klassen January 18, 2013 |
  3. Honest, and at times, eloquent and profound, Sara.
    Since you clearly ask, I thought I would refer anyone who wishes to know how to use a bidet (that sprayer thing in bathrooms) to click through what I thought was a frank but quite harmless set of 6 slides at http://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-use-a-bidet-1/ that contains a lot of good information for folks from a culture unfamiliar with them. There are many types and many ways to use them, but this at least gives folks a good starting point, and especially helps users avoid unintentional faux pas. Perhaps others can contribute their favorite instructions.

    Kevin Stewart January 19, 2013 |
  4. Love your post, Sara! Yep, the “toileting” is one of the major mysteries. Should put it on my course outline next year.

    Susie Kauffman January 20, 2013 |
  5. Thanks for the link, Kevin, but we actually aren’t using bidets. We have regular toilets with a sprayer similar to a kitchen sink sprayer next to the toilet instead of toilet paper.

    Sara Klassen January 20, 2013 |
    • Oh, I see. A different variation on the non-t.p. theme.
      Well, in any case I hope you’ve found answers to your perfectly reasonable questions by now.
      And credit to you for not being embarrassed to ask. There’s no sense in suffering in ignorance when a question can encourage one who knows to shed light for one who doesn’t. :-)

      Kevin Stewart January 20, 2013 |
  6. Sara I loved your paraphrase of Eckhart Tolle and your final comments. I’m going to share them with my students to think about while on internship – similar need to say YES to the experience but SO much easier to adapt to another city in the US than what you all are saying yes to! I’m awed by the bravery of SSTers!

    Colleen January 23, 2013 |