This is another of those posts that has been brewing in my head for a while but, thanks to a metaphorical kick in the gut I received yesterday, it feels like it’s time to try and force it out of my head and onto ‘paper’.
One of the big things that pulls me to Cambodia is the strong sense of connection and community I feel here that can sometimes be missing back home. I wrote a post about connection while I was back in the UK but for some reason never published it and so am going to nick a bit from it to try to explain the connection thing.
“Three months are nearly over and my return to Cambodia is imminent.
Reconnecting with the people that I love has been a joy over the past three months. These people have kept me sane, or held me in my bonkersness through a year of huge transition for me and to be able to reconnect face to face with both family and friends alike has been a blessing.
At the same time, I’ve been struck by the disconnected nature of UK life and the jar it creates within me. Sitting in St Peter’s Square as part of a Street Wisdom session in June gave me the time and space to truly recognise this – the hurry of people coming and going, following the same path in the guise of connectedness whilst all the time remaining separate. Ants, connected by their desire to do, busily going somewhere, never veering from the path to pause, be and truly connect. Eye contact is a no no and even the friendly Northerners I was surrounded by were disconcerted by my smiles as they passed, so much so that one guy felt compelled to come back a couple of minutes later to ask me if I was in fact Katie Magic – a Raw Food Chef he knows from the web – as he was so shocked that I smiled and assumed it must be because I knew him. How did we become these people? So alone amongst others? So disconnected in a connected world?“
Cambodians don’t seem to have this inbuilt fear of connection, if I want a smile and a hello I never have to go far to get one, and I’m always welcomed back like a long-lost aunt whenever I return to somewhere I’ve previously visited. Within hours of moving in to my new home here I was part of the community and that bond grows stronger day by day as more and more locals recognise and greet me as I pass.
Unfortunately, I can’t honestly say the same is true of expatriate and traveller communities out here. Although I’m aware that Norman chirping away constantly in my head about how boring and uncool I am and how if I do try to talk to people I’ll make a dick of myself is partly to blame for this assumption, it is true that there can be a certain clickiness on occasion, I remember meeting someone (a white male 50 year expat who earned the name “that dickhead’) back when I lived in China who proudly asserted that he refused to make eye contact with anyone white as they were obviously desperate and he didn’t want to associate with desperate people – I kid you not!
Having moved from Phnom Penh where I had my ready-made community of expats courtesy of volunteering with VSO to the smaller city of Kampot where everyone seemed to know everyone and there was a cool crowd that I definitely wasn’t (and in all honesty didn’t want to be) part of, I at first felt a little isolated.
Thankfully, it wasn’t long until, sat in a café writing one Sunday, I got talking to a woman even more nutty than me, the wonderful Linda. We bonded over shared China experiences and very quickly became firm friends. On my return to Kampot in September we briefly shared a home and more than a few laughs together and it quickly became apparent that Linda knew everyone in town. Everywhere we went she would be saying hello, introducing me to different people, laughing and joking and talking incessantly about bloody rugby to all and sundry. I forced the introvert part of myself to take a back seat, locked Norman firmly in his cage and took advantage of the opportunities to connect and build my community when Linda invited me out for drinks and meals with her group of friends.
Joining Khmer class helped too as that connected me with a small band of fellow linguistically challenged locals and volunteering at the spa has found me another new friend in the owner, Freya. A friendship formed of new food experiences and hilarious (and unrepeatable) conversations, it’s lovely to feel the connection growing deeper as we spend time together. Connections with fellow volunteers from the spa have been enriching too and I’ve even started doing that random talking to people shit (take that Norman!) which has resulted in sunset chats over good red wine and the fledgling development of a crafting collective here (it was on my ‘I’m going to do this when I move to Kampot’ list that I wasn’t quite courageous enough to follow through).
One other very important group of people within my growing expatriate community of friends here are 4 lovely Belgians that Linda introduced me to before leaving.
Leo & Gina (or Geo & Lina as Linda insisted on calling them when we first met (and that was before we’d even started on the cocktails)) have taken me under their wing. They check up on me if I haven’t been seen for a while, invite me for happy hour cocktails and always stop for a chat when we see each other around town. Leo is an avid reader of my blog and gets my musical references being a fellow fan. They’re really good friends with Patrick and Anna – the Belgian baker and his wife. Two more wonderful individuals who have been so kind to me and thanks to their warmth and generosity of spirit really made me feel like part of the community here.
And it’s these wonderful folk that’ve brought me to the writing of this post today. Because yesterday, out of the blue, Patrick passed away. I’d only known him for a few months but his passing has hit me right where it hurts. He wasn’t family but, 6000 miles from home, he and everyone else in my community here certainly feel like they are and for him to have left so suddenly is tough to deal with. My heart goes out to his lovely wife Ann who thankfully is at home in Belgium now surrounded by her own family and to Patrick’s daughter whom I met when she visited in September.
And meanwhile, another community (a true 21st century phenomena) the Kampot Facebook Noticeboard, so often the source of bitchiness and banter, is banding together to share their shock at Patrick’s death and remember the joy he brought to so many people’s lives here.
Life’s short eh! I’m so blessed to have this growing community of friends around me here in Kampot and am determined not to take them (or my amazing community scattered around the world) for granted. Thank you all for being there.
Love you lots xxxx