Reality Check: It’s Over

Lately I’d become so caught up in a whirlwind of activity that I didn’t let myself experience the emotional weight of what was happening, until yesterday.

I rode my bike back to my host home in Puok for a final visit to say goodbye to my host family.  The moment I walked in the door, reality hit me.  I don’t live there anymore.

My stuff is gone.  My room is empty.  My host mother even had to get out the guest sheets and pillow for me to sleep on.  I felt like a visitor.

As I quietly looked over my empty room, the past two years flooded my mind.

The weddings, the deaths, the births, 1,500 bowls of rice together, 700 sunrises and 700 sunsets over coconut trees seen from my back porch, crocodiles, floods, playing cards, family holiday celebrations, cultural misunderstandings, lessons in bridging those misunderstandings, learning the Khmer language through daily conversations with my very patient host mother, barking dogs, neighbor friends, beers with co-teachers, duck’s blood salad, pig tongue, pig brain, impressive students who’ve overcome more than I can imagine,  sweating out my frustrations daily, diarrhea, cold bucket showers, hearing first-hand accounts of genocide that I’ll never fully understand, mosquitoes, biking through Buddhist pagodas, monks chanting, bright orange robes, pink lotus flowers, praying to the spirits in our living room, missing important moments in America, anger, joy, relief, stress, success, failure, laughing, crying, putting one foot in front of the other.

I really lived in this house.  And, I don’t take lightly the fact that I experienced privilege in the highest degree—the privilege of being accepted into someone’s family.

They took me to every family event.  They took me to every holiday celebration.  They took me to funerals.  They asked me to be a groomsman in a wedding. They fed me twice daily.  They shared their fears, their troubles, their joys, their hobbies, their work. They introduced me to their friends with pride.  They made me feel like I was one of them everyday for two years.  We grew and changed together in that house.

Living in a developing country, it’s pretty normal to think about the state of the world and how to make it better.  It’s a difficult dilemma.  And, most days, it seems nearly impossible to make a difference because there are so many mind-boggling challenges to healthy development.

Then again, my host family made creating a better world seem so easy with the way they treated me.  They embraced me unconditionally, even without fully understanding me, and they did so by crossing the divides between us: culture, religion, language, geographic borders, economics, living standards, and stereotypes. If we could all follow their lead and embrace people on the other side of so many divides, the universe would be headed for better days.

I’m a lucky man.

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12 Responses to Reality Check: It’s Over

  1. Diane Thompson says:

    You are so right, Travis. I think the true meaning of life is found through our relationships with people. Believe it…..you are making a difference.
    Love you

  2. Dianna says:

    You’re a smart man. Love ya

  3. jess says:

    You are a lucky man, and I am a lucky woman to know you.
    And now, welcome to in-town living! ❤

    • Thanks Jess! Knowing you and Steve are just down the road makes everything better 🙂 So glad I’ve gotten to be good friends with you all. I always tell everyone that you’re my Siem Reap family.

  4. Sherri Thompson says:

    Beautifully said Travis!!!! What a wonderful family indeed! I owe them so much for taking care of you for two whole years! They were there for you when you lost both of your grandfathers! They were there for you when we were oceans away!!! A huge hug from one mom to another!!! Your family and you BOTH were very fortunate to share lives for two years!!! I loved this blog! Made me so happy and so sad!!!! I love you!!!!!

  5. Aunt Kim says:

    You’ve done such a great job with your blog that I believe many of us had begun to feel like part o the Puok family too. Which means this last post is bittersweet for a lot of us. Cheer up though, I know a great many new and exciting adventures await!

  6. Cathy Davis says:

    What a wonderful family they have been to you! You crammed a lot of memories into your words describing the time you have been with them. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone around the world could treat those from other countries, other cities, or just across the street in the same way – sharing experiences and every day life. I am so glad you have been a part of their family and I feel so lucky that you got to share so much of that life with us. We love you! Kaki and Geese

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