Leaving Cambodia

I first arrived in Cambodia sitting high atop a pile of rambutan fruit and clinging for dear life on to the cab of the 1980’s Toyota pickup truck as it raced through the dark Cambodian countryside.  My friend and I had run out of money and exchanged what was left of a bottle of Johnny Walker for a ride to Siem Reap (sorry mom).

I loved my ten days in the Kingdom, but never thought I’d be back.  One random email from an incredible woman who wanted to start an eco-travel social enterprise and a few years later, I was packing up my bags with a one-way ticket to Phnom Penh.  It has been a whirlwind.

Next week I head to Hanoi to begin a new chapter with Joma Cafe and Bakery, one of Hagar’s social enterprise investments, and, in a few months time, Kabul.  Though I’ll be back to Phnom Penh every few months, it is the beginning of my transition out of Cambodia.

When I first came, I had no idea what I wanted; I only knew what I didn’t want: a job in auditing, tax, or corporate consulting.  It took me awhile to figure out what I want and value, apparently some sort of “problem” amongst twenty-somethings.  I don’t like portraying travel or living abroad as some sort of glorious soul-searching activity.  It’s probably better that anyone working in development or claiming to help others is pretty confident in where they’re headed.  However, a big part of life is being comfortable with uncertainty and how you react to adversity and challenging new situations.  I’d wager to say that doesn’t stop at thirty and, with a bit of humility and a constant drive to broaden one’s horizons, a youth can contribute in the minefield that is development despite lacking the “overall life objective” anxious parents covet.

Just like anyone, anywhere in the world I have been blessed to know and learn from some incredible people.  These people have challenged me, mentored me, ripped my heart out, broadened my horizons.

I once had a professor back at Notre Dame who emphasized the importance of writing letters to people who inspired or helped you.  Since the late years of his professional life were spent in the Reagan administration, I figure I might update that ethos and apply it to the internet era.  Each day until I head out to Hanoi, I am going to highlight a few people I’ve had the privilege of knowing here in Cambodia; people who I owe quite a bit to and probably don’t know it.  It’s not an exhaustive list by any means; just letting my heart bleed through my fingertips on the keyboard in between packing boxes.

The first person is no surprise to anyone at PEPY: Mickey Sampson.  Mickey was the highlight of every single PEPY Tours trip without exception.  He was a hero to many of my colleagues and myself, as well as an influential leader in water and sanitation in Cambodia and around the world.  I have yet to meet anyone as dedicated to the Cambodian people and as humble and motivated as Mickey was.  I count myself as incredibly lucky that I had the chance to know him, hear his words and feel his passion for his work.  Despite his untimely death I take solace in the fact that his work and his compassion for others has profoundly influenced thousands of other people who are in turn doing great things everyday in their own little ways.

For those who didn’t have the good fortune to meet Mickey, watch this fabulous video below shot by participants in one of Mickey’s inspiring lectures around the RDIC compound: http://www.vimeo.com/14284429

~ by responsiblenomad on December 1, 2010.

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