When Dreams Come True

Written by Amanda Mackey, 2016 Southeast Asia: Animal Conservation

Every day that I’m on this adventure I wake up ecstatic. It doesn’t matter if I’ve just spent the night sleeping on the floor of a home stay, if my room lacks A/C, if my shower has no water, or if I’ve spent the night sharing my bed with some questionable six-legged creatures. This whole experience is something so surreal, I spend a lot of time each day telling myself where I am and what I’m doing. I still fail to believe it. I still feel like I’m dreaming about these things, but no need to pinch me – my mosquito bites do the trick.

It’s hard for me to pick something to write about. I could go on for pages and pages and pages, detailing every moment of this trip where I’ve never felt more alive. I could tell you stories about watching the sun set over Bangkok from the top of the Golden Mount, or about scavenger hunts around the city. I could write a novel about my time in Eastern Thailand tracking tigers, building watering holes, repairing dams, trekking in the jungle, riding in the bed of a pickup truck, or being caught in a downpour the one day I didn’t bring my raincoat. I could tell you about the temples of Cambodia that took my breath away, the inspiring resilience of the people here, the exploration of killing caves, the sunsets from hilltops, and hanging out with monkeys. I could tell you what it’s like to sleep on bamboo mats at a home stay in rural Cambodia, squat in an outhouse without electricity to pee, or how having lizards run over my feet no longer phases me. I could write you a manual on how to build a straw bail garden (floating or on land), and include all the sustainable benefits of that farming choice. I can tell you stories of the dark history of Cambodia, and I could admit to you the tears I shed, and the emotional and physical distress I felt, touring the Killing Fields and S-21 Prison Museum. But I could also tell you of the warmth I feel in my heart looking into the faces of the people who live here, and seeing the generosity and hope pour out of them. I could write about $0.75 beers or how much better the mango tastes when you pick it off the tree.

But I’m not going to. Instead I’m going to try to tell you how much gratitude I have for being exactly where I am. To be precise, exactly where I am right now is under a mosquito net in a hostel by the Mekong River. There’s a huge bug above my face and a steady hum of motorcycles outside my door. I can see the stars. My feet are in rough shape and my whole body itches from mosquito bites, but my anti-malaria medication is clearing up my skin and I’ve never been quite so hydrated in my life.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve done things I never thought I’d be able to do. In fact, I’ve done things the vast majority of people could never even begin to dream about. Even other backpackers in Southeast Asia couldn’t possibly grasp my reality. Travelling with Operation Groundswell has given me opportunities I never could have had travelling alone. Their knowledge, ambition, networking, passion, and commitment have allowed me to experience this part of the world in a way few people genuinely can. I’ve learned more in the past few weeks about culture, food, sustainable farming, politics, history, environmental issues, societal structure, and religion than I could have in a year of university. Above that, I’ve also learned a lot about myself. At the risk of sounding a little cliche, I’d like to say this: This adventure has changed my life. My time with OG isn’t over yet. We still have two amazing partners to work with, lots to learn about, lots to see, and, of course, lots to eat. I’ve never been happier and I can’t wait for what’s ahead in the next three weeks of my life.