SEA Panorama

Regarding the Cliche

Written by Paige Habicht, 2015 Southeast Asia: Animal Conservation

We are driving back to Bangkok from our disorientation ‘retreat’ in the quiet, riverside town of Amphawa. Today is our last day together, and I am feeling torn. Torn because I am so looking forward to going home to Canada, to seeing my family and friends and cat, to indulging in some delicious butter tarts and homemade pizza, to sleeping in my own bed and drinking cold water right from the tap, and most of all, to sharing my stories of this incredible adventure. Yet at the same time I am dreading leaving this beautiful place. I am not looking forward to leaving the wonderful humans who have become my newest friends, to spending 35 hours in transit, to returning to a place where excess is a part of daily life, and most of all, sharing my stories of this incredible adventure.

Why? Because no amount of words can ever do it justice, though I know we will all try, as I will here.

It seems cliche to say that this trip has been life changing, but I’m going to say it anyways. I feel like I am a different and better version of myself on returning home, and I am changed, but not in any of the ways that I expected. I do not suddenly feel worldly and cultured. I do not feel like I personally changed the world in the past 40 days. But I do feel that the world, and the beautiful people in it, has changed me.

The people of Cambodia are truly incredible. We spent a lot of time learning about their difficult, and so recent, history, a history which includes a total reset of their country and a loss of a third of the population. Literally every person you talk to has some sort of story about how their family dealt with the Khmer Rouge, or the aftermath of it. Yet, the smiles I’ve seen here are bigger and more frequent than any place I’ve ever been. The Khmer people are so proud of the country they have built and are continuing to grow. They are eager to share it with anyone interested in learning, and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to do so. Their resilience, their hospitality and their warmth is endlessly inspiring, and I can’t put into words how grateful I am to be privileged enough to have spent time learning and growing in this truly wonderful place.

I am grateful that we got to do our small part in contributing to the growth and sustainability of a place now so dear to my heart. The experience of working on and around the farm, planting trees and seeds, making garden beds and compost; the experience of seeing bears that have been rescued and are now getting delicious snacks made by us; the experience of releasing endangered baby turtles into the river; and of course, the experience of seeing elephants truly being elephants as they should be… Each of these and the many more I cannot properly share, created this one moving, inspiring, phenomenal, and fun experience that we will all carry with us for the rest of our lives. I know that we will all return home with a new perspective not only on the places we visited, but on ourselves and the choices we make and the lives we lead. Undoubtedly this will be challenging, but it is a challenge that I am happy to face.

One last group photo