by Kenn Henman
I can no longer continue our relationship. You may have heard I was pregnant. Let me explain.
When I joined the Peace Corps and arrived in Cambodia, all I could think about was you. Being in the “industry” you offered me new restaurant and club openings and nightlife like no other (not to mention the free booze). What was Cambodia going to offer me that you did not: mosquito bites, squat toilets and bottomless bowls of white rice?
Well, you know I like white rice. We shared many memorable evenings together enjoying the best sushi you had to offer. I’m sure you remember as a Peace Corps volunteer I live with a host family so I can assimilate with my local community and in Cambodia, rice is the staple of every meal. Traditionally, an overfilled bowl of rice is served, followed by fish and soup – breakfast, lunch and dinner – no exceptions.
Feeling confident from living in Cambodia and studying the Khmer language the last few months, I told my host mother in Khmer I did not want rice with my lunch because it would make me too large (i.e. fat). My host family does not speak a word of English, so communication can sometimes be a struggle. Not a problem for a PR professional (so I thought).
I should have known something was not quite right when my “mom” loudly kept repeating my simple request and proceeded to share it with a dozen of our surrounding neighbors. Everyone is laughing and I’m smiling; all while trying to devour my riceless lunch so I can return to school for my afternoon classes.
Back at school, we start each session by telling our language instructor what we had for lunch in Khmer. I felt accomplished for communicating my desire to not eat rice, but also confused by the attention. Apparently, I inverted two of the words and instead of saying “rice gives me a large stomach” I actually said, “rice makes me pregnant”.
Since we both know I can’t be pregnant, you must wonder why I am leaving you. It is simple. I was offered the opportunity to make a difference.
And I am.
In rural Cambodia I teach English. I have seven classes with over 40 students in each class. In the past, when I worked the red carpet as a publicist, I often wondered what it would be like to be the star in front of the camera with my every move being watched and scrutinized. Now I know.
My job (“the toughest job you’ll ever love”) is not only to teach English, but to also help a generation find their voice in a country that has been repressed by war and genocide. It has been said your life is your message to the world.
My message is to inspire.
For the past experiences you have given me, I am forever grateful. You will always be the same city I fell in love with. You haven’t changed, but I have. A lot. Saying goodbye is never easy, but I can happily say it today.