Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Only the Cat Saw

Sorry for the silence; I've been feeling a little funky lately. I had food poisoning and an overly stuffed weekend trying to catch up on everything I missed out on getting done previously. For some inexplicable reason, Phnom Penh does not move me to write like Mongolia did. Maybe it's because I feel much more ordinary. Maybe the tropical humidity has clogged my creative juices. Whatever it is, I hope it passes.

Despite my inability to write, I am really happy here in Cambodia. One thing that has marked my time here over and over again is people. Living in a city, especially compared to rural Mongolia, I am bowled over by how many people are here. They squeeze into every possible living space and spill out onto the pavement, plying their wears and eying their toddlers squatting close to oncoming traffic. I have also been lucky enough to make many amazing friendships here. No Friday night is unfilled or joke responded to. But still I am a little different. I am different from the people who belong here and live cheek-by-jowl in their stilted wooden houses. I am different from my friends who live in nice apartments and enjoy regular hours at their Embassy or UN jobs. Living with 34 Khmer girls and working odd hours, I belong somewhere in between.

Since my week riding solo during the Phcum Ben holiday I have been thinking a lot about a book I read as a child. Working with kids who have Western literature gifted to them from their American and Australian sponsors, I am lucky that many of the books that filled my childhood now rest on a large shelf next to me. This morning I read an age-old favorite One Morning in Maine to a little girl. I hadn't picked it up since I was a child myself. One book that was particularly stunning albeit enigmatic for me years ago was called Only the Cat Saw, about the nighttime wonders that a family's tabby observed when everyone else was sleeping. It ended with a beautiful illustration of a brilliant butterfly at sunrise, something only the little girl, Amy, saw. Balancing my life here I feel strangely not unlike the cat.

Last night I went to a birthday dinner at a North (yes, North) Korean restaurant. Alas, I had to leave just as my friends were ordering since my teaching schedule begins at 8pm. Walking away from the warmth of laughing people and out into the street, I mounted a motorbike and headed home. The streets were abuzz with busy venders, hungry diners, skipping street children and couples strolling arm-in-arm. Single light bulbs hung over food carts and makeshift tables cluttered the sidewalks. The short commute back to the head of the class was lovely and alive. But I had no one to share it with. The people I knew were either finishing up dinner and homework at the dorm or chatting over kimchi and Tiger beers. Only I saw the brilliance of Phnom Phen on that particular night. And that was okay.

In college and life previously I found it difficult when there was no one to share things with. My sister or parents were never far. And my Mom was very diligent about pointing out 'sitters' and 'lifters' at construction sights and on the road to me at a very young age. She would gesture excitedly out the windshield and we would share in the sight. I realize I now do this pointing-out-of-things-I-think-are-cool with friends and dates. I hope it's endearing. At any rate, I am finding it easier to point out the sitters to myself now and simply enjoy whatever spectacle is outside the windshield whether anyone else is around or not. Those moments are special, but in a different way. And I have grown to love them because really there is so much in life that only the cat saw.


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