Author: Marissa Ramirez Zweiger
I wanted to run away. The classes, the parties, the people: high school - I was done with it. That plane could have been going to Timbuktu for all I cared. In my mind Cambodia, Africa - it was all the same. I didn't care where I went, I just needed to leave. I think that's what made my first two months in Siem Reap, Cambodia so hard. It was just an escape. I was constantly comparing it to back home. I couldn't see the beauty Cambodia had on it's own. The dusty streets, the moto drivers that would yell at me, being alone, it wasn't great, but it was better than sitting in a classroom, I guess. Everyday was the same thing. I woke up alone in my room at the Seven Candles Guest House, showered, got dressed, and went down to eat breakfast. At 10:30, Dany, our driver, would park out front, and Mark, Nora, and I would hop in his tuk tuk and head to Chey School. For two hours I would try to teach, sometimes it went well, sometimes the kids would just give me blank stares. We would come back home and go to lunch at Two Dragons. After lunch I'd prepare for my night class, and at 6:00 PM, Dany would take Nora and I to the orphanage where we taught. When we came back, we would go down the street and eat dinner at Star Rise. And that's how it was everyday. It seemed so much more mundane than I had imagined. Traveling was supposed to be exciting - wasn't it? Car chases, late nights, meeting the man of my dreams - that's what happens in the movies. Instead my best friends were the three five year old girls that I lived with, and I went to sleep promptly at nine. I left Siem Reap feeling ready to come home. I had learned a lot, and my experiences made me appreciate home more than ever.
â–º Finalist 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
I was home for two months, and then came part two. Once again, I was on a plane headed for Siem Reap, but this time I didn't feel like I was escaping anything. I was an object in motion, not bothering to fight the inertia of life. I took the same late night ride from the airport to the guest house and this time I didn't feel any of the wonder I had before. The next day I stepped right back into the old routine and went to lunch at Two Dragons. The first thing I heard was "where have you been?!" The woman who works there, who I had always just thought of as another nameless waitress, remembered me. She told me that my friends, Mark and Nora, had just left Cambodia, and she genuinely seemed happy to see me. That's when my idea of Cambodia started to change. Someone had missed me. I had considered myself to be just one of the millions of tourists that tread through Siem Reap each year. Cambodia was just another country, another stamp in my passport - except it wasn't. I had made a mark in their hearts, and they in mine. As I walked back to Seven Candles, along Wat Bo Road people waved. They asked where I had been, and for how long I would be back. I looked out to the street, and instead of seeing a sea of strangers looking back at me, I saw my friends and neighbors. I knew in my heart that I was no longer running away, but coming home.