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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Open Arms

This morning I woke up calmly, my back sore from the traditional cupping session I nervously did the night before. As I walk downstairs, I hear my host family joyfully calling my name, “Kale-oline!”. I smile and say “Ja!” (“Yes” in Khmer) while holding a thumbs up. They have been practicing my name for days now.

I sit down at the outdoor table, where my host mother sits across from me as she usually does at every meal. She hands me a bowl of noodle soup and a loaf of raisin bread on a blue floral plate. We exchange smiles as I spoon a bite of my soup, being careful not to let the breeze blow my hair into the broth.

After our morning meeting, the group heard from a Women’s Panel, and we were able to learn more about women’s life and the gender roles in Cambodia.  The panel included Thavry, Thavry’s mother, and a 26-year-old woman from the village. We gained further insight to how gender roles have evolved over time and the pressures that many Khmer women face to quit school young and start working to support their families.

Later that evening, we all biked to the volleyball courts. We started off with the “let’s just try to get it over the net” attitude and escalated to playing against the locals.  Even though we lost, we put up a good fight.  By the end of the game most of us were able to serve the ball over the net and also avoid getting hit in the head by the ball.

Later that evening, I headed downstairs to brush my teeth and one of the girls that lives next door tugged my arm and pointed across the street to Noah’s homestay house.  I walk over and find my host mother along with Noah and his host family waving at me to join them in their circle. In the middle of them sits a large bowl of salad that they are all sharing.  As I scoot in, my host mother holds out chopsticks offering me a bite of the salad and waits for my reaction. “Chinay-nay!” (“Delicious” in Khmer) I say as I cheerfully rub my stomach.

As we spend more time in this community, I have only felt more welcomed.  The generosity of these families is endless, whether it’s by making sure we never leave our houses hungry or by purposely letting us win a few points during the volleyball game. Though we meet not speak the language, we have built a strong connection held together by smiles, laughter, and a lot of hand gestures.