Cambodia diary, days 11-15

6:54 a.m. EST | 5:55 p.m. local time | 5-19-16

How is it already Thursday? I ask myself, snacking on cashews and trying to plan out my final weekend in Phnom Penh. After waking up at 6 a.m. for the past four days – ferociously grinding out the finishing touches (or just creating additional recommendations) for our consultant project – I could definitely use an evening in bed. Or maybe an early night of sleep; we’ll see which comes first.

Let me unpack the last four days for you.

From Monday up until yesterday (Wednesday), my two GLC colleagues and I have worked alongside our American University of Phnom Penh team-mates from 9 a.m. to anywhere between 5 and 9:30 p.m. to finish our global consultant project for the Enrich Institute by Thursday morning.

Enrich is a non-government, non-partisan research organization that provides “green thinking” policy recommendations for the Cambodian government, as well as provide youth engagement activities and green business recommendations for various southeast Asian companies looking to better the environment.

Our group was tasked with providing “waste management” recommendations designed for a secondary school audience in Phnom Penh. But after sitting down with our AUPP team-mates last Monday, we quickly realized that “waste management” is not just an education issue in Phnom Penh – it’s a cultural and society-based issue. So, in order to provide the best possible recommendations for our client, we have been devising recommendations for Enrich to propose to the Ministry of Environment of Cambodia that would address this infrastructure issue in regards to the rampant waste problems present in Phnom Penh (and in all of Cambodia). These recommendations include initiating a small-scale recycling shop system in the congested capital city, for both entrepreneurial and economically/environmentally beneficial reasons, as well as proposing funds for creation of a larger plastic recycling plant – instead of the government using those same funds for constructing two additional landfills in the surrounding districts of Phnom Penh.

This meant that we needed to re-structure the original outline of our project scope and conduct additional, extensive research of our project – twice. But rather than shy away from these barriers, our group succeeded, flourished actually. We spent late nights honing our project focus, re-organizing our final presentation from 40 slides to 20, and practiced with our AUPP team-mates on public speaking (something they were not extremely confident in at all, on Monday afternoon).

But come Thursday morning, our entire group presented the significant findings and recommendations created (albeit 3 days ago) for an audience of AUPP students, faculty, and the rest of our GLC cohort … but not to our client. Unfortunately, our client was unable to make our formal final presentation. So, the entire reason I flew halfway across the world was invalidated because of “traffic constraints.”

Or was it the only reason? When we got word that our client would not be arriving on campus after all (45 minutes delayed), my team-mates Kaly and Paii and I all embraced with goofy, sleep-deprived grins on our faces, shouting whoops of jubilation. We were finally finished!

In the end, it didn’t really matter that we only gave our presentation to a group of peers and not to our client. In the end, it didn’t really matter that some of our team-mates stumbled and fumbled in the pressure of the final presentation delivery. In the end, it didn’t really matter that my original intent on coming to Cambodia was denied.

In the end, I met and collaborated with four amazing young adults – fast-making yet life-long friends with whom I’ve shared a part of my soul-searching journey in these past two weeks. To think that two weeks ago I didn’t even know what Khmer food tasted like; that I hadn’t met a whole collection of friends who like coffee, books, and laughter just as much as I do; that I hadn’t yet made a pilgrimage to Siem Reap; or that I hadn’t yet learned to navigate a foreign city in another country on my own is astounding to me, as I type it all out now. All of this in two weeks. Imagine the possibilities coming to fruition in the next two years of my life!

I am beyond grateful for this experience. I have learned how to be respectful in another country, how to be kind and always humble for opportunities – never negative or complaining in the face of frustration or disagreement. I have learned how to stretch my dollar to the smallest amount, bargaining my way through countless market adventures and spending just under $200 in two weeks. I have learned that the arts still hold a prominent place in my heart – it just took a non-traditional circus, a Cambodian dance lesson, and the power of spoken word poetry to prove it.

I have learned that consulting projects just aren’t for me – and that’s okay. I need to be comfortable with the uncomfortable if I want to continue to allow my life to unfold like a lotus flower. Up from the mud, spiraling into a beautiful flower – that’s my life, in this moment.

Thanks for joining me on this incredible whirlwind of two weeks. Stay tuned for my final weekend in Phnom Penh!

This post also appears on labellamemoir.tumblr.com