Sunday, May 8, 2016

Cambodia, Day -1

This is going to be the most uninteresting thing I write about the Cambodia trip. If I were you, I wouldn't bother reading it. It's going to be very self-absorbed; I'm going to natter on and on about myself.

This is where I am, baseline, before going. 

I am, first of all, exhausted. The semester that just ended was enjoyable, and went reasonably smoothly, but the changes I made to my classes for this term wound up being very labor-intensive, and they completely wrung out the last drop of my strength. I barely made it through Cutting of the Ivy on Friday; I bungled several people's names and farewells. I've been having trouble concentrating, remembering things, and sleeping. I am at a low ebb.

I am, second of all, not excited. Over the past couple of weeks, I had a number of moments where I desperately wished for an excuse to bow out. I don't feel that way anymore; I'm definitely all set to go. But my emotional state is flat as a pancake. I'm ready to have a wonderful time, and I'm braced to slog through an ordeal. I don't want to get my expectations up, nor drag them down. Part of me thinks this is healthy, maybe even bordering on wise, but part of me thinks it's rationalizing the very exhaustion I already described. Can't say.

I like the people I'm going with. Several are my former public speaking students, or former First Year Seminar students, or both. One debated for me. Troy is a very good man of whom I think highly, and I wish I knew Mary Jo better than I do, a wish that is about to be granted like handing a fire hose to a thirsty man. There'll be ups and downs, but I predict that I'm going to grow closer with a bunch of people that I already generally approve of. That's one of the best parts of working at NCU, so that's good.

I'm also not scared of the heat. It was a mistake to look up Cambodia on Google News, because now I know they're enduring a drought and heat wave that exceeds anything they've seen since they started keeping records, but I keep arrogantly beating my chest over my Texas roots. The headline-grabbing record high in Cambodia a few weeks back was 108, but from my Texas childhood I saw the mercury get above 110 almost every year. True, it's uncomfortable, but the precautions to avoid physical breakdown are just not that complicated, and the best thing to do about extreme heat is let the novelty wear off as quickly as possible and move on to things that are interesting. Yes, it's hot. Dull topic. Notice it, put it aside, focus on something else. It's entirely possible that my upbringing in extremely hot summer weather taught me my first lessons about mindfulness; never thought of it that way, but maybe.

I guess, most of all, I feel ready. I feel like it's time to get on with it. I don't feel prepared, because preparation is going to take place on the road, in a very just-in-time cycle. And we're often going to go in unprepared and improvise, but every short-term mission I've ever been on, we've done a lot of that. I feel like the waiting is over, and the Cambodia trip is what's next, and it's going to be intense, and I'll be forced to adapt, turn loose of misconceptions, stretch myself, humble myself, admit mistakes and try to correct them, and see what's really in front of me instead of what I expect.

And really, having just finished my ninth year at NCU, it's a blessing to get out of my rut and try something uncomfortable. I do keep changing up how I teach and experimenting with new things, but it's still the case that on this campus, in these classrooms, I have a degree of control that borders on magisterial. With that much control comes arrogance and the deadening of empathy, so it's time for me to feel out of control again. I want to help Cambodians and serve them, and I want to sit humbly at the feet of Cambodians who will teach me, but I also want to get outside my calcified habits of thinking and experience a few revelatory disasters. And again, I think the fire hose is coming to the thirsty man.

And I also want the rest of these posts to be less self-absorbed. What's outside my head is a lot more interesting than what's inside. But maybe I can come back on the 31st and measure some progress from this starting point. We'll see.

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