So it turns out my adjustment to living in Cambodia has followed the predictable pattern that the majority of people go through. We've read and heard a number of times from different sources that it generally takes most people two years to adjust to a new culture. Stephen adapts and adjusts more easily than the norm and really has not experienced the huge shifts that I have. But for me, passing the two year mark has resulted in dramatic shifts.
LAUNDRY. This is my washing machine.
It is manufactured for a Thai market. And just like with my Panasonic blender from Thailand, instruction on the machine and online are in Thai.
COOKING. This is my kitchen.
Two gas burners and one electric one in the middle. My gas tank is here under the counter.
I have a nice refrigerator/freezer but it is smaller than what I'm used to in the US. A microwave with more Thai script I can't understand.
I come from a long line of good cooks. My mother is a good cook, my grandmother is a good cook, and my great-grandmother (I'm told) was a good cook. Despite this legacy of delicious from scratch cooking, I had little interest in cooking as an adult. I mostly baked as a child. It wasn't until I married my husband that I decided that I wanted to become a cook. And I decided the best way to go about this was to buy cookbooks and follow the recipes to the letter. I love Giada de Laurentiis. I have three of her cookbooks and I've made dozens of her recipes. I also bought a Rachel Ray cookbook, one of Kathleen Daelemans's cookbooks, and Jessica Seinfeld's "Deceptively Delicious". The recipes I decided to make had fairly long lists of ingredients often including items I had never heard of and had to look up on the internet. At the time that I was beginning this self-training to be a gourmet cook, we lived in Seattle where there are wonderful markets stocked with a wide variety of...well...everything. To make just one meal I would shop at three different markets to hunt down the required ingredients. Then it would take hours for me to actually make the recipes, constantly reading and rereading instructions. This was my education. This was my foundation as a cook when we moved to Cambodia: following recipes from a cookbook. I had not been cooking for many years, I had not experimented with recipes let alone made anything up on my own.
My cookbooks and their recipes were now useless to me.
As I struggled to figure out cooking, we ended up eating out a lot. And I started to take note of what we were eating. There is a Cambodian dish call "Lock Lack" that is pieces of pan fried beef over a bed of fresh tomatoes, onions and cucumbers served with rice and a pepper lime sauce. It's pretty simple ingredients but oh so delicious. So I started to make it at home. Slowly I have added to my repertoire looking everywhere for ideas and then making note in the grocery store what I can and cannot get. But it has only been since July this year that I've been able to cook every single meal every day for weeks on end. I now regularly buy New Zealand butter, German boxed milk, Malaysian tomatoes, Thai pepper sauce, boxed orange juice from Cyprus, Italian olive oil...and I've learned to season with just salt, black pepper, lemon, garlic, and olive oil. The food that I prepare now looks like this.
HEAT AND HUMIDITY. i.e. Debilitating fatigue and constant perspiration. Stephen and I have been to several countries in Africa. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania is very hot and humid. Though there are parts of South Africa that have absolutely lovely weather, Tugela Ferry was hot and dry. As I have survived those conditions, I really didn't think much about the climate of Southeast Asia before moving here. In reality Cambodia is actually worse than those places in Africa. Not because it has the highest one day temperature but because there is little variation from one month to the next. It's either hot and dry or hot and wet year round. And then in April and May just before the rainy season starts, is gets really hot. After the first year I was really fed up with being so uncomfortable all the time so I decided I was going to actively participate in and perhaps speed up my acclimation to the climate. As we began our second year in July 2012, I started turning off the air conditioning and tried to just suffer through the heat as long as I could. Our electricity bill went down, I sweat buckets, but at the end of August I could not tell a bit of improvement. So it was with no small degree of surprise when sometime mid-February of this year I noticed that I wasn't sweating! Since the start of the new year I had been spending 1-2 hours a day working out in the gym.
People make general statements like "it takes two years to adjust" but it's hard to have an idea of what that means before you actually go through the time and see for yourself. But these few examples illustrate what two years here has meant for me. This experience of moving to and adapting to an entirely different culture and climate has given me a sense of self-efficacy like no other. I feel stronger and healthier now than at any other time in my life. And I wouldn't trade that for the world.