by Larissa McDonough, Cambodia 200 hour yoga teacher training student

What an experience, and it really has only just begun. 

Before I left my home in New Zealand to come to Cambodia for my yoga teacher training, I had no comprehension of the emotional journey that traveling alone would be. I thought my biggest concern was whether or not to bring my flatiron (which, for better or worse, I decided against). I felt confident that everything at home would be fine, and everyone would be happy. My daughter is spending the month visiting both sets of grandparents and will no doubt have the most festive Christmas ever. My partner is selling our home while both us girls are away and is happy to do it solo. I (finally) resigned from my job on great terms. I finished my studies last Friday, then threw my daughter a 5th birthday party over the weekend before packing my bags and taking off. Plus, for the first time ever, I had pre­-booked my accommodation, saved enough moolah for the entire trip and even organized an airport pick up. In my mind, I had totally nailed this whole ‘traveling as an adult’ thing, I even called my bestie and travel buddy from my younger days while I was waiting for flight #1, to let her know how grown up I am now. 

Then came flight #2, the big one: Auckland ­to Singapore. I walked into the international airport and literally started trembling. Suddenly, it hit me: "I’m going to Cambodia. ­ALONE." This was quite an obvious consequence of booking a flight for one, but the realization that I was going to have to look after myself in a third world country was momentarily terrifying. This initial shock was then followed by even more shock as I wondered, what had happened to my independence that I fought so hard for in my youth? My fears were calmed by absolute appreciation and gratitude that I have this opportunity, if for nothing else, than to rediscover and enable my independence and trust in my own judgment. They say that life truly begins at the edge of your comfort zone. I just never realized how comfortable I had become. 

These past few days in Phnom Penh have been truly amazing. I'd forgotten how totally crazy the roads are in S.E. Asia. It’s wonderful - scarily entertaining and an absolute adrenaline rush. 

Taking in the sights of Phnom Penh

I did however find myself in the awkward predicament that I couldn’t cross the road. You’re just meant to step out and casually walk across the road trusting that everyone will just drive around you. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, so I recruited a guy called John (not really his name, but he said John is fine) to be my tuk tuk driver while in Phnom Penh, to take me around and make sure I don’t need to cross the road. It seems bizarre that I could trust this total stranger who barely speaks English more than I trust my own ability to cross the road. But he seemed very kind, and the road seemed very unkind. 

John took me out to the Killing Fields, which are a thirty minute drive out of the city. (Editor's note: this is one of a number of sites in Cambodia where collectively more than a million people were killed and buried by the communist Khmer Rouge regime, during its rule of the country from 1975 to 1979.) The drive was amazing, through all these winding little lanes. People's homes literally spill out on to the street - great inside / outside flow, you could say. The divide here between rich and poor is really hard to fathom. There are absolute ballers with big flash cars worthy of Queenstown’s elite, and then there are families with babies literally sleeping under makeshift tents on the street. It breaks my heart and makes me really question the world. In my culture, it’s a common belief that life doesn’t happen to you, you make life what you want it to be. However, being here, that seems like such a privileged perspective. 

The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum provide novice tourists like myself a disturbing and impossibly hard to fathom account of the very recent and horrific history of the Khmer Rouge. I spent the day in tears. The effects of the Khmer Rouge deeply penetrated the entire nation. John’s brother was taken to the Killing Fields. My guide at the Royal Palace said his parents were both disfigured because of the torture they endured. 

My day ended on a much happier note. I met up with a few of the girls from the Zuna Yoga training and went to a Fly Yoga class. A great experience for all us first time acro yogis! Then these beautiful girlies helped me to conquer my fear of crossing the road! On the first two (massive) roads ,Justine and Wendy held my hand, and since then I've begun to master it on my own.

I feel so fortunate for a number of reasons. I am grateful to have had this time to explore this city and learn about the Cambodian culture and its horrific and heart-wrenching history. I have realized how lucky I am to come from New Zealand, but with that gratitude, I also feel this great responsibility to those less fortunate. Lastly I am incredibly grateful to have this opportunity to reconnect with myself and start expanding that comfort zone again. 

Tomorrow morning we all head down to The Vine Retreat for our 200 hour yoga teacher training! I am so incredibly excited! This has been my little beacon of light at the end of what has felt like an incredibly long and somewhat soul destroying tunnel (I’ve been studying commerce i.e. accounting). I feel ready and willing to embark on this journey. I am open to the changes that teacher training will no doubt bring forward and I am excited to let the experience guide and inspire me.

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