So what we've got here is the written, stream-like record, of my thoughts and ideas as they melded into one another earlier this week.
Welcome to the space between my ears.
A month ago, I finally was given an answer to a prayer I'd been shouting in my head for eighteen months: a female co-teacher. A Khmer woman to teach alongside, to work with, to chat in English and Khmer with, to offer suggestions to, to learn from, and to build a symbiotic relationship with (you know, symbiotic: as in, we both gain something from relying on each other. It's just a Language Arts lesson up in here today, isn't it!) as we co-exist together in the small space of my teacher training center.
Sopheary is more than the answer to my pleas to the universe- she is, in fact, better than I ever could have thought to wish for. She is hilarious, and clever, and hard working, and open-minded. We jive off each other while we teach, and- this is INSANE- when she is not sure about a spelling or pronunciation, she will straight up ask me, while at the board.
This is the opposite of the vast majority of teachers I have encountered here. The education system here is based on the belief that the teacher holds all of the knowledge and it is their job to simply speak it or show it, and the student will learn. A teacher making an error? Even greater, a student knowing more than the teacher about a topic? Totally possible, but completely inconceivable.
(Which is, of course, a generalization and doesn't speak to all of the nuances of personalities that teach here, but as a generalization, is generally true and widely accepted, known, and practiced.)
Getting up to teach with Sopheary is the freshest breath of air and exactly what I needed in my final months of serving as an educator at the training center. There are so many things to say about Sopheary and her amazing work as an educator, but it can be summed it like this:
She essentially eradicates my need to be a part of the informal women's group that's been formed amongst Volunteers.
Frustrated by double standards and cultural biases and differences that led to misunderstandings, feelings of isolation, and a longing to be heard and understood, I joined the women's group to tackle not only what I'd been feeling as a woman in general, but what I've felt as a woman here in Cambodia.
Havoc, wreaked on my confidence, belief in my intelligence and value as a professional, body image and life choices. Lightly given statements that struck deep, that, as much as he tries, can never be truly understood by a compassionate husband.
A need for connection, finding similarities, relating- a need for friendships. That was the path to the women's group and relief it has brought.
Friendships among women- where we feel valued, heard and liked. Where we know that the other woman sees our beauty, our passions, our faults and our hopes and guards them like their hers, as well.
Who needs them?
I need them.
GIRLS need them. GIRLS, as in, Hannah and Marnie and Jessa and Shoshanna (oh my lord, how I love this name and her character.) In the end, it's about friendships, isn't it? What binds women together, what can drag them under, what can tear them, break them, shatter them. How strongly friendships are formed when women are confronted with similar challenges, and how quickly they can weaken when women metaphorically shift their priorities and pursuits. How we seek out women who know what we're going through- school, work, marriage, family problems, weight or exercise goals- and when we find them, how difficult it is to hold onto old friends who know longer are confronted with the same truths.
My longest lasting and most constantly evolving friendship began when I was ten. Katie and I joined the same soccer team. We went to different elementary schools, but we shared a name. I was the ridiculous, outgoing one, she was the witty, reserved one. When I went to her eleventh birthday party, it's a well known fact that her mother wasn't sure she wanted me back- I was that over-the-top energetic. But return I did, dozens of times for sleepovers, afternoon hang outs, and even more birthday parties.
Katie and I've had varying levels of connectivity over time- from those of steel, six feet wide, made from confessions of first crushes, of experiences with very first real boyfriends, of soccer practice nearly every afternoon for years to those made of slightly more tenuous leather, still ever so wide, made from high schools on opposite sides of town, of different soccer teams, of colleges thousands of miles apart.
But the connection is so real that it's as if it has always existed, since our births two month apart, twenty seven years ago.
And it all started on a soccer field.
There was a soccer tournament in our town this week- and my heart grew three sizes, I swear, when I saw two entirely female teams. And I was back in Kalispell, Montana, on a weekend tournament with my U-14 team and Katie, when I saw them traipsing through town at dusk, on the hunt for dinner, three adults trailing them, oblivious to the loud and contagious laughter coursing through the group.
Female sports teams are so rare here. Sports are for men. Men play volleyball at the makeshift courts all over town. Men play soccer on the field at the teacher training center. Men coach the all boys basketball team at the local high school.
The Women in Development/Gender and Development committee I've just joined will face this reality, among dozens of other truths that are preventing true equity amongst sexes from existing in the world.
Which brings us full circle to today. International Women's Day. A day designed to celebrate, uplift, and highlight women- our achievements, our challenges.
So Happy International Women's Day, friends- men and women alike. May you recognize the obstacles women face every day, but also, maybe more importantly, reach out to a woman you know and acknowledge your love for her- for her friendship, for her choices, for her goals, for her skills on the sports field and in her job. For her.
For it all.
And if you feel like spending your IW Day showing the love, fiscally, for women here in Cambodia, consider giving something - even the smallest contribution can help and is tax deductible - to these projects.