Part Eight: Goodbyes
When I return to the house, I spend a little time packing, and then go out one last time to try to retrieve an email that our friend Narath had sent to me, with an attached form that his sister needed. One of Tom's friend's took me by scooter to an Internet provider along Sisowath, but the modems were not cooperating, and we finally gave up. By the time I returned to the house, it was time to get ready to leave. Srey was plowing through our clothes, giving away most of what we had been wearing for the last three weeks. (One item, a Microsoft BackOffice t-shirt that I had gotten at a seminar, showed up on our driver's back only an hour later.)
I take a hurried shower, and by the time I'm dried off, it's time to leave. We pile into two cars for the trip to the airport. The sun has disappeared. Clouds are gathering, and it is slowly getting darker. We wave and chim reap leah the people who have been our neighbors, and then the car slowly bounces down the bumpy dirt street, around the corner, and we are on our way home. Inside the car, we're quiet. We're all anxious to be home, but all sad to be leaving. Sean falls asleep immediately.
On the way to the airport, we see the first visible sign of the previous night's firefight. A gas station along Russie Boulevard has been looted; the plate glass window at the front of the shop is gone, and nothing remains inside. My wife's aunt, sitting in the front seat, says that there is still blood in the street. But it's raining now; the blood will wash away.
When we arrive at the airport, we wait outside, in front of the terminal for a while. The rain has already stopped. Srey's cousin brings durian ice cream for Anna and Sean, but Sean is still sound asleep. My wife, who has shed so few tears on this trip, is tight-lipped. She didn't want to cry, and felt that the less she talked, the less likely the tears would escape.
At six o'clock, we decide to check our baggage. Srey's family remains outside, and Lung is holding Sean. Srey and Anna and I walk into the terminal, and suddenly I feel very, very alone. It isn't just that Sean is not with us: for weeks, virtually everywhere we have gone, practically everything we have done, we have done with Srey's family. And now, walking toward the door of the terminal, it's only us. We're going to travel halfway around the earth, and it will be only us. I feel a strange sense of loneliness. I try and imagine how my wife must have felt, almost nine years ago, leaving Cambodia alone, leaving behind the only world she had ever known.
Inside, Pou Pon's friend - the customs official - is on duty. He grabs two luggage carts and helps us with the bags. Then we walk back out to where Srey's family is waiting. I take Sean in my arms, and he slowly awakens. We say our last goodbyes, and walk slowly into the terminal.
As we wait for our flight, I marvel at the changes in the airport, just as I had when we'd landed weeks earlier. So many things have changed in nine years. The departure lounge is clean and well-organized. There is an elegant bookshop, a play area for small children, a coffee shop, an Internet access shop. At the front of the lounge, there is an architect's model of the proposed renovations to the airport. Pure white, it is the embodiment of Cambodia's quest to join the future.
This article contains nine parts:
Part 1: The Quarter-Ton World Tour
Part 2: "I See Cambodia!"
Part 3: To Kompong Som and Back
Part 4: Angkor, Snakes, and Khmer Krahom
Part 5: Artists, Pringles, and Fish in the Streets
Part 6: Two Parties
Part 7: "There has been sporadic shooting throughout the night..."
· Part 8: Goodbyes·
Part 9: Travelers and Conquerors
Beauty and Darkness: Travel Section
Between Barbie and Murder: Cambodia, 2005
Cambodia, April - May 2000
Holiday in Cambodia
Phnom Penh, June 1996
Farther than Wisconsin: Cambodia, 1991