“Klooen tee bung klooen.”
“Depend on yourself.”
This common Cambodian phrase surprised me as I learned in the early years to appreciate the generous and interdependent culture of my overseas home. I saw so many expressions of compassion and help, people dropping everything to step in and meet a need. One rainy season day in the capital city, my teammate and I exited our apartment to catch a ride to language school across town. Our normal driver was asleep under the shelter of his tuk-tuk cover and we had no desire to get drenched trying to make a dash across the flooded street. A man on a motorcycle saw our predicament as he drove past, swung around and woke up our driver. His awareness and small, kind gesture warmed my heart.
Trusting and depending on others requires vulnerability and goes deeper than one-way giving. It means opening up our hearts to receive, to admit helplessness. I have built up walls around my heart over the years, believing I am the only one that can fix the problem. Sharing my struggle with others will only be a burden to them, it will crush the façade of perfection I desire to portray and possibly push people away if I don’t meet their expectations (all the story I tell myself in my head).
But the truth is that we can’t do this life or this work alone. We need each other. We need community, people who are willing to be vulnerable and create a safe place for us to do that too.
Creating community overseas comes with a whole host of challenges. In many places, teammates or other expats are limited or nonexistent. I’ve learned the hard way, though, that we need to keep fighting for connection even when it’s really hard.
When my teammate and I were wading through culture shock and sounding out the first few words of a new language, a fellow co-worker with a few more years of experience met with us once a month. While we sipped on mango smoothies to survive hot season, I had to practice honesty about the good things and the hard things. It was a challenge to push through the fear of her expectations and my own, to allow her to know my heart. I also had to be willing to go deep enough to know hers.
Several months in when we needed to get to the other side of the country at the last minute for a funeral, with no earthly idea how to get a taxi, I called this woman and she dropped everything to help us. It went back and forth over the years as we listened to each other, shared words of challenge or encouragement, celebrated milestone birthdays and prayed each other through health crises. It took a lot of intentionality, but our connection was a source of hope through the hills and valleys of life overseas.
I absolutely love so many parts of the Cambodian culture, but this is a phrase and a mindset that needs the Father’s tender redemption. My own heart needs the reminder that I am not a lone runner in this marathon but part of a team of friends that can spur me on to keep pressing forward.
What is the Father teaching you about leaning on others? Is there a similar saying to this Cambodian phrase in your culture?
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