From Cambodia to the Caribbean — challenging myself & travelling the world.

When was the last time you dived into something that stretched you beyond what you’d done before?

A question guaranteed to make you think right?

The last time I dived into something that stretched me was when I volunteered for three months in rural, northern Cambodia with the ICS programme and the charity VSO. I had wanted to do the VSO programme for several years but it never was the right time, and if I am honest, I probably lacked the confidence or push to motivate me to apply. That all changed last July when I found myself suddenly single and no longer a teacher. Little did I know it, but this time period was gearing me up to be an active citizen and to contribute to the world. Holidaying in Cornwall that summer I met a girl who had volunteered on the ICS programme, and she encouraged me to apply. The next day I completed the application in one go; and in November I successfully got through the interview to be a team leader. I wasn’t completely happy in my new job so it seemed a perfect time to leave. In April 2018 I would be leading a group of 18–25 year olds on projects relating to improving the economic livelihoods in Cambodia.

I had chosen to go to Cambodia because I knew nothing of the culture or people. I had holidayed in neighbouring Thailand so I knew the food would be great; and given my 10 year history of working with young people, I was sure that this would be a fantastic role for me. Little did I know of how much I would learn about myself over the next three months or how my life would change. The fact that I am writing this in a cafe in Port of Spain, Trinidad, drinking dragonfruit tea, doused in sweat, a mere two months after I got back from Cambodia is testament to how the VSO/ICS experience impacted me. But I am getting too far ahead.

Before I went to Cambodia I had to move back home to live with my family due to unforeseen circumstances. It was strange to be back in my teenage bedroom but I was busy fundraising for the VSO/ICS programme and promoting my first book, a collection of poetry spanning ten years. All too soon it was time to go and I tearfully said goodbye to the UK, meeting two of my fellow team leaders at the airport. These girls were to become good friends during my time in Cambodia and when I got back to the UK but at that moment in time, we were about to embark on a new adventure.

We arrived in the capital Phnom Penh and were whisked around tourist sites in a daze by our fellow Cambodian team leaders. Team leaders and volunteers alike were given Cambodian counterparts with whom to work and live with in an Cambodian host home. After two weeks of training and prep in the capital we were thrust into a whole new life in rural Cambodia in a region called Banan in the province of Battambang.

The highlights of my time in Cambodia were:

The food! Our host family provided breakfast and dinner for us each day and as there were no ovens or fridges the food was seasonal and authentic cuisine. I looked forward to each dinner time as there always seemed to be some new vegetable or meat dish. Rice is a staple of the Cambodia and the way to say you want to eat ‘ nyam bai’ literally translates as ‘eat rice’. I fell in love with avocado smoothies; glazed chicken and rice; the fresh fish; all of the tasty and aromatic soup dishes and vermicelli noodles with pork topped with peanuts, the later often being served for breakfast! I tried in vain to diet and lose weight but I couldn’t stop myself trying everything. I went on a Cambodian cooking class in the city and learnt how to make the decadently delicious amok soup with is made with coconut milk, fish and vegetables. That day I ate so much I couldn’t sleep, I had eaten so much.


New friends! As mentioned earlier, I made fantastic new friends with the other team leaders and they were a big part of my support network when I was dealing with challenges in my team and personally. We had a whatsapp group so we could share our experiences and encourage each other and it was a really valuable resource for me. You don’t always want to share the challenges you face with family and friends; additionally it’s hard for those outside of the programme to appreciate how intense it can be. I now had a new group of friends to share experiences with, and enjoy time together and this for me was a highlight of my trip.

Additionally I made new friends with several of the volunteers both UK and Cambodian. The programme was challenging for the volunteers of either country for a variety of reasons. However I was super impressed how some of the UK volunteers just jumped right in and tried their best consistently with the programme. I would hire them definitely and I am sure that they will be successful in their next stage of life. As for my Cambodian volunteers, I fell in love with them. I found them hard working, patient and unendingly kind to me. When my watch broke; when I needed to go to the market; when I wanted a guide to a beautiful pagoda; when I was sick at the top of a temple, there was always a Cambodian volunteer to help me. There was less of a hierarchy with me and the Cambodian volunteers so the social being I am was made welcome at lunch and on trips which made me happy. Additionally the Cambodian volunteers had a love of karaoke and dancing, two things I was only too happy to share in, learning lots about Cambodian culture that way.


I also loved cycling to work. I was not a proficient cyclist when I started the programme but I have improved 110% and grew in confidence each day with the daily ride. I also loved riding through the village on the way to work and going to see the sunset over the rice paddy fields in the evening. Cambodia is very beautiful and even though we did not go to all the usual tourist spots we went to some incredible lakes within our province for our socials and enjoyed sun and swimming there. Those type of memories I can’t forget.

Additionally in Cambodia, I learnt tonnes about myself, so I developed my super power of self knowledge. I learnt how to be flexible when the electricity went; how to deal with an outside bathroom and a non flushing toilet; I learnt a lot more about my stress levels and what to do to manage them (go to a nice hotel with a double bed with an ensuite shower and eat amazing chocolate fondant); how to reach out to others when I wasn’t feeling great; to be more tolerant of frogs lol; that looking after others constantly is not a good career choice for me; that I really enjoy karaoke and dancing and that I am old and confident enough to not care about being silly in front of others.

I realised that I had the extraordinary traits of working super hard to get the project completed on time and in good order, no matter how I was feeling. I realised that I had the super power of being a people person and wanting the best for others when I proactively created in my own time, well being sessions to address challenges that the volunteers were having; when I listened to a myriad of problems and tried to address them the best that I could and when I decided that I wanted to leave, I realised I didn’t want to partly because I had invested in my team and wanted to see them and myself finish the programme. I have realised, writing this, that I had the super power of resilience because there were times on the programme when I was very unhappy and yet I kept pushing myself to complete the programme. I had these super power traits of organisation; empathy; connection and resilience all along but they came to the fore in Cambodia.

Part of the reason I had wanted to do the VSO/ICS project was for self development and to push myself to live abroad for longer than I had ever done before. By doing the programme I realised that I had the extraordinary power of being confident to travel abroad for an extended period of time. I had this amazing trait all the time but I didn’t know I had it until I lived in Cambodia.


When was the last time you stepped out towards a dream without perfect resources or a plan in place?

I got back to the UK exhausted but glad to be free of the responsibility I had felt. A period of reverse culture shock then happened, I was depressed, and felt as if all my friends had moved on in life, whilst I was 35, single, unemployed and living at my parents. It didn’t matter that I had just come back from an amazing experience, or that it takes time to readjust and learn what my new direction in life was to be. Within one week of being back, miserable, hating my life in London yet secure in my new found super power of being able to live abroad for extended periods, I booked a return flight to Trinidad. Leaving in 7 weeks and returning in December, three months later.

The rest of the summer was mostly a depressive fog. I felt purposeless and even though I did some freelance work, it wasn’t enough financially. My friends were very good, cooking me dinner, buying me lunch and being supportive when I did see them. In happier times in the summer, usually spending time with friends, I felt that maybe booking a trip had been rash and maybe I should have been more patient with my life starting again. However as the weeks and the depression wore on, I was glad that I had an escape booked.

I must make it clear that I am not funding this trip with lots of money. I bought the ticket for £576 out of the money I should have saved to keep me going over the summer. I realised a few days before I left that it was a hand luggage only ticket which is why it was so cheap. I then had to buy luggage. I have cancelled every direct debit and standing order I have, including ones for a charity I have supported for years. I tried to get a temp job and bar work to no avail. I had to go to the job centre but by the time I got an appointment, as I was leaving the country the following week so would not eligible.

My budget for this entire trip is approximately £2000 including my flights. Do the maths. This is nothing in the Caribbean which is a big tourist destination; and the accomodation and living prices are equivalent to Europe, sometimes even more expensive here in Trinidad which is a relatively wealthy country in the Caribbean due to oil and gas.

In order to stay here I had to decide to be a volunteer. I joined the site workaway for a painful £32 and started contacting placements. Two placements got back to me, I will be volunteering on an organic farm in the south of Trinidad and in a hotel in Tobago. I don’t mind working 5 hours a day as I am getting accommodation out of it and it means I get to have a new experience. I don’t have the perfect resources or plan in place but I’m here and I mean to stay for the three month, travel, explore, discover my roots and write a book. There I said it! I want to write a book. That’s why I am here. That’s my dream.

The super powers of faith, flexibility and open mindedness are what I intend to grow and unlock within myself over the next few months.

Wish me luck!

Advertisements

Sweetheart, you born to DREAM

Your dreams/ like long lost regrets/ linger in unused cupboards/ only to be aired/ with old friends/ who can remember us/ from when we used to dream.

The Oxford dictionary definition of a dream is ‘A cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal’.

What did you dream of when you were a kid? Of ice cream and days out? Of being an astronaut? Of being a princess or footballer? Of being a superhero or pop star? When you are a kid, your dreams are unfettered. The world is your oyster.

When did we stop dreaming? When we had to grow up and pay bills and do all the boring things that make life tick. Like go to work. Dreams are for kids or to be harboured in secret.

To read the rest of the article, go to https://medium.com/@michellemangal

Feeling Depressed? Do this.

Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.”

Ovid

Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

I am dressed. I am typing this fully dressed and showered. Today this is an achievement, a goal I set myself yesterday. Why? Yesterday was spent most of the day in bed, eating custard cream biscuits, and watching Asian American comedies, when I found myself crying in front of a poet’s Instagram page. ‘I can’t write as well as him’. ‘No one has ever loved me like that’. ‘My life is shit’. The never ending spiral of negative thoughts was in affect. Again.

If you are anything like me, being depressed; heartbroken; or just unsure about where your life is going may result in negative thoughts. It’s just that many of us don’t talk about these moments until they are over; many of us don’t reveal that we have these moments at all; and some of us pretend that they just don’t have these feelings. Recognise yourself?

Read the rest of the article here.

You are NOT defined by your past

‘Your character is not defined by what happened in the past, but how you pick yourself up after the blows of your past’.

Any anxiety sufferers in the house? If you are anything like me, you may have experienced that disorientating feeling of fear, panic or loss that happens as soon as you wake. Rationally there was no reason to feel scared. I woke up in my bed, in my mother’s house and yet there it was.

The human mind is ingenious, capable of incredible things, yet the reptilian side of the brain is wired for us to feel fear. We have unconscious patterns of thoughts focused on the past and things that we did wrong. In 2005, the National Science Foundation published an article showing that the average person has between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before.

To read the rest of my article, click here.