Dorothy didn’t need a translator

by James Huffman

It has been close to four weeks since I returned from Cambodia. I have now been home the same amount of time as I was in Cambodia. Between working two jobs and family visits, both Megan’s and mine, I feel like I have barely been able to slow down since returning. Before leaving, our class spent most of spring semester preparing for the work we would be doing while in Cambodia and preparing ourselves to be mindfully present in an unfamiliar culture. We did not however, prepare for the return to the states and our daily lives and I have found myself resistant to resuming this pace of life.

Last night I was able to unwind a bit and take in The Wizard of Oz with Megan at Boulder Dinner Theater. Apart from a somewhat disappointing mac and cheese, which was immediately switched for another entree, the experience was great. The theater was small with the tables arranged so that there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house. The performance was also a lot of fun, especially their interpretation of the tornado scene using aerial dancers. I had never been to BDT before, but am already planning to go back next summer when they are showing Shrek the Musical.

Throughout the show, I couldn’t help seeing parallels between Dorothy traveling in an unfamiliar place and our own recent trip. We each had whirlwind journey’s to new lands. We each tried to do some good during our stay, we occasionally found ourselves outside of our comfort zones and missing home, and it seems that in many cases the job of therapy is helping our clients find the hearts, brains, or courage they have always had.

There were also many differences. Obviously we did not offend any apple trees or melt any witches, but apart from the superficial differences there were also differences in how we approached our journeys. Dorothy was not able to plan or prepare whereas we had half a year to prepare for our journey. I think this is the most important difference. Preparation was an essential part of this trip and we would not have been able to do the work we did without it. Through our readings and preparations we were also unknowingly forming assumptions. Dorothy did not have these assumptions and was constantly in a state of beginner’s mind. The result was that most of her successes were accidents while ours were the result of planning and preparation.

Another important difference here is that when she made friends along her journey she did not assume they needed help or what type of help they needed. Our situation was different as we were traveling to Cambodia with the intent of offering our knowledge of art therapy to our partner organizations. We students also however formed assumptions without ever having communicated with our partners about what their needs were. We designed art therapy interventions based on assumptions and beliefs we formed during our preparations about who our populations were and what their needs might be. I designed a self-care intervention for the staff at CWCC without ever having personally communicated with them. Fortunately, and like Dorothy coincidentally, my intervention did meet one of the needs they communicated to us, but this was the result of accident.

I also feel like my preparation was insufficient in learning the language. I knew a few phrases before leaving the states, and we met with a translator to pick up a bit more in Siem Reap. My knowledge of Khmer however, was still very much lacking.

These short-sights resulted in similar deficiencies, lack of communication. Throughout the trip I had some truly beautiful and amazing experiences and met inspirational people I will remember the rest of my life. Now however, a month after our trip has finished, my thoughts and efforts turn towards improving this trip for future students and helping our clients gain as much from our brief time with them as possible. A solution for both of these is better communication. By communicating with our partners before we try to meet their needs we ensure our time together is as fruitful as possible and by learning Khmer to communicate more fully with everyone we meet we gain a better understanding of our experiences.

Please note that while individual members have varying views on topics discussed in our blog, NCAS-I as a whole honors multiple perspectives, within respectful reason, and does not aim to censor material shared in our blog writings. So please keep this in mind while reading our blogs. And please feel free to add your perspective too.

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