Approaching Fear and Finding Love

By Paula Ulrich

A good 20+ hours into our travels to arrive in Cambodia, I began to feel really uncomfortable.  The third and last flight seemed to be the hardest.  I had to go through security one more time, I was tired, I was sleep deprived, I was disoriented, and I began to lose my bearings completely.  I even had a few minutes of panic when I misplaced my wallet and passport in the wrong pocket of my backpack.  I began to become emotionally hard, pushing up against any sign of possible discomfort, including a persisting fasten seatbelt sign.  I was frustrated.  I was angry.

And I was causing myself so much suffering.

In the midst of my mental worsening of the circumstances, I turned my iPod to an audio recording of Pema Chodron’s “The Places That Scare Us,” and began listening to her talk about how we so often shield ourselves from pain by building up walls of anger, frustration, and craving.  In this moment, I saw the additional pain I was causing myself in hardening to the fact I was genuinely scared.  Scared of leaving home.  Scared of unfamiliar surroundings.  Scared of the unknown.  Scared of everything.

In hearing these words, rather than continuing down this habitual path of aversion, I was able to open up my heart to my experiences, and though I was still afraid, I was no longer in so much pain.

I see this moment as a beautiful reminder for this whole experience: face my fears of the unknown and hold myself with care.  So today, I ran with the moment – and LOVED IT.

Our first day in Siem Reap we rode in on a tuktuk (a buggy attached to the back of a motorbike) on busy streets with no stop signs and a lot of organized chaos.  We walked around the busy streets, popped into store fronts, failed at an attempt to read a map, got a massage, drank some fresh coconut juice, and more.  We even dipped our feet into a tank and let some fish nibble on our toes (a $3 exfoliating service – though I found the benefits of crazy ticklish laughter to be even better in softening my heart, rather than my feet).  Seriously, I bet if I ever am having a bad day here, I will just let some fish suck on my toes and laugh my heart out.

Even now, I feel an anxiousness creep up into my mind thinking about everything we will be doing.  But rather than hardening against it, I just try to breathe and open my heart to whatever comes along, and then I can experience love.

IMG_0044 IMG_0058 IMG_0101Please 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.

1st Course: Crickets!

Yum! Roasted Crickets!

by Tracey Kayne and Meg Hamilton

Our adventures in Siem Reap ended today as we embarked on our trek back to Phnom Penh.  Along our six hour bus ride, the bus driver announced that the bus was going to pull over for a 30 minute break.  We were greeted by rows of street carts that have piles of roasted crickets and as you continued to walk along each stand had larger and larger crickets.   We stood there in disbelief.  We learned quickly that roasted crickets are a delicacy in Cambodia. Cambodians began eating crickets during the Khmer Rouge regime out of desperation. During this time up to 2 million Cambodians died, many as a result of starvation (

Despite the dark inception of this culinary trend crickets are an extremely popular snack in Cambodia still. Clearly, we immediately began daring each other to see who would give it a try. We looked around our group, urging “C’mon- just try it!” and being completely unwilling to do it ourselves. Personally, I was in the “not a chance in hell” corner.

Then, Katie H. chirped up, “I’ll do it!” We didn’t believe her until she reached her hand into the pile of crickets carefully selecting her cricket snack. The woman behind the cart began laughing quietly and continued to do so through the whole ordeal.

Katie examined the cricket, turning it over in her fingers. She raised it to her lips and… CRUNCH! The cricket’s hind legs and thorax disappeared down her throat.

She nodded nonchalantly and said, “Yep. Tastes like cricket,” and handed the remainder to Sue. Sue didn’t even hesitate and quickly took a bite of the cricket. “Now I  can say I ate a cricket.”

The woman at the stand seemed to be enjoying this so much she wouldn’t even accept our payment for our cricket experiment. She was entertained by watching our disbelief and chuckled to herself at the sight of this.

We told Katie and Sue that since they had tackled crickets now they were ready to upgrade. Check out what’s next on the menu:

Well, that was certainly one bit of cultural learning we won’t forget. Tomorrow we go to Transitions’ Shine School! We will meet Athena Pond, one of the founders of Transitions, and begin to get oriented to the organization and the work we will be doing with them. Much, much more to come!