It’s a running joke in Cambodia that all foreigners either work as English teachers or for nonprofits. Typically, it’s true. I’ve been working in the charity sector in Cambodia for past two years and now consider the country’s capital of Phnom Penh my home – albeit a far cry from my hometown in rural Co Wexford. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, I felt pulled in two directions between the desire to stay in Cambodia and commit to my cause as an aid worker, and the desire to follow many of the other expats and return to the perceived safety of my home country.
In mid-March, the Cambodian government ordered a nationwide school closures in line with what many other countries in Southeast Asia were doing. Almost overnight, I saw huge numbers of the expat teachers pack up and leave town. Nonprofit workers on mission were ordered to return to their home countries immediately too. My Facebook feed was blowing up with everyone selling their stuff and freshly vacated apartments available to rent. Within two weeks, many friends and familiar faces were gone.