10 Ways Cambodia Made Me Crunchy

Living overseas in Cambodia has forced me to change my lifestyle in some pretty drastic ways. And I think it's for the better. I've come up with a list of ten ways Cambodia has made me "crunchy."

But first, what do I mean by crunchy?

"CrunchyUsed to describe persons who have adjusted or altered their lifestyle for environmental reasons. Crunchy persons tend to be politically strongly left-leaning and may be additionally but not exclusively categorized as vegetarians, vegans, eco-tarians, conservationists, environmentalists, neo-hippies, tree huggers, nature enthusiasts, etc." (thank you, Urban Dictionary)

Ok, I'm not really a tree-hugger now. But a lot of my choices may look that way. And that's ok with me, because we should all be good stewards of what God has given us. It may look different for you that it does for me, but it's a job we all need to take seriously.

I didn't change my lifestyle only for environmental reasons.  In so many ways, small and large, living here has made me adapt my lifestyle in ways I'd never be forced to in America. I never really thought about where my trash went, or whether buying my clothes from Target was ethical. But as you can see from the list below, I've changed my ways...

1. I don't want to be a two-car family.

Andrew and I were talking about what kind of vehicles to buy when we move back to the States. And we both felt it was pretty unnecessary for us to buy two cars - the symbol of the well-employed American family. Seriously? We'll get a scooter and a car. We're probably way too comfortable on scooters now, and we couldn't think of any reason why one of us couldn't drive one to work. We'll see if we can stick to our convictions through Kansas winters...

2. I prefer air-drying my clothes to using a dryer.

Sunshine and wind works fine - both of which Kansas has in abundance most of the year. Again, winter is problematic. But now we've gotten used to hanging up our clothes to dry, and it seems a waste of energy to do it otherwise. No one has a dryer here. In fact, trying to explain what a dryer is just creates expressions of bewilderment.

3. I examine everything I throw away - can I reuse/recycle this? Because if I don't, my landlord certainly will.

A missionary friend told me about a Cambodian woman she knew who visited America. When asked what surprised her the most, it wasn't the technology or the food or the rich people.

She said she was surprised at how wasteful Americans were.

And I nod my head in agreement. When I visit America, part of my reverse culture shock always relates to how much Americans throw away, what they spend money on, how it's easier for people to buy something new than to repair what they already have.

For the record: We do not have city trash service here. We put our trash at the bottom of our stairs. Our landlord sorts it, reuses or composts what he wants, and burns the rest. And sometimes he washes out the plastic trash bag and reuses that, too. There's nothing more embarrassing than throwing away something, only to see your landlady using it the next day.

4. Reusable Everything.

I no longer understand paper towels. (and an Australian friend once said, Paper towels are so American...whatever that meant.) Buy some Ikea rags and use those to clean. What could possibly be so gross, it can't be washed out? (then again, I do use cloth diapers, so I'm biased. See #9.)

I don't throw away plastic ziploc bags until holes appear. So it held raw chicken? So what? If I can wash my knives,  can wash out a plastic bag. Considering the nearest new box of bags is two hours away, I reuse whatever I can.

5. Cleaning chemicals scare me.

Mostly because all the cleaning supplies sold in Poipet are from Thailand, and I can't read the label. I always felt leery of the sprays that smelled like a pharmaceutical lab. And when I got pregnant, I went all natural. Toilet scrub, kitchen spray, floor cleaner, even baby wipes spray solution - you can make it all. Baking soda and vinegar can clean anything, folks.

Our local fruit lady

Our local fruit lady

6. I think supermarkets are sad and farmer's markets are rad.

Although our local market is dirty and crowded, I love it (you can see photos here). I love talking with the sellers, knowing where my food comes from, and buying fresh. We have incredible access to produce here in Poipet.

I always feel overwhelmed when I'm in a Western-style supermarket. I really hope I can stick to shopping at farmer's markets for our fresh produce and meats when we move back to Kansas City, which luckily has an abundance of markets!

7. I haven't bought new clothes in 9 months.

Ok, part of this reason was I've been pregnant. But I have probably five times as much clothing as many of my Cambodian friends. And being bored with what I have is no excuse for accumulating more. And my first stop back in America will be the thrift store, if I need anything. If I really can't find something at a thrift store, then I'll look for the next best thing - fair trade.

8. The "Made In ___" label actually affects whether or not I buy something. 

As I've written before, clothing factories are big business in Cambodia - and not necessarily the kind of business you want to endorse. Labels stating "Made in Cambodia" or "Bangladesh" are very likely to turn me off wearing those items. I want to invest my money in pieces of clothing that will last and that are actually sending money back to the people who made them.

Because no one can make a living sewing $10 jeans.

9. We use cloth diapers and wipes, and I love them!

Disposable diapers are a sign of wealth here. Everyone else goes covered in a hankie or bare butt.

We decided to use cloth diapers for two reasons: the aforementioned trash burning scenario (do I really want to breathe in burning diapers every day?) and money (disposable diapers are pretty dang expensive here).

And although we have occasional problems with leaks because of our hard water (it makes it hard to rinse all the detergent out), cloth diapers work pretty well. We will use disposable if we're traveling, but otherwise stick to cloth diapers and wipes. I'd much rather spend my money on something a lot more fun than diapers.

10. We make everything from scratch.

Or pretty dang close to everything. Our DIY cooking reached a new level last week when we made barbecue sauce from scratch. It didn't taste like Oklahoma Joe's {a Kansas City local favorite}, but when you haven't tasted real barbecue sauce in months, it tastes pretty good.

The nearest Western-style grocery store is two hours away. If I want bread, tortillas, muffins, salad dressing, or anything else American, I have to make it myself. But it's definitely comforting to know exactly what's going into my food and how it was made.

Those are 10 ways Cambodia has changed my life!

 Only ten of thousands, some of which I have yet to discover. If you see me after coming back home, you can ask how many of these survived the flight back to Kansas City!

What about you? Anything on this list you do already? I'd love pointers on continuing these lifestyle changes back in America!

Linking up with Velvet Ashes!