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  • Jay Zweibaum

...of pepper, saw leaf and confidence (reflections on giving back)

EGBOK Student Career Discussion

So, I’m back from my trip to EGBOK (Everything is Going to Be OK) in Cambodia. Let me start by thanking everyone for such amazing support and feedback on my personal journey.

After two weeks in Cambodia, I am overwhelmed by my experience and the people I met both at EGBOK but also in and around Siem Reap. It was an amazing experience to disconnect from the everyday trials of modern society and simply focus on helping others. During this trip, I was able to work on food sanitation, safety, kitchen efficiency and help develop new culinary skills in the team, among other things. We focused on how to create authentic Chinese cuisine but make it Cambodian with local ingredients such as substituting their famous kompot pepper for Szechuan peppercorn and using saw leaf herb for cilantro. My attempt at duck was not as successful.

The rewarding part was watching the team take what they had learned and create a menu special for May that is now being served in the restaurant. They have some new skills that they are making their own.

Szechuan Pork with kompot pepper and saw leaf herb

One surprising thing that I learned revolves around personal confidence. The Cambodian people suffer from a lack of self-confidence in a way I have not seen before. They are quick to tell you that they are not confident in what they do and want to be – but the fact that they can articulate it so clearly actually belies the underlying confidence waiting to come out. If I could have identified my own insecurities in my early 20’s, I would have been such a stronger leader. The desire for self-improvement and personal reflection is inspiring in its authenticity.

Despite everything, they are such a generous people. As kids of the kids of the Khmer Rouge, their country’s suffering has been intense. They don’t have it easy. But when they have security of shelter and food, with friends by their side, they are joyous, giving and so much fun. They certainly had a good time teasing me for so many things – but at the same time seeking approval and validation. They surprised me and humbled me every day. It is hard to articulate the impact the experience has had on me.

I hope I was able to help and support them even a little bit – I think I did. What they gave me in return was so much more. I feel centered, renewed, refocused and fortunate for everything I have.

A simpler life seems to be beckoning, one filled with meaning and friends – not just work and things. I am going to seek this path and am eagerly anticipating my return to Siem Reap to see my new friends.

សូមអរគុណប្រទេសកម្ពុជា (Thank you, Cambodia)

If you feel inclined or inspired, please consider giving to EGBOK (We’ve identified some equipment that we need for SPOONS)

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