I wrote this blog back in October of 2012 while on the World Race. My team was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Let me say first that it was a rough month and I was coming down with a case of apathy, partially as a result of all the disparities around me. This is what God taught me in those moments…
Lately I’ve been reading the book, “First they killed my father.” It’s a memoir of a girl who was five years old when the Khmer Rouge forced her family to leave their home at the start of the Cambodian genocide, changing her world forever. In the first pages of her story, she describes in detail the world as she sees it in Phnom Penh (the same city in which we are living this month.) She describes the vendors on the street, the hot afternoons, the dingy restaurants and the poor children selling flowers and fruit…
She portrays the hustle and bustle of this city with such endearment that it gives me new eyes for my surroundings.
I take a step outside to the balcony of our guest house and watch the city below. Our balcony is high and partially hidden about two stories from the ground. I feel like a fly on the wall, watching, knowing that no one will see me…
There are many sounds- motorcycles going by, carts, and the pounding of a tool as a man across the street fixes something. I hear drills working on a building nearby and the occasional shouts of children. To my right there is an empty lot, taken over by brush and trash. I can see a short, crumbling brick perimeter of a building that once stood there, and I can’t help but wonder if it disappeared when the Khmer Rouge forced everyone out of the city in 1975. Whenever I see empty lots surrounded by houses, I always wonder that; wonder why they were deserted. As I watch two boys come up to the lot, pulling a wooden cart. The boys are probably 12 or 13, and one of them is wearing neon orange shorts with a neon green shirt that says “FBI” on the back. He wades into the lot wearing his white flip-flops and holding a metal stick in hand. He uses the stick to shift through the trash, presumably looking for recyclable material that can be sold at the market. I watch him poke a hole in one of the plastic trash bags and then shake out its contents. Nothing. After a minute or so he walked back to the road and keeps going a few more feet, over to the trash pile where we’ve found that our hosts dump all the trash from our rooms. I watch him pick up a Pringles can that one of my teammates bought and put it back down, then dump out another bag. He picks up what looks like a purple plastic bottle and motions to his partner to keep moving. I watch them continue to walk down the street. I think to myself, “They should be in school,” and then realize that it’s Sunday. Last week, at the proposal of our contact, we went through a list of children’s rights with the kids at the orphanage. One of the rights was that no one should make them work: they should just be kids. It seemed like a dumb thing to teach, and I was pretty sure that our kids already knew that. As I watched the boys walk away, I wonder if anyone had ever bothered to teach them that, or if maybe they weren’t in a position to do otherwise.
Sometimes I have to give myself a reality check.
It’s easy for me to be “over” Cambodia. The heat, the smells, the trash, the traffic, the incessant question- “Lady, you want tuk-tuk?” But I can’t. I can’t because this city was called- when left to prosper without tragedy- ‘The Paris of Southeast Asia.’
Because they experienced a genocide so horrific that I think I would rather be at the mercy of the Nazis than the Khmer Rouge.
Because I know that the child begging me to buy a bracelet is probably being rented as a result of an extensive begging industry.
Because the lonely malls and the empty stretches of smooth highways are signs of a people that are desperate to leave the ugly behind and catch up with the rest of the world.
Because when I see our boys, Hen and Thong, race through the gate on their bike after school, smiling at us and shouting, “Hello Sister!” it makes my heart sing.
Because every day I see 15-year-old Seakliv sacrificing hours of her time and her childhood to take care of 4-year-old Deborah, who has severe disabilities.
Because even though Map is probably one of the loudest children I have ever met, he holds the baby kitten with such tenderness and care that I know he will be an amazing father one day.
Because I’ve heard that most orphanages in Cambodia are disgusting scams where adults gain financially at the neglect of children, but I get to spend every day in a place where people are loved, cared for, provided for.
Because I get to see the example of Jesus Christ shining through the lives of the adults and the kids.
Because even though sometimes I don’t realize how lucky I am to be here, God still shows me all the good things anyway.