Desolation, heartache, and hopelessness- it is strange how different countries FEEL different. Thailand was exciting and vibrant, Laos was beautiful and sweet, but from the moment we stepped foot in Cambodia, it has felt very different. I don’t know why exactly- maybe it’s the dusty streets or the garbage littering the sides of the road, maybe it’s the despair you can see in the eyes of the tired passerby, maybe it is the extreme poverty that over 70% of this country faces everyday or maybe it is because of Cambodia’s horrifically sad history. Whatever it is, it exudes a different sense, a different kind of emotional connection.
But in stark contrast to the feeling of this place, there are beautiful people that we have met that exude life and hope. Our tuk-tuk driver for example, humbly serving us for up to 12 hours a day, yet greeting us with a smile seeped in warmth and sincerity. We have immensely enjoyed our conversations with him about life in Cambodia, about his family and about the places we visited.
We learned from him that before 1998, foreigners were… well, very foreign. He talked about the differences between city and country life and some of the challenges that plague the country- drunkenness and domestic violence being among the top concerns, especially among the men. He says that it is driving families apart and images of violence stick in children’s brains like a virus. We also learned that a lot of the children selling things at the temples and in the markets do not go to school so that they can work, thus keeping the vicious cycle of poverty going- generation to generation. It is so sad really. We have sat back in the distance and watched how these people live. Seventy percent of the Cambodian people are farmers- working in rice fields or raising chickens or cows. Twenty percent are workers- doctors, teachers, etc., and only ten percent are businessmen/women. They have tiny homes, the children run around naked and dirty, and they work very hard. It was both heartbreaking and heartwarming to watch the hustle and bustle of the Cambodians around us. This will certainly be an interesting ride!