Having grown up in Florida, the most I’d seen of poverty for most of my life was the interstate hitchhiker. Unkempt, but able to get by on the spare change of a few good samaritans. Later, in college I worked for a community service center which exposed me to the homeless community of Orlando. It was rough, but most of what I saw was a byproduct of substance abuse or untreated mental illness that resulted in a homeless lifestyle.
The poverty that exists in Cambodia is of course much different. And it is hardest to witness when the most obvious victims are children. I went for a long walk this morning, down to the riverside and the Royal Palace. The ornate palace architecture presents an impression of wealth, but when you take a closer look you find innocent children, some orphans, some employed by their homeless parents, who are sent to beg for money from wealthy foreigners.
I don’t know how to respond to this. I understand that the cycle of poverty is perpetuated in these circumstances. If tourists didn’t respond with a bleeding heart, didn’t hand out spare change, these children might be in school rather than begging on the street. But how can I deny a child the same age as my niece, who is dirty and probably hungry and asking me for money? In the moment the only reaction I have is to respond.
There are so many aspects of being here that put me in a state of constant contemplation. Only 3 full days, but I have been exposed to elements of life that I could have never understood without seeing them first hand. I haven’t come to grips with any of it yet. I’ve only begun to question.
I find that I am already starting to sympathize with this quote mentioned in the introduction of Cambodia’s Curse by Joel Brinkley:
Be careful because Cambodia is the most dangerous place you will ever visit.You will fall in love with it, and it will eventually break your heart.
The next 3 months are going to give me more education than all my years of college combined. Books can only teach you so much – being immersed in another culture, experiencing it’s beauty and it’s pain firsthand, that’s where the real learning begins.