“Won’t you look down on me, Jesus
You’ve got to help me make a stand
You’ve just got to see me through another day My body’s aching and my time is at hand And I won’t make it any other way oh, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain” – James Taylor
These are the words that come to mind when thinking of my experiences in Cambodia. I thought that this experience would be much more humbling for me; however, after three days in Phnom Penh I am beginning to realize that this experience is surreal. Why? It’s simple! I have seen the worst of humanity. A humanity that only surfaces when helpless victims are within arm’s reach. A humanity so dark that it’s common practice to rape and torture young girls not much older than my own. I have also seen the best of humanity. Those same girls that have lived more of a life than the majority of us sheltered Americans will know; and they smile and welcome us with open arms. Or the people of Stung Meanchey garbage community, who for generations have fed on the trash of others. The hope, the conviction, the courage, the struggle to survive is simply life-changing.
We Americans seem to have it all wrong. We lust after women, slave for rewards that are just out of our reach and endure a rat race that in the end only makes others more wealthy and us less whole. We are raised from an early age to get an education, get a job and then start a family. For what? I would opine that it’s for the illustrious chase of wealth. But again we have it all wrong. We think that having nice cars, nice clothes, a big house and a beautiful wife will make us happy. The people of Stung Meanchey have none of these things (with the exception of beautiful wives), but yet these are some of the happiest people I have had the privilege to meet. These people don’t complain because of the situation they are in. They smile, they hug, they offer hope to those more fortunate. The sheer will to survive and endure for one another is remarkable and will forever change the way this sheltered American views the world and all of humanity.
I was a part of the rat race for a better part of a decade. I had the stay-at-home wife and two beautiful daughters. I awoke every morning to the same routine. I thought I was doing good. Little did I know that all the hard work, the 60 hour work weeks plus night school to earn a college degree, would be taken away from me with the snap of a finger. But that’s ok because as I have learned from the people of Stung Meanchey, true happiness originates in the eye of the beholder. True happiness is what we make it to be. If we come forward with a pure heart, pure intentions and an open mind to learn from those less fortunate, true happiness can be achieved. Guess what? There is no need to have all of the material things in this world as we can come “correct” for free.
I started this trip as a non-religious person. Not wanting to believe in something that has more unanswered than answered questions. Not wanting to be vulnerable to something I “suppose.” I had it all wrong! I have found in Cambodia a powerful force in this world. A force of good and evil. Is this God at work? I don’t know, but what I do know is that I am a very lost soul. A lost soul in search of something. Today I stop searching. Why? Because I am choosing to live in the present. Whatever life brings me, it brings to me. After my experiences at Stung Meanchey and the Lighthouse Orphanage, I am a firm believer that my destiny will find me. My God will find me, if you will.
The children at the Lighthouse Orphanage are courageous to say the least. Some of these kids have siblings that still reside at home with their parents. Some of these children were sent to the orphanage because their parents could not afford to keep them. Their parents had to choose which kid/kids to keep. How do these parents decide this? It’s simple. Who can make them the most money. As a parent I am appalled at this, yet even more disgusted to be a part of the same human race that allows this. However, these kids don’t look back and dwell on the past. They accept the fate that was handed their way and they do it with a smile. They spend time perfecting their national dance, making Cambodian items to raise money, and instill in us the hope that has been missing for so long. American children are worried about playing video games, skipping school and eating unhealthy food. Cambodian children are concerned with spreading love, joy, happiness, and hope, while at the same time attempting to survive. Its that simple.
As I sit and reflect upon my experiences in Cambodia I realize that what I was once so certain about in life is now uncertain and the only job we have as humans is to ensure that the atrocities I have observed in Cambodia never, under any circumstances, occur again.