This is the story of a special day that took place on July 9th in the Steung Meanchey community outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Steung Meanchey is the site of the former public trash dump for the entire city. Once home to thousands of tons of burning rubbish and countless illnesses and unhealthy maladies; it now is home to those left behind now that the trucks of “treasures” have stopped. The current garbage dump is now further outside of the city due to international calls to provide a better livable situation for the residents of the former.
Steung Meanchey serves as one of the favorite work locations for Hope For the Silent Voices’ Impact teams. It takes one so far outside of their comfort zone and forces one to confront so much of what they thought may or may not be true of their world view. It has been a place where dreams have come to an end through deaths of young children through illness or the exploitation of young children and girls for labor or sexual purposes.
However; what took place on that 9th day in July was a first in the history of this oft forgotten place. Two of our first time Impact Trip participants had been so moved by their experiences there and the love connections formed that they decided to get married. Yes, married!!
Steung Meanchey has not only never had a wedding there; it most certainly has never had any barang (white or foreign people) ever consider or want to exchange vows in the midst of such squalor. Yet, once the day came, the piles of rubbish, heaps of dirt and mounds of despair disappeared for just a short and wonderfully sweet bit.
The women with whom we interact most and whose children most often receive support from us took “ownership” of the preparation and turned this dingy compound into a stunning display of warmth and celebration.
In keeping to local Khmer tradition the abbreviated ceremony reflected a somewhat Cambodian wedding. Barbie and Mike expressed their love for each other in front of many strangers and so many new members of a community welcoming them as their own. It was difficult not to get teary eyed.
A community of hundreds, Mike and Barbie had 30 pizzas prepared in hopes of feeding the wedding party and the people who would attend. As the hour approached there were easily a few hundred people watching the ceremony and getting a glimpse into the love these foreigners were expressing for each other; plus the demonstration of love for their new community of friends. I imagine it was a little difficult for the community to comprehend. The average daily income there is less than $1 and we know of some who resort to eating dirt on occasion as it at least fills the belly. And here they find Mike and Barbie desiring to share one of the sweetest moments of their life in the midst of the community.
So as it came time to arrange the feeding it was apparent to our whole Impact Team that there couldn’t possibly be enough pizza to feed the guests; let alone the 100+ kids already massed in a line drooling at the possibility of even sniffing a piece of pizza. To be honest; I was trying not to think about the food quantity concern since there was no way to fix it. The time was too late and what was already there was all there would be to offer.Like most of the other trip participants, I didn’t feel like hovering around the pizza since it was apparent there was going to be a shortage. The question was: how short would we be? Would we even have enough for the hungry, excited and wide-eyed kiddos amassing in 2 lines.
So then it began. The wedding party was sat and 2 boxes of pizza were set in the middle of the table. I elected not to sit and strayed away from the table so as not to be seen eating when the supply ran out. Box by box was being discarded and the pile of full pizza boxes dwindled. Undoubtedly we all shared a collective “oh, crap!” But then something happened…
The line of children became smaller and I looked around at the large courtyard. Children were scattered everywhere devouring this extremely rare delicacy. Then the line of children finished and adults stood in line hoping for even a scrap of this Cambodian pizza. The full boxes of pizza looked like they were about finished. Gazing around at the courtyard and seeing little mouths full of pizza was a real highlight for my life. To be able to see and know these little bellies will be full for the night from an unusual treat made the soul smile.
And then I looked around…….
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. People outside the courtyard who were not even part of the wedding festivities and just there to witness the event – were holding slices of pizza in their hands. They were actually eating pizza. How was this possible? We didn’t possibly have enough pizza to feed those who were allowed into the compound let alone the very large audience hovering outside the fence.
Instantly I thought of the parable of Jesus feeding the 5000 with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread. I had heard the story several times growing up and felt like I was witnessing it firsthand. And I was not alone in this thought. Not one person in our group believed we would have enough food. And I was also not alone in my drawing a parallel to the feeding story I remembered as a kid. I often try not to over-spiritualize things. However; there comes time when one must give credence to things that happen beyond their control. This was nothing short of a little supernatural boost in the pizza realm. Perhaps it is the modern day version of the story. This food just came packaged and served with soda – which also flowed aplenty. Good thing it wasn’t turned into wine, I guess.
I left the wedding humbled and quite reflective. I often am a thinker but felt the need to spend some additional thought on this experience. It was really unusual all around. It was also the first night in a week and a half that didn’t rain at that time. The sun actually peeked its rays out for a bit just to say “hello” and that it must have been time to start the ceremony.
More and more as my journey into the unknown of life to try to make even the slightest impact has resulted in events some wouldn’t be able to simply explain away. This had the hallmark of a “higher” touch.
And then I sat down for a piece of pizza. That is until a cute, little and dirty girl came and stood next to me. This provided me the sweet privilege of feeding her my piece of pizza as she took bites from my hand. Who would have ever though that could feel so good.
So as you go away, remember: “You may be surprised! What you give to them may be nothing compared to what they give to you.” Thank you Mike and Barbie for allowing us to be a part of this special experience. It was significant!!
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