Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Cambodia.


The Group’s Arrival in the village of Chamkar Bei

Posted in Cambodia on December 15, 2008

December 8th:
Looking and feeling surprisingly refreshed, the group was ready to finally discover Kep and the Village of Chamkar Bei and to meet our host partners. An hour or so in, we were all startled by a loud bang. My first thought was that we had hit one of the stray dogs that fearlessly navigate the streets. In fact, we had blown a tire. Experience dictates that, in the developing world, plans should be considered as guidelines and one should always expect the unexpected. Coming from a culture that obsessively manages risk and makes plans to plan, going with the flow doesn't always come easy. For better or worse, in a country like Cambodia, where many people are forced to live day to day, one can see the futility in making rigid plans too far into the future. My travels in the developing world always serve me well as a reminder to make plans, but to stay flexible … and to not allow myself to get bent out of shape when life happens not as planned.

Our bus driver - whose name I won't even attempt to spell – is excellent. He is very shy and even my attempts at non-verbal communication fall short. But, most importantly, he is an excellent driver and we all feel very secure. We took advantage of this time out to munch on some bananas and drink some imitation Red Bull. We took lots of pictures with locals and Shalen even got her hair styled by a lovely girl. (When was the last time you saw a family run, road-side hair salon?) Very little goes to waste here – I could see the cut hair in the compost pile. Whether or not the driver needed help, some of the 'problem solvers' (i.e. the men) jumped and generously offered their brawn. Within half an hour we were back on the road with new used tire.

An hour later we stopped for a lunch and enjoyed the company of the children and seniors hovering around us hoping to sell us gum, tiger balm and trinkets. I always get a kick out the harmless dogs that circle the tables hoping for a scrap of food... and nobody cares. Can you imagine eating at a restaurant in North America with dogs circling? Were the average Cambodian to visit my world, s/he would think we were nothing short of uptight. But when in Rome, do as the Romans do. To my group's credit, nobody has seemed to be bothered by the 'strangeness' of life here (or at least nobody has complained). On the contrary, everybody would appear to enjoy the novelty. We ate an assorted array of dishes. Some of us took advantage of the fact that beer is as cheap as the water. Hesitant at first, many have now buckled and are ignoring the travel nurse's instructions not to have drinks with ice. So far, nobody has gotten sick – fingers crossed.

Bellies full, we sallied forth to the village of Chamcar Bei and to the Bridges Across Borders' (BAB) project site. Here, we met the Bridges Across Borders team and they gave us an orientation. They told us of the important work they do which is comprehensive and sustainable. BAB's work is the epidemy of participatory community development and responsible development practice.
Cambodia's history is horrifically violent. Nothing but time can heal the emotional scars of a traumatized people. Under Pol Pot, from 1974-79, educated people were systematically eliminated and families were torn apart and pitted against one another in a mass murder. The social systems and processes most of us take for granted, and sometimes aren't even aware of, were strategically attacked. Though lacking physical infrastructure and economic capital, it is, above all, Cambodia's social capital and human development that will secure its future. Talking with people, it would seem that most have adopted a spirit of forgiveness. Vy, our lovely Cambodian project manager, pointed out the house where the wife of the former Khmer Rouge boss in this area lives. This area was a Khmer Rouge strong hold. People would have good reason to despise this woman, yet she lives as any member of this community. Being witness to forgiveness and BAB's work gives me hope that Cambodia's future is a brighter one.

At the orientation, BAB's staff asked us why were here. In a group setting, it was interesting to observe everybody's responses: “I am here to learn from you.” “I am here to better understand Cambodian culture.” “I am here to help out where I can.” If anyone had harboured any romantic notions about teaching Cambodians how to be, they were not voiced. Our answers made me feel proud
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