Inspired Words

These are the experiences of our volunteers in Cambodia.

Last day as Developing World Connections participants.

Posted in Cambodia on December 29, 2008

December 19:
This was our last official day as Developing World Connections participants. We spent the morning at the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum. We saw an impacting video and toured the grounds. There is so much I could write here but I will resist the temptation. Anyone who goes to Cambodia must visit this museum and learn about this country's painful history. What occurred here, inside what used to be a high school, was barbarous, inhuman, indescribable, evil and disgusting. Humanity must never forget what happened here. People don't voluntarily discuss the past here, but if you ask, untold stories of loss and suffering are everywhere. I asked my tuk tuk driver about his family. At face value he was just another guy earning his living. Yet, this is a man who lost all five siblings and both parents under the Khmer Rouge. This is a man who has experienced a level of suffering, depravity and loss I can't even conceive. Yet, he drives me with a smile. He told me of his past with a nervous laughter and in such a matter-of-fact kind of way that it makes reconciling his state of being and his experience very difficult.... as it does reconciling the reality of this country's past with its present. Are people's shy smiles a function of its culture or a symptom of a nation-wide case of post traumatic stress? Cambodia is very intriguing.

Visiting this museum provided more meaning and context to the experiences we have had in the past weeks. How is it that to this day, at this moment, there is still genocide and our international community refuses to take the necessary affirmative and collective action? I was inspired to learn more about what is happening in Africa today and consider my small role in ending it.

After lunch we had the afternoon to ourselves to explore Phnom Pehn. The markets here are phenomenal. I bought more trinkets and memorabilia and for the cost of one month of cable, I bought enough commercial free documentaries to last me months. Some of us also visited the national palace and admired the gold, silver and diamonds and fantastic architecture. We learned about the different kind of Buddhas. I can appreciate the importance of history and tradition, but something about seeing this kind of opulence in a country whose people suffer from scarcity just bothers me. Yet, who am I to judge? I suppose, as a Canadian, I am technically a royal subject as well, though not by choice. Given the recent political events in Canada, I can also suppose that on the odd occasion our royal representatives can actually come in handy.

By this time most of the original group has reunited for what would be our last dinner. We took this time to enjoy everyone's company all together, perhaps for the last time ever, and to reflect on our favorite memories. Erinn spoke of witnessing a little girl placing flowers on the graves of the last people who perished at Tuol Sleng and how it served as an emotional reminder of how recently this tragedy occurred. Sherilyn told us of her experience working the rice fields and connection with the people. For her, witnessing and participating in their way of life, if only momentarily, was a way of connecting to her own ancestors. Shalen spoke of the moments we all shared at the hotel sitting on the deck watching the sunrise. For her, these sweet moments were a reminder that everyday is in some ways the same, and in others different... that we must live in the moment. Ben spoke of his moments playing soccer with the kids and doing drawings and the joy it brought him connecting at that level. Some spoke of the dance party with the kids, others about our good times singing songs on the bus ride home, others about their memories working on the houses. Saran and Christina joined us for dinner. In her broken English, Saran told us that she loved us and we knew she meant it. Christina shared her own experience in Cambodia and reminded us of how important we all are to the process.

At this time, the comments I had been hoping for but not expecting were being vocalized. I heard:

“ I wouldn't travel any other way.”
“This was a fantastic, life changing experience.”
“My eyes have been opened.”
“Thanks Jess.”
“I enjoyed the structure of the group, but being able to experience the country on my own terms.”
“Let's stay in touch.”
“I felt like I was part of the country and got to participate in its development.”
“I am going to volunteer at home.”
“I am going to Rwanda next with Developing World Connections.”

During these moments the group may not have known it by my outwardly expression, but I was gleaming with pride. We did it! To those on our team - DWC Cambodia, Dec. 2008 - thank you so much! I really, really, really, appreciate you being with us and contributing generously. We have collectively contributed $9,500 towards directly improving the lives of the Cambodia people we served. We built two dream houses. We painted a community centre. We contributed thousands and thousands of dollars to the Cambodian economy. We beared witness and made it known that we care about Cambodia. We made meaningful connections with each other and with the Cambodian people. Mission accomplished!

After dinner, we hopped in some tuk tuks. In Phnom Pehn, there is never a lack of tuk tuks or people to take you where you want to go cheaply and at any hour. As is the case in most developing countries, for those with money, a little money can go a long way. It is going to be hard to come home and pay as much for a cappuccino as I would for a meal here. Goods and services are cheap, especially services. I still haven't figured out exactly how tipping works here, but, at these prices, one need not hesitate to do it.

Anyhow, we all went out and let's just say good times were had. Sorry folks, sometimes what happens in Cambodia stays in Cambodia. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Good times!

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