Sunday, January 16, 2011

People of Cambodia

Every country has it's tale of struggle and conflict. Some have faded quickly into the past and others are still quite fresh. I have not been to a place where the tragedy lingers so close as it does here. I don't want to pretend I can give any sort of history lesson, but I will say that the recent struggles here have created wounds as deep as they get. There is so much pain caused when a country finds itself killing each other and slaughtering millions in the act of genocide.

I am an elder here. Few people have survived the ravages of their civil war and all but a handful of the older generation have disappeared. The youngsters who remain have wide smiles and laugh freely and easily. I cannot tell if this is a mask or if they are happy to move on with the great strength of forgiveness. In a way they are enjoying the most prosperous times they have known and I pray that it keeps getting better for them. Now that there is some money coming into Cambodia there is also the beginning of corruption leaving the stability of their future questionable.

Their modesty has made Cambodia an oasis for travelers who tire from the fast cold deals made elsewhere. They seem happy to help and interested in engaging in conversation without ulterior motives of getting an extra dollar. Still, this is an amazingly poor place where most people sleep on the ground or in hammocks. The children spend only a half day at school so they can try and make a buck selling trinkets, scarves, or books by the temples during the rest of the day. Vendors and Tuk-Tuk drivers are not too pushy, but the kids work the sympathy better than I've ever seen. The looks the give you after telling them you are not interested in whatever they are selling make you feel like you're the devil himself. I've even had to give them shit about their fake crying they display after not donating to the orphanage.

One evening we attended a Bach concert performed on a cello. I could not miss my favorite classical composer ringing out from one of my favorite instruments. Well, he did not play any Bach and although he played nicely he was not what you would call a professional musician. Instead, he was a Swiss doctor who nearly single handedly built a healthcare system in Cambodia. As he put it, the cello is his weapon he uses to fight sickness and poverty. This funny man puts on a show every Saturday. Between his short solos he tells long stories about the past and current situation here in Cambodia - about his flight from the country when the Khemer Rouge took over and his return to a county that was totally ripped up. He has built five children's hospitals supported purely on donations from the western world. They are saving the lives and the sick are getting treatment free of charge. The "concert" was free and while donations are welcome they also accept donations in blood. Being of type O blood, the universal donor, I plan on making it to the blood bank and making a deposit. Blood or money as the cellist put it!

Location:Siam Reap Cambodia

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