So much of this trip has been ‘eye opening’ in the frustrating sense: genocide, gender disparities propagated through crappy policies at the gov. and NGO level, violence towards women that goes ignored, and crippling poverty. However, this trip has also been two of the best weeks of my life. Fun people in our group, amazing views, encounters with local folks that have challenged my world view and a priceless opportunity to test drive some of the methods I have learned in the past two semesters of grad school. In addition to these fantastic things, here’s a quick hit list of what has made this experience so special, in no particular order:
Sleeping in the back of the bus while catching air over some crazy ass bad roads.
Waking up to bizarre music outside my window in Battombong.
Having my own personal chorus of people that make sure my food is “no sugar, right???”
Making friends with people I would never encounter at Mason. Despite the fact that is on the same campus, I never would have met many of the undergrads here, and they are amazing.
Poop jokes with everyone, and Al making veiled comments on diarrhea. Really, how many post-grads can you have in the States making fun of bodily functions without being concerned about job prospects/tenure?
This comment from Chris at dinner tonight: “I wish I had a coffee table book of things you (me) say, you are hilarious!” (Cue Beth’s mental chorus: “They like me, they really like me!”).
The circus training this afternoon: Step 1) Take a bunch of street kids; Step 2) pay them to come train in acrobatics instead of beg on the streets; Step 3) put on a ‘circus’ about the Khmer Rouge regime; Step 4) tour the world; Step 5) change the course of the human race. Wow.
The bravery of the people, especially the women (natch) that I have had the honor- really, an honor- to speak with about their lives in the short time that I have been able to learn from them. Hearing the personal stories of women struggling to raise their children while battling HIV, having to watch their HIV positive kids grow up knowing that they are going to lose their remaining parent, the 18 year old who was brave enough to share with us her struggles to find her mom in Bangkok while raising her younger brother, and the young women that shared with me their brutal fears about the possibility of having to turn tricks to make a living despite the fact that they have received job training (as hairdressers, a mega-oversaturated industry here) from well-meaning NGO programs. I know that many of you (ok, all) will never read this blog, indeed, may never even log onto the internet, but know that my gratitude radiates to you beyond the boundaries of the world wide web. Thank you for your honesty, for your courage in the face of insurmountable odds, and for inspiring me. Your willingness to live life on life’s terms has humbled me. Thank you.
The smile on the face of a man pictured in Tuel Slang, the genocide museum. The man was photographed as he was registered with the Khmer Rouge at one of the prisons they used to ‘reeducate’ (read: torture) people. He had the biggest smile on his face. I pointed it out to one of the women on the trip with me, and she commented that the poor bastard had no idea what was about to happen. I find that unlikely. The events going down during the KR were not secret, and between 1.7-3 mil people died in the span of 4 years. In my mind, this man’s smile came not from ignorance, but from a well-spring of the human spirit that refused to go quietly into the dark night. His smile, to me, was his last ‘fuck you’ to his captures as he went down. They had his body, his family, his life, but they did not have him.
The biggest take away, today, as I write from Siem Reap (SR : Cambodia :: Orlando : United States) is that, no matter what, the human spirit finds a way to continue. Genocides claim millions, children starve, teeth rot in the mouths of grandmothers raising their orphaned grandchildren, men refuse to allow women a seat at the table as they rebuild their country, and do-gooders come in and make scratch off the top while the people they are here to help get tin boxes to live in with the NGO’s name painted on the side. But despite all of that, children play games, people fall in love, mothers hold dreams for their children’s futures, neighbors comfort one and other. And sometimes, if she’s really, really lucky, the occasional dumb, nïave researcher gets the opportunity to be inspired by people a world away in whose lives she has no right to be included, but is.
For all of this, I am grateful.