Three days in Cambodia… That was all it took for the world to change my entire perspective on the world. Three days, and I was never again able to understand how we could categorize Americans as “impoverished.” Three days, and I saw a world I never knew existed, a world I thought we left behind hundreds of years ago. Our venture through Cambodia was the most eye-opening experience I have ever encountered and the trip was thanks to a family friend named Valieck, who was born and raised a native of Cambodia. At the time, we were all living on a little island between the East China Sea and Pacific Ocean called Okinawa, Japan and it was an early morning in mid – September that we left Kadena Air Force Base on bound west with almost no idea of what to expect. Eight hours later, we arrived at a fancy little airport and were picked up in an old van, seatbelts not-included, and taken to our hotel. As we pulled out from the airport and into the city’s outskirts, we found ourselves amidst a storm of noise and chaos. Covering the road were tuk-tuks (we rode them all over and Valieck negotiated prices since none of us spoke the language!), yaks and goats with rickety, old, wood tarnished wagons in tow, filled with either farmed-food or aluminum cans 4ft high. Everyone was either on rusted bicycles, old paint-faded mopeds, or their own feet in an old worn down pair of sneakers. The road was made of dirt, although some areas were paved depending on what area of the city you were in. There were no street lights, speed limits, or seat belts. No stop signs and no lines marked on the “road.”The air was filled with ruckus…horns beeping, animals bleating, tuk-tuk’s chugging and people shouting in a language most peculiar to us. There, the poor lived homeless. The “lower-middle class” at least could afford shacks of assembled scrap metal and wood. They slept in dirty hammocks with dirt floors below them and lived without running water/plumbing. At first not having access to clean drinking water or flushable toilets made me very uncomfortable and I realized how truly spoiled we are as a first-world nation, “poor” or not. Kitchens were typically in the middle of the house and consisted of a simple hole in the ground in which a fire was made to cook food. This lower-middle class styled living we saw all over the country whereas the upper-middle class houses seemed to exist mainly in the city. These homes were concrete with solid floors and modest furniture. As you could imagine, as “white people” we stuck out like sore thumbs and were flocked to more often than not for money or for a bargain, especially when we went out to eat. We ate food in the most peculiar, and frighteningly unclean places but I loved it! We took in so much of the culture and the food was pretty good! Vegetables and fish were most always served and the swarming fly’s never missed a meal. We ate loaves of bread for lunch/snacks which were easily purchased along the road, ~ 40 US cents/loaf. 600 words isn’t nearly enough to describe our Cambodian experience, however it’s enough to provide others with a glimpse of that diverse world. Being able to see their lives first-hand was a life-defining experience. It was an entirely different world I hope people will have to opportunity to see in person. First-world citizens take so much for granted and it takes seeing a place like this to help us realize how fortunate we truly are.
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