I’m Stunned


I know our political @assholes use this word flippantly sometimes to describe normal things, but I can’t think of a better description of how I felt when I arrived in Cambodia.   I think perhaps that I felt two things today that are remarkable.  I felt humbled and embarrassed at the same time. 

I arrived in Cambodia this morning, met by a driver that was born in the 80’s and doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of the “American War,” but could tell me more of the history than I have forgotten. He didn’t seem consoled by the fact that I will never forget the day that my brother, Rick, was inducted into the military during what we called the “Vietnam War.”  (It’s called the “American War” here.)  My memory is that our mother fainted.  It was a terrible day.  I was next in line, and not far behind.  Could she bear to lose two sons to Indochina?  Thankfully she lost none.  The mothers in Cambodia are not so fortunate.

Here I am in Cambodia and I think I’ve had the most life-altering day of my life since Ray died.  There are going to be a lot of posts about the details.  I have arrived in what is perhaps the poorest country I have ever visited.  Poorer than Egypt and poorer than Peru;  I’m going to India in a couple of weeks though, hopefully this will brace me a little for what I’m sure to see there.  But yet I’m buoyed by the smiles and the playfulness of the people that I see.

They are a good looking lot, in my eye the most attractive people I’ve seen in Asia to date.  But it goes beyond their physical beauty.  There’s more, and I don’t yet know what it is.  I want to find out.  How can it be that this country of 14 million people and lost 2 million during the “Killing Fields” era can stand up?  Also, how can they accept me as an American?  How can they use the American dollar as the de facto currency?  It’s all very complicated to me. 

 I have so many pictures that will make the hair stand up on your arms.  I’ve never had such tired follicles in my life personally.  I stand in awe at this country.  It wasn’t the people we warred against.  It was their government.  Once I wade through the details, I don’t know the conclusions I will draw.  In the meantime, I’m mesmerized.

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One thought on “I’m Stunned

  1. I remember when my brother was drafted. Fortunately the war ended when he got to California just days before his departure. My brother-in-law was there almost two years. He came home on leave and married my sister the day after her 18th birthday while she was still in high school and then returned. My mom said he would die and my sister would get pregnant and be left alone. Again, neither happened. She did go on to have three children though.

    I know that we did not live in such poverty in eastern Kentucky, but I’m sure to the standards of the rest of the country we did – Johnson’s War on Poverty and his visit to Hagerhill! I think most people enjoy the life they live because they know no other way. I’m sure that I never went hungry, nor did I lack any of the basic necessities of life, but I did live in a 4 room house with no hot water and we did not have a bathroom until we moved when I was eleven. We had an outhouse and a large galvanized tub that we all bathed in from cleanest to dirtiest – daddy was last because he worked in the mines. On mom’s day off, she would heat the water and take a bath without sharing. It was a luxury for her.

    Life is what you make it and by our standards the poverty is heart wrenching, but if you don’t know a different way, how sad is it really?

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