So I had this crazy experience in Phnom Penh yesterday. I saw a sign for a $7 massage. Seven dollars!!! No way! Turns out the experience was a crazy experience in which this tiny Khmer woman twisted and contorted my—
Oh, blast. Gary already told this story. I guess I’ll have to come up with something else….
My one week in Phnom Penh cannot be captured or showcased by chronicling one critical, pivotal, emotional, or whimsical moment. I can though say that it can be characterized by a general feeling… one of profound humility, a feeling which is perhaps much more welcomed than the pain inflicted by a brazen black-belt-turned-Thai-masseuse in Bangkok.
I spent a brief period of time in Cambodia before and was aware of the kindness which is pervasive throughout Khmer culture. It is difficult to be lost, hungry, confused, or shoved up against a frustrating language barrier for too long before a local will take a moment of her time (or a few, if you are really good at getting yourself into sticky predicaments) to help. Still, in my first week back in Cambodia I was continually humbled by the gentle, patient and warm benevolence which emanates throughout the people.
I feel as though this sort of reflection is all too common among travelogues of Westerners venturing into third world cultures and have felt several times as I am writing this that I should perhaps opt for a more unique theme for this journal entry. I will not, however, if for no other reason then because it is at least somewhat of a gesture (albeit a weak one) of gratitude towards all the people I have met over the past few days.
One night I was trying to find my way back home on a moto when it became apparent my driver was horribly lost. He didn’t speak English, I don’t speak Khmer, and the map had proven useless. We drove for forty-five minutes before I recognized where we were and ended the ride. I stepped off of the moto, incredibly frustrated and exhausted until I looked up at my driver who just smiled and laughed a little. I had cost him gas and time and he was too kind to be angry, instead offering to share a feeling of amusement over his misadventures with this incompetent foreigner.
Two days later I had moved into a guesthouse where the staff locked the front gate and went to bed at 8 PM. I had been enjoying the night in Phnom Penh and arrived well after this hour. When I finally showed up the poor man whose job it was to lock the gate looked at me, tired. “Why are you late?” he asked gently. I felt horribly guilty and all I could manage was a pitiful apology. He smiled and returned my response with a genuine “no problem,” which only made me more angry at myself for my absurdly inconsiderate decision to enjoy a late dinner with friends instead of abide by the guesthouse policy. His patience was extraordinary and undeniably undeserved.
Elena’s language teacher, a well-spoken and affable Khmer law student, invited me over for lunch with her family, even though she told me later that the price of food today has soared to twice its cost in the past two months. Veteran Kiva fellows stationed in Phnom Penh have lent their advice, time, and patience helping Omeed and I transition into our stay in Cambodia. With paternal concern, a tuk-tuk driver showed me the best way to carry my purse on a moto so it wouldn’t be snatched quickly by a thief passing by. Dr. Kimseng has invited me to eat a lunch prepared for and enjoyed by the entire staff, and no I cannot bring anything to help. The care is unsolicited and the kindness unwarranted, but both are welcomed and deeply appreciated.
So I am humbled, welcomed into a culture which has so little but gives so much, and truly grateful for this experience. It’s going to be a good summer.