We’ve been back for a little over a week now, and my heart aches for Cambodia more than it ever has before. I’m not entirely sure how to handle being back after seeing the depravity, poverty, and hopelessness that covers Cambodia like rain during the rainy season. I also am not entirely sure how to handle being here and seeing my own, our own, depravity, poverty, and hopelessness after seeing the goodness, joy, and incredible amounts of hope that have sprung up from between the cracks in the ground in Cambodia. In as many ways as my heart was broken while in the country, my heart was filled with hope there and for Cambodia also.
So being back is a little weird. I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve tried to plunge back into normalcy, to dive into school work (I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop listening to Explosions In The Sky with my Theories of Personality book open to chapter 1), and to try and pick up relationships where they were left off at the beginning of summer. That plunging hasn’t really helped with the processing process at all. I think I’ve tried to plunge back into my old life to forget about the things I’ve seen… but not really forget them, just try and put them into boxes that I can understand and think about when I choose to.
But I really can’t just put these experiences and thoughts and feelings into boxes. I can’t just think about them when I want to because I think about them all the time. Today I saw a red-ish pink flower/fruit on a tree, and I remembered the eyeball fruit we ate during breakfasts at the hotel in Phnom Penh. Last Thursday I was at Applebees for karoke and saw the red back-lighting of the liquor shelves and was instantly transported back to Cambodia, driving down the streets at night seeing all the red lights that indicate brothels. I was so overcome with emotion, most of which I still can’t describe or identify, that I had to leave the building and stand outside for a while.
But enough about all my mess right now. You’re reading this because you want to know about the moment that hit me the hardest while in Cambodia. Well, I’ll tell you what… it was quite a moment. And I can’t shake the overwhelming feeling of guilt and sadness and heartache. I can’t go a day without thinking about it. I can barely go a few hours without somehow being reminded of it.
This moment comes in three parts. Possibly four depending on how I decide to break it up.
Anyways. I miss Cambodia. I think our trip there was fairly normal for any touristy trip. It was very abnormal as far as any missions trip goes. Before we left for Cambodia, we were advised to “do Cambodia.” So, when we set out, I had the mindset of really “doing Cambodia” as well as I could. I didn’t anticipate it being extremely difficult for me to reconcile my traditional views of a missions trip with the way we were doing our missions trip. What I’ve always been told that a missions trip is is this: to build houses, teach VBS, give a community clean water, etc. So, for me to come on this trip, it be my first missions trip, my first time outside the Continental US… it was hard. Really hard. At first, I felt like we weren’t doing anything important. We were walking around looking at things and looking at people and listening to people talk about how awesome their organization is and we walked around some places some more and looked at more stuff and read more about the history and we did this and did that.
What I didn’t realize at the time, early on, I mean, was that we were getting our feet dirty. I posted something a while back about how the future belongs to those still willing to get their hands dirty. I had that in mind this whole trip. But just because we weren’t really getting our hands dirty doesn’t mean we weren’t actually doing something. We got our feet dirty. We walked through sewage, past mass graves, through shanty towns, and down streets littered with prostitution. In a way, we saw a lot more than we would have if this had been any normal missions trip. We saw things that the normal tourist and missions trip group might not ever see. We got our feet dirty, and now that we’re back it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. In a way, our work starts now. Well, not now… a week or so ago. The moment we got back to our normal lives is when our work started.
We started to advocate: by telling stories from our trip, by talking about our “moment,” by handing out bracelets to donors (which I have some for everyone who donated so shoot me an email and I’ll mail you a bracelet as a thank you), and by telling people about the awesome work of Rapha House.
We played with kids who didn’t speak a lick of English. Kids played with us, white faced people who don’t speak a lick of Khmer. We walked past “massage parlors.” We smiled at naked babies sitting on their mothers’ laps. We played UNO at a cafe. We haggled at the market. We drank warm coconut milk right out of the coconut. We raced down water slides at the community pool with Rapha girls. We ate at a super sketchy local soup restaurant for breakfast one morning. We walked the streets that are the epitome of poverty and hopelessness. We looked into the eyes of kids who didn’t know what they went without. We saw Western men wrap their disgusting, fat, hairy arms around the waists of young Asian girls who may or may not have been forced to be there. I still can’t think of that sight without getting angry and red-faced and teary-eyed.
We saw things that I didn’t know we were going to see. I saw things that I didn’t ever want to see. I saw kids wading around in sewage and rain water that flooded the end of an alley way that led to their house.
I saw ugly things, terrible things, and still I want to go back. I want to go back. I want to go back. I want to go back and do something to help the little girl I held in that back alley way. I want to do something that will help girls like her. Help boys like her. I want to do something that will make way for great things in her life.
More on that later when my eyes are dry and my online assignments are complete.