A few of you have gotten on my case about how I haven’t posted Part 2 yet. So, this morning I decided it was time.
As I look over the pictures of my trip, I stop every time at her nameless face. She is beautiful. Her smile is precious. Her hands are gentle. Her arms are welcoming — she wants to be held, to be picked up. And when I first saw her, I didn’t notice her. Not much, at least.
After our time playing with the children at Kid’s Club, Theara (our guide) brought us back to the neighborhood behind her home. As we walk through an alley and into the middle of the dirt road that runs along the ‘hood, Theara tells us of a little girl about 2 years old who has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Her mother an alcoholic, not caring at all that there was a life inside of her. I’m not sure where her mother is today, but she was not present when we walked back to their home.
Their home is at the end of a slick muddy alleyway. The pathway we walk down has pieces of cardboard laid out as a sidewalk, but even those are useless as the rains have made everything mush. We walk through sewage and mud on our way down to their home, but a few of us smile and pretend that we’re not walking through sewage at all. Sewage is gross, and we don’t want to know that the slop coming to our toes in our flip flops is feces and urine and all sorts of nasty. You can’t deny it, though. We were walking through sewage. Our toes were covered in it. The bottom of our feet slipping in our shoes from it. I’m sure that if I smelled my flip flops, even now they would have a slight odor of filth.
When we get to the bottom of the alley, we see the little girl. She is tiny. She has a beautiful face. She does not speak. She cries. Something scares her or rubs her the wrong way, and she starts to cry. She has epicanthic folds. She has a flat face. She has a beautiful smile, when she smiles.
Theara talks about her, but I am not listening. I’m too busy trying to keep from reaching out to hold her and take her somewhere where she is properly cared for and fed and loved. Then I start to think, perhaps she is cared for and fed and loved here. Her father seems gentle enough. After all, he enthusiastically walked up to meet us where we could go no further, and he is beaming like a proud father. Maybe that’s because we are Americans though, and people in Cambodia think that Americans are sort of like royalty.
While Theara speaks, I look at the baby. I look at her. Then I look at the kids wading through knee-high water behind her and her father. The rain has flooded their front yard. I’m not even entirely sure if this is the end of the alley or not. I’m sure it could go on, but we are stopped because we can’t wade through the water, too. To be honest, I would have been fine wading through the water. I would have been fine up to my knees in filth. What if there are more kids back there who need holding and loving? I would go.
As Theara speaks, I turn around. There is a little girl, maybe 10 or 11, or 7 or 8, standing at what must be her house. One hand is holding onto a wooden post holding up her roof, and the other is brought across her chest. The hand across her chest makes me think that she is protecting herself. Protecting herself from what?
I take a picture. It is the most beautiful picture I have ever taken. I will never not share it.
Theara is done talking and she is telling us to go back now. As we start walking, the little girl at the post holds her arms out to the person walking in front of me. Whoever this person is, I think they didn’t pick her up because they weren’t sure if we were allowed to, or supposed to. She’s a neighborhood kid, after all. We’re not back at Kid’s Club where the kids climb all over us.
When she is denied, she looks sad. My heart sinks when I see her bare feet standing there in the mud and sewage. I pick her up. I scoop her up in my arms and hold her tightly as I walk in the mud. I don’t try to walk on the ‘sidewalk’ anymore. I think I thought it was keeping me from “doing Cambodia.” So I decide I’ll do Cambodia. I walk calmly through mud pies and puddles and when I get to the top of the alley, I hold onto her. I do not want to let this girl go.
The most I can do at this point is get a picture with her. So, I do. Kelsey takes it. It is also one of my favorite pictures. I look a mess, but this little girl is in my arms. That’s all I care about.
In the moment, I was most affected by her bare feet and desire to be held. Those were the things that hurt my heart the most. On one of the plane rides home, though, I began thinking about the deeper implications of her bare feet and sewage sidewalk.
Let’s say this girl is a Kid’s Club kid. I’m not sure if she is or not, but for the sake of my sanity she is. She is, she is, she is.
Let’s say this girl is a Kid’s Club kid.
Let’s say every morning, she gets up and does what she’s supposed to do. Maybe she has chores. Maybe she has to go buy food, or get water for her family, or take care of a sibling.
Let’s say, every morning after she does her chores or whatever, she walks through the sewage and up to the road. Her bare feet sink into the mud and stain a little bit darker underneath from all the filth. Maybe she runs through it all sometimes, so it splashes up at her.
As she walks out of the sewage, she walks past Buddhist families who worship a god who does nothing for them. They also think that women are like white cloth. They also think that women are lesser.
She walks past these low expectations and out of the words that say she is nothing and not valuable at all and maybe even dirty.
When she walks out of the sewage, she heads over to Kid’s Club.
At Kid’s Club, she is valued. She is loved. She is cared for. She can play and be a kid. Perhaps she is one of the kids who are students, so she learns how to read and write in Khmer.
While she’s at Kid’s Club, Truth is spoken to her.
At the end of the day, when it’s time for all the kids from Kid’s Club to go home, she does. She walks out of that safe place, full of love and Truth, and back to the alleyway where her feet are dirtied. She walks back into the sewage, and into the place where Satan dwells.
Out of the sewage and filth to Christ, back into it to Death.
The only difference between her and I is that she doesn’t choose that walk.