Cambodia challenges you to care
At the age of 14 I walked the Kokoda Track, an experience that changed my outlook on life forever and ultimately led to me working for a company like Intrepid. Yes, it was physically and mentally challenging, but it was actually meeting the local people and experiencing their way of village life that put things in perspective for me as a teenage girl. Fifteen years on, I had another of these life-altering experiences – I travelled to Cambodia.
Of course I was excited to finally be visiting the temples of Angkor Wat, something I had dreamed of doing ever since seeing my first Indiana Jones movie. I can say for certain that they did not disappoint. Angkor Wat itself is huge, it is like an entire ancient city. For it to still be standing today is astounding – a testament to the magnificence of a Cambodian civilisation. The cooperation that has gone into its restoration is inspiring. But many visitors may not be aware that there are numerous other temples scattered around Angkor Wat, of which my favourite was Bayon with its all-seeing faces.
It may surprise you to know that it was not these magnificent temples that led to my epiphany. It was in fact a museum; yes a museum that seemed to have a soul of its own and a thousand stories to tell. Stories of horror, of pain, of a part of history that even I wanted to ignore. The S21 prison museum in Phnom Penh moved me to tears, as I felt the heavy weight of those who died there and the very few who had survived. During the rule of Pol Pot, in the late 70’s when most of the people I know were striking a pose on the disco floor, the Khmer Rouge soldiers were capturing and torturing millions of innocent Cambodian people. I was gutted to learn that the Khmer Rouge were in actual fact only children, brainwashed by a man that I cannot find the words to describe. The terrible acts they committed must surely haunt them today as much as it does those who suffered at their hands.
What amazes me the most is that the people of Cambodia who survived this horrid time, a time when it was every man, woman and child for themselves, remain today as some of the most welcoming, generous and friendly people I have met in my travels around the world. In my life I am used to hearing people complain “I had a traumatic childhood” and “life sucks”, these words often used as excuses for why people feel they don’t need to be generous, friendly or even decent. Unlike these people in my modern society, the Cambodians revel in having the luxury of now being able to share, to actually be allowed to help others without fear of pain or death.
I have gained so much from a society that still has so little, but feel as if they have it all and are filled with joy in being able to welcome people like me into their lives. Like the Cambodians, no longer will I look into the past and wallow in my pain, but I will enjoy the now and look to the future with new vision. A lesson I feel many people today could benefit from, and for them to realise this it may take a journey to Cambodia.”
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* photo by Thomas Maguire – Intrepid Photography Competition