Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Wheels Are Turning

Arrival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia:
We pulled into the airport and were greeted by stifling heat and a Dairy Queen - two things that make this Texas girl feel at home.  Vans, taxis, several Lexus SUVs and Mercedes sedans pulled up to pick up passengers.  And then our ride arrived. They call it a tuk-tuk, an open-air golf cart type of vehicle, powered by a motorcycle.  The driver greeted us with a smile and polite bow, strapped our suitcases on with a big rope, and we took off into the mad mass of chaotic traffic with the wind and the smell of the city in our face.
Phnom Penh is a strange mix of everything a city should be and everything it shouldn't -
Beautiful government centers and golden clad temples serve as backdrops to begging and prostitution.
Schools full of children in blue and white uniforms sit next to deteriorating shacks where naked children chase roosters on the street.
Monks in bright orange robes go door to door collecting the daily offering from those who have so very little.
Luxury next to filth. Affluence and abundance in the same snapshot as extreme poverty and need. Dirty, colorful buildings. 
My world is so orderly and "zoned" - the haves and the have-nots are kept apart, and we don't enter each others' worlds very often. Commerce - restaurants, shopping, nightclubs - are zoned for specific parts of the city, and homes sit in residential communities where, for the most part, families live life tucked away inside.  Here in Cambodia, it all exists together, and people live life out in the open. The everyday family operates a small stand or shop selling goods, food, clothes, hubcaps - just about anything - in front of their residence.  The streets are lined with shop after shop after shop, and people sit in their chairs outside waiting for business.
Children are everywhere. Many are unclothed or at least without shoes. Many are selling something, some are begging.  Cars are crammed full of kids without car seats or seatbelts.  Most ride on the back of motorcycles, hanging on to an adult for dear life or sandwiched in between other siblings.
From the tuk-tuk bench, I was taking it all in, the wheels turning, my brain trying to process a world so foreign to me. Fusion to the point of confusion.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a little boy sitting on a motorcycle with his dad. He saw me in the tuk-tuk and got a huge smile on his face and started waving, and of course, I waved back.   A sweet reminder that children are children wherever you go.
I can already tell that I love this place - the energy, the movement, the honesty, the resourcefulness.  But I also know there are a lot of dark, deep-rooted issues here, and I feel overly protective of each and every child I pass on the street, knowing that their health, happiness, and future could be at risk because of the extreme poverty and cyclical horrors that continue to be bred from generation to generation.
I'm processing it all - taking it all in - not saying much.   So glad to be traveling with a dear friend who has been here before and has such a passion and desperation for this city that she continues to return and do what she can to encourage the staff at the Center and love on these kids.

No comments:

Post a Comment