I’ve witnessed a beautiful lesson in living.
Living to the fullest.
Living in the moment.
Living despite hardships.
The people of Cambodia are some of the most beautiful people that I have ever met. They are physically beautiful – almost reminding me of Peruvian’s with their high cheek bones and beautiful complexions – but their way of life, of relating, of prioritizing is what struck me most.
This country has experienced so much pain in the last half century. 25% of the population was slaughtered by their own people, the educated class was obliterated, and countless people were maimed by land mines and violence.
And all of this happened just three decades ago. This is my parents lifetime that we’re talking about.
Despite the bleak place that they are coming from, though, they push ahead with joy and perseverance that is inspiring.
People here seem to embrace life, to live in the moment, in everything that they do.
I was consistently amazed by people’s willingness to stop what they were doing to help us, to try new things, to have crazy conversations, to laugh… really, to enjoy life.
Why is it that we so often resist finding enjoyment in our lives? Why do we give up, stop trying when we think that life has been too hard?
Is clinging to the difficult things or focusing on the hard things really so important and all-consuming that we refuse to recognize the blessings, the happy surprises, the “giggle moments”? Is it really a beneficial option to lock ourselves away and quit because we’ve been dealt a rough hand?
I know I’ve been guilty of that. And I haven’t even had anything all that hard in my life.
The people of Cambodia were such an example to me.
Here is one of the many stories that I accumulated in just my first 48 hours in this country:
Due to a few unexpected motorbike complications, we ended up doing a lot of stopping and sitting during our cross-country road trip. A lot. The people in each village were so friendly. Most of them lived in huts made of sticks and leaves, and wore old, dirty clothing and mismatched shoes.
All of them were smiling.
They led us to places to get help, translated for us, worked twice as hard to fix the bike because the usual worker was away but they wanted to help. The children engaged me in wonderful conversation with not a word of shared language. We laughed, tried to play games, and they shrieked with excitement at seeing pictures of themselves.
Eventually, they brought me half of a watermelon. I was so humbled by the way that they were reaching out to us on so many levels despite the fact that I obviously had so many more physical possessions than they did.
That same family, worried about us driving in the dark, offered to let us stay at their house for the night.
I was blown away.
During my time in Siem Reap, I saw very few beggars.
I did see plenty of people collecting recyclables.
I saw bands of crippled people playing music and selling CDs to earn money, but also to show the beauty of their culture.
I saw children that spent the mornings at school (education seems to be very highly valued here), and their afternoons selling souvenirs and food to tourists.
I sat and talked with a young man who was selling gorgeous paintings.
As we talked, his story started to unfold.
He had a mother, but she could not afford to raise him so he grew up in an orphanage. There, he received an education and was introduced to painting. Because it is hard to get jobs in Cambodia, he decided that having a skill would be more beneficial and began to support himself by selling his artwork at age 14. To give back for the chances that he was so thankful for, he took other students under his wing, teaching them to paint.
This country has been through hell, but it has not given up. The people are working together and working honestly to do their best to better their country. They take pride in Cambodia and in their integrity. They want people to enjoy their country, and they are willing to do whatever they can to help others feel at home.
I aspire to be like the people I have met here.