Love & Joy for Khmer

7 Jun

Royal palms reach into the heavans.  Beads of sweat drip down my face, legs, entire body.  Motos and Tuk Tuks glide past as a peddle along the recently paved roads.  The edges of the roads are painted red with patches of sun scortched earth and dust.  Many of these improvised transportation vehicles carry 10 times their weight in cargo… people; lumber; goods for sale –  you name it, it can be transported with just one little motor.  Then a buddhist monk flies by on moto with his ochre yellow garmet flowing in the wind like the sail of a boat over the sea.  Wooden hand carts are pushed down the road carrying wild mushrooms, raw snails, and bright green lotus flowers – all ready to be made into a variety of culinary delights.  Pungent flowers intoxicate my senses.  Sculptures of hindu and buddhist inspiration blend into the forest edge.  Children dressed in dark blue shorts and white shirts bound for school peddle by on bicycles three times their size.  All together we make our way down the dusty streets that wind through beautiful forested areas.  Listening to yellow marked blackbirds, croaking frogs, and a diversity of insects buzzing around – this is some of the natural music that helps to define this landscape.

Motorcycle carrying many people and cargo

Other children, less fortunate, sell bananas; water; books; silk scarves; and little woven bracelts to tourists passing through.  Their clothing tattered and for many, their hair is that rusty reddish brown color from a childhood of malnutrition.  They are persistent, determined to survive and build a better life for themselves and their families.   The markets are bustling with every type of meat, vegetable, herb and spice one can imagine – and food is being served from one staff while live river fish wiggle around on a wooden slab waiting to be sold. The aromas in the market are of some complex concotion, I can’t even identify a single ingredient – but more on the markets and cuisine later.  Lepers and disabled youth with missing legs from landmine explosions also dot this landscape.  And their voices are no longer silenced.  Women gather around a produce stall in the market and pour over photos of a new hospital center that recently opened and is dedicated to caring for the disabled.  There is hope.  And I am in the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Everything here just feels different.  I can’t quite explain the feeling.  The people. The culture.  The food. The air. The earth.  All so deeply defined by centuries of complex and compunded history.  Ancient human civilization is known to have existed in this vast & rich land since the Holocene era (6,000 BCE) and the Neolithic eras.  But it was really the civilizations during the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries that coaleced into what I’m experiencing as modern day Cambodia.  I can’t help but intermix modern and ancient Cambodian roots, for relation of past and present is so deeply connected here.

The Khmer Empire…. Angkor Wat, the heart of Cambodia.  The Khmer Empire began in 802 AD and today still defines in many ways the identity and essense of what it means to be Cambodian.  The Khmer language lives on.  Cuisine and cultural customs are still identified as Khmer.  Theravada Buddhism is evident in every step of daily life here.  It signifies the doctrine of analysis.  It encourages critical investigation in all things and reasoning instead of blind faith.  It came to Cambodia from Sri Lankan monks in the 13th Century – and here it lives on in daily Cambodian life.  In Theravada, it is believed that the path to enlightenment requires releasing one’s mind and being from their own ignorance to the truth.  Stepping beyond society’s desire and influence for oppulence.  Theravad and buddhism is far more than this but for the purposes on my own analysis of this “new” landscape its essense has been revealed.

Therevada Buddhist

I haven’t quite made sense of how Theravada Buddhism has survived Cambodia’s bloody history.  The Khmer regime of Jayavarman VII was known as one of the bloodiest in all of human history, which ultimately lead to the building of Angkor Wat, one of the largest & most intricate temples in the world.  And it tyranny was only matched by the Pol Pot Regime in the 1970s that characterized Cambodia’s genocide.  Nearly one third of Cambodia’s people perished at Pol Pot’s evil hands in the 1970s.   And another third of the Country fled as refugees to Thailand, Laos, China, the United States, and any other place of escape from the pervasive bloodshed.  Over 25 years later, the scars left from this modern genocide are evident from the moment you brush the dust from your eyes.  But yet there’s a special beauty revealed in the process, uncovering Cambodia’s cultural resilience is truly inspiring.

People here are friendly.  At every passing by on the bicycle a slight hello and glowing smile is exchanged.  Cambodians work hard and aim to please.  Families are very nuclear.  Their cuisine is distinct and they take great care in preparing their food, both in the fields that surround this entire area and in the outdoor kitchens of every home.  Men and women alike work hard to provide for their families.  Here most work is related to the booming tourism market.  So many unique niches make-up the tourist experience and fuel a stronger Cambodian economy at the local level on down to the individual and family levels.  Masseuses, tour guides, chefs, wait staff, artists, you name it – the jobs in tourism are abound.  And today this country enjoys one of the greatest rates of economic growth in all of Asia – 6%.  Despite this symbol of prosperity, the end of suffering is still a distant dream for many.  But hopefully, with responsible and sustainable development, the gaps between rich and poor can be bridged.  It is not easy to face the reality of daily life for many here, though I know in my heart that today is like heaven on earth compared to what it was like 25-35 years ago.  I can’t help but engage my mind and spirit on the people of all ages that work so hard for so little. Powerful feelings of love and compassion comes over me as I make eye contact and say hello.  I can almost see within, actually be within another.  And at each glance an exchange of energy occurs, its up to us to make it positive or make it negative.  I just can’t bring it upon myself to bring any negativity to this rich & complex land, it needs all the love we can bring.  Ignoring them feels like a horrible sin to me.  They are children, so many robbed of a decent childhood.  They are human.  We are all human.  And yet there is so much beauty here.  It’s just a matter of how you make sense of panorma of history, culture, and spirituality.

Cambodian artist outside Ta Prohm

Then there is the cambodian smile.  I have never before seen such beautiful smiles.  Each and every one is a ray of light and hope in this landscape of wonderous history and quest for survival.  The glow that emenates from each individual is remarkable in its own right.  And I hear giggles and laughter often accompanying the gleeful Cambodian smiles.  Where do these smiles come from?  So much joy from such a painful past.  How incredible.  Most people here have created a unique niche for themselves.  While one woman is a masseuse, another man is a Tuk Tuk driver, and another is a palm reader.  A local artist creates jewlery out of the metal from old used bullets, the remnants and reminders of a time past.  And a street shop proprietor cuts up durian fruit for sale to all who pass by.  Cambodia is in many ways a land of opportunity for this with the entrepreneur spirit and drive.  Social enterprise appears to be the single most important ingredient to restoring & building a more peaceful Cambodia.  To experiencing joy in daily life in Cambodia.

Both love and joy for Cambodia are felt throughout my soul.

4 Responses to “Love & Joy for Khmer”

  1. rainworks June 7, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    It never ceases to amaze me that you find inspiration wherever you are, and feel the depth of soul in others, their lives, and their smiles. Continue on, it is good.

  2. Monique Brouillette June 8, 2011 at 8:42 am #

    I really enjoyed reading this Rebecca, you are a skilled writer! Looking forward to reading more.

  3. Monique Brouillette June 8, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    Really enjoyed reading this, you are a skilled writer. I am looking forward to reading more.

  4. NANNA June 8, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    I enjoy reading all your interesting writings. What a wonderful gift
    you have !!!! I’m look forward to reading more.

    Nanna

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