Story #1: Happy & Homeless

The next 5 posts [from me] are each going to focus on 1 unique story, each happening in Phnom Penh, and each with a certain ‘WOW’ Factor. Enjoy.
 

Welcome to Phnom Penh. 

A city that offers everything from towering sky scrapers with suit and tie workers hurrying in & out to bug stands & a noticeable growing divide between the rich and poor. Coming to Cambodia after our stay in Laos, I didn’t expect to be so shocked. Undoubtedly, there is poverty everywhere in Laos, but it didn’t hit me quite the same as the poverty in Cambodia has.

Maybe, it’s the fact that this country has been able to rebuild [and continues to rebuild] and bounce back from a genocide that happened only 30 years ago. 1/3 of the population wiped out. Families torn apart forever. This lifetime. 1975-77. Every single adult here has a pain staking story to tell. How they managed to escape the Khmer Rouge and live to tell their story and how so many others they knew were not so lucky.

Story #1: Happy & Homeless.

On our walk back to our guesthouse a girl ran up to me and handed me a pretty little flower. I hate to admit it, but I’ve been conditioned to never accept anything from anyone in South East Asia. Nothing is free here… ever. So, I of course, refused the flower and the girl told me “No, no, free for you. To make you smile.” I felt like such an ass, but upon accepting it she was right it did make me smile. Turns out she is 15 years old and lives along the river in Phnom Penh with her mom. They left their family and home in Siem Reap 3 years ago in hopes that her mom could find work in the big capital city but work never came. School is $3.00/day and on their budget, it doesn’t allow them much of anything else- like a bed.

I’m still confused about the whole situation, and if their aim was something greater or just friendly conversation. They literally had nothing but were still offering us cool bottles of water and small snacks out of their cooler. Sitting along the river, under a tree sprouting beautiful flowers, listening to a 15 year old talk about the struggle of everyday life, with a smile that refused to fade. She saw me eyeing up a group of men playing a game I’ve only seen played in Cambodia. We quickly learned how much fun this game called “Siad” is. You kick a small birdie in the air and volley it like a soccer ball in a group of 2-6 people. The young girl, Rhys, and I played Siad for close to an hour with a group of ‘Siad Gurus’ teaching us all the do’s and dont’s of the street game. Awesome time, the kind of moment most people travel for.

The girl and her mom were so excited to accompany us on our walk home, because we would “pass by where they were sleeping for the night.” I didn’t know how to respond when they stopped us in front of a dirty gate on the side of the street. They were so happy to have guests ‘over’ like any 15-year-old is when friends come by afterschool. I just wasn’t expecting her mom to pull up a tire for Rhys and I to sit on, while they laid out their styrofoam cooler lids for bedding. We stayed for as long as we could chatting about this and that, stuff any teenager would want to talk & giggle about.

It was hard for me to say goodbye and head back to my a/c, hot shower, silk sheets, and $10/night room. Why me? Why am I so lucky, what have I done to deserve so many luxuries compared to her? She was so sweet, so good-hearted, with the biggest smile. All she had were the clothes on her back, her mom, and a styrofoam mat.

Speechless.


 

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  1. Tom says:

    really good post, you guys are having some unique experiences. x

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