I love the lotus flower. It is one of my favourite flowers and I have it tattooed on my wrist as a reminder of a particular season I was in. Most people look at it and think that I tattooed it on because it represents tranquility. Bless. Tranquility has nothing to do it. I’ll share that story at another time but if you don’t know, lotus flowers grow in dirty murky waters. You wouldn’t know it from the surface because the water is covered in pretty leaves and the lotus captures your attention because its pretty and usually a vibrant colour. But if you look below the surface, the water is awful. But it is out of this murky water that the lotus grows. And that’s what I’m seeing in Cambodia.
I talked about the horrors we learned about in the Prison and The Killing Fields, but one of the other places we went to was ‘the slums’. To my knowledge there are about 30 slums in Cambodia and they are very much what you would expect; dirty, crowded and heartbreaking. We headed in that direction initially to visit one of our project partners and did a detour on the way back to stop and walk through one of the streets. There is something to be said for getting so up close and personal to poverty that you could smell it, so close you are standing in it. The smell, the dirt and the puddles of dirty water all over the place was hard to deal with and I wanted to fall to my knees and cry. There were little kids everywhere and I just wanted to pick them up and take them, along with their families, home.
Standing in the midst of all the dirty and foul smells, I once again found myself thinking that life can be very unfair. I also found myself thinking that you don’t know what you don’t know. A lot of times when we hear about poverty, one of the first reactions we tend to have is that people are in control of their own and if they aren’t happy with their situation they should change it. Fair call. I’ve said that myself often enough. But what about when it’s not in your control? We all have free will, right? So what happens when someone exercises their free will and it results in communities being destroyed or completely annihilated? What happens when a government exercises its free will and chooses to value money over people? In many poverty stricken areas, the people have just found themselves there, unable to change their environment or situation without help. And unless we go into these towns and get down in the dirt, look people in the eye and show them respect and dignity and let them tell their story, there will always be a lot that we will never know about.
Looking at these kids running around, I realised that they don’t know what they don’t know, either. These kids were standing on little boxes or stairs screaming greetings at us and waving, their smiles bright enough to light up a football stadium. They would smile and wave and walk alongside of us as we strolled around, not a care in the world. They didn’t know what life was like outside of their community, They had probably never had chocolate or tasted ice cream of played with a video game. Heck, majority off them didn’t even have clean clothes. But they were happy. They were joyful and running around being kids and doing what kids do. And right there was the lotus flower; these little kids running around, malnourished and living below the poverty line, but happy (corny, I know, but you gotta admit it’s a good illustration!) And that’s what I’m starting to see more and more here, the resilience of the a nation that can still smile despite the dirt and despair that surrounds them. Don’t get me wrong, they are trying to improve their nation, but they can still smile. I am more grateful than ever that I work for an organisation that wants to help people, and am grateful that I can be a part of it. Im still uncertain as to why I’m here, at this moment, in this country, but I’m sensing the answer is coming sooner rather than later.