Compare & Contrast
Assurance, Advantage, America
Seventeen. I moved into my own apartment. Took a full time job at Barnes & Noble. Started my pit of debt, obtained some student loans, and began my first year of college. *Blessed*. My worries included lack of money, often lack of transportation, papers, exams, grades, relationships, and my dog. *Lucky*. Dad was long gone, and I fought with or often wasn’t on speaking terms with my mother. I felt sorry for myself way too often. I didn’t have time or money to go anywhere or do anything. I thought I had it rough. *Fortunate*. Like every (normal) teenager, I was a flibberty-jibbet. My life plans changed as often as my mood. Monday I wanted to be in music, Tuesday a veterinarian, Wednesday an ecologist, Thursday a doctor or nurse, and by Friday I had usually made up my mind to be a free spirited world traveler. *Golden*. What amazing oppportunities I’ve had. To even have the right to hope that I could be any one of those things in my life… In the end, I went with Thursday. I became a nurse. I wanted a career that would help me help people. I wanted to be the Friday that didn’t just travel the world to sit back and stare in awe or lazy empathy. I wanted to be the Friday that got my hands dirty with purpose….So I’m trying that out. First stop, Cambodia.
Contradiction, Courage, Cambodia
Beauty and tragedy walk side by side in this amazing country. I titled this post “Compare & Contrast” not realizing what a daunting task that would be. At this point in history, comparing Cambodia to America would be like comparing bananas to toucans. Sure we all dwell in the same tree, but toucans have the freedom to fly….As long as I’m alive, I have opportunity. I have an actual chance at doing and succeeding in almost anything I sincerely set my sights on. I take that fact for granted way too often. I live a life of excess and luxury compared to my Cambodian counterparts.
For those of you who may not know of Cambodia’s devastatingly dark history, don’t feel bad. Until a few months ago, I too had no idea of the heartbreaking mass holocaust that occurred in this country only 30 years ago (1975-1979), and the disasterous effects it has put on its people. Somehow the details of these important historical events managed to slip right by all of the history and social studies courses I endured during the past 17 years of my formal education. hmmm…But because my blog is meant for reflection and not for history lessons, I recommend to you the following site http://www.mekong.net/cambodia/index.htm . It is an excellent source for information, photographs, biographies, and personal accounts of the Khmer Rouge rule, devasation, and recent history of Cambodia.
What I can say now…
I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how I would feel, what I would be doing, who I would meet, and how, if at all, I would be changed because of it. I prepared the best I knew how. I read of the tragic history, watched documentaries, read a few books, and talked briefly with other members of the team I would be traveling with. I acted as I would for any other extended travel with my list making, itinerary reading, troubleshooting, and packing dilemmas. I even rememered to pack plenty of in-flight entertainment for my delightful 28 hour, one way travel experience….And with confidence I can now say that none of this obsessive compulsive planning really prepared me, at all, for the experiences I encountered and the change I would see in myself.
It’s been over a month since I returned from Cambodia and I’m still somewhat speechless. I try to tell my friends and family about my experience in a way that will bring it to life, but I have failed miserably. I’ve also made numerous attempts to write about it in my blog and have yet to produce anything remarkable. I probably open up this Post Edit at least 3-4 times a day, hoping that I will finally be able to successfully put it all into words. No dice. I think the problem is that so much happened every single day of my trip that there’s no possible way to recall it all. And when I try, the picture my words paint just seems incomplete and devoid. Furthermore, attempting to recall my feelings on each and every event in a productive and comprehendable manner is an overwhelming task.
Though I may not be able to put it all into words, there are particular days that still weigh on my mind and heart on a near daily basis. Our second day in Cambodia we visited the S-21 Prison and Killing Fields. That entire day felt like a funeral. Walking through the rooms of a school building where thousands of innocent people were torn from their families, imprisoned, and tortured was painfully sobering. Seeing their pictures hanging on the walls with looks of confusion and desperation made my heart sink. Walking through the fields where these people were taken and murdered or left for dead was shocking and appalling. As we walked through the killing fields, we could still see bones, teeth, and clothing on the ground from the so recent mass genocide of these faultless people. Leaving gave me that feeling as if I were departing the funeral of friend’s untimely death…of an awful and senseless tragedy. It’s that miserable realization that if you leave and go on with life, you accept what has happened and are somehow OK with it. I left that day with so much anger and sadness over people I had never even met. I can’t begin to imagine the sorrow the people of Cambodia must feel everyday.
Though the sad reality of this country’s history was difficult to swallow, the incredible spirit of these people kept me kicking. Visiting the villages and setting up medical clinics were definitely my fondest memories of the trip. The people are so overwhelmingly gracious and kind. They have nothing and yet are so quick to give it up. Some women offered me bird eggs as a token of their appreciation for seeing them and their children (My translator, Vatha, was happy to accept all of my yummy foreign treats on my behalf). Our medical team consisted of myself, 3 other nurses, a pharmacist, and our incredible translators from Phnom Phen. It was anticipated (and greatly underestimated) that we would see around 30-40 patients at each village. As this was a pioneering trip, we had no real idea of what we should expect. Amazingly, after a few days and only five different villages, our tiny team treated over 700 patients! We saw everything from heart disease, epilepsy, and stroke to malaria and typhoid. Treating people in school yards, under canopies of trees, in huts, and during torrential down pours just enriched the already awesome experience. The basic yet tremendously needed care we provided during those days is something I think about and often use to humble myself when silly frustrations at work arise.
More to come….