Is it crazy that some days I am actually envious of the people here; the people with less than nothing, surviving in absolute poverty? Is it crazy that they are some of the happiest people I have ever met? Is it crazy that sometimes I wonder how we really define wealth?
I see people here with nothing, struggling to survive and often also struggling to feed their kids. I heard a story this week of a mum with two small girls who earns up to 500 Riel a day. That is equal to 12.5 cents.
I can't even imagine what that would be like, not only struggling to feed myself, but also two children. I cannot imagine not knowing whether I will eat the next day. I cannot imagine watching as my children become skin and bone, wasting away. I cannot imagine what it would be to have to fight so hard to survive due to mere lack of finance. I can't imagine living in such poverty.
I see these things and am amazed at the people. I'm amazed at how they still laugh, the kids still play, and they will still share and give away the little that they have. I'm ashamed of how much I have, and yet how I sometimes see life as hard.
I don't want to sugarcoat poverty. Poverty sucks. It kills people. It leads to exploitation. It leads to parents selling their kids as the only way to get money. Poverty is not good.
But somehow the people here have a richness that we in the West don't have - they have wealth in community, spirituality, appreciation. Their smiles light up the world. Their faith in God is greater than anything I have ever experienced - He is literally their everything. You give a child a sticker and they receive it as though they have been given a million dollars.
One thing I know more than anything else is that we are no better. I may have money and may never have to worry about whether or not I will eat the next day, but I don't have the sheer reliance on God that they do. For me it's easy to seek out a number of other available options before I seek God. It's sad but it is true. But the people here don't have that option. Their God is number one, He is their only hope.
We also lack in community. I lived in one house in Brisbane for over two years without ever meeting my neighbours (turns out they were criminals so it was probably for the best, but still!). After moving out on my own, social networks seemed to be segregated into age groups - I didn't have that influence of other generations. We eat alone, go through drive-through fast food instead of walking inside and interacting with people: our way of life is so independent it's almost sad. We lose the networks of people who can hold us up in our hardest times.
In Cambodia community means the difference between being alone and starving when you lose your job, to having others around who will give you a place to stay and some rice to eat. Community means eating outside with other families. It means saying hello to everyone, starting up conversations, bringing your children out to say hi to the white girl who walks by each night.
And above all, Cambodians know appreciation. One situation that will never leave me is meeting two children begging on the street as I was having dinner. I pulled out a small sheet of stickers and gave them to the girl, whose face lit up with the biggest smile! She then proceeded to pull each of the stickers off, sticking half on herself and sticking half on me. This precious little girl was giving, despite having almost nothing of her own. I will never forget that moment.
So right now I know I have so much to learn from the people here. There is so much simplicity and purity at the heart of this culture. There are so many hard things to deal with in this third world culture - corruption, trafficking, and poverty, and it is these things that can often frustrate me while trying to work in the midst of it. However at the heart of this culture there is something more - it is this simplicity that I fell in love with. It is this simplicity and purity that I must learn from, which we could all learn from. It is this heart of Cambodia that has stolen my heart.