Travel

getting to know you


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Remember that run I told you about? The 18 (actually closer to 20) mile run I didn’t train for but signed up anyway because I’m delusional? Well, delusional maybe but incapable I am not. We crossed the finish line in four hours and I nearly dropped to my knees and started bawling my eyes out because it was one of the hardest but coolest things I’ve ever done. The best part is that Oliver carried a small bottle of Jack Daniels the entire time because I thought it would be fun to take “a couple shots to keep us going”. I also thought I could do a cartwheel at every mile checkpoint. I told you: delusional.

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And so it goes. One more week in Cambodia before we leave for a month in India. Yo, anyone got a pause button?

Cambodia is incredible. I’m trying to figure out what angle I want to come at you with. I’ve been sitting at this cafe on a busy street in Phnom Penh staring at my computer screen for almost two hours now. How do I describe my love for the Angkor ruins, tuk-tuks, Pub Street markets, and the always-smiling Cambodian people while also sharing how dark and troubling the history is here? How do I intertwine these stories and have it all make sense or leave an impact? God I don’t know. Maybe I can’t.

Since our arrival in Siem Reap, our group has honed in on some hospitality skills by working at the Soria Moria hotel (equivalent to a co-op in the US), cooking with a young and fabulous Norwegian chef and sitting in on a variety of classes at the Paul Dubrule school. We did a 32k bike tour through the terrifying Cambodian traffic and Angkor Wat temples. We danced to club music in the middle of Pub Street and cat-called cute Australians.  We indulged in buy-one-get-one-free drinks on the roofdeck and took full advantage of the hotel room service. More recently, we sat through a conflict resolution workshop, toured the Khmer Rouge killing fields, and talked with a local monk about the- well, I’m not entirely sure because he was hard to understand (jus’ being honest). But, he lead us through a 15 minute meditation. Almost as good at Nick’s.

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Bracelets of visitors decorate the mass graves of those killed during the Khmer Rouge

Yeah, we’ve been busy. My favorite part is the combination of skills learned and culture experienced. I’m embarrassed to say that before I got here I knew nothing about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. I could barely point out Cambodia on a map. I think that can be pretty reflective of how a lot of us travel. You go places because it’s a bucket list thing, it’s a wanderlust thing, it’s a “I want to get out of here” thing. But, do we really know where we’re going half the time?

I’m not about to do the history of Cambodia justice in one blog post. But as disturbing as it is, it’s something we should talk about (considering the U.S. kinda sorta lent Pol Pot a hand). So I encourage you to do a quick google search and gain some context…better yet, read Cambodia’s Curse by Joel Brinkley. I’m almost done and it’s a pretty phenomenal, in depth look at the Khmer Rouge aftermath.

In 1975, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge (a communist regime) “set up policies that disregarded human life and produced repression and massacres on a massive scale”  Pol Pot intended to wipe out any and all intellectuals (doctors, teachers, even people who wore glasses and looked the part), including anyone associated with them (family members, children-so that no one would be motivated to seek revenge).  Nearly two million people died during the four years that the Khmer Rouge held power, and it leaves almost an entire generation missing from the Cambodian population today.

The aftermath of it all is just as sour. Little to no education (1 in 3,000 Cambodians will make it to high school before dropping out after 9th grade), perpetuating violence with no repercussions, government corruption, extreme disparities of wealth, and a fear of the past that is passed down to younger generations. How to you even begin to help the cause? Where do you start? What problem do you fix first?

It’s so big that it makes my head hurt.

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That’s all I have for now. I’m about to get on a Skype call to finalize a few logistical things regarding my independent project in Croatia coming up this April. I’m actually so stoked for this and can’t wait tell you more about it.

 

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