There is a lot more to Cambodia than pain and suffering. We obviously haven't seen it all but I do feel like we've seen the essence of Cambodia.
I used to think of Poverty as homeless people begging by day and sleeping in doorways by night. As I saw a little more of life I realised that it can mean very different things. A single parent family of four on minimum wage understands poverty just as well as the man on the street. But the poverty in Cambodia is very different. In our country the poor look poorer up against the rich society we live in. In Cambodia everyone (well the majority) live in what we would deem complete poverty, unacceptable. Yet I think in many ways they are very rich. With the poverty comes a simplicity.
'The simple life', and I'm not talking Tom and Barbara, Margo and Jerry. It feels like a kind of innocence that comes from the uncomplicated way of life. I'm not suggesting for a second that the people of Cambodia do not have real problems and suffering. I've seen the evidence of atrocious pain and suffering enforced by the Khmer Rouge. But the difficulties they face feel more real. It is still connected with life, you can still join the dots. The problems at home seem so far removed from life's basic principals. I was told that all people need to survive is food, warmth and shelter. Well, add the love from your family and I think that about covers it. And when everything else is stripped away, however that may have happened, you come to see the importance of the basics and the problems you have, come from those few principals.
The family unit is so important here. Without it there is nothing else. After the horrifying regime of the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodians started reproducing like crazy! The families are huge, and they all help one another. This is how I know they are really rich.
With big families and little money comes the problem of transport. I can honestly say I did not see a family owned minivan once. Instead of an estate car, they have estate motorbikes! When we arrived in Asia I was appalled to see people on bikes with children, of ALL ages. I've come to realise its not so bad. Where the west complicates everything Cambodia is simple. No health and safety and red tape, common sense rules ok! We have seen families of up to 5 riding on one motorbike, its the family vehicle. And the road system is fantastic. There are no lanes! And to say they drive on the right is more of a guideline. You are often faced with traffic coming towards you on 'your' side of the road. Overtaking is a must, in the middle of the road of course, on blind bends up hills, anywhere really. And the roads work on a system of size, the bigger you are the more power and rights you have. Also for those who have heard of or taken the newer car theory test you will know of the hazard perception test; you are shown a video and you click the mouse at every perceived hazard. Same thing in Cambodia. Instead of clicking the mouse you honk the horn. So every time you over take, pass a junction, go round a blind bend, pass a child, or see a dog five miles away you honk as loud as you can so everyone knows you're there. PERFECT!
There are many things to avoid on the roads. They really are not reserved for cars. Mostly buffalo and cows. But you also have to be careful of dogs sleeping in the roads, ducks, chickens, goats, massive pot holes and children. Traveling anywhere is an experience!
The housing is pretty much standard. One room hut on stilts. Cambodia is very flat and with it raining heavily for 6 months it is prone to flooding, hence the stilts. When its not flooded however the space under the house is where all the activity happens. There is no running water, just a large jar to collect rain, which is more than enough most of the time. Some have electric but not all and some even have satellite. A wooden hut with a massive dish on the side is a strange sight.
The children are incredibly resourceful. Instead of buying toys they use what they have. A very popular game across the nation is flip flop tossing. Hours are spent flipping those flops. I didn't get to grasp with all the rules, but it looked a darn sight more interesting than Xbox. Another favourite is a kind of boules but with random rocks. I even saw one child dragging a shoe along behind it like one of those dogs on wheels.
I love the life out here and I don't see it as poverty. Maybe that’s naive, but its all relative I guess. I know that I've come to realise you can get by on a tiny fraction of what we have back home. Everyone is so wasteful and I'm not talking all that hippy eco warrior stuff. I understand the importance of saving the planet and taking care of mother earth. But if it's out of necessity, its becomes slightly different. Nothing needs to be thrown away, not really. And I don't mean taking it down the recycle centre. Do you really need it in the first place? Can it be fixed? Can it be used for something else? Cambodia has taught me about the simple life. I may not be running home to get my hands on a small farm, reducing my personal hygiene to save water and calling my children wind in the trees, but I will certainly have a better idea of the value of things, life and those we love included.