After a few weeks of moping about being back in the great state of Oklahoma (well, really just the States in general), I've decided that it's time to get over my funk and appreciate the simple things in life. I mean, not every day can be spent in a thunderstorm atop a Buddhist temple, getting lost in the congested streets of Saigon, or bribing airport authorities into letting me on a plane. A TRUE sense of adventure is found in those who are able to extract the exotic (or at least exciting) from the ordinary.
A part of me, however, is still over there. I crave being lulled to sleep by scooter horns, dining on peculiar and sometimes terrifying cuisine, weaving through markets brimming with body parts and weird smells, sweating my body weight daily (yeah, I said it), and waking up everyday with the sole purpose to explore a new city. Out of all these things, though, the people seem occupy my thoughts the most. As a temporary transplant, I realized just how much I have in my life. Many of the people we saw in Vietnam and Cambodia had nothing. I mean nothing. The kind of nothing that forced them to send their kids out to pedal cigarettes and trinkets on the streets at 11:00 at night.
Cambodia was the biggest eye-opener. After enjoying a few days of infamous pizza and absorbing every ounce of tranquility the temples had to offer, we decided to see true Cambodia. An hour-long van ride dumped us into a village of huts just outside the water village on Lake Tonle' Sap. It was dry, dusty and desolate and the number of emaciated, malnourished children was heart-wrenching. The houses were all on stilts, as the river swept the roads away during rainy season. Locals had to swap their cows and carts for boats (not sure where the cows went) and convert from farming to fishing. When we finally made it to the dock where our boat was waiting (the roads were about as accommodating to our van as the Rocky Mountains), it became apparent that we weren't going to get the typical tourist experience. Thank god.
After our captain and his skipper (maybe 17 and 15) spent a solid 45 minutes wrestling the vessel through the inlet (the archaic motor and the seemingly never-ending fishing nets were determined to keep us there), we finally made it to the water village. The lifestyle we witnessed there was simply unfathomable. Here, they weren't worried about their next car, the newest gadget, education, or even clean water; primary concerns were food and getting to tomorrow. The river in which they thrived was opaque and very much resembled chocolate milk, probably because it dualed as the local bathroom. Fisherman and children sprinkled the banks and riverbed, all just trying to make a living. I can't even begin to describe the children. Not only were they mere skin and bones, but their faces looked worn and tired, eyes starving and hopeless. Even the tiniest possessed such sorrowful eyes. No doubt a result of the independence they were forced to learn early on...crucial, I'm sure, for survival.
The most incredible thing was that even amongst such poverty and anguish, the people were so HAPPY. Everywhere we went in Cambodia (actually, most of Southeast Asia), people were warm, friendly, smiling and almost annoyingly helpful. To them, being alive was all that mattered. Isn't that a novel idea.
So I guess I can stop being so damn dissatisfied with the "mundane" life I live and appreciate the ordinary things. Ordinary things such as a roof over my head, food at every meal and a family that's healthy and loving. Ordinary things such as daisy chains, berry picking, my cameras, cobbler making, local music, lightning shows, lakeside shenanigans and classic movies. Wow, I have a lot of good things in my life.
A month of journeys was far too short, but it confirmed some things I've felt for a long time. I want to travel. I want to help people. I want to give. I want to be.