“Lady lady!! Where you from??”
“Where I from? I from Phnom Penh!”
“No you not. I don’t believe you.”
“Ok fine, I from America.”
“Uh-meh-reeca! Capital Wa-sing-tun Dee Cee! Prime Minista Obama!”
“Obama! That’s right! How old are you??”
“I seven year old”
“Ok, you buy my postcard! Very nice. Good price!”
The “wow” statement encompasses a multitude of thoughts and impressions from that simple conversation in the wee hours of another Sunday Morning run. This one happened to be a bit different from the last given there was a tiger involved, 2,500 people, and some pretty old temples, but the warmth of the country remains the same. I thought to myself, would a 7 year old in America be able to name the capital and prime minister of Cambodia? Or any other country for that matter? Not only that, but would they have the marketing expertise to identify with me by showing knowledge about my country, convincing me that my friends would love some postcards, and tirelessly following me around, showing her commitment and loyalty by waiting outside the bathroom? I’m pretty sure that’s what made me buy my last car!
Granted, I realize these children don’t voluntarily wander around Angkor Wat to bug tourists about postcards and bracelets. But I can’t help to imagine what a great education they are getting just by being there. Not only do they practice their English on a daily basis, but they are learning about people and what makes them tick, and what’s more, what makes them cave. I’m still trying to figure out how to convince my moto driver to charge me less! It begs the question: What differs a $40K/year education in Silicon Valley to the free education of the poor? If these children were given enabling factors to push them out of the world of poverty, would they thrive to magnificent extents beyond those of their privileged counterparts?
These thoughts invaded my mind while I ran along a gorgeous route in Angkor Wat. The motes that surround the temples are huge and breathtaking. The Buddha statues are massive. Watching the locals show their respect towards them almost made me a believer. But none of these sights could measure up to the energy that pervaded my body when I saw hundreds and hundreds of Khmer children lining the course with their hands held out, hoping to high five the barang foreigners and yell “Hello! Susoday! Good luck!” Gregory David Roberts writes, “I shook hands with him, his small hand vanishing in mine. Nothing ever fits the palm so perfectly, or feels so right, or inspires so much protective instinct as the hand of a child.” I found it difficult to leave that afternoon wishing I could have helped at least one of them. Taken them under my wing. Given them a better life.
Then I think, who am I to judge? Who am I to assume that they are not happy? Those smiles, little hands, that energy, no matter how little money exists in their world, those came from their heart. Their pure, innocent, untainted hearts. Their intelligence was made by only themselves and exists because they made the effort to learn and understand. I wonder what the children of the privileged would be today had they exercised such passion to learn and…become.
What drives passion? What drives that carnal need to become something? Someone. Meaningful.
As I mulled over these psychologically unanswerable questions, I did take a moment to reflect on where I was and happened to grab a few snaps. This might explain the tiger at a half marathon.