As I sat in the back nodding off to the bump and chatter that lives solely within the tiny confines of an oversized, unkempt, out of control bus, I noticed my heartbeat calming as the driver pulled to a stop. I watched for a minute in astonishment as my Khmer colleagues jumped out of the bus and threw water against the dirty windshield. Humph, I thought, that’s weird…in a country where I am asked at minimum 10 times a day whether I would like a tuk-tuk, some marijuana, or a good time, we have to wash the windshield of our own car at the rest stop? Odd. A pristinely clean road view and five minutes later I decided to pry into what I otherwise consider the “cultural gap I will never fully grasp.” I prodded Pisey as to why a driver who had been averaging 80 miles per hour on an unfinished road that he evidently felt obliged to turn into a one way highway would stop just to clean the windshield. She flatly told me it was Holy Water they were splashing against the bus to keep us from harm’s way. Tradition, she remarked. Fantastic! 3 hours into the bus ride from hell and now we are safe. I breathed a deep sigh of confusion, took a swig of my own holy water, and braced myself for the remaining hour long ride.
Upon arrival in Sihanouk Ville, the lot of us boarded a children’s NGO pick up truck and were herded off to dinner at the seaside. I tried to play the professional card and stifle my excitement for being a stone’s throw from open water as my eyes and ears followed the footsteps and glee of my Laotian colleagues running to the water, dipping their feet, and checking to make sure it was real. We had arrived at the sea.
The glee continued to surprise and delight me as its honesty and unfiltered exhilaration persisted throughout the following few days. Seeing someone so absolutely thrilled with the mere sight of water is like watching a baby take her first steps. Trepidation, sincerity, discovery, euphoria. I tried to capture a moment in which I had felt that way in the near past and was left empty handed. Had my maturity washed away my innocence and unabashed appreciation for the simplest of things in life, abandoning me for what I like to call ‘wit and class’?
I later meandered off along the edge of Cambodia in search of my soul. It wasn’t that I felt unhappy or had any issues to speak of, but watching someone run a marathon in the time you’ve run to the park and back can make your feat seem rather piffling. I sat atop a big rock in undiscovered territory and continued the search. Eureka! I had shouted in glee recently. Upon crossing a finish line. So there it lies, no longer in the simple things, but in that which I have earned and decided I deserve to celebrate. What unpropitious discoveries I had unveiled, that turned my prospects of experiencing such untainted happiness forever lost to me. I yearned for that bliss and solidarity with the world but realized it was no longer my motive opportunity. I would have to go in search to unearth the ecstacy of pure joy once again.
I peeled myself off the rock and began the long, tortured walk home of one who’s ignorant bliss had been ripped away from them like a child from their chocolate bar. I dragged my feet through the pulsating seawater, gazing out at the abyss, wishing it were as simple as the tide that comes and goes, leaving a clean slate for unwritten memories with each sweeping pass. The clouds’ upside down umbrellas began lifting slowly, then faster and faster. I picked up my feet, breaking my stroll into a fast walk, quickly shedding the weights holding me down. Finally I found myself sprinting through a sea of water with the truest smile on my face and all the energy in the world. This, I realized, was it. I didn’t need a finish line or a medal, but simply that raw bestial freedom to wash away every ounce of wit and class, leaving me gasping for air and elated with life at long last. I arrived drenched from head to toe in some combination of seawater, rainwater, and sweat enlightened, empowered, and glowing with glee.