We’re driving to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh and I sit here quietly with my feet propped up on my seat. My shoes are off and gentle music plays in my headphones while a cloud of conversations floats around me. It is a peaceful ride. I’m soaking in the solitude and it’s the first breath of quiet we have all had this week. Looking around I can see that some of the rest of the IWA team is enjoying it too. I have a hunch that they, like me, are using this time to reflect upon our mission this past week.
I’m captive to the countryside that is streaming past my window. I say “captive”, but I’m a willing participant that looks on as Cambodians conduct their lives. They sell their wares, ride scooters, swing in their hammocks, play with their children – all unaware that a stranger has glimpsed a moment into their lives. I am the voyeur.
We pass wats, shops, well-constructed houses, and hovels that seem to only be held up by twigs and grace. In fact, it’s not uncommon to see hovels right next to the nicer homes…the “rich” living next to the poor. Most of the land is very dry and a thin layer of dirt covers everything. White cattle graze what little greenery there is. Amidst the the dry towns and countryside, I see that their are small ponds of water everywhere. Bear in mind that the water is brown like bricks from all the dirt, but it is water nonetheless. And in most of them, the lotus grows.
I first notice the lotuses in a pond by a beautiful wat that passes by. Green leafy pads cover the muddy water and pink lotus blooms laze upon them. I notice another pond in a small province we drive by an hour later. This land is even drier, and there is rubbish on the land and in the pond. And yet there too, the lotus still grows.
The Khmer are like the lotus, perhaps. They flourish in the cities – they live in the dry land that seems almost uninhabitable and they are still vibrant and beautiful despite a shortage of resources such as water and food. I’m reminded of something Paul said after one of our evening meditations when he was telling us about his experience with one of the monks that was working at the clinic with us.
“They have a beautiful way about them,” Paul said. “Very peaceful. He grabbed my hand and thanked me.” Paul had then repeated for us what he monk said about his people as he was telling Paul about their Buddhist ways:
“We are not rich people, we are not poor people, we are all one.