It was a tumultuous typhoon season in Cambodia. Everything was damp, wet, dirty. Torrential downpours would begin in the afternoon and sometimes last all night long. I remember spending the day building a community library hut made out of mud walls and a straw roof. I was in the midst of transporting gravel rocks for the ground when it started to heavily rain for hours, creating mini-puddle floods all around.
My friend was in the midst of creating a non-profit organization for a few schools on top of Kulen Mountain, far away in the Cambodian jungle. This area was notorious for being the very last area for the Khmer Rouge to escape to during the Pol Pot war & genocide in the late 1970s. This was the area where thousands of land mines were placed along the jungle path, thus isolating those villages off from the more 'lucky', flourishing economies of cities Siem Reap, etc. My friend asked, "Want to come along? It's a bit of a trek to get to." By trek, I mean: 2 hours by car up the Kulen mountain, with the final hour getting onto a motorbike and driving on an unpaved, pot-hole loving path surrounded by untouched land mines. To prepare, we gathered a bunch of coloring books and puzzles for the ~200 kids we were about to encounter.
Many children were fascinated by the camera. After taking a photo, a crowd of them would run towards me to see the pictures.
Since my trip to Kulen mountain, I've re-visited to see the new progress. A new charter school has opened in Siem Reap, housing dozens of high-school children from Kulen mountain, which gives them the opportunity to explore other careers outside of their village. This is especially helpful for girls, in particular, to bring them outside the traditional sense of marrying at a young age & working as a housewife.
I met some amazing locals during my trips too:
Mr. Ta- the Cambodian legend who survived the wars & genocide: He would talk of tales where he had to walk bare-foot from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (an 8 hour car ride), to showing us exactly where he slept at the ancient Angkor Wat temples for protection. He's also the one who made me eat fried grasshoppers!
Sopheak- the innocent young lady who has a crush on Justin Bieber and wanted to improve her English, & helping to treat my otherwise very swollen mosquito bites.
Sophearo- The very talented cook who is now the business partner with my friend. They've now started a taco restaurant that acts as a social enterprise with the schools.
I think, at the end, I viewed every problem I experienced in the western world as something more "manageable", more easy, more logical.