Memories of Cambodia (by Zofia)

Cambodia was the first country for me where I could not enjoy traveling. I felt great discomfort, objection, outrage, sadness. As I gain more perspective, the more emotions appear in me while thinking of this country…
When you enter Cambodia, you notice right away that nothing is as it should be. Already at the border, the officials are trying to scam you. Once you leave the cities, the country is terribly littered, a layer of rubbish covers roadsides, whole villages, the coast. Poverty is striking, people have really little and often live in inhumane conditions. And since there is no humane treatment of people, nobody cares about animals… But what is most striking is that many people simply don’t smile. And I’m not talking about opening a heart towards every stranger. Even an “easy” return of the smile I give them seems to be a struggle there.
This nation has experienced huge trauma. Half the population consists of the people who survived mass genocide, brainwashing and killing for showing any affection. The other half was risen by these traumatized people, so they inherited the trauma. No wonder there’s no openness or trust in strangers. There is not even basic health care in this country, so there is no chance for psychological support. I also don’t see great prospects for improving living conditions, because it is probably not in anyone’s “interest” to get these people out of poverty. After all, who cares about the increasing wealth of cheap labor force?
When I was in Kampot, I visited salt fields, where salt from evaporated seawater is collected.

Salt Fields, Kampot
Salt Fields, Kampot

There is undoubted beauty in this view, especially accompanied by the setting sun. However, it doesn’t take long to see the pain of hard-working people – also women and children, bending under the baskets of wet salt. They do not have any protection against irritating salt – most of them do not even wear shoes… When I saw a boy in only one wellington, I thought “How the f…k can we allow that?”. How am I better than these people, that I deserve a life focused on pleasant experiences and exciting adventures? By what right do I come to them on a motorbike, worth more than the annual earnings of the whole village? Is there more determination in me? I don’t think so. Do I work harder? Certainly not! I was just lucky.
I was born in a white middle-class family, in a country with free education, in the capital, giving the biggest opportunities in the country. We always had food on the table and a roof over our heads. Both of my wonderful parents encouraged me to follow my passions, telling me that if I try hard enough, I will achieve what I want. As I have succeeded in almost everything I tried and I live the life of my dreams now, I have long been convinced that we can shape our destiny. It was traveling, that taught me it is different.


We might be able to shape our destiny, but some get tools and skills to do so, others don’t. And some others have their hands tied. Traveling taught me that there is no equality in the world because there is no equal start. Most of us live in bubbles – we surround ourselves with people of similar beliefs, similar wealth. When you first take a step over a homeless man sleeping across the sidewalk in India, when you look into the eyes of a child living in a refugee camp in Pakistan or understand why people in Cambodia don’t smile – the bubble bursts.
In the context of what is happening in the States right now, my memories of Cambodia feel so relevant. But I don’t know how to end this post wisely, because I don’t know how to wisely live or travel with these experiences. Any suggestions are welcomed.

Salt Fields, Kampot

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