I have been thinking about my trip to Cambodia a couple of months ago. I was lucky enough to share the trip with a new friend, Jimmi. After four years of travelling alone it's nice to have a memory of at least one trip that includes someone else. I stayed at Amy Bnb while in Siem Reap and felt right at home. The house is beautiful and comfortable. It reminds of me the way the Karen tribe builds some of their houses in northern Thailand. The house is built up high with open slats for the floor boards in the common area which keeps everything very breezy and cool. Johnny and Che, the proprietors introduced me to Sokha the tuk-tuk driver who was smiley and round and carted me all around town with no complaints.
I took the advice of everyone and caught the sunrise at Angkor Wat which requires waking up at about 3:00am. I had only a short trip and nothing to do more important that Angkor Wat. Even getting there as day was literally breaking felt like I was late though. People were already everywhere. It was so crowded however I just enjoyed the silhouette of the temple over the water and decided to go side the actual Angkor Wat temple later. Instead I have Sohka drive me down the road to Banyon temple to beat the crowd. It was quiet and I had time to meet some of the boys that work in the temples which I didn't anticipate changing my time there so much.
I spent just as much time talking to the temple boys as I did looking at the temple. They were excited to earn five of ten dollars practicing their skills. Their English was so impressive. I had heard few Thais speak English so clear and these boys had great grammar and accents. I wanted to know more about their lives there though. Which, I'm sure is annoying. Having lived and worked in tourism, there is nothing worse than trying to work and having tourists just want to know about your personal lives. These boys were not exactly shopkeepers though so my guilt subsided.
There seemed to always be two of them at each temple, a 'good one' and a ' bad one'. At one temple one boy was clean cut, well dressed and chatted me up, while the other reeked of alcohol and sat alone with a busted knee. Unfortunately he would not approve me taking his photo but that boy will be in my mind for many years to come. Aged only about 16 years old he was full of self-destruction, fear and hopelessness. An orphan raised up in the monastery he had been to school and learned English but didn't have much else or any idea what to do next. I rewarded the other boy with $5 and lectured the one with the busted knee about his drinking. And went the the next temple. I wanted to do more, but giving him $5 to drink with for having a sad story is not in my line of ethics. I hoped that if I could give him nothing else that day a lesson would suffice.
Another boy, Ra left his partner in crime to follow me around and talk to me for a long time. Aged 20 he was already he was too beautiful to capture in anything but a painting and walked like King with perfect posture. It was obvious he was already well-versed in sex and romancing women and kept trying to get me into a tight space with him to no doubt kiss me or make an advance. He smiled a lot and batted his eyelashes shyly. He told me that he didn't like Cambodian girls because they were ugly and wanted a foreigner for a girlfriend. When I revealed that I was not 5 yeas older than him but 13 years old than him he was unphased. He wasn't so focused on selling tours but more focused on selling himself, which saddened me. I was never offended or afraid, just mostly sad. I spent about half an hour talking to him about self-love and pride in his culture. He listened but laughed off my silly ideas about Cambodians being beautiful people and a culture to feel proud about. Paying him for his time, telling him positive and encouraging words, these were all well and fine. How could I really change the lives of these boys?
These young men had no goals beyond being a tour guide. Giving tours is the only way they can see any future. Passion, talent, desire, dreams are things they can't even fathom. My goal is to return to Siem Riep with La Casa de la Artista to work on a series of self-love, empowerment and skill-sharing. I will return to these temples to recruit these boys as leaders for the project. That is my dream and with my amazing team at La Casa de la Artista I'm sure that we will accomplish it. Everyone deserves the right to dream.
Later after a nap to rest from the scorching sun, I met up with my buddy Jimmi. We enjoyed the day praying, visiting temples and taking selfies galore. At the last temple we met with some street children lead by a very tall hustler named Charm. Charm also 20, sported four gold bracelets on one arm, three gold bracelets on another arm and a diamond implant in his tooth. Needless to say he was named Charm for a reason. Sokah picked us back up and we found a place to grab some food downtown in an alley that was rows and rows of restaurants. I don't recall the name, and the food was beautifully prepared but tasted only average. At night we walked around pub street drinking smoothies and fighting with ATMs. When going to Cambodia bring as much American cash with you as you can. If you card doesn't work in some of the "scam-y" ATM's it can be pretty upsetting.
Luckily I had spent the day praying at the temples. Being on this ancient and hallowed ground was a spiritual treat that I could relive over and over. At the end of my short trip in Cambodia my Chicago friend creative Rudy Avina of Pilsen had died.I was immensely upset and in a horrible shock at the untimely death of a man that was like a brother to me. Johnny and Che took excellent care of me and helped me through those first few hours. It was a very raw situation to find yourself in with people that you'd technically just met but I was so grateful for their presence and kindness.
I left Cambodia longing to return and feel almost haunted by it. I've passed through many countries for a day or two or three but I don't dwell on it in such a way. This is how I've found my life to be however, I may plan to only be there for a moment but the spirit chases me and brings me back. The people seemed as endearing as they did in Thailand but not really as happy. Although they don't like their dark skin there was never a point when I felt uncomfortable in mine. I did get stares while I was alone in my tuk tuk but a 6'0" tall black woman gets stares everywhere. There was never a sense of general fear or danger in Siem Reap, however I personally heard enough horror stories about Phenom Penh that I will never ever go. When you are in town and at the temples there are street children and street children to that magnitude was difficult for me. It was my first experience like that and they were so adorable it was difficult not to pick them up and bathe them and take them home. Cambodia is a beautiful country and I think greatly under-rated. Visiting the temples was enough of a reason to make the trip. I highly recommend going as soon as possible. And you may see me there, I can feel it chasing me to bring me back.