Cambodia, you give me a weird and wonderful sense of childishness. I want to carve out minutes every morning to play in the dirt. Daydreaming is a luxury you remind me to acknowledge. Your history is an all-to-recent lesson that peace can be fleeting.
The children of your country who are my age didn’t play in dirt. They worked it. Fingers bled. Laughter shriveled, cracked and crumbled. People died. Politics killed them as much as shovels, pitchforks and the sharpened spikes pulled from palm trees.
Every visit, you give me grace in the form of gratefulness for the ease with which I’ve always lived.
My country’s in trouble. There’s a blustering angry wind blowing in on hot and racist breath. A flustered crowd crackles. Suits, not of armor but of silk, are adjusted. Bludgeoning tools in human skins walk to microphones, regurgitating whatever hateful scalding speech will raise the ratings. We sit glued – those of us who agree just as fixed at as those of us who dissent.
Cambodia, I set alarm clocks just to catch your morning light … the color of warm tea, of sun-bleached leather. You smell like wood smoke and lemongrass, the perfume of flowers with mouths open for impending rain that never seems to fall. You smell of farm animals yawning awake on wet hay. Of million-year dirt, gently disturbed by 20-year-old bicycle tires.
At home, the news weighs an elephant’s worth on every shoulder of every sensible person. The uneducated, untraveled, fearful masses reach for wrinkled packs of Newport Menthols, grinning from fully reclined Lazy Boys. Their team is at bat. Their team has momentum, fueled by anger and absolute absurdity.
The irony is … the government they rally behind actually hates them. The fact is lost, though, as easily as another swallow from a can of Colt 45. If you never graduate high school, irony’s a hard thing to grasp. Repercussion is a hard word to spell.
They are the children of a government that’s already failed them. Of a government that will continue to smirk at their needs, while asking for their votes. Winning the moment is all that matters. Tomorrow’s frantically peering out. She’s rightfully terrified of the spreading crack in the proverbial windshield.
There’s irony in my own love for your morning light, Cambodia. That dreamy, bygone era romance of yours is a repercussion of your own awful regime. You’re 50 years behind every other third world country in many ways … and it gives travelers a flush of unfair nostalgia.
The unwanted ascension of the Khmer Rouge meant the loss of millions and of decades of progress. And perhaps I continue to visit because I share some sense of guilt for my own country’s part in your genocide and oppression.
In America’s haste to wipe out Vietnam … to wipe out what wasn’t exactly like us … we fed our own irrational fears until they were so fat and so greasy, we clogged the arteries of sanity. We buried landmines in your soil, and now, in my heart, I think I bear weird burden for my father’s generation of politicians who gave the go-ahead for that.
I set alarm clocks just to wake up to your morning light, Cambodia, because it is one of the most calming things I’ve ever encountered. It’s breathable sepia tone. It’s the blink of a dozing lizard … the feeling of a favorite quote read for the hundredth time.
I sit here now in Asia’s languid heat, going over photos of your morning light, wondering if you will shake your head in sadness for me if my own country goes to Hell in a political handbasket.
If hate and bigotry win out … if the insane clowns become the ringmasters of the Greatest Show on Earth … I wonder if, decades from now, you will watch us finally recover from these moments at hand with the full definition of empathy at your storied fingertips.
I wonder …