Each day pours onto itself – a streaming trail of lotus petal, carved stone and dusty road tuk tuk memories now.
Leading us to today – our final day. “How could we have bonded more?” asked our group last night, laughing… Valentine silk in red, maroon, and pink across our shoulders.
ABOVE ALL, the voices came in towering waves. We circled together, leaning in to hear the leading voices of Cambodia’s women……
-Elected member of parliament and women’s champion, Mu Sochua’s told her struggles, dreams and lifted her rallying cries. With her young associate by her side, we felt the next wave of Cambodia’s political future.
-In the garbage dumps, we filed past sleeping baby goats under cars and on heaps. Young teachers led us by the hands to their classrooms where bursting children practiced their English and awed us with their determined joy. Our visit ended in an explosion of traditional, precise and earnest - Khmer dancing by the young students. Their People's Improvement Organization school led by Phymean Noun (in Canada fundraising), recently profiled on CNN, made our eyes wet we parted with many high fives, and giggling girl hugs.
-International Journalist, Author and media trainer Putsata Reang– wowed us with her gripping life story and her illuminating take on land-grabbing and the upcoming Khmer Rouge tribunal.
-Sex Slavery warrior Somaly Mam and her colleague presented sobering and gripping account of the horrors young women and girls face in Cambodia today. They shared their programs – including taking on local police authorities and the new programs bringing together the voices of survivors. Some from our group visited her center the next day, moved and shaken into a new reality through the girl’s expression.
-The Founder of Cambodia’s Women’s Media Center, the distinguished Tive Sarayeth – impressed us with the achievements of her programming and decades of work. She shared with us the realities of reaching Cambodia’s mostly rural women with vital health and educational programming with her 70 member staff.
-We walked alongside landmine survivors and their advocates in the Veterans International rehabilitation center - we felt the plastic limbs in our hands that allow mothers to hold their children again and advance their lives. We learned of the 40% of Cambodian land still poisoned with these weapons.
And woven through it all - author Loung Ung’s open armed embrace….her constant interpretation and vocal path of light …… allowing us to see the Cambodia she loves through her eyes.
The increasingly heavy understanding of Cambodia’s corrupt and violent past and present blanketed everything. History of war, feminine repression, toxic contamination, genocide – echoes of baby cries richocet off smeared walls, torture devices left in their place….in the museum.
The bird calls at sunrise swooping across the towers of Angkor wat… echoes across etched pillars….incense and guana smudging the air and stone. A sacred civilization, with many teachings.
Our dinner tables - always heaped with food and stimulating conversation – as we processed, grappled, mourned and celebrated together. We left each speaker and group with a contribution…. furthering the political work, investigative work, human trafficking work, ramps for the landmine center, and even costumes to light up the children’s spirit for performances.
For some, punctuated with cool pool dips, healing massage, Cambodian haircuts, freeing walks… and many many bows and smiles.
And much more….left to linger in our senses forever. We raise our cold water glasses, our resources, our talents and voices to stand in solidarity with the Cambodian women from this moment onward. Deeply personal, deeply committed.
To Cambodia, with Love Jensine