The Wizardess of Oz

An American's Adventures in Australia and Beyond

Category: Cambodia

Welcome to Cambodia

Cambodia has become synonymous with the 400+ square-kilometer temple compound of Angkor, found just outside of Siem Reap. And it is stunning. But Cambodia is so much more than that, and is worth a lot more time than most visitors give it.

In addition to a few days touring the temples, here are a few of the other places and things worth doing:

  1. Volunteer: I spent a week with children at the Missionaries of Charity in Siem Reap, and it was one of the most heartbreaking and fulfilling experiences of my travels. There is so much need in Cambodia, and so much opportunity to help. I was lucky to spend time with a big group of volunteers from the UK and Australia, who assisted with anything from teaching English to providing legal assistance to an NGO focused on preventing spousal abuse in rural villages. The Cambodians are such beautiful, kind people that it’s almost impossible not to help.
  2. Go Island Hopping: Cambodia’s coast has islands to rival those of Thailand, with easily 1/3 the traffic. Still relatively undiscovered but with enough amenities to be comfortable, Rabbit Island, Koh Rong, and Koh Rong Sanloem are well worth a few days stay. Or you can park yourself in the sleepy Otres Beach or party-town Sihanoukville and take day trips that will hop amongst the smaller islands just off the coast.
  3. See a Different Side of Khmer Rouge Atrocities in Battambang: Phnom Penh is the most famous for it’s killing fields, where millions of innocent Cambodians were ruthlessly slaughtered by the army led by Pol Pot. Because of an increase in petty theft crimes in Phnom Penh, I opted to avoid the city as much as possible. However, I still wanted to experience and understand the history of the country. In Battambang, we took a day tour, which included a stop at a Killing Cave, where Cambodians were tossed 50+ feet to their deaths. It’s a chilling experience, and hiring one of the local students is well worth the cash for the history lesson.
  4. Get a Taste of Local Life in Kampot: This largely rural area isn’t a top ranker for tourists (other than the French), but it is a charming city with heaps of waterfront accommodation options along the Kampot River. Plus, the best pepper in the world is grown in plantations just outside of town, and one of the oldest temples is nestled in a cave in a national park. I had one of the best days of my life on the back of a motorbike zipping through the village roads outside of Kampot.
  5. Learn to Cook Cambodian Cuisine: Thai food is an old staple, and anyone can whip up a curry without much skill. But how many people can say they know how to cook Fish Amok or Beef Lok Lak? These are two typical Cambodian dishes that are really delicious. Unlike Thai food, Cambodian food isn’t spicy, so you don’t need to worry about alienating your capsaicin-fearing friends.

And here are some practical details for a visit to Cambodia.

Getting Around: 

  1. Bus Companies: There are many bus companies that will take you almost anywhere you want to go. The best of these, without a doubt, is Giant IbisEspecially if you’re traveling overnight anywhere, like I did from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, you will not regret spending the extra money on a sleeper bus ticket with GI. The beds fully recline, there is an outlet and lamp for each individual bed, and your own air conditioning vent that you can adjust at will. If you have to sleep on a bus, this is the way to do it. Pro Tip: Get a top bunk, because full buses mean that sometimes someone will stretch out in the aisle… directly next to you.
  2. Share Taxis: If you find yourself in jam, like I did when I wasn’t switched onto the right bus just before Khmer New Year, there is a share taxi option. This is faster, but very tight, and usually a little more expensive than a bus. A typical sedan will cram four people in the back seat, and sometimes two in the front, so get ready to get cozy with the Cambodians! You can try to get more space by purchasing two seats. Recommended for shorter trips only.
  3. Private Taxis/Tuk Tuks/Motorbikes: Jumping on the back of a motorbike is by far the cheapest option to get from A to B, provided you are traveling solo. It’s a fantastic way to really take in everything around you, and it’s the most direct and quickest way to get wherever you want to go. Just be cautious, the drivers don’t always have extra helmets for passengers. Because of the lack of paved roads in many parts of Cambodia, grab a surgeon’s mask from one of the kiosks on the side of the road that sells gasoline.

Money:

  • They use the US Dollar! This makes things so easy for us Americans, since no currency exchanging is necessary at all. However, many merchants will not accept bills manufactured before 1975, and if the bill is ripped or overly creased, it will be denied. I learned this the hard way trying to buy my pass to Angkor with a bill that didn’t pass muster. If a merchant tries to give you shoddy bills as change, hand it back and ask for a new one. It’s a common practice in Cambodia and not considered rude.

Accommodation:

  • I started off staying at the highly-recommended Mad Monkey in Siem Reap, and ended up with the worst case of bedbugs I’d ever had in my life. Because of this, it was the last time I used a dorm room in all of Southeast Asia. Because of my intense reaction to bedbug bites, it wasn’t worth saving a few bucks. In fact, I spent any savings I would have had on medicine and getting my bags and clothing cleaned and treated. Thumbs down.
  • However, I was able to negotiate my way into a hotel room, with air conditioning, a nice shower, and included breakfast, for $15/night. Online, the price was double! It never hurts to walk in and negotiate.

The Back Roads of Kampot

The air was fresh and dewy, the sun not high enough in sky to bring the thick heat that would soon roll over the fields we sped through, a plume of dust feathering out behind us like a golden jetstream.

I watched as bamboo huts, palm trees, small gardens and wide open fields whipped by, scenes from a life so different from my own playing out in montages around me. A barefoot little boy running after a chicken. A thick woman with glossy dark hair falling over her shoulders as she swept a porch. A pot-bellied, shirtless old man smoking a cigarette, crouched over the disassembled motor of a bike.

Everything seemed clean in that early morning light, the promise of a new day stretching out in front of all of us in this dusty back road behind the city of Kampot.

We arrived at our destination, and I hopped off the back of the motorbike. Dozens of little boys ran over, but stopped short a few feet away, brown eyes shyly avoiding contact with me, but giggling with each other. One came forward and asked me in perfect English, “Ma’am, would you like a guide to show you the temple?”

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My friend Dara at the mouth of the cave

With the assurance that I only needed to pay a tip of my choosing, I was led up a steep set of stone steps by an officious-but-slightly-bored Dara and an entourage of young boys fanning out around me, scrambling over rocks, dancing ahead on the steps, trailing behind, afraid to get too close but desperate not to miss the action.

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After much encouragement, they finally crowded in for a photo

It was the start of one of the best days of my travels. There wasn’t any particular reason why it was the best, other than the restoration of a peace, a contentment, that had gone missing for a few weeks. It wasn’t the 4th century temple I visited, but it might have been the mischievous smiles of the little boys who accompanied me there. It wasn’t the pepper plantation or the salt flats I saw, but it might have been the pride of my driver, who explained in broken and limited English how these supply all of Cambodia and most of Vietnam. It wasn’t the roads that we traveled, but it might have been the fresh air in my face and my hair as we sped along. It wasn’t the sleepy river city of Kampot, but perhaps it was wildness of it’s riverfront, or the unworried steadiness of it’s countryside.

I spent the entire day with a man I didn’t know and would never see again, using sign language and a few words of English to communicate.

I glided on the river and watched the fisherman coming in at dark, the trees lit up like Christmas trees from the fireflies.

And as I departed the next day for Vietnam, I knew that somehow I had found my equilibrium on the back roads of Kampot.

Phnom Chhngok Temple

Phnom Chhngok Temple, the ancient temple in a cave in the mountains

Kampot Countryside

Those backroads

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The salt flats of Kampot

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The pepper plantation

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Kampot River Cruising

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Rustic accommodation on the river’s edge

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Pride of Kampot: It’s world-renowned peppercorns

The Beaches of Cambodia

For many, Cambodia = Temples.

And you wouldn’t be wrong, with the Angkor compound stretching for miles around the northern city of Siem Reap. But spend a little time in the south, and you come to the coastline of Cambodia.

This area is a hidden gem for budget and off-the-beaten-path travelers. Without the hype surrounding much of the Thai coastal areas and islands, Cambodia dishes up pristine beaches for fractional prices.

Unfortunately for me, the whole thing was a bit of a flop. 

At least storm clouds make pretty sunsets

At least storm clouds make pretty sunsets

I didn’t have a plan when I arrived in Sihanoukville after a 10-hour bus journey from Siem Reap. I had spent most of the night in a surprisingly comfortable sleeper bus. That is, it was comfortable until the ‘co-pilot’ decided that the aisle directly next to my bottom-bunk sleeper space was where we was going to rest of the duration, his hand casually brushing me every once in a while until I finally smacked at him.

I had heard glowing reviews of Otres Beach, so I hopped on a motorbike, jetted over there, and started my now-customary slog to each of the guesthouses to see who would give me the best deal.

I had heard that I should check out Koh Rong or the more relaxed Koh Rong Samloem, or at least find my way to one of the islands off the shore at some point while down here. But not long after my arrival, the clouds rolled in and a rain shower began!

Thus far into my travels, I’d had luck with the weather. I was chasing the end of high season as I made my way east, and this was intentionally done so I had negotiation power for accommodation. It had finally bitten me in ass: I was at the first beach I’d seen in weeks, and it looked like rain. Since my visa to Vietnam needed to be processed in Sihanoukville, I was stuck here for at least a couple of days while it was processed.

So, I decided to just relax. I caught up on a lot of writing. I made friends with Mern, the bartender at the guesthouse I was staying at, and defended myself against the playful advances of middle-aged Psykhe, the Greek manager of the place.

Rain-washed beach

Rain-washed beach

The day before my departure, it looked like the rain would finally stop. So I booked myself onto an island hopper tour that allowed me some social interaction and an exploration of Kaoh Russei, Kaoh Chanloh, Koh Ta Kiev. On Koh Ta Kiev we discovered a treehouse absinthe distillery run by an American guy who had a Keith Richards/Jack Sparrow thing going on, but the majority of the trip was forgettable.

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Trying to leave the beaches is what proved to be the struggle. I had booked a van transfer to Kampot for the afternoon, so I could go to Sihanoukville and collect my passport with my new Vietnamese visa. However, the travel agent who had booked the van service had (mistakenly?) put me on the morning van, and now he was gone for Khmer New Year with the $8 USD I had paid him for the booking. I started to fear that I would be stuck in Otres or Sihanoukville, and I was really starting to get cabin fever.

A quick consult of the Lonely Planet reminded me about share taxis in Cambodia – people who drive their private cars and sell half-seats to people who wish to travel from one place to the next. So my tuk tuk driver started toward the bus station, where these could be found. I was a stressed-out, harried wreck, having just had strong words with the woman who operated the van service in the hopes that I could convince her to give me a space on the bus.

But before we’d even reached the bus station, my tuk tuk driver abruptly pulled to the side, having heard something shouted in Khmer that I would never have understood. It was a man offering rides to Kampot and Kep! After an attempt at negotiation, I parted with $20 USD so I could leave immediately, thus purchasing the last two seats in the car (which ended up being just the whole back left seat of his four-door sedan).

After a squishy (but blessedly fast) ride, I was in the center of Kampot, ready for the next adventure.

What I Learned:

  1. Confirm travel arrangements, especially if they’ve changed. I was supposed to have my passport back earlier, but the Vietnam Embassy pushed back it’s availability, so I had to push back my van departure time. The change was clearly not confirmed!
  2. Pay attention to the weather reports. If it hadn’t been for the visa situation, I probably would have simply moved on to the next spot after a day or two of rain. But if I had paid a little more attention, I could have maybe skipped the beaches entirely and made my way to Rabbit Island, which I unfortunately had to skip!
  3. Educate yourself on all (legitimate) ways to travel. If I hadn’t known about share taxis, I’d have been stuck in Sihanoukville or have had to pay $60 USD for a taxi to the next town (which was so not going to happen). The best way to think in your feet is to arm yourself with knowledge!

Cooking Khmer

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Cambodian food. I was intimately familiar with the cuisine of Cambodia’s neighbors, Thailand and Vietnam. But I had yet to be acquainted with the flavors of the small country sandwiched in between.

So when we decided to take a cooking class while visiting Battambang, I was looking forward to trying things I’d never tried before, and silently crossed my fingers that it wouldn’t involved any insects.

After a morning shop at the large open-air market for some ingredients, we set up shop at Nary Kitchen. Our menu: Fish Amok, Beef Lok Lak, fried spring rolls, and a sweet banana coconut dessert. No insects! Score!

Produce-hunting at the market in Battambang.

Produce-hunting at the market in Battambang.

I can’t say enough about the freshness of the meat and produce in Southeast Asia. One stroll through any market will be evidence of enough: fish are still wiggling, vegetables have just been picked, and meat is still in the process of being butchered. So although replicating these dishes may be difficult, I’ve put a recipe for Fish Amok and Beef Lok Lak below, if you’d like to sample the flavors yourself. I particularly love the Beef – the sauce and marinade are a delicious, earthy treatment that’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Fish Amok
Serves 4

The heart of this dish is a lemongrass-based paste, which includes many ingredients that can only be found in specialty asian food stores. It’s worth the search! The flavors in this paste will knock your socks off, and you’re guaranteed to find other ways to use this paste as a marinade for other dishes. 

Fish Amok is traditionally placed in banana-leaf bowls and steamed for 15 - 20 mins.

Fish Amok is traditionally placed in banana-leaf bowls and steamed for 15 – 20 mins.

Ingredients:
Lemongrass Paste:
4 stalks of fresh lemongrass*
4 kaffir lime leaves*
1 inch chunk of galangal or ginger*
1 inch chunk of fresh turmeric or 1 tsp powder*
1.5 inch chunk finger root, or Chinese ginger*
6 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp paprika
2 Tbsp Prahok (Khmer Fish Paste) or shrimp paste*

Fish:
3/4 lb. of freshwater white fish
2 tsp chicken stock powder
2/3 cup coconut milk, divided in half
3 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
Pinch of cornstarch

 Directions:
1. Slice the lemongrass, kaffir leaves, galangal, turmeric (if using fresh), ginger, and garlic.
2. Place sliced fresh ingredients with paprika (and turmeric if not using fresh) and fish paste into a mortar and pestle,
and pound until all ingredients become a very fine paste, 8 – 10 minutes.
3. Thinly slice the fish, then place in a bowl and add chicken stock powder, salt, sugar, half of the coconut milk, and the lemongrass paste. Set aside and allow to marinate for 15 minutes.
4. Take the remaining coconut milk and add a pinch of cornstarch. Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly until it thickens to a cream, about 2 mins. Add more cornstarch if needed.
5. Place the marinated fish into a saucepan and heat over medium heat until it starts to bubble and the fish is no longer translucent. Serve in bowls with a side of steamed rice.

*Many of the ingredients listed are readily available at Asian specialty markets. If you can’t find something, ask the grocer for an appropriate substitute. 

Beef Lok Lak
Serves 4

The marinade on the beef really makes the meat sing, and the dipping sauce gives the perfect acidic twang to an otherwise earthy dish. With ingredients found in most kitchens, this is an easy foray into the world of Cambodian cuisine. 

Ingredients:
Beef:
1 lb. beef, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp chicken stock powder
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp oyster sauce
2 Tbsp mild hot chili sauce, or sweet chili sauce
2 Tbsp ketchup
2 tsp black pepper
6 cloves garlic, chopped

Dipping Sauce:
3 – 4 limes, juiced
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp ground black pepper

Garnish (Optional):
4 eggs (optional)
6 leaves lettuce
2 tomatoes, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced

Directions:
1. Place the cubed beef in a large bowl, and mix in all ingredients listed under “Beef,” except the garlic. Set aside.
2. Combine all ingredients listed for the dipping sauce, set aside.
3. Heat a skillet on high heat with approx. 3 Tbsp vegetable oil. Add garlic when pan is hot. Saute until aromatic, about 15 seconds.
4. Add the marinated beef to the pan and stir-fry until the beef is cooked through, about 2 – 4 minutes. Place onto four plates to serve.
5. Pour the dipping sauce into the pan used to cook the beef to deglaze, stirring to lift all remaining marinade from the pan. Pour into a bowl to serve with the meat.
6. Optional: Fry an egg until cooked to medium, and place on top of each serving of beef. Garnish each serving with 2 leaves of lettuce, a 2 -3 slices of tomato, and 1 slice of onion.

Beef Lok Lak is typically eaten by spearing a chunk of meat, egg, and vegetable onto your fork, dipping in the sauce, and shoveling the whole mess into your mouth. It’s usually served with steamed rice.

I hope you’ll give one of these a try — happy eating!

Battambang

I didn’t arrive in Battambang in the best of spirits.

I was on Day 2 of the worst attack of bedbugs I’d ever had, thanks to the hostel I had stayed in my first couple of nights in Siem Reap. The weather was suffocatingly hot and humid, which is the worst weather to be in when you’re covered in painfully itchy bug bites. I had to sort out getting all of my clothing and bags professionally cleaned and treated, in case I had picked up any hitchhiking bugs that wanted to plague the rest of my travels. And I was tired from sleeping poorly and being run ragged during the days by the adorable but energy-filled young children I was volunteering to help.

Which was why I spent my first night locked in my private room at the Here Be Dragons hostel, sobbing at my fiance on the phone.

Putting on a Brave Face with My Travel Companions

Putting on a Brave Face with My Travel Companions

But by the next morning, I had chinned up, dropped all of my belongings at the laundry, and was jumping on a tuk tuk with the rest of the group to spend the entire day seeing the sites that this central Cambodian city had to offer. Our driver, CJ, promised us the best of the area all in one day.

We kicked it off with the Bamboo Train, which is essentially a flat bed on railway wheels. Bamboo mats were put down, and we climbed aboard. Next thing we knew, we were flying through the Cambodian countryside, desperately trying to find something to hold onto as the wind whipped our hair around our faces, and trying to dodge any overgrowth from the side of the railway tracks.

All Aboard the Bamboo Train!

All Aboard the Bamboo Train!

From there we toured a few villages, where they showed us how to make rice paper rolls and rice wine – a concoction that tasted and smelled a lot more like whiskey than like any wine I’d ever had.

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We stopped off at an ancient temple, which happened to be the site of a wedding photo shoot!

Wedded Bliss @ Banan Temple

Wedded Bliss @ Banan Temple

After a break for lunch and a rest during the heat of the day, we went to Sampeou Mountain. Here, we were able to take in views for miles from a pagoda at the top. We then proceeded to a temple, which had been a prison during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.

We descended into a nearby cave, shivering as the temperature dropped nearly twenty degrees. Our guide explained that this had been a Killing Cave, a place where the Khmer Rouge cast anyone they considered a dissident of the fascist rule. In the beginning, they would shoot their victims and throw them 100 feet below. But as money became scarce, ammunition was considered too valuable to use on those who would soon be dead, so they were simply thrown in. Some would take days to die.

Khmer tradition requires that the remains of the dead stay where they died, so two glass shrines held the bones and skulls that had been found at the site as it was excavated for tourism. I looked at the tiny skulls of the children who had been thrown down, trying to fight the lump in my throat. Surrounded by the ghosts of the oppressed, my petty concerns from the night before didn’t seem to be such problems anymore.

The Site of Many Deaths @ the Hands of the Khmer Rouge

The Site of Many Deaths @ the Hands of the Khmer Rouge

In an attempt to lighten the mood, CJ then took us to the bat cave, where we watched a beautiful Cambodian sunset behind the mountains that border Thailand. Watching tens of thousands of bats streaming into the forests as the sun set wasn’t exactly the mood lifter our guide had hoped, but it did get us squealing and mugging for the cameras as we modeled our face masks, handy for blocking out the overwhelming smell of bat poop.

Thug Life

Thug Life

Sunset from the Bat Cave

Sunset from the Bat Cave

By the time it was time to leave, I returned to Siem Reap in much better spirits than I had arrived. Maybe there’s something to that mountain air in northern Cambodia…

The Temples at Angkor

It was that moment before the sky starts to get light, a shadowy, gray space that makes everything feel shrouded in mist. The air was refreshingly cool on my face as the tuk tuk sped through streets that were normally choked with vehicles and dust. We passed through a set of gates, showed our passes to the guards, and soon were out of the city and surrounded by trees and grass. Behind the vegetation, curious domes reached toward the lightening sky.

First Light @ Angkor Wat

First Light @ Angkor Wat

We pulled up to the front entrance of Angkor Wat, the crown jewel of the 400 square kilometer complex of temples outside of Siem Reap. Here, the hubub of tuk tuks and tourists presented a sharp contrast to the silence of the city we had just driven through. Like moths to a flame, hundred of people thronged through the ancient stone gateway into the courtyard of the temple.

The sky was just starting to pink, and the masses fanned out from the gateway to find an ideal position to watch and photograph the most famous spectacle in this dusty corner of Cambodia: Sunrise over Angkor Wat.

We settled ourselves on the 900 year-old ledge of an outbuilding and watched as the pink deepened to magenta, orange streaking through the clouds like the jet streams of a flock of mythical birds. And slowly, slowly, like the syrupy heat it would bring along with it, a bright red sun peeked between two of the domes of the temple. It ascended behind one of them, casting long shadows into the courtyard and bathing the onlookers in rich golden light.

Sunrise @ Angkor Wat

The Sun Peeks Out Behind Angkor Wat

Despite the large numbers, there was a hush within the complex, the temple’s daily dance with the sun demanding and receiving reverence. As the sun climbed well above the temple, the sky mellowed from red, to orange, to blue, and the spell was broken, ready to be cast another day.

Sunrise Angkor Angkor Sunrise Dramatic Sunrise at Angkor Wat

The Gift

The little girl clung to her father’s leg as he tried to disengage her, tears sprouting from her eyes and rolling down her face instantaneously. He looked over at me with a heartbroken expression. Though we didn’t share a language, words weren’t necessary in this moment. He looked a little embarrassed as he held his daughter far enough away that she couldn’t grasp him again, and I swooped the sobbing little girl into my arms.

As he walked across a hot, dusty courtyard to the gate that led to the street, the girl started screaming and writhing in my arms. I turned my back to the gate, both so the girl could catch a last glimpse of her father as he left, and to hide the tears that were streaming down my own face from the rest of the children at my feet.

My fellow volunteer looked at me with sympathy, and I bit my lip to keep myself from breaking into sobs. I busied myself with murmuring calming things in a language this girl didn’t understand, kissing the top of her head and rubbing her back in a vain attempt to console her.

It was my second to last day volunteering at the Missionaries of Charity, a place where nuns ministered to the poorest and most needy in Siem Reap. Part of that ministry involved taking in children who couldn’t be cared for by their families. This four-year-old girl had just lost her mother to untreated cancer, and her father had to go to Thailand. The work was in Thailand. Better money was in Thailand. He had two daughters to provide for: the four-year-old he’s just said goodbye to and an eight-month-old who was so malnourished she couldn’t sit up on her own. But there was no room for them in Thailand. So they were here.

I only spent a week with the children at the Missionaries of Charity, but the profound impact that week had on my life will be reverberating through my soul for the rest of my life.

It was more than learning to tie cloth diapers, battling a stuffy nose and eye infection from the myriad illnesses circulating the children, and finding the odd poo on the floor throughout the facility.

It was teaching bright brown eyes how to count in English, singing the alphabet song with my friend and fellow volunteer (though it turns out Australians and Americans end that song quite differently), giving hugs and cuddles on the bad days, chasing squealing kids around on the good days.

It was hearing two adorable twin boys, who otherwise didn’t know a word of English, parrot “Okay! Okay!” after hearing me say it five-hundred times per day.

It was the joy on the face of mentally impaired boy, which could dissolve into tears without any reason or notice.

It was the bashful smile of a child with cerebral palsy as he was cheered for walking on his own with a walker, relishing the attention he rarely got.

It was feeding a little girl who hadn’t had enough to eat for months, and didn’t really know how to feed herself.

It was watching a five year old girl touch the polish on my toes, then touch her own unpolished toes. Or sitting very still while I applied lip balm to her lips, then touching them with a smile once I had finished.

It was spending the morning with a normally-rambunctious three-year-old clinging to me for cuddles, because it was just one of those days when he needed to be held.

It was the unceasing cry of “Sistah! Sistah!” (which the volunteers were called) whenever we wheeled our bikes into the courtyard.

It wasn’t all moments of joy, but the painful moments that were so common throughout the day made those bright spots that much brighter and more beautiful. Often, my heart contracted, closing in on itself as I witnessed lack, pain, and sadness. But even more often, it was expanding, swelling to proportions that threatened to crack my ribs. It was here, in a hot courtyard on a back road in Siem Reap, where I realized that my body was a poor vessel to contain all the love I could feel, and I was certain I would explode from the pressure of it trying to pour from my body.

On my last day at the house, I brought some necessities for the Sisters: formula, diapers, clothing. But I also brought along a play tool set, because the kids had been chirping and pointing at a man hammering away at the roof next door all morning. The squeals of excitement and complete absorption of playing with a new toy filled the yard for the rest of day.

And though I may have been the one bringing gifts that day, I received far more than I gave.

 

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