The main highlight of the tour was sneaking away from the group to watch from afar Tina’s interaction with the local children. It is very evident that she is very soft hearted and truly loves the countries she is travelling.
Damn right! I often reflect on some incredible memories and experiences I had with the children whose paths I crossed during my time working in Cambodia.
If you haven’t been to Cambodia, the children are everywhere. Selling books. Selling drinks. Selling sweets, bracelets, food, tuktuk rides, postcards and even themselves. These shrewd businessmen and women confront you at every corner, every temple, every restaurant and every hidden corner of the country.
I still tell the story of a young boy, who, at one of my many visits to Angkor Wat, asked me if I wanted a bottle of coke for $2.The conversation then went something like this:
No thankyou, I don’t need it.
What about some postcards – only $2.
No thanks, I already have too many.
What about these bracelets – 10 for $2.
No, I don’t need any.
You need some water miss. It’s very hot in there. $2.
I already have some.
Miss, what can I get you? All for $2.
Ok miss. I give you nothing. For $2.
The innocence of childhood is lost amongst the need to collect as many $2 as one can in the name of survival.
Having left my own well worn trampled paths over the bones of those tortured by the Khmer Rouge at the Phnom Penh Killing Fields and the temples of Angkor Wat, it didn’t take me long to decide that my time would be better spent hanging out with the kids.
Armed with footballs, paper, coloured pens, crayons, balloons and on the odd occasion, a bicycle, I always came prepared for the ensuing battle. Arriving at these obvious well known tourist sites, one cannot help but get a little hot and bothered with the constant ’smile’, ‘take a picture’, ‘give me money’, ‘want to go to school’, ‘need food’ cries from the mouths of babes.
I’d encourage them to draw pictures of their homes (ok… hut), family (it always included the obligatory cow and tree), themselves (always cleaner and well dressed) and me (always taller, more beautiful and better dressed).
Blowing balloons, fly away peter stories, what’s the time games, quad push bike rides, reams and reams of paper, white girl vs beggar team football matches, tackles, stories, piggy backs, questions, artwork. And then there were the smiles. And the laughter, that if I close my eyes and recall, can hear echo deep within, it is so permanently etched on my memory.
Give them $2, they’ll be back tomorrow still flogging their postcards and cans of coke. Give them a childhood, even for an hour, and you give them the world – well, at least one with a guaranteed happy ending, albeit for ten minutes.
We all know that when travelling we should leave nothing but footprints. I say baloney to that. When you travel, leave nothing but imprints.
If I had $2 for every imprint those small encounters have made on my life, they would all want for nothing.