“Hop in, we’ll give you a lift,” the driver said, waving toward the back door of his shiny Land Rover.
“Thanks, but my guest house is only a minute away, I’ll walk,” I said.
“That’s okay, hop in anyway.” I hesitated a moment before making my choice. As I slid into the back seat and shut the door, I heard it lock behind me. “Have you been to the Aeon Mall before? We’ll go for a drive and show you.” As he spoke the car turned the opposite direction to my guest house.
Adrenaline filled me in a sudden rush. Shit. What have I just done? My heart rate must have doubled as I considered all the very worst ways this story could turn out. “Uh… I don’t want to go very far,” I said.
“You don’t need to worry, you can trust us. We are good people,” Reach said.
“I don’t know that I can trust you,” I said, with a slight waver in my voice.
Have I freaked you out yet? That little encounter certainly gave me a bit of a scare! It obviously turned out alright, or I wouldn’t be here writing about it… let me give you some context.
Today I discovered the street food of Phnom Penh. After a morning English class I went to MAS where I spent a few hours jamming with Sothea and some of the students. Sothea asked me if I would like to have some lunch with him, and he took me to one of the food-carts on the street half way between MAS and the guesthouse. $2US got us both a subway length sandwich, filled with pork and all sorts of yummy things.
I was so impressed by the good value that I wanted to give it another try for dinner, though this time, I wasn’t with Sohtea. First I made my way to the nearby markets, where I bought a flat kebab for 90c at a stall. The young man running it was 22. I’d learnt how to ask people’s ages just this morning.
After a stroll around the block, I found myself back at the same area where I had lunch with Sothea, so I bought another half a sub/sandwich (60c!). I sat down on a tiny stool as I waited, and one of the other customers struck up a conversation with me: “Half a sandwich is 2,500 reil. People will make you pay more as a foreigner.” A considerate guy, I thought. His name was Reach, and he and his friend Ngoun (pronounced ‘Gone’) had just finished at university for the day. Business students. Soon enough we had struck up a conversation, and I felt quite at ease with them.
Up until the point I got in the car, I had only felt at ease with them, but that sound of the door locking behind me was very unsettling. They obviously noticed my discomfort, because they promptly turned the car around and took me back toward the guesthouse. Their responsiveness to my fear settled it quite immediately, though not entirely. As we got very close to home I said, “You can take me for a drive. I will trust you.”
We drove for another 20 minutes, and I was quite glad for the time to hear their stories a little more, and especially their perspectives on giving to children and beggars. But for all that good conversation, in the back of my mind I was a little shaken up by suddenness of the whole scenario.
I’ve heard it said that someone’s reactions are a better indicator of their character than their actions. When I reflect on that little encounter, it’s clear that my natural posture or knee-jerk reaction is to trust someone. Now, I admit that although my trust wasn’t entirely unfounded, it was perhaps a little naïve to jump in so soon… but I really do prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt. I’ve only been in this culture for a few days, so I think Cathy is right in suggesting that I exercise a little more caution in the future – get ready for a serious look from me tomorrow morning! – and I will probably hesitate before jumping in so soon in the future, but I still think I’d rather trust than not.
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.