My last post talked about the Khmer Rouge regime and the Cheoung Ek killing field I visited on Saturday. Today I want to talk about the Khmer people, and share the story of one particular guy I met at Music Arts School. There could be a temptation to believe that I have chosen to write this post in order to steer away from the sadness of my last one. However, that is simply not true. I wrote about Cheoung Ek with an honesty that scared me. What I have learnt from so many Khmer people is that they accept the past, and then move away from that sadness.
Chris and I first visited Music Arts School, on Monday. We were there to have a meeting with our teacher from Empowering Youth in Cambodia about how we could help out teaching English, and what activates we could do with MAS as well. After the meeting we went out into the common area where students are usually hanging around jamming on instruments. It was here we met Bin. What an incredibly charismatic, talkative, optimistic character!
Bin was not really talking with us, so much as at us. At first I was looking at Cathy and Chris, trying to gauge if they were interested in this over-friendly student’s conversation, or if they were also looking for a way to excuse themselves from the conversation. “My name is Bin because without me there would be rubbish everywhere” he joked. “I’m going to be Prime Minister of Cambodia! You come back and you’ll see.” “I’ve been accepted into Harvard University!”
At first I was a little overwhelmed and confused. Mostly I was hot and tired, I was only listening out of politeness and I was totally just ready to go home.
“My mum died when I was two. Apparently”. Wow. What? “My dad drank a lot, but he died when I was four.” Okay, I’m sorry. You totally have my attention! “I come from a rural village. No one in my village ever made it past primary school. But I had a dream to go to university. So I rode my bike 300 kilometres to Phnom Penh. Then it was stolen. I worked in many terrible jobs. I sorted rubbish and cleaned toilets. Now I have been accepted into Harvard online. It is very hard to do courses online. But I had a dream to go to university and now I have been accepted. That is why I believe I will be Prime Minister. Because I achieved my first dream.”
Bin described himself as a tree that had grown up under a rock without sunlight, rain or fertiliser. He said it is difficult to grow, but once the tree manages to, it is strong. I completely understood his metaphor. For Bin himself – he was so incredibly passionate, optimistic and motivated. However, this rings true for others I have met in Cambodia also.
I really don’t want to risk overgeneralising. I’m sure reading all the blog posts together you can gather a picture of a country that tears at the heart. I suppose, I see such courage, perseverance and even hope and joy in these people. Even as we drive in our tuk-tuk through the slum to our school I discover joy. Smiles are returned and children wave, grin and chase after the tuk-tuk.