After an emotional departure from Newburgh, we started our long journey to Cambodia, which is the fruition of ten months of hard work, fundraising, networking, and researching by our students.
It is hard not to be bursting with gratitude thinking back on every leg of our long journey from New York. It was an adventure: 6 takeoffs, 6 landings, 1 lost and re-found passport, 11 hours waiting in airports, and 19.5 hours at 15,000 feet.
To some people, taking twelve students on such a long haul may sound crazy, but we were continually impressed by how our students took advantage of every opportunity to support one another and try new things (or old things, like the chicken feet some also ate in Ecuador). Who knew airports were so much fun?
Our partner, Kim, has been an amazing resource as we planned over Skype and email, and seeing his smiling face in person was a comfort as we stepped of the Phnom Penh airport.
As we drove through the streets of the city on the way to our hotel, motorbikes dodged out of the way of our bus and shops illuminated the sidewalks, while our Khmer guide, Chanath, warmly welcomed the students and quickly got them all laughing and relaxed after the long trip. He then shared a little bit about his life and the current socio-economic and political state of Cambodia. His willingness to share his story about having lost his father at the age of six immediately personalized the Khmer Rouge genocide for our students; we were grateful for his candid storytelling, as we hope it helped prepare them at least a little for what they will experience here. Afterwards, Tamara and Elise both commented on how moved they were by both his openness and his experiences. Chanath also spoke about the extremes that exist in his country, where the majority of people live on less than $150 a month, creating a stark contrast between what we were seeing on the streets of the capital city and the life of Cambodian rural farmers.
After a good night’s sleep and a delicious breakfast, we are starting our day today with a quick writing session and then heading off to visit Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields.
More to come soon.