by Emma Phojanakong
The sounds of the Tuk Tuk, a motorized tricycle, as it navigates the narrow streets of Phom Penh is a wonder. The myriad sounds at night coming from my window, at the Golden Banana Hotel in Siem Rep, included the sound of the gecko, remember the sound of the Geico commercial on TV. The people believe it is good luck to hear the gecko in the house.
Indeed, the Maryknoll Lay Missioners and the Friends Across the Borders sacrificed a lot to improve the life of the marginalized people of Cambodia. Who will forget Charlie and his impassioned experience working with the deaf? He brought tears to my eyes with his story of a deaf boy’s first experience in school, acting like a wild animal. The volunteers developed the first Cambodian sign language for the deaf. Due to war torn Cambodia, there is a proliferation of land mines, hence there is a large population of disabled. Aside from the rice fields in the countryside, there is also the Cheong Elk Killing fields. The genocide decimated whole families. The Maryknoll volunteers established mental health clinics to help the population.
Angkor Wat, the biggest religious site on earth was built by Jayavarman VII. It is three times the size of Central Park. Cambodia is 95% practicing Buddhists. You can see the architectural skills and engineering expertise of the Khmer. Their massive reservoirs stored the annual monsoon rain that enabled the people to have a sophisticated distribution of water and hence the domestication of rice, their main agricultural product. It is one of the greatest achievements in human history.
Who will forget the sight of the gigantic, majestic elephants walking the paths to the temples of Angkor Wat, guided by their mahouts. At sunset, large dragon flies swarm around the moat that surrounds the temples. Monkeys, too, swing from tree to tree. It is really a sight to behold.
The lasting impression is the happy, smiling faces you see everywhere. The generosity, friendliness and the resiliency of the Cambodian people will be etched in our memory. I was on the road again to see all these. Next year, I’m hoping I will see the Serengeti and travel to Tanzania.