22 Feb Cambodia: Beauty and Strength Forged from Pain and Suffering
7am Monday morning February the 22nd in Siem Reap, Cambodia
After the completion of my work in Thailand, the next leg of my journey was a three day extension of my trip, made on faith that God would fill in the details, difficult for those of us who us who like control. I have found that it is in those times of complete dependency on him that miracles and divine appointments occur. Those are the moments that my heart hungers for and where my soul is restored.
After a “unique” visa acquisition experience upon landing in Cambodia, Hubert, my American contact on the ground, along with his wife Agnes and their little girl Noa, picked me up at the airport and took me to my accommodations. Having randomly selected my place for the night at the last minute, it was with a grateful heart that I found Siem Reap’s Maison 557 to be a sanctuary of peace and comfort. Surrounded by dust, dirt and poverty, the contrast was one of the oddest I have experienced. Once again, the extremes of this trip are expansive.
As I write this, my three day’s in Siem Reap are coming to a close as I linger over breakfast at the Santa Clara, yet another oasis in this city of dust and dirt. I am practicing my breathing as I prepare for the long 40 hour journey home (with layovers in Bangkok and Dubai). These photo’s show a brief sampling of my time here with each image representing a hundred more, and stories that will be told over time.
Saturday morning started at 5am so that images could be captured in the morning sun. With local photographer Kemleng as my guide and assistant, we walked the village of Prek Sramoach, using my Canon Mark III and its L series lenses that cost more than the subject of my photos will earn in a lifetime. I shot photographs that were a product of my heart, rather than the brain; the difference has changed my life and how I shoot, resulting in images that are reflections of shared stories and of friendships forged with mutual tears.
As I walked this village I was reminded once again of a quote that I always carry with me, guiding me in so many of the shots that I take.
“Anyone can take a picture of poverty; it’s easy to focus on the dirt and hurt of the poor. It’s much harder – and much more needful – to pry under that dirt and reveal the beauty and dignity of people that, but for their birth into a place and circumstance different from our own, are just like ourselves. I want my images to tell the story of those people and to move us beyond pity to justice and mercy.” David DuChemin
With those powerful words echoing in my head I took the first group of shots, images that reflect a interaction with each of these warm hearted Cambodians that call Prek Sramoach village their home.
After walking the village of Prek Sramoach, Kemleng and I boated to the floating village of Kampong Klang on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake. With motors silenced, we found our senses immersed in the sensation of being gently rocked by the waves while the children’s laughter echoed off the water. The children here are raised on the water, by families who spend their lives fishing for what they eat.
The next day, With my new friend and local missionary Hubert as my connection, we traveled to Poipet where I spent time with Sina, a precious Cambodian lady who was born in Phom Phen. This Cambodian war survivor lost six siblings to starvation during the Khmer Rouge regime in the 70’s, escaping with what was left of her family to live in a camp in Thailand where her father became ill and died. Sina returned to Cambodia at the age of thirteen with all that she had left, a sister and mother; living here by the abandoned railroad tracks that she has called home for the past 30 years. We joined hands together, kneeling on the dirt floors of her shanty as she asked me to pray for her neighbors who are poor, those who sift through the nearby trash dump for survival. God help us who have so much and are sometimes so ungrateful.
Life is simple here in Cambodia but very hard. Amidst the pain and suffering, one finds beauty that is pure and strong, hearts that have been forged by loss and indescribable pain. I knelt time and again with brothers and sisters in Christ whose very survival is dependent on their faith in God. This is where I long to be. This is where I find peace.