So, tonight I continued to drink long after my new friend I met at the Angkor National Museum (which strangely is actually owned by a Thailand-based company...) left. I walked, uh, well, stumbled back to my hotel (no tuk-tuks since I had no idea how to give them directions back) lightly smashed. It was quite honestly the smartest thing I could have done on this trip so far.
Which is weird to say, you know? Even weirder to give it as advice. Go, get drunk, and stumble through an unknown foreign city! And so, tonight I did everything opposite of what everyone and every website told me not to do. This includes, but is not limited to, drinking alone until plastered and walking down odd side-streets after dark. Full disclosure: I have been living abroad for a full week now, and I have still felt completely and utterly out of place and scared. Of what you may ask? Of everything. Before I left, everybody made me terrified of everything. The travel clinic made every disease a jack-in-the-box just waiting around every corner and every food stand, the travel websites warned me that I'd get robbed and mugged and stabbed and sold on the black market, and the books made it seem like the minute the sun went down all hell broke loose, as though everyone outside of the US were fucking wallet-snatching, passport-stealing, vampires. But here's the thing, all of that is completely wrong. Being drunk and wandering around in the dark made it so I had to, essentially, let go (and as you may or may not know, I've always believed that life is all about learning how and when to let go). Granted, letting go of anything, especially a prime instinct such as fear, is extremely difficulty, even for a moment. And that's where alcohol can (sometimes) help. I sauntered down the streets because my inebriated brain did not care (speaking of which, probably going to be a lot of errors in this blog that'll I'll have to come back and fix). And by the time I was halfway through my walk, I realized that all those fears were unrealistic and false. The world, while still a scary place, is not as bad as some would have you believe. Yes, I could have been mugged and so forth, but living in fear of the what-ifs is a sad, horrible way to live. Also, I'm pretty sure all the people and places that emphasized all the scary bits were unknowingly over-generalizing (interesting article on this here). For the first time since I left, I was able to withstand the stares (and yes, since I'm a little out of the main hub of the city, everyone stares at the tall, white guy) and for once realize that it wasn't a big deal. I, too, have stared and perhaps giggled at foreign tourists with their big cameras and complete lack of direction. Once I realized that it was okay to be the outsider, that it was okay to be lost and confused and curious, everything changed. I wasn't scared anymore (well, to a point. Still scared of those organ-destroying, pore-wiggling-through worms that the travel clinic told me about).
It was also at this time, drunk and wondering where my hotel was after walking down the 20th wrong street, that I finally was able to take in the poverty. Yesterday, I had the chance to go out to a farm outside the city and see some of the worse poverty in the world, and for that matter, gain knowledge that it could even be that rough. To be completely and utterly honest, being sober, it was all too much. It was too serious and real and rough to take in at once. I was going to write a whole blog about it, but I have yet to find the right words to describe how devastating it was to see and experience (I helped out on said farm and met some of the friendliest, nicest, smartest [they fixed our broken down jeep better than any mechanic in the states] people I have ever had the chance to meet, yet people who had little more than an extremely dilapidated studio-sized shack and hammock. Or worse, a tarp and nothing else. Sorry, I have no pictures of any of this, because I couldn't bring myself to take any, my smartphone burning and weighing heavier than ever in my pocket). Stumbling down the road past a billion tiny broken down stands, I was able to fully acknowledge my complete respect for this country, a respect absolutely beaming with admiration. These people don't have the luxury to be middle class because poverty is the norm. Not only do they struggle with poverty, this is also a country still actively rebuilding after a brutal genocide. Your heart goes out to these people, and it wasn't until my walk that I really admired their strength and noticed something crucial. Now, I am a bleeding heart social worker and I will unflinchingly fight tooth and nail for social programs and am squarely in the middle of politics (though certainly leaning more toward the democratic side of things). But I will say this, the poor in Cambodia (read: almost everyone) work harder than anyone I know, hands-down, for the life they have. Whether it be selling gasoline out of empty coke bottles on some side street, or taping "For Sale" books on all sides of their wheelchairs, the people here fight for a living. They never stop giving up. They find any way possible to fight for survival and, again, I admire that greatly. No free-hand outs. No free anything.
That being said, help is needed. Social services and nonprofits are needed. While the US continues to cut social services, thinking they are a "waste" and "a free hand-out" (which they are not), Cambodia is in desperate need of any service that can give a helping hand. I admire them for their survival, but sadly, the glass ceiling is ever so low here, and without some kind of governmental or NGO aid/intervention, most of these people and their kin will never escape this endless generational poverty.
But I'll stop here for now. I have a lot more to say about poverty and Cambodia, and about poverty in general but I think I'll dive into the topic a little at a time. And if you don't want to read and learn about poverty, its effects, and its prevalence, then perhaps this blog isn't for you. Sorry, but the topic of poverty sort of reminds me of a Daily Show I saw a few weeks back that had Jon Stewart responding to those people (when I say those people, I mean those who religiously follow Fox News and who's narrow view of life actually scares the living hell out of me, no joke) who believe we talk about racism too much. As Jon Stewart eloquently puts it: "You're tired of hearing about it? Imagine how fucking exhausting it is living it." (link is here, well worth your time to watch). I feel it's like that with the issue of poverty. You might be tired of hearing about it, but it's real and there even if you don't personally experience it. So, sorry if I sound like a broken record/tape/insert-your-era's-format-here, but it's a topic I'm sure I'll come back to a lot).
But this post is about being drunk and taking it all in. In fact, it's about letting myself take it in. Of letting myself not be scared to feel sad and angry and hopeful through all this. That's what this trip is all about, right?
Tomorrow I leave this town and head to Phnom Pehn. And tomorrow, I'll wake up sober and be thankful for a drunk walk home. I titled this post as Part I, because, well, I'm sure they'll be more nights like these. Nights where I throw (most) advice to the wind. Nights where I let my guard down. And nights where I hope to God I can find my way back to my bed before I pass out.