Tuesday, May 24, 2005


Why me, God?

Well, yes -- why you?

Why am I 'me' and you 'you'? Why aren't you 'me', or vice versa? And why aren't any of us Dr.Phil but Dr.Phil himself? I mean, couldn't we all be Dr.Phil if we really, really wanted to?

This is the thing. The Cambodia thing. The why-am-I-a-rich-white-foreigner-while-everyone-else-here-is-living-and-breathing-an-impoverished-miserable-state thing.

(I'm not sure what the 'Dr.Phil' thing is, truth be told. But I'll let you know when I figure it out.)

If you're not careful, if you're not conscientious, if you're not keeping track of your own moral faculties, or lack thereof, it's very easy, almost convenient, to become so accustomed to the poverty existing here that you just let it slide right over you, like a front-lawn sprinkler on a warm summer's day. So fine and fresh that you barely even notice it.

Take today. At lunch. Me eating a chicken sandwich on a sidewalk cafe overlooking the river. (The Jungle Bar cafe, in case anyone's interested. And yes, the sandwich wasn't half-bad.) A parade of beggars and dudes selling sunglasses and kids selling papers dutifully ply their trade, ritualistically ask you if you would like some shades, a paper, a shoeshine. There are also the obligatory number of really, really screwed up kids. I don't mean mentally; I mean physically.

One of them approached me for some coin today. (Or cash, rather, since there are no coins in Cambodia.) He had no arms, this kid. He had no legs, this kid. He had stumps for both sets of limbs. And he hopped off his chair, moseyed his way across the pavement to ask me for a little money. I slipped him 500 riel, placing the bill carefully between the stumps of his arms. He smiled and thanked and was on his way.

And I thought nothing of it.

A kid with no arms and no legs shuffling his way across the dirty street like a crab, and I give him money, and he moves on.

And I think nothing of it.

I don't know whether to commend myself or slap myself in the face.

The point is, you get used to it. You just do. You get used to being the person who has a spare bit of change; you grow accustomed to being the man, the one, the person who lives above all the rest of the poor and the meek who actually come from this land, this Cambodia.

Maybe it's a good thing -- me being aware. Me, occasionally, every now and then, acknowleding, to myself and others (namely you) that the wretched exist, and, surprise surprise: they're not so wretched after all.


I sometimes wonder: Why me, sipping a glass of bottled water, as the limbless boy wonder ekes out his meagre trade?

I'm not sure.

But it is what it is. Perhaps that's what I'm learning as I'm growing: it is what it is.

I do know that the boy with no arms and no legs doesn't wonder. He just flashes his grin, fights with his brother, grips the paper money between his stumps and under his chin as best as he can, and then moves on.

After all, the day his hot and and the day is long, and there are many more foreigners just down the way. No sense in wasting any time.


Ariel1980 said...

I know too, that privilege can define us in an insular manner, how and why the cosmic shuffle of cards folded us into such nice little hands: royal flush, trump, etc. I have felt guilty because of my circumstances, and very unequal to such fortunate luck, but I am reminded that we each have our place for reasons unknown. That you recognise the difference is important, and that the difference makes you grateful. A thought-provoking post.

Muktuk said...

Beautiful writing. It's sort of a defense mechanism, no? Otherwise, could you sleep at night knowing that children are starving to death as you breath in air to snore peacefully, but wouldn't die if they had the food in your refrigerator/cupboard?

Sometimes I think that what we "see" isn't all there is to be "seen." For right now, that child has no arms and legs, but we don't know where he will be in the next life, or in his next go around. I think sometimes that we're all just at different times, not different levels. Maybe.