Since I’m not posting in chronological order, I’ll preface this post a bit.
I came to Cambodia for a 9 week volunteer assignment in a local hospital. For reasons that I’ll get to later, I switched from the hospital project to volunteering to teach English to kids in a local orphanage. I’ll also post a little bit more about the orphanage at later date.
Today actually started off with some nursing care. Two of the boys had fevers, so I dosed them both with Tylenol and Ibupforen, and monitored them for the rest of the day. Happily, they were both afebrile by the time I left. One of the other boys cut his foot yesterday while moving a filing cabinet, so I changed his dressing and gave him some Tylenol as well. The kids go barefoot pretty much 24/7, so I had to remind him how important it is that he keep the wound covered and clean.
Today was a special occasion at the orphanage, because it was Camilla’s final day. (She’s been volunteering there for 3 months.) The caregivers cooked us an incredible feast for lunch. They knew that Camilla loved the spring rolls they had cooked in the past, so they spent the morning crafting beautiful spring rolls for us. There was also lots of beer on hand, and even a bottle of wine. I’m automatically a fan of any job where I get to drink with my boss and coworkers over lunch.
Camilla and Rasmey (the director of the orphanage,) are like 2 peas in a pod. Camilla doesn’t eat chicken skin, so Rasmey reaches over to take it off her plate like they’ve been doing this for years. Camilla doesn’t like to tear the heads off shrimp, so she wordlessly passes it to Rasmey who removes the head, and then hands it back to Camilla, all of this done without breaking conversation with other people at the table. The love and admiration they share with one another permeates the air around them.
After lunch, the real fun started. Several of the kids surprised us by performing Khmer dances for us. The girls were beautiful in traditional Khmer dress. Their smiles were absolutely infectious. I grinned from ear to ear the whole time.
After they were done, they boys performed a traditional “monkey dance.”
From there, it was a full on dance party for the next 3 hours. Usually, dance parties are not my thing. I’m an awkward dancer and I hate attention, so my usual M.O. is to stand off to the side, sipping a beer. But there’s something about being far from home, and far from anyone who knows me, that allows me to loosen up and act like a kid. And damn, acting like a kid is fun.
Being around that much happiness is overwhelming to me. It’s impossible for me to witness it and not let it creep into my being. It’s so profuse and enormous, and frankly, unfamiliar, that it brings me to tears. Only, like, 2 tears, but still… I felt the exact same rush of emotions during the dance party at burn camp back in August. (I guess dance parties are my weakness?) There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by kids who have been dealt a shitty hand in life, watching them laugh and dance in an extended moment of pure, blissful, innocent joy.
Just as it seemed everyone reached their peak happiness levels, it was time for us to leave the orphanage. Smiles quickly turned to tears as the girls hugged Camilla goodbye. Several of them wrote her incredibly kind goodbye letters, saying things like “thank you Mother Camilla for teaching us English,” and describing how lucky they felt to have gotten to know her, and how much they will miss her. After having read some of the letters, seeing tears roll down their beautiful faces was, again, quite overwhelming.
These kids see numerous volunteers come and go every few months. I can’t imagine the toll this takes on them. One girl wandered up, put her arms around me, and asked “How long will you be here for, Kelli?” She wanted to know how many days until they all had to repeat this painful process.
In a life that has already served them so many injustices, they are able to greet each day with a smile. Truly, they are some of the most inspirational humans I’ve ever met.
And to think that I would have never had this experience if the hospital placement had worked out the way that (I thought) I wanted it to. We always think we know what’s best for us, what will bring us the most happiness. Sometimes life surprises us this way, and for that, I am grateful.
I hope everyone out there feels love and happiness today. I know I did.