Looking through our pictures, so many make me feel the the urge to travel and be back in those moments reliving what are now memories. There are a few though that have really stayed with me with a clarity and intensity that goes far beyond simple nostalgia. These are the pictures that elicit a visceral reaction of emotions and feelings. Looking back, the images are as clear as they were that day and I get a knot in my stomach every time.
We were about as far out there as we had ever been, which on this day was the rice paddies, villages and wilderness somewhere between Battambang and Siem Reap, in western Cambodia. We traveled via motorbike and quad with a local guide who brought us through the countryside and alerted us when we needed to veer off to avoid the wildlife. This mostly consisted of cows, water buffalo and sleepy stray dogs, but there were a few snakes in the road that kept us on our toes. It was late afternoon and we were on our way back through the dusty air with the sun finally relenting for the day.
On our way through a village close to home three girls playing in front of their house noticed us and walked over to the road to investigate. All three had bare feet and were covered in a layer of dust from playing outside. They were so sweet, couldn’t stop smiling and were very curious about our presence outside their home. Each time I look at this photo I think back to when I was a little kid playing outside with my friends and how despite vastly different circumstances things can feel so similar. My heart breaks for the girl with visible cataracts and it makes me think of the saying “same same but different” which is popular in Southeast Asia and printed on most T-shirts in Thailand. We had heard that a few years ago tourists started to bring food to give out on these excursions and that now many locals in remote villages expect it. We unloaded everything we had tied to the back of our Quad and gave it away, which was the least that we could do.
Never before had I seen poverty, hardship, happiness and simplicity so extreme and so balanced at the same time. If there is one experience from our trip that helps me keep the stresses, annoyances and pressures of life in perspective it’s this one.