I have toiled with this post for a day or so. It's more about the words and less about the pictures this time. I am by no means a writer. But this is something that has been on my mind and heart since my return to Cambodia.
Cambodia // Day Vs. Night Commute
Every morning my roommate and I get up at 7:20am. By the time we get out the door it's 7:45am or closer to 8:00am. (we have to be in town by 8:00am - obviously we are just trying to be more Cambodian by being a little late) Our walk normally takes 15 minutes - unless I stop to take photos, but that's beside the point.
We push open our big red gate at the end of our drive and off into the dust filled streets of Cambodia we go. As we step through the gate we turn right. We pass a very mean dog who does not like us apparently - he follows us, growling and sometimes even barking. Our pace quickens as we try to get away from this evil dog who stalks us every day. At the end of our street - we cross one of the main roads and take a left. This puts us on the sidewalk next to the river that divides the town. We walk past two pagodas and road side stands filled with fruit and snacks. After walking on the broken, weed filled sidewalk we come to one of the two bigger intersections in town that we have to deal with daily.
This one isn't bad because we just need to take a right - so we don't have to cross the street. As we hang a right, we are on one of the bridges that cross the river. I love watching the traffic go by and occasionally I meet eyes with someone and throw them a smile - they smile back. Their smiles are so genuine and so pure, I think that's one thing we lack in America, a genuine smile. I miss that when I’m back home.
We are now approaching the end of the bridge and the second big intersection we must cross. I don't know if you understand how traffic works in Cambodia - but let's just say it's a constant flow, there's no stopping. You just, kind of weave in and around everyone else in the intersection. You might be asking, "How do you cross this street?" Well, you put one foot in front of the other and DON'T STOP. We wait for a little clearing and GO! I think we are getting better at this every day.
The rest of the walk is pretty simple, go past the book store and the school. At the end of the school we take a right. Immediately we see down the street, a tall, golden building, glistening in the sun. Our home away from home - The Ministry Center. When we aren't at home, we are here.
By now you are may be thinking, "Grace, there's nothing hard hitting or anything special about your morning commute." Yeah, I know. The thing I really want to tell you is about our nightly commute. But I needed should start at the beginning of the day, because day and night in Cambodia are two completely different things.
Our walk home starts at 6:00pm - it gets dark in Cambodia around 6:30pm right now. The once smiling faces, now turn into shadowy silhouettes riding by on every side. When the sun goes down and the moon comes up, things change. The tone in the air gets darker. (Mind you, there are still smiling people. I mean, Cambodia is known as The Land Of Smiling Faces.) It’s just different in the evening.
As we begin our walk home, the sun is fading into a beautiful pink and purple haze over the land and the people. By the time we turn the corner to our street, we approach, what is now, a very different scene from when we opened our big red gate this morning. All of the restaurants and karaoke bars are lit up. There’s a low humming of the hustle and bustle as motos and tuk-tuks pass by. There is one karaoke bar on our street, a few doors from our house on the opposite side. There it is - during the day it’s quite, no one is around. At night there are motos lined up and down the side of the street, plastic chairs awaiting their girls, and the bass from inside thumping, louder and louder. The two rows of plastic chairs on either side of the entrance is what has been tugging on my heart since I’ve returned to Cambodia this time.
Each chair represents a girl. A girl either sold into slavery, sex-trafficking. Or a girl who is selling herself. I call them girls because, well, they are just that. Girls no older than 13 or 14, putting themselves out there every night, out of necessity or because they have no other choice. They sit in those plastic chairs until they are picked by the man who will do whatever he wants with her till early hours of the morning, and then dump her back off where she came from. And then she will do that over and over again.
You know, we always hear stories about sex trafficking and prostitution, but I think until you are a few houses down from a place where it happens night after night, it never fully hits you. Seeing those girls sitting in those chairs, will forever be pressed into my mind.
As I walk my morning commute, I think to myself “ I wonder how many of these girls I smile at in the morning are sitting in those chairs at night?” “How did they end up there?” “What is their story?”
Now, that is a whole lotta depressing, I will admit. But man, I can see a whole lotta light shining in this darkness, too. You may be thinking, “Grace, you are talking about sex-trafficking and prostitution, how can there be any light in that pitch black darkness?” I totally understand that question. But I know there is so much light being poured into these girls - so many people who are trying to help them and save them. There’s great work being done in that pit of darkness. Light is being poured in. I’m not saying - nor will I ever believe that this problem will be solved overnight - this issue has been around since the beginning of days. It’s a fault in humanity; the exploitation of girls and women - and boys and men, for that matter. To put it simply - as soon as sin entered the world, so did things like this. Sin, it’s an evil thing.
One plastic chair at a time. One girl being pulled out of this darkness and thrown straight into the light. The redemption of these girls and those men alike, now that’s a beautiful thing. For me, plastic chair will never be the same, when I see one I will always think of a girl on the other side of the world, awaiting her fate for that night. When I see a plastic chair, I will pray for the girls who find themselves sitting there. I will pray. I look at all of the little girls I cross paths with daily, and I pray they will never find themselves there, in that plastic chair.
If this issue also tugs at your heart, then join me in praying for girls all over the world who are faced with this way of life. There are groups working to shine the light in these dark places and your prayers are always needed. One plastic chair at a time…