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The Ones Who Glow in the Dark.

June 9, 2016


     You can’t know a country without knowing its people.  The Mercer on Mission faculty drilled this message into our heads before we departed for Cambodia, but today was the first time I understood its gravity.  Coming into this country, we knew that the Khmer had recently suffered a terrible genocide. We knew that they were a shattered people, and we knew that the majority of people did not have access to healthcare.  What we didn’t know is that these same people are the most generous, selfless, and optimistic we would ever meet.

     The generous ones are those such as Mr. Lang, the manager of our hotel.  He wrote up lessons in Khmer simply because we showed interest in learning the language. For our last night, tonight, he exceeded his own reputation.  This generous man and his staff stayed until all hours of the night just to throw us a goodbye party.  That these people should go out of their way to celebrate us, when they have been waiting on us hand-and-foot for two weeks is simply astounding.  The selfless ones are our patients.  They come to our clinic from tightly knit communities, and they care for each other so well that they have often brought in one another’s children.  Families and family units are so important to our patients that sometimes the only way to convince them to care for their own health is to explain how their sickness/injury hurts their loved ones.  Family again shows up as the thing that several of my anxious patients worry about the most.  In our time here, I have even noticed that family is a key part of the Khmer culture – their terms of address are all family terms, such as ming-“aunt”, bong-“uncle”, brhow-“brother”, and sray-“sister”.

     The optimistic ones are the easiest to spot.  Today, I was blessed with one such patient – an eight-year-old girl who had been burned by boiling water three years ago.  Her complaint was only that her side felt tight, which I thought was very strange after such a long time.  I realized very quickly that her small complaint underemphasized her pain.  This child – easily the happiest, giggliest, sweetest little kid of the last week and a half – had a large skin graft all across her left side, and yet her complaint was only that the graft had stopped stretching as she continued to grow! She wasn’t ashamed of her scars in the least, and she even starting to show them off when our faculty came to inspect our assessments.  For me, her optimistic outlook reflects the hope that the Khmer share for a better future.  They do the best they can with what they have and dedicate their own plans to help those they love.  Like my sweet little friend, they firmly believe that everything will turn out for the best if they can just hold on.

     I didn’t expect to learn so much about the Cambodian people after interacting with them for only two weeks, and I certainly didn’t expect to learn about finding true joy here.  Yes, everyone has something to teach you, but only a select few can inspire you as the Cambodians have inspired me.  Those are the ones who have gone through the fire and have come out pure as gold.  Those are the ones who remain gentle and caring in the darkest of times.  Those are the ones who glow in the dark.


Ad astra per aspera,


Sydney Koenig, Undergraduate Student

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