Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Last night before the long way home

Cambodia meets and far surpasses any expectations Jeff or I may have had before we arrived. It's too soon for me to feel comfortable making declarations about how or what this country is, but this place leaves me feeling in awe by the accomplishments of mankind, angry at the suffering that lingers from war and corruption, in tears over the number of crippled and impoverished children, and humbled by the resourcefulness and tenacity of people that refuse to give up.

We're staying at Earthwalkers, a guesthouse set up and run by a group of Norwegians that wanted to create a place that would give something back to the Cambodian community. These folks set-up and run various programs to help street children in Siem Reap, of which there are plenty. Yesterday, I learned that almost half of Cambodia's population was born after 1990 -- and there aren't enough adults to care for all the kids. And Siem Reap is unusual and dare I say lucky, because something like 84% of the population lives in rural areas where aid is unlikely to reach, but landmines abound.

We visited the Landmine Museum run by Aki Ra, a guy that was made into a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge after they killed his parents and taught him to make bombs, caught as a POW by the Vietnamese army and forced to fight against the KR, eventually transferred into the Cambodian army, and finally recruited by the United Nations to find the landmines and disarm them. Nobody noticed that he was keeping the mines that he de-mined and eventually he had enough to fill a museum. Even though the war is over and the fighting has stopped, the Cambodian countryside is estimated to have 1 million live landmines still planted that continue to kill and maim adults and children alike, on average something like 900 people a year. Aki Ra's mission is to make his country safe, and God bless him for that. I wish the United States would reconsider its position on landmines and sign the worldwide treaty to ban landmines. Iraq is now the country with the most landmines planted in its land.

OK, Jeff's says it's time to go. I'll be posting pics when we get back to Chicago, which will be this Friday afternoon sometime.