My first few days in Cambodia unearthed some of the same feelings that China had brought on: feelings of being strange within a place. The overwhelming feeling of poverty beyond my comprehension and a way of life that exists with a different kind of balance to cooperate with “lack”. I had open eyes and a silent mouth as I looked around at the strangers who lived totally different lives than I have ever seen or known.
That was before I met the kids of Cambodia.
Kids are miraculous in that way. They have so many undisturbed “antics” that come with youth rather than class, race, or culture. Yes, they are influenced by the twists and tangles of the world around them, but there are characteristics still obvious in them that are just plain human. They, unlike their wearied elders, are unable to hide it. They play. They yawn when they’re bored. They make faces to react to what’s said to them. They smile. They sing to themselves. They run. All of these things are somehow connective, and make it suddenly easier to look around and see more than I did before. I can see more than a country I have no understanding of.
This week Drew and I were blessed with the chance to visit a handful of Cambodian kids as they studied English and the Bible. As different as their classroom was from the three-floor school building I attended at their age, it brought me right back to those chocolate-milk drinking, kick-ball kicking, pencil-chewing days and I recognized their experience in a small way.
This time, it was a visit with children that helped me connect to a place that felt strange: humanize what otherwise felt like a display on the pages of a cultural magazine. But I have had many experiences where an “alien” feeling is melted away as I come to know someone local more closely, child or adult.
It makes sense, doesn’t it? It seems basic. When I look around the foreign land in my path and I see “others”, I need only to have a conversation; then I begin to see people instead. People unlike me in so many ways, and yet like me in that many more.