So, after Vietnam was a blast, I expected similar things for Cambodia. I am invincible, some kind of super travel woman and nothing and nobody in the world can do me any harm.
I was so wrong. Cambodia hit me. Hard. I'm not used to that - the shit always happens to other people, not me. Arriving in Phnom Penh was easy, of course there was the expected trouble with the tuk tuk driver who insisted our hotel doesn't exist and kept taking us to other places while actually driving past the hotel. That's not trouble.
A weird feeling started creeping on us when there was 'tourist police' with AK-47's walking along Sisowath Quay. When the prices in the restaurants where on par with London, and when we couldn't even look at the menu without having about 10 street kids begging at our table, let alone eat or do anything else. It got worse when on the second day, two kids followed us around town for 5 hours.
And then, trouble started. By card was eaten by an ATM and the bank said I could only have it back in 2 weeks (when I was planning to be already three countries further away). My main money source was gone, and I said to myself, how great that I am not on my own for a change. Except that my companion hadn't told me he was at the bottom edge of his overdraft. So he wasn't too sad when the next evening, some kids stole his purse with card and $30 dollars and when on the way back, three teenager boys threatened us with a knife he willingly dropped his phone. Police, you say? Well, good luck, unless you try to sell them coke or a 10 year old prostitute, the police in Cambodia does fucking nothing.
Even on my flight back out from Cambodia to Singapore, someone went through my backpack and stole the leftover notes of various currencies I had put in a little purse (not a lot of money gone and I was sure than I wouldn't use most of it ever again, but still, I saw them as souveniers with an emotional value).
We're slowly getting our stuff together, but worse than the loss of money or plastic is that of security, of confidence. I've had to admit that I am not invincible and there are things out there that are outside my control. It made me realise for the first time in years why people want security and stability, and what can happen to you if you not give those up willingly (like I did when I quit my job and moved to London, and later, quit my job and started travelling) but when you are forced or born into poverty and the feeling of being powerless. It reminded me of what it's like to be stuck in a place - a painful feeling, even if you do know that eventually, you'll make your way out of there. I can't imagine what it feels like if you know you probably won't.
Anyhow, there are good things I learned and experienced through this. I have some awesome friends who rushed to help and comfort me (and are going through ridiculous shit with Western Union, sorry Jana!). Surprisingly, it was my mother who jumped to help me out, for the first time since I was 11 years old.
Yet, I rode a horse through rice paddies. I cooked a curry in the jungle and ate dinner on a pavillion surrounded by a lake. I had a good cry at the shoulder of one my oldest friends. People from all walks of life, strangers, friends, acquaintances, even the hotel cleaners tried to reach a helping hand.
Cambodia was painful and beautiful on many levels. And exhausting!