Smiles carved into their faces

17th July 2013

 by Natalia Lassalle

to read more about the experiences of Natalia, Lola, and Kalei CLICK HERE

Smiles are the reflex response in this country. No doubt about it. There is a smile for everything. A smile for hello, a smile for goodbye, a smile for shyness, a smile for sadness, a smilefor understanding. Perhaps all these yearsof injustice have erased any notion of hate in their genetic composition, replacing it with the purest love one can find. It's possible that these smiles have been carved into their faces. They are the most genuine gesture they can give.

The love Cambodians feel is too much to contain in words. They touch, embrace, and smile their guts out. Azimah, one of the Elementary English students, repeats the same phrase over and over again: I love you big big! Thank you to you, and your country, and your mother, and your family. You are my sister".  Others repeat "How are you? See you tomorrow! Hello!" What is fascinating to me is what all of these wordsthey  can pronounce in English contain. I think ofall the beautiful things she can express in Khmer and all the beautiful words she could express in English if she knew them. This motivates me to surround myself with everyone, to just look at them and point and tell them "This is tree, this is floor, this is flower", because I want them to be able to articulate this love in this new tongue. 

Cambodians touch. They embrace and hug and love to know that you are in contact, that you are in understanding. They must be immune to all the nonsense the western world is overcome with. They don't need coffee because they are fueled by their hope and their love, which is infinite. As I live with them, I wonder if they even wonder what my life is, or if that even is that important, where I have come from, what has brought me here. For them it is irrelevant. What matters is what is now, what is immediate: we are both here to give to each other, and they sure know how to receive and give back with the same love that is truly the purest I've encountered. 

I arrived at Svay Khleang full of anxiety and excitement, anda little bit of fear, I must admit, but its the fear that can easily become fuel. It was fear that I could not give my all, or that all of this experience would happen in front of me without me truly noticing.

Luckily, time here is slowed down. I've been In Cambodia for 5 days, only two of them in Svay Khleang, but it feels like much more. Time has expanded, it has become an elastic band I can stretch and that continues to get longer and longer, every strand of elastic becoming visible, every detail becoming clearer. The first night here, I lied down in my bed, covered by a yellow mosquito net, and closed my eyes, to the orchestra of the rain that fell on the wooden roof of what is now home. I woke up at 4 am, fully energized, but decide to lie down and just listen, searching for the sounds Lola and Kalei told me I would hear. The mosque did sing at 4, and with it all the people of Svay Khleang prayed; the cat made a scandal a little after that, fighting or doing god-knows-what, the crickets sang, the rain stopped, the rooster sang, it began to rain again. I opened my eyes for the first time to realize it the sun was peeking through my window. I could see all the little bugs caught in the net and was very grateful for this net that set this barrier between us. I opened the window andI began to place images to my sounds. It was so truly familiar. The melody of Khmer was not foreign anymore. 

I saw a man sitting in front of his house, staring into nothing, thinking. In that instant I could not help but wonder what he was thinkingabout, if he is troubled by the same things that trouble me, or at least ofthe same quality. He sat there for long minutes,  experiencing time passing by, meanwhile in the other side of the world we are so afraid of time passing ahead of us. I went back to bed and was truly grateful for being able to see, hear , and experience every smile. I began to wonder about the sequence of events that had brought me here and allowed me to find this casual understanding, this familiarity. I abandoned this thought and began to read my book. This chapter spoke about synchronicity: the link to two events that are connected through meaning- a link that cannot be explained through cause and effect. I kept on reading and found the answer: How does it happen that A/B/C/D appear all in the same moment and in the same place? It happens in the first place because A B C and D are made up of the same quality, and are all exponents of one and the same momentary situation. All of us have ended up here- Lola, Kalei, Saupina, Azimah, Esan, Ariya- and many others whose names escape me right now, because something greater than us has brought us together- our human desire to love, understand, and communicate.