I rarely write about my tourists. Today, however, I feel that I need to share this story with you.
So, there is a travel agency that constantly books me to do tours for Vietnamese groups. I do not speak Vietnamese, therefore I do the tours in English and the tour leaders who accompany the groups translate the information into their language.
My contact with the people is, sadly, minimal, because of the language barrier. From time to time, I am happy to discover among these groups people who can speak English and who are eager to communicate with me.
Today I had one of those tours. I left home convinced I was doing another tour for the Vietnamese. Instead, I found a group of Cambodian. Not that anyone bothered to inform me; or that I can distinguish myself between the languages or the looks. And finally, maybe this aspect it’s not even that important.
It was a small group, 10 people only. I learned once I met them that they are a family, but I did not understand exactly what the relations between the members are. The tour leader was, probably, part of the family too. Unfortunately, he was not very talkative and did not seem to enjoy very much his role.
Instead, Eden, one of the guys in the group took the leadership and told me they come from Phnom Penh.
Once we reached the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, people started to take pictures and to stare and marvel at this wonderful construction. I promised to give them time for pictures after I finished the explanation and I was lucky to have Eden translate all the information. His English was flawless. He told me he speaks French and English both, however he finds English more comfortable. Eden never walked away. Even after I finished explaining, he kept asking pertinent questions about the country, the religion, the lifestyle.
We went through the history of UAE, from the pearling days to the oil discovery.
And then he told me about his country, about Angkor Wat and how amazing the whole religious site is.
“They had no compass, yet the city is perfectly lined up. And it was built in the 12th century!”
We kept talking about the climate change, about the floods that Cambodia suffered during the last years due to heavy rains, about the end of the petrol era, about new sources of energy and many, many other topics.
And then we reached the sad episode of the Cambodian war, the Khmer Rouge dictatorship and the genocide.
We spoke about the film of Rithy Panh “L’Image Manquante”, one of the saddest pictures I have ever seen.
“It is horrible how people killed people. About 3 million died. Others ended in labor camps. My dad was 3 years old when they took him. This is something that should never, ever, repeat!”
I do not know how old Eden is. My guess is he is not more than 12.
P.S. I truly believe that a brighter future for the mankind can only be achieved by educating our children, by making them aware of the world we live in and by raising them responsible, kind, empathetic and tolerant. As long as children like Eden are being brought up, there is hope!
P.P.S. Cambodia has stormed into my travel bucket list. And, as I do not have a picture of Eden, I decided to illustrate my text with a picture of the magnificent Angkor Wat.