Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The People We Meet

In honour of last week's big news about my upcoming trip, I'd like to share a travel-related story about Jerry, a local teenage boy I met in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

I’d spent the morning exploring the temples of Angkor, a truly awe-filled and inspiring experience that left my heart bursting with wonderment and wanderlust. I would be leaving the country the next day and returning home to Canada after more than a year abroad, so I wanted to soak in Cambodia and its charm on my last evening. My friends and I met for one last dinner together and decided to enjoy an evening on the town. We headed to the infamous Pub Street and started with cocktails on the patio at Funky Munky where, naturally, you could also indulge in a fish pedicure while sipping on your drink. [Sidenote: have you ever heard of or experienced a fish pedicure? You put your feet in a tank and minnows suck all the dry skin off, going in between your toes and everything! A very effed up feeling especially for someone like me who is freaked out by fish! Never again!]

Anyway, so while I was hanging out as the others had minnows sucking on their toes, a local boy who looked about 12 years old hobbled up to me with a smile from ear to ear. “Excuse me miss, would you like to buy a book? I have many books here for you!” The boy, who introduced himself as Jerry in well-spoken English, had a crutch on each arm and a red basket slung across his body filled with pirated copies of the latest best sellers. He only had one leg and moved rather laboriously down the laneway. To this day I can’t put my finger on it, something in his smile or his demeanour I suppose, but he stood out from so many of the other children I'd encountered so far. I invited Jerry to sit down with me as I looked through the basket of books. 

cambodia-street-kid

Jerry proceeded to tell me a bit about his background. He had lost one leg and his father by age ten, but we didn’t go into the details of how. Jerry said he still went to school during the days then sold books in the afternoons and evenings. He was the eldest male, after all, and despite his disability he still needed to support his family. 

I know there are much broader discussions to be had about giving money to kids on the street and perpetuating the cycle, the prevalence of missing limbs and land mine victims in Cambodia, or even the ethics of purchasing counterfeit books. But at that time I just saw a polite, respectful kid who was doing what he could to get by, and I wanted to help.

cambodia-teenager

“Hey Jerry, I’m looking for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest and Voices from S-21, do you know if you have those?”

“Yes, yes I do!” He enthusiastically replied, and before I could say another word he took off in a hopping, galloping sort of run to meet with his supplier. He came flying back in just a few minutes with a slew of children trailing behind him. I didn’t know someone with two crutches, a basket of books, and only one leg could move that fast. He presented the paperbacks with a triumphant flourish upon his return. “$10, okay?” 

“Actually....” I replied. I could see his face sinking already. 

“$10 good price!” Jerry interjected. “It’s heavy to carry the books!” 

My heart melted a little bit inside. “Actually,” I continued, “I was planning to take these books too,” and pointed to another couple of books on the table. “I’ll take these two as well,” my friend Erin chimed in. 

Seeing Jerry’s face swell with incredulity is a moment that’s stuck with me all these years. “Really?!” Jerry exclaimed. “Okay good price for you – only $4 a book!” His willingness to make a bargain deal was touching, but Erin and I glanced at each other and knew we shared a similar sentiment. 

“No, Jerry, that’s okay. We’ll pay full price. Thank you for going to get the books for us,” I said as I handed over my $20 American bill and Erin passed over another $10. With bright eyes and a beaming smile, Jerry happily accepted the money. His earnest reaction was truly heart-warming, and though I knew our small contribution would not improve his poverty-stricken lifestyle on a long-term basis, I felt happy knowing that at the very least we had brightened his day and helped to pay his rent for the next month.

travel-in-siem-reap-cambodia

It had been no longer than 15 minutes that we sat chatting, but after three years I still remember that afternoon with fondness. Those beautiful but brief interactions with the people we meet on the road are the perfect embodiment of why travel is so meaningful and important to me

Have you ever experienced the kind of connection that made you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? I love reading about others’ travel experiences – please share in the comments below!

Linking up this week with A Compass Ross.

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4 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed this post. I met a girl while I was in Cambodia too who touched my heart while I was there. Makes me wish I could just fly back easily and meet her again. I really enjoyed reading your post as I find the people we meet in our travels, the best part of it all. Thank you for linking up with us for Travel Tuesday!

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    1. I agree! Even though they can be fleeting interactions, the connections we have with people we meet on the road can really stick with you. Will be linking up again, thanks Bonnie!

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  2. Danielle, what a beautiful and touching story. I loved reading his words and am totally giving him a virtual fist pump for being awesome. Thank you so much for sharing!

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    1. hahaha I love that Amy! Virtual fist pumps for everyone :)

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