After several minutes of snail-like progress, a buzz of apprehension ran through the bus. Upon translation, we learned that all ferries were in use but not able to keep up with the endless stream of traffic. Several barges towed by tugboats were being pressed into service as an alternative. We approached the boarding ramp but the white-knuckled driver was skeptical. There was a discrepancy of nearly a foot between the height of land and the height of the barge. Almost in unison, everyone on the bus took in a huge gulp of air, either in stark fear or as an attempt to provide buoyancy to our vehicle and bring the two edges together. For the second time that week, I decided it was a good day to die and settled down to deep and fervent prayer for a safe crossing, God willing.
After a few issues with fear of swamping by other boats, we arrived intact on the other side. We traveled through the flat, red-earth countryside toward Phnom Penh for a few more hours, enjoying the euphoria that comes after an imagined near-death experience. Of course, eventually it occurred to me that Cambodians live such adventures almost daily.
A nation that has endured such unspeakable atrocities as they have, don’t even blink at trivialities. They are an infinitely patient people, grateful to be alive. They look to the future and a life of hope for their children.
In Phnom Penh, Joseph and Lisa Ng, missionary friends of Maestro Simon, met us at the bus station and dropped us off at the Hotel Julianna where we were greeted by staff with cool glasses of fresh fruit juice. Never was hospitality so gratefully received! We arranged to meet for breakfast the next morning and spent the rest of the evening relaxing. Sleep came easily that night, I’ll tell you!
Our short visit to Phnom Penh was full. We visited the Ng’s church and their school for the little children of the nearby slums. In the afternoon and evening we were taxied about the city in a Mercedes van at a cost of $35 American, inclusive of gas and driver.
We marveled at the bony backed cows that roamed along the roadside. We admired the practicality of homes that were open to the breezes and offered some privacy and much shade. However, whether we were visiting the suburbs or the downtown, the poverty was shocking.
The next morning, the five of us boarded a purple turboprop to fly the very short hop to Siem Reap. No more bus transportation for this gang! We were very excited to explore Angkor Wat, cornerstone of Cambodia’s tourist attractions. Joseph had visited the attraction several times so he offered to be our guide. We were checked into the Riviera Angkor Hotel by noon, having received the same hospitality offered at the Julianna. After supper at a good restaurant, we strolled back towards our hotel. We rounded a corner and there, stretched out on the sidewalk was a woman who held a youth in her arms, his body contorted with spasms. One of her hands was raised to us in silent supplication. I remember a jumble of irrational thoughts. I saw an image of Michelangelo’s La Pieta, I heard a warning coming from somewhere in my head, “Don’t give to beggars!” I was repulsed by the horror of what I saw. I’m so ashamed to say that I passed her by in utter confusion and helplessness. However, Joseph knew what to do. He bent down and spoke to her with kindness and gave her enough for a meal for her and her son. I will never forget them. That experience became the turning point for me as we continued on our journey.
Next week, heat stroke and Angkor Wat. ~ Merry Christmas to everyone! ~