Yes, I am happy here. Kampuchea is a country that feels emerging, feels full of the possible.
Yes, I feel good about what I am doing. I am working with beautiful, bright, disadvantaged children.
Yet I carry with me a sense of perspective to shield me from smugness and self-righteousness.
I feel good here partly because I am relatively rich. All around me are poorer people. Yes there are a notable number of Porsches and Lexus. But I am surrounded by people with nothing. On the overall hierarchical scale, I am way up, in a position of power.
In the USA, I am a middle class schmuck struggling to pay my mortgage. I certainly won't get much notice or extra service based simply on my presence. Here I drive through the gates of my security guarded building and enjoy triple the space of the average family of five. The guard rushes to help me with my moped kickstand, rushes to open the gate in morning to let me out. If I hand out a dollar tip, the gesture is unexpected, magnanimous.
Naturally, that power assuages my ego, and I feel more alive/confident/important. If I were a barefooted construction worker earning $2.50 for a full day's manual labor, or a woman in a sweatshop working 48 hours per week for a $61 a month salary, I would not be so sanguine.
Talking to my studly young bartender friend, a third my age, possessing twice my charm and ten times my sagging looks, he mentioned that it must be easy for me since girls always go for the Westerner.
For the male ego, an irresistible trap. One sees them by the score, decrepit gray skeletons (or else rubicund and corpulent pigs) proudly sporting a sexy fledgling on their arm.
How much of this is responsible for my sense of happiness?
And, too, my good works.
I can do good because Kampuchea is poor.
Why is it poor?
Because in order for there to be fabulously rich countries, where we can consume towering luxuries of excess, there must of necessity be very poor countries, where people produce in deep pits of suffering.
And why is it poor?
Because the impossibly snobby French or the ridiculously self righteous Americans or the ravenously aggressive Chinese have now or ever given a real stinking weasel's-assed shit about what happens to the people here?
Here is a map I carry at all times in my head. I have pondered it so many times it feels branded on my retina.
Looking at this map I feel physically ill.
An excerpt from the site Yale :
The still-incomplete database (it has several “dark” periods) reveals that
from October 4, 1965, to August 15, 1973, the United States dropped far
more ordnance on Cambodia than was previously believed: 2,756,941
tons’ worth, dropped in 230,516 sorties on 113,716 sites. Just over 10 percent of this bombing was indiscriminate, with 3,580 of the sites listed as
having “unknown” targets and another 8,238 sites having no target listed
at all. The database also shows that the bombing began four years earlier
than is widely believed—not under Nixon, but under Lyndon Johnson.
The impact of this bombing, the subject of much debate for the past
three decades, is now clearer than ever. Civilian casualties in Cambodia drove an enraged populace into the arms of an insurgency that
had enjoyed relatively little support until the bombing began, setting
in motion the expansion of the Vietnam War deeper into Cambodia, a
coup d’état in 1970, the rapid rise of the Khmer Rouge, and ultimately
the Cambodian genocide.
Today the Chinese are throwing money this way, drying up lakes and throwing out villagers to make way for high rises, so they can steer the Kampuchean votes their way at ASEAN conferences. A scant 150 years prior it was the French seeking to line their pockets and increase French prestige.
I read about the anger and terrorism again blowing up in the Muslim countries, and I can't help but wonder, not why it is happening, but why it is not happening everywhere, all the time. Surely the maps of Africa and Pakistan and Afghanistan and the Middle East share similar biographies.
If that map above were, say, Texas, or France, or An Hui province, scorched thusly by aliens, where would they be? How would they feel?