Cambodia: Beauty and Strength Forged from Pain and Suffering

5b

Working with Cambodian photographer Kemleng as my guide and assistant

 

7am Monday morning February the 22nd in Siem Reap, Cambodia

After the completion of my work in Thailand, the next leg of my journey was a three day extension of my trip, made on faith that God would fill in the details, difficult for those of us who us who like control. I have found that it is in those times of complete dependency on him that miracles and divine appointments occur. Those are the moments that my heart hungers for and where my soul is restored.

After a “unique” visa acquisition experience upon landing in Cambodia, Hubert, my American contact on the ground, along with his wife Agnes and their little girl Noa, picked me up at the airport and took me to my accommodations. Having randomly selected my place for the night at the last minute, it was with a grateful heart that I found Siem Reap’s Maison 557 to be a sanctuary of peace and comfort. Surrounded by dust, dirt and poverty, the contrast was one of the oddest I have experienced. Once again, the extremes of this trip are expansive.

As I write this, my three day’s in Siem Reap are coming to a close as I linger over breakfast at the Santa Clara, yet another oasis in this city of dust and dirt. I am practicing my breathing as I prepare for the long 40 hour journey home (with layovers in Bangkok and Dubai). These photo’s show a brief sampling of my time here with each image representing a hundred more, and stories that will be told over time.

Saturday morning started at 5am so that images could be captured in the morning sun. With local photographer Kemleng as my guide and assistant, we walked the village of Prek Sramoach, using my Canon Mark III and its L series lenses that cost more than the subject of my photos will earn in a lifetime. I shot photographs that were a product of my heart, rather than the brain; the difference has changed my life and how I shoot, resulting in images that are reflections of shared stories and of friendships forged with mutual tears.

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Early morning interaction between Bunni and her grandmother, I have more to share in a future post on these two.

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This precious girl clearly loves her little baby brother whom she clutches in her arms. I was approaching the dark doorway of their hut when then huge smile popped into view, I have rarely seen such an enthusiastic smiler.

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The homes along the river that wind through Prek Sramoach, Cambodia

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Time worn wood glistening in the light of the light at daybreak

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Lady on cycle – It is the Cambodia ladies that seem to do most of the work here, some things are the same the world over 😃

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Typical home in Prek Sramoach, Cambodia

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This little boy’s parents left for work in the city, leaving him behind to be cared for by others

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Boys preparing fish to be smoked

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Fish to be smoked for the market

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Daily life in Prek Sramoach, Cambodia

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Water beads from this lovely Cambodian girls morning shower are illuminated by the sun at dawn, life starts early here in the Cambodian village of Prek Sramoach

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Water flowing into Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake

As I walked this village I was reminded once again of a quote that I always carry with me, guiding me in so many of the shots that I take.

“Anyone can take a picture of poverty; it’s easy to focus on the dirt and hurt of the poor. It’s much harder – and much more needful – to pry under that dirt and reveal the beauty and dignity of people that, but for their birth into a place and circumstance different from our own, are just like ourselves. I want my images to tell the story of those people and to move us beyond pity to justice and mercy.” David DuChemin

With those powerful words echoing in my head I took the first group of shots, images that reflect a interaction with each of these warm hearted Cambodians that call Prek Sramoach village their home.

After walking the village of Prek Sramoach, Kemleng and I boated to the floating village of Kampong Klang on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake. With motors silenced, we found our senses immersed in the sensation of being gently rocked by the waves while the children’s laughter echoed off the water. The children here are raised on the water, by families who spend their lives fishing for what they eat.

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Kemleng and I head through a shallow waterway to access the floating village of Kampong Klang on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake

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A family makes there way down the river with fruits and vegetable’s

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On Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake in a lull between taking photographs

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The floating village of Kampong Klang on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake

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Colorful home in the The floating village of Kampong Klang on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake

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The laughter of children on the lake where they live

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A houseboat on Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake

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The next day, With my new friend and local missionary Hubert as my connection, we traveled to Poipet where I spent time with Sina, a precious Cambodian lady who was born in Phom Phen. This Cambodian war survivor lost six siblings to starvation during the Khmer Rouge regime in the 70’s, escaping with what was left of her family to live in a camp in Thailand where her father became ill and died. Sina returned to Cambodia at the age of thirteen with all that she had left, a sister and mother; living here by the abandoned railroad tracks that she has called home for the past 30 years. We joined hands together, kneeling on the dirt floors of her shanty as she asked me to pray for her neighbors who are poor, those who sift through the nearby trash dump for survival. God help us who have so much and are sometimes so ungrateful.

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Cambodians who escaped into Thailand until the genocide that took the lives of over one million people came to an end. Many who have returned now live on this abandoned railway that was used during the French occupation, they have no other place to call home.

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Sina, who returned to Cambodia at the age of thirteen with all that she had left, a sister and mother; living here by the abandoned railroad tracks that she has called home for the past 30 years. Her faith in God has sustained her during the loss of six siblings and her father.

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Sina’s home

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This is where many of the people work who live along the abandoned railroad tracks.

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Despite the stench that made my stomach heave, they mange to smile as they work here in the trash dump

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Their faces

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My time with Sina will never be forgotten, we are brothers and sisters in Christ and I pray for the ongoing efforts being made to help her people through education and home placement, will you join me in praying for Sina and her neighbors?

Life is simple here in Cambodia but very hard. Amidst the pain and suffering, one finds beauty that is pure and strong, hearts that have been forged by loss and indescribable pain. I knelt time and again with brothers and sisters in Christ whose very survival is dependent on their faith in God. This is where I long to be. This is where I find peace.

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