"The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.” Czestaw Mitosz, The Issa Valley
PHOTOS OF THE WEEK
It was always my father’s dream to live in Cambodia in his old age. Sadly, he never had a chance to realize that dream as he passed away in July from complications of Para supra-nuclear palsy (PSP), a little known disease that resembles Parkinsons.
A few months before he passed, my husband received a great offer to work at a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Cambodia. I remember that warm day in March when we broke the news to my parents that we were going to move. When we arrived at the house, my mother was pulling weeds out of the garden and my father was sitting in his wheelchair enjoying the fresh air. I got out of the car and told my mother that she needed to sit down on the bench because we had important news. I pushed my father's wheelchair next to her.
As soon as the words escaped out of my mouth “we are moving to Cambodia” my mother immediately shot off the bench and gave us reasons not to go; the lack of quality education for the kids, crime, poverty, and political instability, were some of the reasons she cited. Even with the passage of time, she still feared that we could be trapped in Cambodia like during the Khmer Rouge regime. She couldn’t understand why we would want move to back to the country that tore her family apart. My father sat in his wheelchair and with a simple smile whispered, "I'm going too". He always saw the beauty of Cambodia despite the traumas of the past.
Yesterday, October 12th, marked the 100th Day Anniversary of my father’s passing. In Cambodian culture, a Buddhist ceremony is held seven days, 100 days, and one year after a person’s death. These ceremonies help the living remember and honor the deceased and help the deceased to find peace and safe passage into the next life. It is also timely that a week earlier was Pchum Ben (All Souls Day or Festival of the Dead), a significant religious holiday in which Cambodians flock to the temples to make offerings to their ancestors to help them earn merit for the next life. To commemorate both occasions, I went to the temple in Phnom Penh and Takeo, my father's home province, to make offerings to the monks to pray for his soul.
Everyday since I’ve been in Cambodia, I think about how bittersweet it is that I am here. With Pchum Ben and his 100 Day Ceremony, these last few days have been especially hard for me to accept that I am here without him. I look at the faces around me and it reminds me of his face, his smile, and his demeanor. I see how much Cambodia has changed since the last time I was with him in 2004 and I know he would be amazed too. And while I grieve of his loss, I also understand that everything in life has it’s own timing and purpose. This is the way God intended it to happen. The question then remains what is my purpose in being here, particularly at this point in my life?
I realize that I have been given a precious gift to live out my father’s dream—to reconnect and rediscover a country he loved so dearly. The time that I spend here now has taken on more meaning. Through this journey of rediscovery, I hope to show you through captivating photos and interesting stories why Cambodia is a special place. From the daily struggles and triumphs that people face, to the dichotomy of Khmer identity and culture, and the beautiful and sometimes peculiar things that make Cambodia unique.
This is the story my father always wanted to tell and every time I do, I do so in his remembrance.