I am ignoring my better judgment to sit and write this later. I know that when my mind wanders into a tsunami of thought, emotional thunderclouds silently brewing, I should sit and wait for it all to quiet. But I want to talk, and I cannot stop myself.
I have never felt more useless than I do in this moment, in this place. I do not mean to complain- I do not mind feeling frustrated when I feel I am working towards something good, something helpful. But right now, I see suffering and I sit inches away from suffering people, and can do very little about it. I am trapped by my lack of language and wrapped in the feeling of privilege that I cannot shake, not even for a second.
Chris and I just got back from visiting the homes of individuals diagnosed with AIDS and homes of children whose parents have been diagnosed or passed away. The first house, we sat with two twins, less than two years old, with stern and quiet stares. They are too young, we were informed, to receive antiretroviral treatment for the illness they inherited. The second house, we sat with a woman who trims the threads of pants, soon to be sold, and earns $1.50 a day to support her grandchildren. In the third house, I was asked how I felt being surrounded by such poverty, and I could not think of a single world to say.
In the fourth and final home, we sat with a woman who had been diagnosed, and her small, beautiful baby girl. I cannot express how much I wanted to talk to her and communicate any expression of support or empathy. Mostly, we sat there quietly, and I smiled or looked concerned while I held her baby’s hand. I did my best of catch bits of conversation between her and the support team (with help from Chris) and understood that her husband was doing construction work and that she could not sleep at night because she coughed too much. She did not want to take her medication because she believed three people she knew had passed away after taking it.
When we left each house, every family smiled and thanked us for coming, even if we were no help at all. No matter what, Cambodians are always smiling. Always smiling.
For now, I am just trying to figure out why am I here, what I am doing, and why I am doing it. I knew that I would experience this sort of frustration, having no background in Khmer, but perhaps did not alter expectations of what I could reasonably do. Chris and I are beginning Khmer lessons tonight so that maybe, in the near future, we can at least barely communicate with the people WOMEN is working with. I have to wonder if we will actually be of service to our NGO, which seems to really work hard for its clients and is determined to get us out into the field even if we’re are just observing. In the office we can translate and help with the production of English documents, so at least we can help WOMEN grow and more effectively help its target populations, the families we met today. A drop in the ocean, I suppose, is something. Overall, I understand that the best I may do for now is learn (and I really am trying), I’m just dying to be of greater help.
This all, however, does leave me feeling so grateful not only for my own health and the opportunities I have at home- especially education- but for the well being of my family, friends, and neighbors. I think that upon returning home in 6 weeks, I will feel infinitely grateful for every meal, for every class, for the homes that shelter people I love, and for every healthy child I meet.