Now before we left for Cambodia, we had organised to do teaching at an orphanage – teaching English, Maths and I.T.
And as we approached the orphanage, the three of us (Yaz, Lem and myself) were all pumped – to meet the kids and get started!
However, upon arrival, Mr Pean (the community leader who ran the orphanage) dropped a bombshell on us.
‘You guys will not be doing any teaching – in fact there’s no work here for you to do at all.’
This was as close as we got to teaching:
We had barely set foot onto the premises when Mr Pean told us this.
And if the bumpy roads and smell of stray animals hadn’t yet woken us up – that news certainly did.
So over the next few days, we were put to work doing jobs that the only two employed staff (Kia & Li Hong) did everyday.
~ shoveling and mixing compost
~ repaving roads
~ delivering goods for a local wedding (but that’s a story for another day)
(oh yeah, Mr Pean also owned the only supermarket in the village)
But the most challenging job of all, was lawn mowing.
Now when I say lawn mowing, the image that it conjures is one of a warm Sunday morning – you wake up, grab the lawn mower and give the grass a nice double zero clip and sit down to a cool glass of lemonade.
Well, this lawn mowing was distinctly different.
We had to mow the lawn –
Now sadly, I have no footage to sprinkle in here because it was just an incredibly challenging task I forgot to document it.
Now – the beautiful thing about the lawn mower is that it does the hard labour for you; that is, the cutting of the grass.
But in rural Siem Reap, we were squatting amidst 70% humidity and over 35degree heat, grabbing a tuff of long grass in one hand and blunt blade in the other.
(i) Blade sliced grass.
(ii) Grass goes into an old wheat bag.
(iii) Bag of grass is used to feed the roaming cows.
(iv) Repeat from Step i
This process continued for a number of hours.
My beautiful orange Ishka headband, was not so orange after this sesh (at the time of writing, it still has not yet been washed).
And for me, my frustration at not being able to teach turned into quiet appreciation.
Maybe something just happens to a person when a drop of sweat hits your eyeball.
Like right on the eyeball.
As I was slicing the grass with a knife (still cant believe that’s how they cut their lawn) – I just realised that we don’t get to complain about shit.
For Kia and Li Hong, this was their everyday reality.
And without us (the volunteers that may come in; including our two French G’s Renaud and Nico) – the hours to get their work done would be exponentially longer.
Compost Mixing would have taken 2 days instead of 1.
Packaging and moving wedding goods would’ve taken hours instead of 30mins.
The lawn mowing would’ve taken the whole day instead of the few hours it took the group of us.
Yet, they just got on with it, with a smile on their face.
Now I’m not the kinda person to take things for granted.
But the week spent doing work within the village and the orphanage was a truly humbling experience.
I realised how lucky we are.
1 in 400trillion – those are the odds of becoming human.
But the odds become significantly crazier when you think about the odds of being born – coupled with the other blessings that we have in abundance.
~ being born in Singapore
~ having the opportunity to move to Australia
~ to get a job at Coles
Like, after all this, I’m incredibly grateful for everything.
And I want all of you to understand this:
We don’t get to complain.
But we get to do.
And if you ever find yourself complaining about things that truly do not matter.
Go grab a knife.
Go to your front lawn.
And cut it.
Cos that’s how lucky we are – that we have the option to cut with a knife in the first place.
Ryan Cheng is the founder of The 88, and is passionate about telling stories surrounding travel, culture and identity.
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