We are gradually learning more and more about each other, which is great because normally in situations like this — the kind where one is sent to an unknown/far away land with complete strangers – we, as humans, as strangers, tend to focus on the “getting to know each other” stuff and less on the “why are we here” stuff, which then leads to forced conversation and faulty relationships. Luckily for us, the stars here in the beautiful Kingdom of Kampuchea are as aligned as the seven spider bites on my right foot, representing any one of the constellations I find in the eyes of my classmates who I now pride myself in calling my travel partners, fellow explorers, friends… Thus, we lend ourselves to the power of the stars that beam down on us during the night and the rice paddies that reflect our souls back into the bright day sky. The light within us burns: seven eager travelers. Seven, the same number as my bug bites. Seven glittering stars, pieces of an unworldly constellation. Twin to the number that represents the guest house in which we reside. Ultimately, seven: the number of hearts that pang as one. We are in the right place.
Immediately stepping off the plane, as I recall, was the first time I felt true love. In Greek, the language of my ancestors, this is called agape. Pure, true love. In Spanish, the language of my deepest thoughts, amor. Passion. In English… still, I am talking about love. Khmer, the language of my graciously ever-giving hosts and this land… strength and steadfast devotion. Love.
The air is heavy, I told a friend, due to the sweeping ability it has to reach deep inside to the very core of all people and gently – although efficiently – one day pull out feelings of fear, sadness, worry, despair… and fling them so high into the sky that they are eventually caught by the clouds and giant sugar palm trees, one stop before reaching the burning stars. I’ve decided that this is why the air is so heavy. Although not all of us are liberated from these debilitating feelings, it is safe to say one of the only things we are left with is love, really. Perhaps curiosity. Whatever the land decides to leave us with we will soon find out but for now, all we have is the sometimes wet, sometimes dry earth, the morning, midday and night skies, the beautiful smiles of each other and our fellow strangers… and the love we have for all of it.
I don’t foresee an enormous religious experience or discovery of the meaning of life, something that people usually search for while on a trip like this, but you never know. That is not why my colleagues and I burn. It is not what makes our hearts pang. A friend once told me to remember that we are in a moment that will never occur again. And as the Kingdom of Kampuchea we are so lucky to burn in is a beautifully shimmering river of love and compassion, our pangs go out to all who we encounter. Our little sisters. Our older brothers. Our equals, mentors, supporters, and parents. We meet them all here in the stars, in the rivers, and in the paddies. We are encountered by love everywhere we go and our pangs respond tenfold. After all, it is written in the stars.