Each girl had a brighter smile than the next and even greater spells of humility. They all seemed to look at us with such aspiration and gratitude for our visit to the Bamboo City Dorm in Siem Reap. All I could think as I met their glances and heard the hope in the tone of their Khmer, which I didn’t even understand, was this hope and resilience was something innate to them that I wish they could somehow teach us. We worked through some logistics, prescribing what best times and topics would fit the girls’ needs and schedules and my fellow students who’d be working with them. Mid-way through, a few latecomers scurried in, confused where to sit so I offered the two empty seats on either side of me. After we finished ironing out all the administrative tasks, the girl to my left turned to me and asked if I’d like to see her room. She then proceeded to help pull out my chair and I stopped her and looked at her and just smiled. She responded with a smile that showed so much immediate unneeded respect for me—it was chilling. She guided me through the hallways, winding our way to her room. She showed me her space with such pride, marveling over her small place that was hers within the room of ten other girls.
Although there were about 30 other girls circling us, touring my fellow students around the rooms, the universe seem to align and this girl and I were able to carry out an endearingly intimate conversation. It happened almost by accident it seemed but soon her and I were deep in dialogue and almost at rapid speed beginning to know each other’s stories. I asked her what were her favorite subjects and she earnestly replied, physics and mathematics. I then asked her if she knew what she wanted to do when she was older and she said without a mild bit of hesitation, “I want to be a doctor.”
Our exchange evolved swiftly because all that she did was so genuine, I became lost in it and each word she shared. We then began to discuss our families, and she asked me what my father did for a living. I began to tell her my dad is a firefighter and she instantly replied, “how admirable, what a kind man.” That truly touched me because my dad is all those things and more to me and she just knew it.
We were soon giggling together and occasionally she would flash me her 100-watt smile. She then asked if I lived in a dormitory too and it was in that instance that I realized that we both saw each other in the same light, as equals. I couldn’t help but think that in another world that we could be friends. I think that friendship is one of the greatest gifts we can discover and for me just conversing with her was like one of the greatest gifts I could’ve received. In that instant, although it was still just the start of the trip, I was unsure about my radically new surroundings and where my role fit within them, but with her comforting presence and our dialogue to prop me up I felt a new sense of clarity. We were brought together for but a moment but in that moment we both shared each other’s company in a way to me, expresses why we are here together on earth and get to share spaces constantly. To me this interaction is just a testament to what sits at the heart of humanity: our solidarity with one another. We all occupy vastly different spaces, cultures, and even languages but there is something inherent to humans that allows us to connect to each other. This is something that can easily be forgotten or buried on our list of priorities but without it, we are all just doing the motions, moving through our days completing the tasks. This is ability to connect is a gift and I am only grateful that she was able to remind me and keep that hopefulness and possibility at the forefront of how I enter spaces.