Thursday, November 8, 2012

Everything is Nothing & Nothing is Everything

I got robbed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Every traveler's worst nightmare.

I've heard stories of other unfortunate travelers. I've witnessed a sobbing woman whose bag was snatched from a motorbike on the streets of Vietnam.

But that stuff isn't supposed to happen to me.

After surviving the pickpocketing capital of Barcelona and holding on to my belongings amongst the thieves of Vietnam, I thought I was in the clear. Perhaps, amongst the comforts of reuniting with my college friends in Cambodia, for just one moment, I wasn't holding on to my bag with my life.

Our first full day in Cambodia, we were on a tuk tuk, the typical SE Asian open-aired taxi.. It happened as fast as people always say it does: My bag was on my lap but also draped around my arm. A motorbike swooped next to us, grabbed my bag from my arms before I even knew what was happening. I was stunned, speechless and in shock. My friend Chloe immediately hopped out into the traffic and sprinted down the street after the thieves. Our tuk tuk driver turned around to begin the chase. Nearby police on a motorbike also tried to follow them on their motorbike.

It was too late.

It only took one second for me to lose my bag with $30 USD, my credit cards, my beloved camera and iPod touch.

Soon I became that girl sobbing hysterically on the street with a crowd of locals feeling sorry for the "snatching people" who give their country a terrible reputation. We filed a futile police report, where they too expressed their regret, though in this corrupt country it was impossible to tell who was involved and who wasn't.

And, so I have learned a very important lesson: I am not invisible. This is life. Bad things happen to everybody, and I am not immune to that prescription.

As is life, it goes on, and I had to find a way to get past this devastation. For the first day, I couldn't help feeling sorry for myself and replaying the 3-second event in my head. But, with the support of my friends, I tried hard to count my blessings: I was with my friends who could loan me money, my passport was safe, I was safe (if I'd held on I could have been dragged into the street) and after much deliberation I have travel insurance which should (fingers crossed) reimburse me for almost all of my losses.

Furthermore, I was in Cambodia, and all I had to do was look around me to realize just how very lucky I am.

Moving on, the next day we spent at S21 (a school that was used to house prisoners during the Khmer Rouge) and the killing fields, learning about the horrors this genocide that took place only just forty years ago. Like my experience at the Vietnam War Remnant's Museum, it was difficult and emotional.

Afterwards, our tuk tuk driver, Stone, who felt just as devastated about my loss in his vehicle as I did, invited us to meet his family. On the way, we stopped to purchase snacks and toys for his baby boys. Stone's home is set back in a poverty-stricken alley way, crowded with dirty, hungry children staring at our white faces in awe. His home is one very small room that sleeps 9 people (including three orphaned children that Stone took in) on mattresses on the floor. Stone did the translating, while we enjoyed playing with the kids and seeing the joys that their very first toys brought them.
Us with Stone and his youngest baby
After learning about the genocide that is often forgotten about to the rest of the world and looking around Stone's tiny shack filled with not much other than love, I realized just how lucky I am. The disparity between the rich and the poor is heartbreaking, and it's difficult not being able to help every hungry child. I couldn't have been in a better place to have everything so easily put in perspective for me.
With Stone's baby
Stone relayed a message from a Buddha that I can take away from this unfortunate experience:

Everything is Nothing and Nothing is Everything

And now, I am okay, and I am enjoying myself in the company of girlfriends from home. We are currently in the beach town of Sinhoukville, Cambodia. I will have to readjust my plans slightly to go to Bangkok to get new cards, but I am healthy, safe and thus happy.
[Before this, I spent three weeks in Malaysia and Indonesia. I had an incredible time and fell in love with both countries. I learned so much I hope to share when I have more time!]


The Guy said...

I'm really sorry to hear of the theft. It is a devastating experience and takes a little while to get over. Thankfully you have insurance and a network of support close by.

Your title and story does sum things up nicely. Westerners are used to having luxury around them and place a value on them. Yet so many people in the world have virtually nothing yet are very happy in themselves.

Andrea Eisinberg said...

Thanks for your comment. It is very true what you've said and, in hindsight, I am thankful for the lesson.