It’s a cliche to say that somewhere is a land of contrasts, but Cambodia really is. As I’ve arrived on a weekend, I’ve taken the chance to go and see some of the tourist landmarks. First stop was the opulent royal palace and the national museum filled with the riches from Angkor. Second stop was Tuol Sleng, the school converted in to a torture center under the Khmer Rouge, and the Killing Fields.
Going from one sight to another makes you wonder how a country can ever begin to recover from such atrocities. In many ways it can’t. The country lost approximately a quarter of its population during the brutal years of the Khmer Rouge. It still remains one of the poorest countries in Asia, with nearly 3 million citizens living in poverty, around a third of children under 5 being stunted because of poor nutrition and a life expectancy of just 60.5 years for men and 63.5 years for women.
However my dinner in the evening did begin to answer the question of how recovery is possible. I went to a restaurant called Dine in the Dark- food is served in the pitch black and the restaurant is run by blind staff who guide you safely to your seats and let you know when food has arrived. Between my struggles with cutlery and various curries, I talked to my waitress. She had been born blind and was brought up in an orphanage. Despite this inauspicious start, she has now been awarded a university scholarship, is studying English literature, has a deep interest in Shakespeare and hopes to become an interpreter. Working at the restaurant allows her to begin saving money for a laptop, to continue her studies. With such determination, we can hope that the future for such young people will be a complete contrast with their past.