Here I am, back in Austin after a 25-hour journey, across the world, from my new favorite place of Cambodia. I will be honest with you. While my father’s involvement in Harpswell, a college women’s dormitory and leadership center of the top 100 female students across Phnom Penh’s universities, had always impressed me, I was not expecting much more awe than from the brilliant girls whom I met.
But I was wrong (clearly). I left Cambodia feeling rejuvenated from its beauty and serenity, overwhelmed by a five-day whirlwind of jam-packed sightseeing, and motivated to do more.
|Sali, head of Red Dirt Road|
I spent one day in a village whose people’s smiles transcended any need for verbal communication. I witnessed the village’s newest initiative, entitled Red Dirt Road, an internal sewing business that prevents these sweet women from joining thousands of garment sweatshop workers (receiving only $80 per month). I listened to an inspiring panel of speakers—a Buddhist monk, Scottish-turned-Hong Kongan life coach, the President of UN Women in Cambodia, the Harpswell founder/leading MIT professor, and my father—who encouraged college women to be the change and leadership Cambodia needs as the country stiffly heals from its genocide only 35 years ago. I sang words of hope to the Harpswell women (with a jam session of Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift afterward, of course). I ate fantastic dishes prepared by chefs and waiters who were once street youth and now lead the culinary scene in Phnom Penh. I laughed and danced at a concert with author and female business leader Utara, whose involvement in Cambodia’s economic growth is distinctly admirable.
I don’t mean to distract from the primary purpose of my blog—you all know that I can’t wait to share my cooking class stories and restaurant favorites—but I hope this reflection arouses a desire to visit, or at the least, learn about a new culture beyond the food. Make it a New Years resolution. Form a connection and realize the similarities between those across the world and us. The impact is profound!
And please, please add Cambodia to your bucket list. I promise you won’t be sorry. Plus, you will be going with plenty of restaurant recommendations to get your itinerary started! You’re welcome.