Although we’ve both visited Cambodia separately in the past, we decided to come back because Cambodia is a place you can never forget.
When I [Jenni] visited in 2005, I was on a mission from God. Literally. As a volunteer with a Christian organization, I spent a month in Cambodia traveling throughout the country and working at orphanages. I remember my first night arriving into Phnom Penh and being sent out into the dreary rainy night to buy dinner for the group. At the market, I was completely overwhelmed by the garbage-strewn streets, the half-naked children, the begging families, and the fly-covered food stands. This was a kind of world that I had never seen before.
Yet over the following weeks, I grew to look beyond the poverty and the chaos and to fall in love with the beautiful and resilient people of this country. It was a joy to visit friends at the orphanage from my last visit. After the horrors of the Khmer Rouge in the ’70s and ’80s, the past few decades have seen thousands of NGO’s, church organizations, and foreigner volunteers saturate Cambodia trying to help the country recover. While the tourist can enjoy $4 massages and 50 cent beers, it is hard to ignore the fact that these cheap prices are partially a consequence of Cambodia’s pervasive poverty.
We got a taste of Cambodia’s infrastructure issues when we left the city of Siem Reap as it flooded due to heavy rains and a non-existant sewage system (see photos of the flood and more of our trip). With so many social problems relating to basic needs such as running water, electricity, food access, and HIV, it is hard to imagine that there would be any focus on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. Yet, the LGBT movement progresses here with surprising visibility.
In 2004 after watching images of gay marriage in San Francisco, the 81-year old monarch at the time, King Sihanouk wrote on his website that since Cambodia is a liberal democracy, the Kingdom ought to allow gay marriages. King Sihanouk also stated that he believed that God views homosexuals, as well as transvestites, as equal because “God loves a wide range of tastes.” Yet while there are no laws explicitly against homosexuality, Cambodia’s traditional culture places intense social pressure to marry and have children.
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