Written by Uncle Traveling Matt
We last left off in Kratie but I have had a bit of a life lesion I’d like to get to so I’ll keep the introduction short. In Kratie there was a small Café that advertised another location called Mondokiri which is a small area in the highlands of Cambodia about 6 hours north. It looked nice so I thought I would take a small side trip for a day or two and go hiking and relaxing.
The trip there was an amazing adventure, two hours was spent on the TOP of a pick-up truck holding about 35 to 40 people then a transfer for another four hours in the back of another small Toyota pick-up with 12 other people, a motorbike, lots of bags, and a few chickens, to say I was cramped is an understatement, transportation here is amazing. By the time I arrived I was completely covered with red dust, I mean I was actually RED.
I stayed at a great place called the Nature Lodge, a thatched roof hut with tents on the second floor. The first day there I met several people from various parts of the world and they all proved to be wonderful companions for my time in Mondokiri. Several of us went for a 5 hour Elephant ride in these wee baskets that, in looking back I believe were actually made for collecting fruit. Picture five hours of your knees up by your ears and your butt on a hard wooden bench, it was actually a great deal of fun but 5 hours was PLENTY of Elephant time for me.
Anyway my two days turned into seven in a flash. I had a wonderful week of swimming under waterfalls, great hikes, and conversations that warmed my mind, it felt like a true holiday. On the final morning I took the truck back to Kratie and bought my ticket to the Lao border for the next morning. On my last night in Cambodia I had similar feelings as when I left Japan, Cambodia is a wonderful place and I feel like there is so much more I could see but onward I must go and so I will.
My adventure into Lao was amazing and a story that I will write here one day but for now I need to write about an incident that happened a little more than 24 hours ago (about 10Am on Wednesday the 26th). I was traveling along a local dirt road in Southern Lao between Paksong and Salavan, in a very remote part of southern Lao. I had jumped on a tractor and wagon with a family when a few miles into the journey a boy of about 16 or 17 came out of the bushes on the side of the road and stopped our slow moving tractor, he was carrying an AK-47.
Seeing me he pointed this rifle at me and started yelling at me in Lao (I guess it was Lao though I honestly don’t know). Seeing that I didn’t understand him he came closer and yelled louder. Since there were children in the wagon and he seemed to only be interested in me I separated from the wagon and stood on the farther side of the road away from the family.
My God my heart is racing just typing this. He pushed the front of the rifle to my forehead and began yelling again. I must pause here and say that this is the second time in my life a loaded AK-47 has been held to my head and this never gets easier. My hands in the air and I’m not looking at him in the eyes but I am speaking (in English) smoothly and slowly, it seemed to calm him (and me) down. He put the rifle to his waste and backed away about three feet still aiming at me. I don’t think he understood any English but I think my tone helped to calm him, I don’t know for sure.
From three feet away the blackness of the barrel is something I will not forget. He finally made it known he wanted my wallet and so I very slowly drew it from my front pocket and handed it to him. He slung the rifle on his shoulder and opened the wallet, now I had about $150.00 USD in my wallet with my one credit card and ATM card, he went into the wallet took out ONE twenty dollar bill put it into his jeans and gave me back the wallet…with the rest of the money, the cards, my drivers license…everything, he only took $20.00.
Hands in the air knees weak and heart pounding he once again grabbed the rifle, took a look right into my eyes, pointed the rifle into the air and fired what must have been 6 or 7 shots but the only thing I heard was the blood in my ears…the sound went on forever. When I gathered my wits once again he was gone back into the bush and the family chattered away and the world swam before my eyes. The entire incident couldn’t have been more than ten minutes but in those short minutes I had an eternity to think and value and judge myself, in those few minutes I assessed who and what I am.
This sounds very clich’ I know but I can only describe it as that. My life didn’t flash before my eyes, I didn’t “Rambo” the kid and beat him down, I didn’t cry, I didn’t plead, I simply watched as if it wasn’t me…but the shots brought me back and suddenly my back hurt, my legs were weak and my jaw muscles were strained. I was only afraid after he had gone…it was not from courage but simply from being numb while the gun was to my head and then while I stared down that black barrel almost never ending.
I walked down the dirt track alone until I came to a paved road where I flagged down a passing bus and came about 150 miles north to the city of Savanakret. While I was traveling I noticed that many people stared at me as if they knew what had happened and this puzzled me until I checked into the guesthouse and looked in the mirror. There in the center of my forehead was a perfectly round (a little smudged) black circle from where the barrel had been…This was too much for me and for the first time in a long time cried.
Looking at that ring made the realization all come home and I’ve spent the better part of today really thinking about myself, my actions, my thoughts, my person. I once wrote a poem and in it asked, “If it is possible to experience a life changing situation and emerge on the other side unchanged because you are already where you should be…I can now answer honestly that we are NEVER where we need to be in our life and the moment we think we are is the furthest away we could ever be.
Who is it you want to be? When will you start? Why not right now?
Take Care Be Strong and Remember…Don’t be like me.