By Ronni Husmann
Her wrinkled and fatigued hands offer me a clear plastic bag full of those homemade dried mangoes she’s praised for in her village. I bow and mutter, “Akon”, not sure if my pronunciations are close to accurate, let alone if that’s even the right word to say. She laughs at my attempt to thank her in Khmer and leads me through the house, past the rows of vibrant handmade scarves draped over the stained and battered walls, like an abandoned house being renovated with new wallpaper. I exit the silk warehouse and look down the dirt road with curiosity at a serene, unpaved, and unfamiliar community. In the middle of the expansive road, rests a small red mound; a towel perhaps? When arrhythmic banging ensues, as if on cue, the tiny blob suddenly doubles in size, and scurries to the side of the road. Utterly intrigued, I journey toward the ghost of the red mound and simultaneously follow the sound of the uncoordinated banging. That’s when I see them. A boy sitting with his back against a broken cement wall, completely engrossed in the creation of his unparalleled music, and with nothing less than an ear-to-ear smile. As I approach the young Cambodian boy, the towel creases of the red mound next to him fall to the ground and a small face with wide eyes and a gaping mouth emerges. Mesmerized by the strange American lady gazing back at him with the same expression, the stare between us was only broken by the innocent giggle of the boy making the only sound for miles, amused by our ocular stand-off. He taps the wooden sticks awkwardly against the dirty white bucket and only opens his eyes when he hears the shutter of my camera attempting to capture the magic of this intimate moment.
My escapades through Southeast Asia this summer have left me with an absolute obsession with foreign cultures and an infinite pondering of my comparatively mundane life in Pasadena. This moment, from a small silk village on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is something I think about often and will continue to remember for as long as I live. The pure happiness of these barefoot, carefree, imaginative children who I shared an indelible 15 seconds with, have given me the humbling gift of perspective and appreciation, and I am forever grateful to them.