Monday, October 25, 2010

I aim to be a traveler, not a mere tourist

One chapter in Anas Zubedy's The Quran and I caught my attention. Chapter 9: The Traveler. How he differentiated travelers into 3 categories. empty traveler, physical traveler and The Traveler. Empty one is described as the one going on trips with no preparation whatsoever. Physical traveler is the one traveling with all the equipments necessary to last a month, but with no heart or brain in it, just merely following the trail of the journey, taking a lot of his/her photos obscuring the views. and The Traveler, is the one who brings all that necessary without overdoing him/herself, and also participate and contribute something into that journey. or better yet, learn something from it. to quote the writer; 'a real traveler is a person who is physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared. they went with a full tank, and came back with a bigger tank that cries for more. their tanks are forever enlarging. theirs are not just attending but also learning. theirs are not just attendance but also participation and contribution.'
I aim to be that kind of a traveler. not a mere tourist with albums or memory cards full of photographs, but brain and heart withhold nothing of value.
i do not travel a lot. i don't have that much time, nor resources. but when i do, i learn a great deal. might seem trivial to some people, but not to me.
a recent Cambodian trip taught me a lot. it taught me that there are always two sides of a story. i've been to a developed country. i've seen their technologies and quite caught with awe by it. but, the other side of the story is, there are underdeveloped countries in this world as well. and i can say i've been to one too.
the trip's original purpose was to help the people of a couple of Muslim villages. we were divided into two groups and i was in the group going to the village with its habitants already gathered in a small school. i regretted that we did not get to see how they live, but they still needed our help, whatever we could offer.

Whatever. We. Could. Offer.

these children went after the little snacks and trinkets we passed around like they had never seen them before. and maybe they hadn't. how many Malaysian kids you can say haven't eaten a packet of junk food his/her entire life before? be grateful. please.
One particular girl caught my attention more than the rest.

the girl holding on to her red bag tight with both her hands, securing everything that was given to her. she had the saddest expression on her face all the time, but she hardly begged. she just sat there when the rest of the kids swarmed around us with hands outstretched, waiting, hoping. being like that, however, she hardly got anything at all.
i tried to give her a packet of mamee once, but another girl tried to grab it right from her hand. i held on to the packet in her hand, until the other girl gave up and let go. she looked up at me and i tried to smile at her, although something changed in me. she quickly put the Mamee in her bag. i turned around and bit my lips, trying hard not to tear up. I can never look at a packet of mamee the same, ever again.
I remember at that time, images of my nieces and nephews came across my mind. how lucky they are, how they would never imagine to beg and push people around for a packet of junk food or a jelly. how lucky...
After we finished at the village, we went to the Killing Field or Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre, one of the places that proved the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge. to quote Wikipedia (oh, yeah, I googled), the Khmer Rouge was the name given to the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, who were the ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, led by Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Son Sen and Khieu Samphan. The regime led by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979 was known as the Democratic Kampuchea.
This organization is remembered primarily for its policy of social engineering, which resulted in Genocide, which is (quoting wikipedia, again) "any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group."
I never heard of that word, and never could imagine the cruelty it inflicted until i was there, standing at Killing Field which held 86 huge holes where this regime dumped almost 20,000 bodies of the Cambodian people they killed, mostly without any reason, at all. and these victims included women and children. there was a tree they claimed to be the one where babies were thrown at to die (1). there was a huge tree this cruel regime put speakers on, and played sound over and over again so people outside the camp wouldn't hear the agonizing screams of the victims inside (2).

A seventeen-storeyed memorial (3) was erected to house the skulls (4), bones and clothings of the victims they collected after a massive excavation from the holes. some holes held specific type of victims: without heads, naked bodies of children and women. one hole even held up to 450 bodies... and this is just from one killing field. history stated that during this regime, almost 1.7 million people were sacrificed to this cruel genocide.
seeing this tragic history, not so long ago, only a little more than 30 years ago, its no wonder that Cambodia is as it is today. the people are still trying to recover, are still staggering and trying to regain their footing, economically and socially. and they make do with whatever they have.

the pic on the right is one type of the mode of transportation they have besides the famous tut-tut. people sit on the planks like they sit in a bus. i couldn't take a clear pic of the vehicle (i don't even know what it's called) with people on it, so i took the one without.

Adults trying to make do with their lives and children with nothing better to do, running around, some shirtless, some dirtier than the other, with no clear understanding of what their lives are missing.
And this was the scenery that greeted us almost all along our journey. houses which we could barely call home, seeing the poor condition they are in. due to floods that come every end of the year (according to our fluently malay-spoken, Cambodian tour guide, Encik Ansari), most of the houses are built high above the ground.

it was a difficult sight to behold, a hard experience to swallow.
but, yeah, we had fun. we rode in tut-tut, went to Siem Reap to see the famous Angkor Watt and we shopped too. Cambodia is famous for its original precious stones (which i had no freaking idea how to buy) that come with much cheaper price (i was told) than what you get in Malaysia. and since we traveled a 6-hours journey by bus to Ho Chi Minh on our way back to Malaysia through Vietnam (by plane, of course) i took the opportunity to buy some cotton fabrics and telekung there for my sisters too. and some shirts for my parents, brothers and nieces and nephews.
but, the cheerful physical things i brought back couldn't really mirror the not-so-cheerful mental memories i keep with me. i might be in a shock. i did not expect it to be the way it was. but heck, i learned. a lot. it was, in a cruel way i might say, a wonderful experience. one, i am impatient to experience again. and again. and again. honest.
so, yeah, i aim to be that kind of a traveler. the real traveler who is "physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared. the one that goes with a full tank and comes back with a bigger tank that cries for more. the one who is not just attendance, but also participation and contribution. the one who is not just attending, but also learning".
and yeah, there's more yet to see, more yet to learn.
'Maka bukan sedikit negeri-negeri yang Kami binasakan dengan sebab kezaliman penduduknya, lalu runtuh ranaplah bangunan-bangunannya dan bukan sedikit pula telaga yang telah terbiar dan istana yang tersergam (telah kosong, ditinggalkan). Oleh itu, bukankah ada baiknya mereka mengembara di muka bumi supaya dengan melihat kesan-kesan yang tersebut mereka menjadi orang-orang yang ada hati yang dengannya mereka dapat memahami atau ada telinga yang dengannya mereka dapat mendengar? (Tetapi kalaulah mereka mengembara pun tidak juga berguna) kerana keadaan yang sebenarnya bukanlah mata kepala yang buta, tetapi yang buta itu ialah mata hati yang ada di dalam dada.' (Surah Al-Hajj, ayat 45-46).
Moga kita menjadi orang yang belajar dan menghayati dengan hati, bukan sekadar melihat dengan mata, kemudian lupa, mendengar dengan telinga kemudian alpa.
Open our eyes, open our minds, but most important of all, open our hearts.

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