Today I hopped on my motorcycle to meet a friend for coffee. I don’t own a car because I don’t have enough money and also because sometimes I like to pretend i’m in mission impossible and zoom around. I was stared at by nearly everyone I passed. I don’t look like the people around me. By the time you reach my age, there might not be many places like that in the world.
I passed a lady who carted around eggs to sell for a living. Not too far from her was a couple on an old beat up moto, the woman was cradling a new born baby, not too much older than you. As my little moto sped forward I dodged a car, a very expensive one. There are a lot of those in Phnom Penh. I continued down the street, seeing out of the corner of my eye two monks rhythmically chanting their prayers over two other men bent forward, accepting the prayer and giving the monks some pieces of bread in return. I was almost to the coffee place, but had to go further down the road. This part of the road didn’t have the hustle and bustle of the other streets. The shops on this street were quiet in the morning, because their transaction of goods happened mainly at night. They don’t sell eggs or coffee, they sell bodies in the guise of a karaoke bar. I say a little prayer every time I go on this street. My tires kept rolling, I passed a few other shops and restaurants and turned right into the coffee shop. During that ride I thought of you many times. I’ve been thinking about you since I heard you existed. I’ve thought about what kind of Auntie I want to be to you, and what I would want to share with you about this big world we live in. You are too young to understand any of this now, but thinking about the man you may become gives me great hope.
In that quick ride, I saw so much. So much that I never could have imagined would become my reality. My hope for you is that you go to places that you never thought you would. Don’t ever stop exploring, or adventuring. Go to places where you stick out, go to places that have different belief systems and languages and cultures than the one you have. Get lost in places you’ve never been, and experience life outside of your comfort zone. Make friends from different places, and receive the joy of having a global family. Don’t be afraid because places, or people are different. Embrace and accept the beauty in the differences.
I told you I saw another baby on a moto, not too far from your age. Because of where you were born you will have a completely different life. You were born into safety, certainty, and freedom. Because of where you were born you will never understand the level of poverty and hardship this child might face. Because of your nationality you can easily attend some of the best schools in the world, you never have to worry about healthcare, and with your passport, you have easy access to almost every country. That is not to say that you and this child will not be equally loved, I know nothing of this child’s future or family background. What I do know, is that at the surface level, you will have an easier life. What I also know is that at a deeper level you must understand that we are all human. You are not better than one person because of education, wealth, status, or because you do more “good things”- you can not place a value on their life in any superficial way. You never know someones story, and must do your best to understand everyones story. To not only place yourself in somebody else’s shoes, but to ask about their shoes, and the places they have been.
You will see many things through your sweet blue-green eyes, and wonder about many things. You might wonder why people drive $80,000 cars and have $20,000 worth of fish for fun and appearances, while other people are malnourished, and are having their lives decided for them as they are sold into brick factories to pay back a $500 loan. I hope you will wonder about these things, because that means you will want to do something about the injustices that happen everyday. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Never underestimate your potential, and the power you have to affect lives and change the world. Do not let anyone else define you, or place you in a box because of your age. You define who you are, and you define what you stand for. I pray you will grow into a compassionate man, and I pray the world is a better place 20 years from now because of steps you have taken to love others well. I also pray that you will remember to laugh during the hard times, and that you will seek joy in all situations.
This world is a beautiful, hard place with the most amazing people– I can hardly wait to watch as you grow, discover and change it.
Love, Auntie CC
And for whoever else is reading this– it is never too late to take this advice to heart. You are a beautifully unique individual who can do amazing things!