Wednesday morning my 12th grade class read a story in their English textbook titled “Who Is Responsible?” about Nepalese farmers who unwittingly cut down trees for fuel, then must deal with drought and floods. We looked at a map and saw that such disasters would likely affect other countries. We asked, when a disaster occurs, who is responsible? Nearly all the students said the Nepalese farmers were responsible and should take care of it by themselves. Interesting response coming from a country that according to the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC) has 3,500 registered NGOs. In fact, Cambodia has the second highest number of NGOs per capita in the world, after Rwanda. (That report was made in 2013. It may be higher today.)
That afternoon, my site mate Jenny and I decided to meet up for a coffee chat before my Art Club. While riding her bike, she was hit from behind by a guy in a sugarcane truck. He stopped the truck and took off for the hills. When I arrived Jenny was on the ground, in shock, clothes shredded, one side of her body skinned raw. A beat-up ambulance arrived. They picked her up like a sack of potatoes and dropped her on a gurney. She cried. You would’ve too. The ambulance’s siren screamed all the way to Phnom Penh—for two hours. Our Peace Corps Medical Officer, Dr Hoar met us on the road. His calm assurance helped us both endure another 45 minutes of traffic jams in the city. Once at the hospital, time shifted into slow motion. The x-rays, sonogram, and MRI took hours to complete. The nurses didn’t get around to cleaning her wounds till 10 o’clock at night. Dr Haor, usually mild mannered, whispered to me, “I might have to get angry.”
Today is Saturday. She is still in the hospital, but sustained no fractures or major internal damage. On the way to Phnom Penh in the ambulance Jenny went through the “Why me?” question. Then came the existential crisis, “Why am I here?” She is lucky to be alive.
The morning after, I awoke in that dim light of dream consciousness with a vision of a banner that read Do The Right Thing! I told Jenny about it and we decided to do a school and village-wide teach-in to address just that. Who is responsible? What is the right thing to do?
Yesterday Jenny received a visit from female relatives of the hit and run driver. They brought fruit, and soda, and apologies. The driver is still missing. Too often we read in the news of people who run away when they cause an accident. Fight or flight is the first response. We want to put the question to our community: What is the difference between first thought and best thought? We want to engage our community in this discussion. As Jenny said, “I didn’t come to this country to sue poor people.” It relates the 12th grade class response about the beleaguered farmers in Nepal, “Who is responsible?” We want them to feel our compassion and to recover that in themselves. We are all responsible, individually and collectively. We are in all in this world together.