Katie McCallum has been in Cambodia with Tearfund’s Transform programme. Now reflecting on her trip from the comfort of a South-Thai beach, she writes her final update.
I’m sitting on a beautiful white-sand beach, sun shining, waves gently rolling, stuffing my face with the most incredible Thai meal I have ever had the fortune to taste. Red thai curry, tropical fruit, sticky black rice and coconut custard. You name it, I’ve eaten it all in the past few days. Since finishing up in Cambodia with CHO, a couple of friends from the Transform team and I have been travelling in Thailand, mostly sun-seeking, as we’re desperate to tan before we go home. We’ve been elephant trekking, sunbathing and most of all shopping; as only girls on holiday know how.
It was really weird jumping from the rural landscape of Poipet to the tourist scene here in Koh Chang, an Island off the south coast of Thailand. My mum warned me about culture shock, but I hadn’t anticipated how completely bewildered I’d feel when all the poverty of Poipet would be swept under a brightly coloured Thai rug; left to gather dust in my memory. Going back to the picture of me eating (or over-eating) on the beach, I can’t help but ask what am I doing?? It seems that all I can do as a response to the poverty I witnessed whilst working at CHO is to eat, shop, and worry about my tan. It’s like I’ve got this defence mechanism against situations that make me feel uncomfortable; in this case I’ve been stuffing myself with so much food and shopping that there won’t be space for the faces of the hungry kids that I was teaching last week.
This may make me sound like a cruel, heartless beast, but I don’t think that’s true. I think this kind of defence system kicks in without us really noticing. We come back from a mission trip having seen something incredible and life-changing, and then our old lives take over again. Relatively little changes. Or we find ourselves going into hyper-consumption, like I have.
I want to change the pattern of my life. I don’t want my response to poverty to be a destructive one. I want it to drive me forward, towards the goal of trampling out injustice in the world. It’s a big change, but I believe that I can get there, step by step. My first step is this: when I get home, I’m going to rememeber to pray for the people I met in Poipet every time I eat rice. It’s a trigger to remember my time here, to bring my past experience into the present. Hopefully this will develop a rhythm of prayer in my life, and hopefully I’ll be able to take a number of these small steps towards letting the reality of the world get to me – and stay with me – just a little bit more.