- Georgia Rodgers
The Human Connection
Updated: Feb 8
Humans are complex beings. Yet despite our diverse experiences of tragedies and privileges, the very foundation of all of our experiences are primarily concreted by similar wants, needs and desires. Our basic constructs are set upon the need for shelter, security, love, and support. Even beyond the human experience, if we begin to understand animals and the kingdom in which they live, we are all not too dissimilar from the rest.
There is a beauty in this, that when we strip away our egos, the grandeur façade of the material world, our insecurities, and the messiness of the human condition, we all come into this world the same, and we will all eventually depart; leaving with only ourselves.
As a result, when done with compassion and curiosity, the human connection is such a joyous thing to observe and encounter. The magnificence in our differences and similarities, our experiences, and lessons, all of which can bring us together. Even through humble encounters; whether that be over a cup of coffee, a walk in the park, or simply a quick smile as you pass in the street.
During a university placement in Cambodia, I had the privilege of partaking in a homestay experience in a small village on the remote island of Koh P’dao, within the Kratie province of Cambodia. The only way of accessing the community was via a one-hour boat trip up the mighty Mekong River.
The Mekong River is the blood flowing through the heart of Cambodia, it has hundreds of stories to tell and it led me to one of the greatest lessons of all.
The intention of our homestay was to be fully immersed into another culture and to observe this wholeheartedly without any cross-culture interference or impositions. This is not only for individuals to fully understand the culture and society they are participating within, but to also give a voice to the locals who are often forgotten when Western development initiatives are involved.
While I still debate whether our time within the village didn’t create any burdens for the locals, what I can say, was this was an initiative run by the locals themselves and created an income for many of these families. It was a learning experience for us all, as we were both exposed to differences and many cultural barriers that we otherwise may not have experienced.
Each one of us was hosted by a family who lived on the island, and with such multitudes of generosity, they provided us with accommodation within their homes; despite our ignorant cultural understandings and language barriers.
I was placed in the home of an elderly woman who lived alone. No younger than 80, this woman opened her home to a stranger. She gave me a bed and cooked me meals.
In my downtime, I would sit at the front door and watch the world pass by. Perched high above the ground, it was a humble home, built on stilts and made from bamboo, allowing a cool airflow; an efficient natural air conditioning system to accommodate the muggy and relentless stickiness of the tropical Cambodian climate. The sound of children’s laughter bouncing between houses, chickens basking in the warm sun, and watching the normality of something so foreign to me, was both deeply comforting and challenging.
Going into this experience, I instinctively had the pre-judgement that their ‘basic’ way of living would in no way progress them as a society. Having no running water or electricity and no motor transport, we were being immersed into a way of life so different from our accustomed comforts and routines. I am okay to admit that it initially terrified me, and as a result, made me very quick to pass ignorant and loaded judgement.
How vastly different this was to my regular bricks and mortar and my meticulously scheduled life routine and comfortably controlled climate, where convenience is found at the touch of a button and a flick of a switch. However, having the privilege to fully immerse myself for a length of time within this village, my naïve and ignorant values were deeply challenged and shifted.
And for that, I will forever be grateful.
My pre-judgements were from my limited perspective, something that is a very common thing to do; especially when it involves getting out of your comfort zone. Our judgements almost act as a safety net, a barrier to keep us secure in times of uncertainty. However, these judgements can also make us blind.
Without awareness to these predispositions, we risk the tendency to quickly fall back to what we are comfortable with and neglect the respect of acknowledging and appreciating a difference in others and culture. This is also where we see the development of colonial values and impacts within vulnerable communities arising.
I was challenged with these very conflicting thought processes, and, through a lot of discussion and deliberations, I decided I was going to shift my judgement and challenge everything that I ever thought was right.
There is such an instinct embedded into the Western thought- that we must ‘fix’, that we are righteous in our knowing, and we must show others the way.
In challenging this, I learnt more about myself than what I could ever provide in return.
The first point of call was the narrative of development. If we ‘flip the perspective’, there is a lot more for us to learn. To approach development with the perspective that ‘I’ am the one who is from the ‘developing’ position, and remote communities, such as Koh Pdao are ‘developed', permits us to write a very different narrative.
The village of Koh Pdao was far richer in a variety of other aspects of life. This community had mastered collectivism, they had created a strong sense of community, there was non-material attachment, they were selflessly welcoming with their generosity, and most importantly, they were in the present. They had developed significantly further in a lot more aspects of life than Western societies ever have, and ever will.
During our time on the island, we had a meeting with the village Chief. He was an elderly man who had lived his whole life within Koh Pdao and had endured many significant life experiences, including the Pol Pot regime. We discussed many things with him and enjoyed an afternoon in the sun, asking questions and learning about the politics of the island. One question, however, that has stuck with me ever since, was concerning what development initiatives he would like to see within his community. Initially, we all thought we knew what his answer was going to be. We all assumed that he would suggest better healthcare facilities, maybe even a health clinic, as well as improved school amenities and anything that would better facilitate education and health. After all, this was a ‘primitive’ island that had no running water or electricity. But to our ignorant surprise, the Chief suggested better quality roads and bridges.
I was shocked. But not at his answer. I was surprised at my predisposition and assumptions. I was embarrassed that I thought I knew what he wanted, and in doing so, undermined what was valued within this community.
I was a student in the last year of my International Development degree, how could I be so wrong? I had to remind myself again, of my privilege and remember, that what may be a commodity that would benefit me, will not necessarily benefit another group of people living in an entirely different way. I had let my privilege and entitlement get the better of me, and it contributed to my thought process so easily and so unknowingly. Without dialogue and a willingness to understand, I would never have grasped this concept and appreciation for difference.
When I stepped back and evaluated the Chief’s answer, it made complete sense. If you don’t have adequately built bridges and safe roads, how would individuals even get to these health clinics and schools that I was so eager to propose and build? This lesson, which came from immersing myself, learning and asking questions, and allowing the curiosity of human connection to flourish has had such a profound impact on my recognition and understanding into the importance of just that; human connection and understanding. For without it, there can be little room for acceptance and even more importantly, compassion and unity as a collective.
For further insight into this discussion, I have written a similar piece that breaks down these pre-dispositions in more depth: https://www.useyourprivilegeforgood.com/post/challenging-our-predispositions
The small relationship I formed with the woman who hosted me and the community that embraced us, is a beautiful testament to the human connection and a wonderful reminder to remember what is most important in life. Watching the world from the porch, a world so foreign to me, yet so compellingly beautiful, a world that forced me to be still and present, as well as listen and reflect, the laughter of children on the streets, and the collectivism within the community- felt equally like a familiar home, as it felt foreign through its deep internal challenges.
How wonderful it is to have a belly laugh with a stranger trying to figure out a situation we are both not entirely sure of. To come to a mutual realisation of conceded contentment despite the obvious barriers of language, and cultural differences.
It is a beautiful thing to fully unmask and surrender to a situation that is so foreign to the comfortable walls of our normality, for what can be discovered within this unknown can be so glorious in its impact, whether it’s big or small; and I can assure you it is absolutely worth it.
After my stay had come to an end, my elderly host wrote me a letter. Although it was in Khmer, I knew the value and weight of such a gesture. To have someone put pen to paper and express their thoughts so intimately is the greatest love and expression of all.
I later got it translated by a friend. It read:
“To my dear daughter,
Mother will miss you so much when you go back. However, I cannot stop your journey and wish you good health- please take good care of yourself. Mother is wishing your health and luck always.
From your beloved Mother- Koh P’dao”
And just like that, despite our vastly different experiences, situations and privileges, my mother on Koh P’dao wished me the very core of what we all want- good care, good health, and luck always.
We may be complex beings, but we are also very simple at the core.