I remember playing the game, Risk, with my brothers when I was a kid. I don’t remember much about it except that I think the goal of it is world domination. That’s probably why I stopped playing it. I don’t like, Monopoly, either. Go ahead, call me a socialist. What I do remember is that the game board is a map of the world. Being a word lover, I was taken with some of the place names. One of them was “Kampuchea”.

I haven’t thought about the word, “Kampuchea” for a long time until recently, like last month. I was in Cambodia and silly me, I did not know that the Cambodians call their country, “Kampuchea”. When I was informed of this, I thought back to the game.

I also thought of the risks people take in life. We hired a driver in Cambodia, Tong. Tong is a man in his 30’s, married, with two children. He was obviously smart, knowledgeable, and very personable. Tong had to work full-time on the family rice farm after he finished elementary school. His parents were from Phnon Penh and had lived through the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, the genocides of the Killing Fields, a secret (not to them) war waged by the U.S., and civil war.

Cambodia has been through unspeakable horror. Although they are currently in a period of stability, they are still a country with four millions landmines, yet to be located. Every year, people are harmed or killed by landmines, leftover from the past. Tong told me that his parents do not like to talk about war times or the genocides that they witnessed first hand. Tong, however, took the risk of telling me about it. He took us to a Killing Fields outdoor memorial exhibit in Siem Reap. Tong told me the stories. He told me the details. I asked questions. At one point, he gently asked me to speak more softly.

Tong later explained to me that the area was a temple and the monk that is in charge of the temple has close ties to the Communist Party.  Although Cambodia is supposed to be a democracy, it is not. It is controlled by the People’s Party and the elections are not fair. There is no freedom of speech in Cambodia. Tong, from the safety of the inside of his car, explained to us that he has to have “pineapple eyes”. Telling us about his concerns of corruption on every level of government, even in the public school system. (School is supposed to be free but the teachers charge the families money.)

Sometimes we seek out risks. Other times, we cannot escape them, because of war, violence, natural disaster, or disease. It is fascinating to me how the scared part of my brain can put all risks into the same undifferentiated category. I am learning to get perspective. All risks are not created equal.

Some risks just involve getting past discomfort or manageable amounts of stress. To be honest, though I love to travel, I had put off taking a trip to Asia. The flight seemed way too long, I don’t know any of the languages, and Asia is crowded! Further, Cambodia is an extremely poor country. Though it’s economy is growing, the average annual wage is $7500 USD. I had to face the discomfort of my own wealth and privilege, which is really just luck.

I got past this and we had a fabulous vacation. I also contributed to the economy of countries that need it. As for Tong, the tip that we gave him paid for three terms of school for his daughter. He is working for more opportunities for his children. Tong is making sure that they learn English and Mandarin, for example.

Maybe I’ll even start playing, “Risk” again. It’s not real world domination. It’s just uncomfortable. It’s just a game.

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