After a long day of sitting at the airport I had finally arrived in Siem Reap. Luckily for me I had a friend who had one night left in Cambodia, and had recommended me to stay at Onederz Hostel. The hostel was very big, extremely clean, and had an amazing rooftop pool terrace. When I arrived it was 10 p.m., so after a little bit of chatting we decided to go and check out Pub Street and the Night Market.
Heading to Pub Street at night is interesting to say the least, especially if you’re a guy with a good amount of visible tattoos. I felt like target practice for the tuk tuk drivers, who were relentless with their generous offers of MDMA, cocaine, ice, marijuana, little girls/boys, and of course tuk tuk rides. Though it is pretty offputting to have driver after driver offering their numerous services, a simple “no” and they seemed to always go on their way.
Pub Street consists of a few bars, with the main two being Angkor What! and Temple. The music is mickeymouse, kids were piss drunk, and the place lacked any soul. I finished my 50 cent beer and got the hell out, but thankfully upon departure I was handed a flyer for Soul Train; a tiny little reggae bar. I followed the directions, and after walking down a long sketchy side alley (encountering a few offers for drugs and prostitution along the way of course) there it was, this tiny place with long cushioned benches along that wrapped along wall. It didn’t have much, but it had undeniable energy. I loved it so much that by day 2 I had 4 fellow backpackers tag along, day 3 I had 7, and day 4 over a dozen of us walk in. I’m not to sure if it’s how I explain things, however if I suggest something I’m truly passionate about, people tend to listen. Out of all the partying I did in SE Asia, that tiny little spot takes first place (with the afterhours in Thailand after the Full Moon Party a close second 😜).
“Anything yet?”, was the question I got asked many times that night as I was waiting for my response from the Peace Corps. I knew the response had to come by the end of the day, so the impatience began setting in. I tried not looking too much into it, but it’s only normal to have excitement for something that you really want. Hours of talking came and went and we decided to call it a night. We wished each other good luck and went our separate ways (something that has become much easier throughout my travels as goodbyes became a daily thing).
The next morning I woke up and immediately opened my phone. There was a knot in my stomach as I knew the decision had to have come in by now. When I saw the email from the Peace Corps I opened it without hesitation as my eyes feverishly scanned my phone.
“Regret” was all I had to read, I put the phone down and starred at the bunk bed hovering over me. Numerous thoughts began rushing through my head, especially “what now”. I am not going to deny it, the news definitely hurt. I kept envisioning all the good I could have done with the kids of Macedonia, as well as the aid it would have provided me through the grief process I had been dealing with. The very moment that last thought I just shared had gone through my mind something changed inside of me. I realized that the fact that I had hoped the Peace Corps would help with my grief meant I wasn’t 100% in it for the right reasons. I reminded myself of something I have preached countless times in my life. It is impossible to know what the future holds. To know what has lead us to this very moment in our existence would mean untangling a web of millions upon millions of decisions, an impossible task.
When I walked through Siem Reap that day I was overwhelmed with a feeling of content, excited to experience more of the city. Walking near my hostel I heard the sound of kids playing outside at a school. As I approached I realized there was a sign asking for English speaking volunteers.
Though it was only an hour I felt compelled to volunteer, for more than one reason. Firstly, I reminded myself I do not need to be in Macedonia with the Peace Corps to help make a difference. Secondly, and more importantly, I felt it’s the least I could do for a woman who has deeply impacted my life, and the lives of hundreds, Pat Hopkins. Walking through the schoolyard to speak to Kanha I became extremely emotional.
Pat Hopkins was my moms best friend, and without a doubt the strongest woman that I have ever met. Every time I saw Pat, no matter what she was going through, she was always smiling; even with a million justifiable reasons to complain. 8 years ago she was diagnosed with cancer, and with all of the odds stacked against her, she was able to stretch what should have been a few months to live into 8 years, all the while maintaining an angelic like peace and calm about her at all times. Her will to survive was driven by her needing to raise her kids, and to see them do amazing things with their lives. I can’t articulate into words the type of person she was, all I can say is my life is better because I knew her, and I feel bad for those who never got the chance to be touched by her beautiful soul. The strength I witnessed this woman portray is something I have used to derive my own strength from on countless occasions.
Though Pat’s story about survival and love is enough to fill 10 books (let alone blog entries), There is surprisingly even more to her incredible story. The reason that walking through this school zone was so emotional for me, and the reason that Pat came to mind, was because of the extraordinary, selfless actions that Pat had made in this very country years ago. When Pat told me this story over dinner at an Indian restaurant I was left utterly speechless.
Pat’s daughter Joannie wrote:
“Meeting mom for the first time. Mark (aka Thavin) is the one on the left and I’m the one on the right in her lap. Interestingly enough, Mark is a lefty and I’m a righty. The children on the left side of the orphanage did not survive due to severe malnourishment. The children on the right were brought back to the U.S by my mother to be adopted by other American families unwilling to go over to Southeast Asia in 1988. She physically went over, risked her life for mine and these other ten orphans. Mark and I were also severely malnourished. At 2 years old, the age we were in this picture, we weighed 8 and 1/2 lbs, the size of a healthy American newborn, and couldn’t walk because we were so weak….I forget this sometimes, and when I’m down, I look at this photo and remember how truly grateful I am for every single thing in my life bc of this woman, my mother, aka Mumsie, Patty, Mamma Dukes, Madre, Ma Mere…all the names she hated me calling her aside from Ma…Love you, always and forever! ☺️😘❤️
Before there was ever an adoption program with Cambodia, Pat, while working for Congress’s went there and risked her life for the lives of these children. Literally having to duck from stray bullets whizzing by her bedroom and having all of her belongings stolen. The streets of Cambodia can still be a scary place, and I can only imagine what it was like in 1988, 9 short years after a genocide that left 3 million Cambodians dead.
Seeing all the kids in the classroom that day, laughing as they were trying their hardest to properly pronounce words, I couldn’t help but get emotional thinking of my dear friend Pat. The lesson I learned that day is there are so many ways to make an impact, to feel fulfilled in life. Pat risked her life to save the lives of 10 kids who lived across the world, however this selfless story affected more than just 10 children. It taught countless people (including her children) the true meaning of living a life that expands beyond the close sighted self indulgent needs and wants, and the more stories like that of Pat’s get circulated, the more the world becomes a better place.
Pat’s son Mike is now an EMT, her youngest son Thomas is in school and getting straight A’s, her son Michael just returned from Iraq and goes to Ranger school in September, her daughter Joannie is a pharmacy tech, and her son mark is an Aid. These kids will do great things with their lives, and through Pat, will touch countless lives. I have never liked the phrase “everything happens for a reason”, rather “everything happens for many reasons”. When something horrible happens we may not be able to see the whole meaning/reason, but always have faith that everything eventually balances out.
It may not be as laid out as a structured Peace Corps program, and it may not have a close correlation to an area that means a lot to go to (like Macedonia with myself). However, if you want to TRULY make a change, no matter how big or small it may be, you can. Pat is a testimant to that, and my goal in life is to try my hardest to be a 10th of the person she was.
“We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.”