There were three of us, all men, and it was getting dark. Sand was clinging to our clothes and the rain pelted us with drops of water so huge they stung. We had walked a long way, and we underestimated the time it took to get from one end of the beach to the other. There was no public transportation around, and to be able to return to our hotel we had to walk quite the distance.
There were three of us, all men: a Filipino, a Cambodian and an American. We all worked for the United Nations, trying to bring international justice to the social fore by helping out the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. It was an afternoon off for us, a Thursday; the next day, we were to go back to a convention to document the civil party complaints against the perpetrators of the mass murders back during the Pol Pot era.
We were dressed in ordinary clothes, suitable for walking along the beach. Cambodia’s Sihanouk beaches were yet to be developed, and the roads had no lights at night whatsoever. We would be walking in the dark, wet and cold from the heavy downpour, in half an hour, if we didn’t find a way back to our hotel by then.
A car passed. It was a beautiful black wagon, with an open compartment at the back for cargo. I had the crazy idea of hitching a ride; since we had nothing to lose in trying anyhow, I put out my thumb. But it just sped on, oblivious to the three men obviously in need of help.
After a few minutes, another vehicle passed. It was a beaten-down truck, with the same open area at the back for cargo, rusty and bent on all sides. We thought it wouldn’t stop, but it did, a few meters from where we stood. The three of us rushed joyfully onto the back of the truck. We yelled “Okun charan!” to the three men inside it. The driver gave us a thumbs-up.
It was twilight then, and light was slowly seeping out of the world. We were assaulted by pebbles of rain water as the truck sped on, but we were happy. We were going home with the help of these men. They were strangers, poorer than poor, yet they did not hesitate to help.
I understand that in either situation, the reaction of either group, the ones riding in the new wagon or the ones riding in the old truck, would have been suspicion. After all, trust is a hard commodity to find in Cambodia these days, especially after what its people went through during the past decades of suffering and slow healing. The crime rate, we had been warned, was especially high in tourist areas like Sihanoukville, and so wariness was expected from the locals.
It is ironic to note that if we were indeed robbers and had taken the wagon, still those seemingly affluent people inside it would have something left to come home to. But had we taken the truck, it looked as if we would have taken everything from the men inside it. And it made me realize how funny life shapes the outlook of people when it comes to helping others: Most often, those who have little but much to lose end up giving the most.
There were three of us, all men, and it was getting dark. We were so far from our shelter for the night. Yet with the help of three strangers who took a chance on us, we got back safe.
Chad Patrick Osorio, 22, is a psychology honor graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman, where he is currently a student at the College of Law. He worked as a legal intern for the United Nations in Cambodia and is now touring the Philippines.