This post will be the first of a new ongoing set that I will add to as the year continues. The premise of these posts will be descriptions based specifically on senses. Just after the start of the New Year, I found myself using the TukTuk ride home from LWD to individually focus on each of my senses. Perhaps this was spurred by an Oscar Wilde quote I heard once:
Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.
This really only worked with sight, sound, and smell, but I made sure that whatever one I focused on had as little distraction as possible. For sight, I would plug my ears and breathe through my mouth. For sound, I would breathe through my mouth and close my eyes. For smell, I would close my eyes and plug my ears. These short adventures in sensory immersion gave me new insights to a ride I have become familiar with. Two weekends ago, I took a trip to Battambang to explore the area with other volunteers and spend time with LWD co-workers from other sites. One of the days we explored Phnom Banan and Phnom Sampeou. During our time at each place and the rides that got us there, I decided to take a few moments to appreciate each sense. I even tried to pull in touch and taste this time! Here are some thoughts from those moments…
Everything is too quiet. Air rushes past, the TukTuk motor rumbles, a cow moos in the distance, and yet, there is silence. My ears strain to hear the hoking of horns, yelling of neighbors, music of street carts, or laughter of children. But this is no longer the city. My eardrums squirm at the lack of sound, they cannot comprehend it. They put every ounce of focus into the world around, hoping for the movement of sound waves, and come up with nothing. Wind. Air. Silence.
I feel on top of the world. Probably because I am in a way. My eyes scan the broad horizon before me, and I wish the haze would dissipate. It is fun to imagine how far my gaze could reach without the foggy screen of clouds covering my views. Nevertheless, I see what I can. An uninhibited sun blazing down on the world around me. Shadows are cast from the highest point of the pagoda behind me, it is nice to escape the blinding light. We walk a little more and descend a staircase. I stop halfway down and stand in awe at the Indiana Jones-like scene around me. Cavern walls line the sides of the staircase, but provide large openings to allow an abundance of sunlit stones to shine in the daylight. Beams of rock and vine mix with beams of sunrays. The light glow is peaceful; I am happy to stare a bit longer.
We sit for lunch and I am reminded that rice has started to taste like home. Although it has been waiting for us to hike up and down the mountain, it is still warm as I take the first bite. Cold water washes my throat like the first jump into a swimming pool. Rachel opens the mangos she has brought us from her home in Oral. The seasons have started to change and I am taken aback by the sweet, juicy, yellow flavor of the slices. I wonder if I will again have familiar mango with a taste like green sour skittles, but I enjoy the new taste all the same. We have hiked more and now find ourselves at the end of our exploring for the day. A few of us treat ourselves with an icy cup of street vendor sugar cane juice. Cold, sweet, earthy, refreshing.
For a moment I stand with the scent of damp rock as my only sensation. Even if I were to open my eyes, they would be useless without the help of a flashlight. Instead, I stand and try to decipher the aromas surrounding me. One direction has a cool, springy air. Like the fresh start of May after a long winter. Another is full of dry, cough-inducing dust. A reminder of the dry season looming in our future. Finally, there is the perfume of old cave walls unaffected by human existence. Though there is a staleness that permeates all these smells from the lack of airflow only caves can provide, I am comforted by the mix. I appreciate the abundance of fragrances all working as one.
My throat burns from the exertion of air pulsing through my lungs faster than normal. A sigh can be felt in my shoulders as we finally reach the top. Who knew 358 stairs could be such an arbitrary term. My hand attempts to glide along the ridged back of the Naga banister. Though my palms are calloused and dry they engage every inch of the porous, rough stone, hot from the noontime sun. Each of my feet collapses onto the next step with a heavy, uncontrolled weight. Uneven. Steep. Beautifully chaotic. Sweat forms all over my limbs as I regret the hot, black jeans I chose to hike in. A cool breeze washes over my body, and I am thankful for the sweat that drenches my face enough to absorb the wind as it flutters by. My muscles tremble like jelly in a way that signals the end of a long journey.
Check out any of the other posts in this series on my page dedicated to Sensory Immersion posts. The page tells a little more about the idea and includes links to all sensory immersion posts thus far.