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I’ve never felt so little and inconsequential in my whole life. I haven’t been this close to the brink of tears since I left my friends in Japan. I am feeling emotional and not worthy of mention. As ordinary as a cockroach smashed beneath a shoe. I feel as petite as that cockroach’s hairy arm detached and picked up and carried away into the abyss of whirling dust. It is dry season in Cambodia and biking has introduced us to a significant amount of insignificant dust fibers making themselves comfortable in our lungs.

Three weeks ago, we spied on grasshoppers eating flies on Jim’s deflated tent. We backed the predators. Flies are hard to love.

It reminded me an art film exhibited at one of the 798 galleries in Beijing. The camera zoomed in on insects attempting fatally to cross a street amplified by the bullish sounds of traffic. The viewer holds her breath each time a giant car wheel or a motorcycle and bicycle zooms by, and waits to see if the bug is still plump and intact, or has it been squashed into 2D relief on the asphalt road.

I watched a fuzzy beetle crawl right into a giant lizard’s hiding spot on the banister of a porch facing the river in Kampot. The predator, with shiny black eyes bulging from its triangular head was the main attraction. The bug, stupid, trivial. I was drinking red wine and talking about nothing with my neighbor for a week, Bart, the dreadlocked Belgium boatman, advertised in the local English newsletter as such. Everyone knows everyone in this coastal town 148km south of Phnom Penh. It is petite and sleepy, forgotten in the blitz of Angkor Wat tourism, and frankly enjoying it.

The river water is salty in the dry season (from November to June it flows from the ocean in the south, and in the rainy season, July to October, it flows from the mountains in the north). I swim better in it because I am used to the buoyancy of sea water in The Bahamas. Floating on my back, I see the gray clouds hover like a heavy skirt with ruffles. I switch my position to see the mountains to the east. Tigers are there. Sensory camera’s triggered by passing paws snap, capturing the tigers in svelte night prowls.

I have been separated from the boys for a week, and one would think that being on my own would big me up, escalate my size as per decision-making power and influential capacity. I don’t have anyone to answer to. I am not swallowed up by an all-encompassing team. I am me: NAKIA PEARSON. Liberated femme fatale. Individualism never looked so good until it put on a pair of pumps and red rouge and turned its kitchen into a closet.

So speaks the post-Sex and the City generation. Traveling in Asia has made me embrace my female freedoms even more. But since I don’t have the money to go on big shopping sprees or big closets to pack 180 pairs of shoes, neither do I have the girl-entourage to sit down in cafes for chats and woman support, I’ve had to rely on something less tangible than consumerism. I am raw here without the comfort of everything familiar to me to pad me. It is me against an opposite culture of Western men and Eastern society.

I am small. Like an insect. The last niche of the traveling ecosystem. After the tow trucks, the SUVs, the cars, the motorcycles, the tuks tuks, the rickshaws, the bicycles and the pedestrians, comes the insect. The only thing left to connect my inconsequential voice and size to the rest of humanity is willpower. The will to love when one does not feel like it. To love bigger than I am.

On one of the days I volunteered at the ASPECA orphanage in Kampot, I found no adults or older teenagers around. The oldest were fourteen years old. I started organizing games, breaking in between with acapella performances of songs I usually sing with a band. I had their full attention. They loved my voice. I loved my voice. We get up and run around, kick a soccer ball, play some games, sing, play more games, sing, kick a ball, ride a bike, sing, play game.

Then, someone got hurt.

The little one (it is always the little one) with the webbed right hand has fallen completely backwards and knocked the back of his head with a muffled thud on the concrete floor. He is quickly swept up by the children (like dust) and taken inside on one of the straw cots in the girls’ dorm. The oldest girl takes him in her arms and hits him on the thigh when he kicks and screams. She rocks him, applies ointment to his head as the other children surround him and coo him back to his previous lighter mood. I motion that they must wash the scrape on his back, and the oldest girl tells me, “No problem” in English. Little girl. Big, motherly love.

I, small as a bug, realize that they have the situation under control. This little colony of children that spends most of its days without the sentinel of a round-the-clock adult staff is self-sufficient. They don’t need my help. I am mere entertainment. There goes my volunteer erection. There goes my feel good sensation. Bubble burst and blowing itself backwards out of the window, into the dust.

I am afraid of someone else falling, so I decide to sing. But they want to dance. They try to teach me traditional Khmer dance, but it is too difficult. So I try to teach them some African American Sorority steps I learned as a teenagers from the AKA’s. They, much to my dismay, bore easily. They sit me down on the floor, and put on a 30-minute performance of all the traditional Khmer dances they know. Perhaps, I am too romantic. Perhaps I do not have much experience working with people at a societal disadvantage. But suddenly, I want to cry.

These children are amazing. And their greatness has nothing to do with me. They have no parents. Tourists walk in and out of their lives all the time, playing with them for a while, bringing them gifts of crayons and coloring books, taking them on shopping sprees and a nice dinner. They have each other. They are growing up each other. All I have to do sit on the floor and watch them be amazing.

Through our hosts in Phnom Penh, Jean-Francious and Miriam, I got to stay at a mountain and riverfront house on stilts that belonged to Katie and Hallam Goad, British organizers of Epic Arts, a professional artistic company that works with deaf, blind, and disabled performing and visual artists. The two were busy traveling to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh presenting SPOTLIGHT: An Asian Festival of Inclusive Arts, which I got to see on the two last nights upon my return to Phnom Penh.

This time, as well as the time with the children at the orphanage, I was on the verge of tears. I sat and watched real artists putting on an artistic event, not a circus. As a Nepalese woman who’d only one leg, performed a flirtatious Nepalese dance with the vigor of a teenager and the focus of a professional, I felt teeny weeny and helium voiced. Like I had suddenly lost my own legs and grown the limbs of a “verminous bug” (Metamorphasis). Like I was something viable to kill.

In Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa, the sole breadwinner of his family, wakes up as a cockroach, the most irrationally terrifying of insects. His human selflessness in his desire to send his sister to a conservatory to study the violin is no match for the hideousness of his hairy, skinny, legs flailing from his anthropoidal bulk. His family is repulsed by him as his human ability to express himself give way to his insect needs. Slowly he dies and his family is relieved. They forget to care.

Like Samsa, it’s my human senses that connects me to the world whether it accepts me or not. At the Mother Theresa Sisters of Charity Mission in Kolkata, India, one of their Sunday chants encourages one to seek to comfort rather than to seek comfort. To seek to understand rather than to be understood. The self is directed outward rather than drawing up all strength within. The triviality, the frailty of a bug strips one down to his or her bare elements of character where there are no fashion props or stylish jargon to bulk up our personalities. You are the one hated or the one forgotten. In the humility that this situation instigates, the only thing left is will. Desmond Tutu, one of the leaders of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, believes that love is an act of will.

My last week in Cambodia, I had no electricity, but the use of candles made everything – the distant motorcycles, the dogs barking at midnight, the cocks cuckooing at 5am, the cows mooing at all times, the big-eyed lizards on the wooden beams – more romantic. I sat on the porch drinking wine with Bart, watching bugs die, and wondering how to love bigger than my self.

7 Responses to “Small”

  1. Netzy Says:

    Nakia, I loved reading your journal… especially when working with the kids - and Mother Theresa’s philosophy, thanks for the insight. Netzy

  2. Mr. Kutter Says:

    This is a really great post. Thanks.

  3. Tracy Says:

    Thank you, Nakia, for the similiare reason up there.

  4. Dusty Says:

    I miss hanging out with you Nakia! And I look forward to the next time it happens…

  5. Abigail Byers Says:



  6. Barbera Yoshioka Says:

    Great article and it is worth mentioning that Mini blinds are notorious for collecting dust. Their horizontal position creates a flat surface for dust to land on. In addition, they

  7. prodaj Says:


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