The happiness in Cambodian villages is contagious

Cambodia is a poor country. A lot of what I saw in this Southeast-Asian country was very similar to what I'm used to back home in Brazil. The similarities are amazing, starting with the vegetation, the climate and the way people live. If I didn't know I was in Cambodia, just looking at the landscape, I'd say I'm somewhere in the Brazilian Mata Atlântica.

Boys in a village on the banks of the Siem Reap play with a broken pen and a plastic gun that shoots rubber bands.

One thing impressed me the most: the exhaling happiness of the Cambodian people. We're talking about a country that spent decades under dictatorial rule, barely survived extermination in a war that only ended less than 20 years ago. Their wounds are still fresh. Our tuk-tuk driver said his father, a school teacher, had to pretend to be a farmer to escape execution.

The times of terror under Pol Pot devastated this country. Pot and his Khmer Rouge persecuted intellectuals and artists, practically causing the extinction of dances and oral traditions. 

And still everywhere you look you see people laughing. You point a camera at virtually anyone and you get this big wide smile.

After spending three years in China I had almost forgotten what that was. Don't get me wrong, some people in China do appreciate having their picture taken, but more than any other place I've been to I was met with displeasure and sometimes anger.

Not in Cambodia. 

Villages like these are a common site in the countryside of Cambodia. Made with wood and construction leftovers, dozens of people live with no doors and little privacy. 

Girl barefoot in her school uniform rides to class after her lunch break. They travel several kilometers sometimes just to get an education.

After cooling himself off with a hose in the hot 35˚C, a boy walks back home. Children often run around completely naked in the countryside of Cambodia. 

Mother and daughter take a rest in a hammock. The extreme heat and humidity makes it almost unbearable to stay under the sun at noon.

Girl watches television while another sews inside their house. Like this place, most shacks have only one room where several people sleep either on the ground or in hammocks. 

While the other kids played outside in the water, this boy stayed inside attentively doing his homework. In the nearby floating village and at the Angkor Wat parks, many children work selling souvenirs to tourists instead of going to school. 

This girl when she saw me opened this wide smile, almost posing for the camera. 

Nearby where the boys from the first photo played, this man slept in his bed. 

Three kids have lunch with their caretaker. The most instinctive reaction of the little boys was to laugh so hard and wave to the camera as soon as he noticed our presence. 

Coming up the hill, from the waterbed, a man carries a boy inside a bucket. The boy loves the game. 

On my way in, this girl and two other of her little friends were having popsicles. On my way out, she waved goodbye.  See you next time.