He is a rare concentrated energy drink type of personality. His laughter, the way he strolls around smiling, the way he looks conformable with a variety of people and situations, make his raw and honest energy stand out.
With a contagious verve, he is moved by a deep sense of freedom and an eagerness to live life, possibly in big bites.
We met on our way to Koh Rong Sanloem, riding on the supply boat. Jyl and I were on the pier, waiting to step on the boat, when I noticed this tall, skinny guy with dye-blond hair, an open shirt and a Nón Lá, the typical Vietnamese hat made from palm leaves. He was with his girlfriend Anabelle, and she is the whole reason why, once we were all on board, we started talking and getting to know each other, but this is a story for another tab.
Let’s start at the beginning
Virgile is the kind of person who does not go unnoticed in a crowd, he has a playful, down-to-earth manner that puts everyone at ease, and for some reason, he makes connecting and sharing feel extremely simple.
We bumped into each other several times, and one day we decided to go for a 2 hours hike to Clearwater Bay. We were supposed to meet at 9:30, but Virgile had partied too hard and didn’t hear his alarm clock. He turned up at 12 noon, all smiles and relax, and ten steps ahead of us into adjusting to Cambodian planning. We soon would’ve learned this casualness is part of his charming ways!
The walk was interesting in more ways than one: on the one hand, nature, the jungle and its inhabitants, and on the other hand, us, human beings, with our experiences and our talks about the important things in life. I watched Jyl and Virgile walking several metres ahead of Anabelle and I, I saw them laughing and chatting, and I understood from their demeanours that they were very comfortable with each other, that there was trust between them.
Virgile grew up a few kilometres west of Geneva, surrounded by nature but just a short 20 minutes ride from the Swiss city. His grandfather loved travelling, and so did the rest of his family; he took many hikes with his parents, who taught him to fend for himself by not always waiting for him while the walk got tougher.
Like a true vagabond soul, he started travelling early, in his mid-teens he went on a tour of Europe with some of his best friends, hungry for new experiences, travel and knowledge, and when Europe seemed too small, he continued on to Algeria, the Caribbeans and India.
I picture this young spunky guy trotting around the world, wearing a rucksack on his shoulder and his best grin on his face, short of breath and quick of mind, trying to push his limits, in a sweet, enthralling coming of age tale.
Lean on me
Virgile speaks highly of the importance of friendship, human relationships and actually being there for people, and not just the ones we love, all “others” out there that are other than the norm and deserve a safe space.
He seems to emphasise the value of connection and communication, and this may be one of the reasons why it’s an utter pleasure observing him talking to people, making them feel included, trying to speak a few words of Khmer or Thai when the situation allows it.
And so, like the most natural of evolutions, Virgile completed his studies to become a facilitator, putting his genuine attitude towards others at the service of the common good. After working close to people with a variety of issues, a world opened up to him, he realised how deeply rooted is the need for spaces where people can heal, for real. Therefore, he dreams of one day creating an open and safe place where everyone who needs it can gather, to offer and receive mutual help.
In a society that crushes you, mocks you, isolates you into submission, and sweeps problems under the carpet, it is no surprise that many of the people who do not conform slip through the darkest cracks. And that’s where it’s hard to get out, especially when that same society tells you that it’s your fault, dumping the responsibility on individuals.
In this climate, knowing that the dream of a young 24-year-old like Virgile is basically to be there for the outcasts and the fallen ones, and extend a hand to those in need, fills us with hope, the most powerful of feelings during dire times.
Take it easy
When asked about his philosophy of life, he pulls up his shorts and shows us the tattoo on his thigh, in childlike handwriting it reads ‘take it easy’. Virgile walks around with his floral shirt open and a huge grin, “How are you?”, “What did you catch today?” “Sok sabay, mate”, he speaks to people with the purest part of himself, and perhaps that is his magic, his bliss.
After a few days, everyone seems to know him, and it is impossible not to respond to his disarming smile. I think of how beautiful it is to dress one’s sensitivity with a sense of humour and kindness, of how much courage it takes to be different in a world that wants you ‘the same’ and pushes you to fit in. I’m not sure he’s aware of his strengths, as it feels like this comes natural to him. I find wonderful to enjoy life, to travel and make the world an experience while keeping respect and compassion in your pocket to sow along the way.
Virgile doesn’t seem to care about the future, not in the canonical sense, but he definitely cares about people, and I realise only after we’ve said goodbye that this too is called altruism, it’s not as easy to spot just because it makes less noise than other, more flamboyant forms of altruism. You too can choose not to fit in, you can do so intentionally and, at the same time, taking it easy. You can collect seashells, be late, bathe with glowing plankton in the middle of the night, party hard, laugh wildly and most of all daring kindness. Virgile is a marvel at not fitting in, and he does it beautifully.
So, this is for the ones who are ‘different’, non-conforming, the ones who do not want to fit in and have the strength to pave the way for others. This is for those who are not afraid to say they are afraid, for those who think that being different is not a curse but a gift that we can share with others, for those who use their smile to make others fill a little less lonely: thank you, and keep doing what you are already doing, because you rock at it.
If you feel like meeting another cool triber who genuinely impressed us with her personality, check out Anabelle’s portrait!