peace and tranquility in the countryside?
17.01.2011 - 18.01.2011 86 °F
off to the countryside. we buy bus tickets at our guest house and are assured that we'd be on a nice modern air-con bus. we arrive at the bus depot where everything is in khmer (and completely illegible to us) and announce that we are headed to kampong cham. wait here says the nice lady. and then she disappears, never to be seen again. hmmm, getting to departure time, so we ask around, and behold, we are on the ratty bus that is by itself in the yard. it is big, and it does have air-con (lots of air-con, with no controls). so we get on, with the best seats in the house: right behind the driver. off we go, at about 3 miles an hour as the streets are barely wide enough, and there are pot holes and just unpaved spots here and there. finally we get to the open road and speed along at about 40 mph. bright green rice paddies, towns hugging the road, tuk tuks, motos, and horse-drawn carts. banana trees, houses on stilts. too bumpy to read.
after about 2 hours, hallelujah, the bus pulls into a rest stop with toilets and a refreshment area. this is the town of skoun, famous for its edible spiders.... did we try the spiders? at 4 for 25 cents, what do you think?
arrived Kampong Cham, tuk tukked 7 kilometers out into the countryside to a tiny banana tree lined path to Rana homestay.one bamboo cabin, with an adjoining bamboo bath house, no running water, but big buckets of water and a scoop for flushing and bathing (and yes, the water is cold). no electricity - electricity comes from vietnam, and is very expensive- maybe 6 times as much as in the US. many villagers do have it, use it to power water pumps, fluorescent lights, big tvs, and dvds. tom and jerry cartoons are very popular with the kids! everyone who has it complains about the constantly rising cost.
we come in late in the day, just in time to hear, then see the neighbor's cows come home, the bells around their necks announcing 3 cows and 7 water buffaloes walking down the path. time now for a home cooked dinner, and the story of how the homestay came to be.
Kheang is from the village she now lives in, but left to get more education and then work in PP. after many years of work, she was able to buy a small house in the city. but like so many others, (see previous entry) she was evicted with only minimal compensation, not enough to move elsewhere in the city. so she and Don, her American husband, came back to her home village. Don was not a rice farmer, and Kheang could not farm without help, so they planted fruit trees and sold their produce, and eventually built the homestay cabin using wood that Kheang and Don had taken from the city house.
just before dinner, loudspeakers from across the paved road begin broadcasting extremely loud and distorted traditional khmer music interspersed with live chanting. the music and chanting continue far into the night. as we lay under the mosquito net, we listen to the mix of amplified music, road sounds of cars, trucks and motorbikes, and barking dogs. finally the music stops, traffic thins and the dogs go to sleep. about that time, the roosters wake up. we later learn that the music and chanting were part of a buddhist funeral, this one for a recently deceased person, but the ceremony is also held on the 100 day anniversary and year anniversaries of deaths.
in the morning after big cambodian breakfasts - rice porridge for me, eggs and baguette for dan, and cambodian breakfast treats - we are ready to see the village. down the road we see a scarecrow in front of one house, and a piece of cactus tied to a post in front of another. these are meant for protection from evil spirits. we see a walled area with a roof over it, decorated with little flags. inside the wall is a heap of dirt. oh, a project under way i think, but no, the dirt is a big termite mound, considered a sacred and lucky object. the owners of the mound have erected a shrine and make offerings. it seems to have done its job, as they seem happy and prosperous.
we come to some palm trees, with a pile of bamboo cylinders and plastic containers at their base. high up in a tree a man is tying up one of the cylinders in which he collects palm sap that will be boiled down to make palm sugar. he goes up and down the trees every day, collecting the filled cylinders and tying on new ones, using a single pole bamboo "ladder" tied to the tree trunk. the man is 70 years old.
farther out the path is the grassy field where the cows and buffalo graze. this was once forest, but all the trees have gone to firewood.
the rice paddies are at a lower elevation. it is january, the dry season, so only irrigated fields are filled with the vibrant green on young rice plants. some of the fields are dry and brown, others are soft and green. lotus flowers bloom in irrigated ponds. the water is pumped up from the ground with diesel motors; there should be reservoirs of monsoon water, but the dams weren't built properly. even so, many people are out working the fields. the work is so labor-intensive that many of the farmers live out in the fields in little huts, cooking rice they bring with them and foraging for weeds, vegetables, fish and snails.
when the rice is mature, it is harvested by hand.
lotus pods are a cash crop - the seeds are eaten whole or ground into flower. last year the price was high - this year a lot of farmers, including kheang's father, are betting on the crop.
work is never done; even during a break at the hottest part of the day, kheang's mother clears brush at her campsite.
in the afternoon we visit the neighbors. one of the neighbors raises pigs - the new "pink" pigs are faster growing and get much bigger than the native pigs, but they still eat rice husks. the owner will sell most of them.
in the evening, kheang's mother comes to talk to us. she lived through the pol pot years, and then the vietnamese occupation. with kheang as interpreter this incredibly tiny, strong and dignified woman answers all our questions. kheang herself, at age 10, was part of the labor crew that built the "children's dam". when the monsoon rains came, the dam failed.
dinner, then bed. a much quieter night. then in the morning, back to town.