Tuesday, November 23, 2010

have you heard the news?

The question doesn't need context - it's on everyone's lips today. Have you heard the news? More than 300 people died in Phnom Penh last night at the Water Festival. Have you heard the news? It's so sad, they say they don't know why. It's a funny kind of question; are they asking what happened, was it just started by people getting scared and everyone freaked out and a stampede happened? Are they asking why, why so many dead, in a country with such a recent tragic history of senseless death? They don't know why.

If I hadn't been here, I might have just heard the news and thought oh that's terrible, and gone right on with my business. But I have been here, and I have met so many of these people, and it's been hard not to cry, even though I feel self-conscious about that. They move me, with their easy smiles and seeming-delight in waving as we fly by in our tuktuk. And humankind is terribly complicated, because these are the same people who slaughtered these same people, in the name of Pol Pot. Or communism. Or something. So no story is ever simple, and people are all kinds of things, all at once....but there are also these broad cultural differences among people. The Vietnamese - our experience was that they're busy busy busy, and they tease and giggle, and they're hustling and so busy. Cambodians, going about their business and smiling easily, and not as hurried as the Vietnamese. The Lao, we've heard, are gentler and slower still.

Marc said it's like being in Manhattan on September 12 - no one could talk about anything else. And really, what else is there, in the face of such shock and loss.

This morning we took a tuktuk to Kampot at 8:45; it's about 24km from Kep to Kampot, and it took us about 45 minutes to get there. Pharey (pronounced as the French say Paris, 'par-EE') drove us; here's a shot of Marc and Pharey at the end of the trip, since I didn't get one at the beginning:

A tuktuk is a motorcycle with a covered wagon-type-thing dragging behind it. They're open air, which was wonderful this morning when the air was fresh (not quite as great coming home in the drenching rain, though!). The countryside between Kep and Kampot was stunning: enormous fields of ripe rice, as far as you could see; people in the fields working, and standing under their homes smashing handfuls of rice stalks against a board to winnow out the grains; big cows everywhere; yards filled with pigs and chickens; children smiling at us as we sped by. I really loved the trip this morning. There was one moment that left me kind of haunted. You know how time can suddenly go v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y? As we went past a home, a young boy, maybe 11 years old, was walking away from his home toward the highway. We looked at each other. I smiled at him. He smiled at me. We held each others' gaze. I don't know how all that happened in the second or two that we must've been able to really see each other, but it did and I've thought about him all day.

Here's some of the scenery between Kep and Kampot (click any picture to enlarge):

everyone walks their cows around

just working; the head scarves are uniquely Cambodian
lots of people wear things that look like jammies to me!

homes on stilts, with cows and bulls in the yard

hoofing it down the road. most of the cattle are this breed. as a texan, i don't recognize it.

see? cows lying about everywhere!

really beautiful little fishing mini-village
see the rice fields? very ripe rice, heavy heads hanging down

not sure where these piggies were going. to market to market, maybe?

stacks of rice harvested. i don't know the lingo - it's not threshed like wheat, or ginned like cotton. anyway. stacks of rice harvested. pretty.
When we got to Kampot, we left Pharey to do his own thing and we wandered around. Kampot was seriously built-up by the French when they colonized the country, and that lovely architecture is still hanging around despite Pol Pot's desperate efforts to bomb it all to hell. It certainly doesn't look like it once did, but you can tell how it might have looked in its heyday. There was a big storm looming overhead, as you'll see.

oops! forgot about the chickens. chickens are everywhere too.
The monks were out on their alms round; they were always in pairs, and they always held umbrellas (mostly brilliant yellow orange, which kind of matched their orange robes). It's not like begging, and it's not like charity; it's a way for people to make merit. The monks would stand before a door, waiting, and someone would come out with a bit of food or a bit of money. They'd kneel before the monks and I think they were saying prayers of some kind. Then they'd put the money in the monk's bag, or the food in his tall silver container, and the monks would go to the next door. Although the people generally smiled at us, the monks never met our gaze.

After walking around until we'd seen everything, we stopped and had some lunch before we met Pharey for the trip home.We had a lovely view of the Kampot River, from our seats on the 2nd floor of the restaurant:

and those are tuktuks, obviously
Then it started POURING down the rain, as it has every day we've been here on the coast. It's just the end of monsoon season, so this isn't very surprising, and it hasn't bothered us. But we did want to stop at the market on the way out of town, so we ran in and saw this very ingenious system for diverting the rain:

those are fabric tunnels hanging down from fabric drains that run along the ceiling. the rain pours through the tunnels down into a system of drainage ditch-things that crisscross the floor. pretty smart.

Kampot was really wonderful, we loved it. It'll be sad leaving Kep and Kampot, they're really such beautiful places in the world. Now, when I'm back in Manhattan, I'll think of these people out in the rice fields, or resting in hammocks, living such different lives than mine. I hope I get to come back some day.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for leaving a comment! We read them all and try our best to respond.