The past weekend I spent traveling to the countryside with one of my students from my Pre-Intermediate class.
On Saturday my student, Channa, came to the Center and asked if I would like to go to Kampong Cham with her. “Today?” “Yes”. “Now?” “Yes. And Lilli, can you stay for a night?”
So there it was, decision made. Twenty minutes later I had packed my stuff and was ready to go. Only then it occurred to me to ask: “How are we going to get there?”
We went with Channa’s moto. 3 hours on the back of a moto riding on dusty, bumpy streets. For me it could not have been more fun to be honest. Even though it was not the most comfortable way of traveling we sure had a lot of fun and I got to see so many things along the road.
For the people in the countryside we sure must have been an odd picture. Two girls on a moto, one Khmer and one barang, wearing our masks + helmets, only our eyes visible and one backpack in between us. We passed rice fields, water buffalos, villages completely covered in beige dust and abandoned looking schools. Since Kampong Cham is in the east of Phnom Penh, we crossed both the Tonle Sap and the Mekong. A long part of the way we drove along the banks of the Mekong, the lifeline of Cambodia.
After three hours we arrived in the village where Channa’s relatives live. We first visited her grandmother who is living in a wooden house on stilts, next to mango and banana trees. Even though I now speak enough Khmer to get along and have something that you could almost call a conversation, I could hardly understand a word that her grandmother said and I was just constantly smiling and nodding while Channa was translating.
Later we went to the market, bought fresh food and then cooked over the fire. Another occasion where I was asking myself what have I really learned all these past years at high school in Germany? Sure I know a lot about academics, but when It comes to really basic and simple things I’m screwed up. Yes, I can cook some easy meals, but cooking the Khmer way and over fire I was just stunned. And Channa could not understand how I could not have learnt that when I was younger.
After having a really delicious dinner, which for some reason also included watermelon with salt – a thing that I just cannot understand, I love adapting to the culture and tradition in Cambodia, but pairing nice sweet watermelon with salt is something that I will NOT get used to – we met some friends of Channas family and after a while it turned out that the wife was also a High School teacher at the local High School in Boeng Chhuk, where I live. We spent quite a while talking to them and I could also convince them to bring their children to SCAO.
That night Channa and me slept at her grandmother’s place. On the bamboo floor, just a small mat underneath. It was one of these moments that I was so stunned to be in Cambodia. Even though I’ve been living in this country for almost 6 months now, I still have days that I can’t really believe I am in Cambodia.
Even though I didn’t sleep too great, due to the hard floor and the praying of the monks at a nearby funeral, I had a good night. Next morning at 8am I was the last person to wake up in the whole house. Channa and her grandmother had already been up for hours.
After a quick shower in the outside bathroom, Channa and me joined the funeral of one of her far relatives.
In Cambodia people have a funeral 3 days after someone dies, and then 100 days after and 300 days after the death again. The funeral we went to was a 100 day after funeral, so maybe imagine it more like a memorial, instead of a real sad western funeral.
Channa knew nearly everyone at the funeral and I stopped asking who was who quite soon after I realized that I would never be able to keep up. There were some cousins here, some neighbours there, aunt or wife of someone etc.. In the end it didn’t really matter. Everyone just comes together to commemorate the deceased and enjoy each other’s company.
Channa and some of her cousins and other children showed me the corn fields and we took a walk through the countryside. A walk in Cambodia equals walking reaaally slow and stopping every minute to take some pictures with your phone. Not exactly what I’ve known from Germany, however still a lot of fun to see the Cambodians posing for all the pictures – and yes I’ve also done some posing myself. Why the heck not?
Around noon we had delicious food again. However this time I was the subject of conversation due to the fact that I’ve told them I could not eat any meat or fish. Well I’ve had these conversations before so again – smile and nod. Actually it didn’t even bother me much, I was just way to happy to be there and enjoy the food – nice seafood salad without the seafood. We also handpicked some guavas, and had freshly boiled corn from the field just behind the house.
After the funeral Channa showed me another part of the village and we visited her aunt. This time though, we didn’t do much because we were so full from the food at the funeral and tired as well. We just relaxed in hammocks for a while, had some more food – fresh mango this time – and then Channa showed me the place where people cut the bamboo, put it into water so they can slice it and then later sell it. Again pictures of us in front of the bamboo were taken.
Around 2 o’clock we decided it would be best to go back, because we wanted to arrive back in Boeng Chhuk before it would get dark. So we hopped on the moto and drove all the way back. This time we also had to take a detour because there was a construction ahead and nearly lost the way. But thanks to a bunch of friendly and helpful people from a village we could find our way back and got back to SCAO safe and sound.
I’m so thankful that Channa asked me to join her and showed me her village in Kampong Cham, I had a wonderful time, one that I will certainly never forget.