Last weekend our team convened in Battambang and then took a boat to Siem Reap. The journey was approximately eight hours and we traveled through various riverside villages. Throughout the trip we made a few deliveries. People expecting parcels and supplies saw us coming and paddled out to our boat as quickly as they could. They would grab the side of our boat while the materials were transfered and then paddle back to their home. During our time in Siem Reap we heard stories from each other’s adventures. We debriefed the July issue of the magazine as well as planned out and distributed August’s content.
Our main event was visiting the Angkor Temples. If you ever find yourself in Cambodia, make sure this is a sight that you see. There is nothing quite like exploring the ruins from an entire civilization that was fully functioning approximately one thousand years ago. It would have taken us days to explore the temples in their entirety, but what we did see was truly incredible.
I came home last weekend and found five byTavi women (our neighbors) in our house. They had two enormous bags of rice, two big boxes full of individual packets of noodles, and approximately 25 bottles of soy sauce. They were measuring and packaging. It looked like the commencement of a party. Through a series of attempted second languages, arm gestures, and dictionary references, I deciphered that they were delivering food to the “poor” people. I was left in a state of confusion. Did they know they were the poor people? They loaded my arms up with bags of various items. We began walking around our village. We went through alleys and crossed small “rivers” that were not products of rain. They delivered food to the poor. Many of the people they gave food to were left in tears as they did not know where their next meal would come from. I was exposed to a whole new level of poverty beneath what I have been living for the past month. The poor fed the poor.
On the weekends, a multitude of elderly beggars make their way to the dirt road that leads to the entrance of Phnom Tamao, the zoo closest to Takhmau. When I visited Phnom Tamao during one of my first weekends in Cambodia, I saw all of them stand up and plead as Nary, Sara, and I drove by. Last weekend, I returned to this dirt road with a few of my other team members because we had the day off from work. We spent some time with them and heard their stories.
I was a stranger in this village one month ago. I had no friends, no community, and no one to talk to. I had my “family,” they gave me food and a place to sleep. After one month so many things have changed. I am expected to be at different events in the village like the cookout we had outside a neighbor’s house. People no longer look confused when I point my camera at them. I now know basic Khmer and can carry on a conversation and unintentionally make people laugh. People tell me that they love me and hug me. Yes, according to appearance I am still out of place, but according to relationships, I feel like I belong. I am now allowed to help wash the dishes, sweep the floors, and clean the used plastic bottles. I still have one more month of living in this home of mine and am looking forward to the experiences to come.
Tuesday was Queen Mother’s Birthday which yielded the day off work and school. Nary, Sara, and I spent the morning riding bikes around the village. We stopped at a few homes to visit with friends. They were all working on sewing byTavi products from their homes. In the afternoon we headed to the riverside and walked around while enjoying fresh corn, popcorn, and green beans.
Nary is the manager of byTavi. One of her jobs is to go to the market every week and buy all of the needed materials for the workshop. She invited me to go with her. We purchased everything from rice bags to zippers to fabric. We went to shops, street vendors, and into people’s homes for these materials. ”Buying in bulk” acquires a new dimension when traveling by tuk tuk.
It is rainy season in Cambodia. Every day the skies open and the rain pours down. Sometimes this happens two or three times. With the vast amount of rain, many parts of Cambodia flood, including our village in Takhmau. For the kids, it is a chance to go swimming. For the adults, it causes worry for their homes.
I am officially all settled into my new home in Cambodia. I am living in a village in Takhmau. I moved in with a very gracious family, so I have gained a Cambodian mother, Nary, sister, Sara, brother, Barbaran, and father who I get to see on the weekends. I go to work everyday with Nary, she works at byTavi. This organization hires impoverished women and mothers from the village and teaches them to sew an assortments of beautiful handbags and purses so they can provide for both themselves and their families. I will be here all summer getting to know these women and telling their stories through writing and photographs.
This past weekend I went to church with Nary and Sara, it was on an island. We took a car to the port and then took a boat across the river. It was quite a beautiful journey.