The other day we saw a full-size fridge standing upright between two men, the guy at the back balancing it in place against the back of the guy in front as he drove them to their destination through dense traffic on a motorbike. Unprepared, no cameras were at the ready. It takes quite a lot these days, to surprise me transport-wise, but occasionally someone pulls something out of the box. When it rains in Phnom Penh, 1,000 riel (25c) raincoats made from dyed plastic bags sewn together turn the city into a rainbow of colour. It’s usually raining too heavily to get any good shots but I managed a few on the way home tonight in light drizzle.
A few weeks earlier in a much heavier deluge we passed a bloated rat, unable to escape the sewers in time, floating around in the city’s poorly maintained, flooded storm drains as people bucketed water out of their shops and front rooms. Trying to walk around in it, my shoes broke in the fast-flowing waters and I had to wade bare foot and knee deep, calming my hookworm obsession with silent conversations of reassurance to myself. The next downpour saw me in close contact with a rat trying to recover from a near-drowning incident, too focused on coughing and gasping for air to move or even care as I posed beside him for a photograph.
Phnom Penh is an overload to the senses which I do enjoy, but it doesn’t have the same charm as rural Cambodia. This morning a moto came up on the inside to pass my tuk tuk as we were turning left. He had to turn left with us to avoid a collision. In true Phnom Penh style, the drivers exchanged a couple of polite-probable-expletives at each other as the moto u-turned around us and back to the main road. Recently I was talking about the polite way Khmer people travel with each other on the chaotic roads with Win. He says that Khmer people get stressed and angry as much as anyone, but know how to contain it. He embellished by saying, with general reference to those of us with “FWPs”, that “we are more tolerant than you because we have to be”. More tolerant in bad traffic? “No, just generally more tolerant”! There’s no argument to that one.
Cambodian hospitality is something I haven’t described enough. Seth’s family, post-motorbike, invited me for dinner and we had one of the most special evenings of my life sitting on a wooden platform under their palm leaf-tarpaulin-tin shelter. I counted at least 17 bodies living in this one little series of lean-tos. Dinner was cooked on open fires beside children pumping well water to splash over themselves as their evening bath, while others lazed in hammocks caring for babies, or played in the dust. Husband, wife, elderly parents and young children all worked together at the open fire, chopping vegetables, pulling pans down from hooks on the wall, stirring pots, dishing food out and instructing me to climb onto the platform as two fans were positioned near and pointed towards me. Seated cross-legged, we formed a circle around a tray of plates with a large pot of rice on the edge of the platform which was dished into bowls before we served ourselves from the plates of meat, vegetables, fish and omelette. The plates placed centre-circle were continuously refilled by one of the women who ate between tasks. The children waited, playing and relaxing, and I was told they’d already had a snack, which explained their patience as the adults ate in front of them. Seth’s elderly parents and the smaller children spoke directly to me in Khmer while Seth and Rav did an exemplary job at translating for me.
Perhaps the funniest story of the night was the only other time a foreigner came there for dinner. He was from “a country near to Russia”. Uzbekistan? “No. It’s next to Russia and with many problems”. Ukraine? “Yes. Many foreigners cannot sit like this <cross legged> and he could not and he did not know how to eat with us so he lie down to eat his food like this”, bending an elbow and putting it to his ear to suggest a side-ways repose. The image of a big Ukrainian lying down to eat seriously tickled my fancy, partly because of the amusement of Seth and Rav as they told the story.
Paula’s brother called me last night and when we couldn’t understand each other I said Samantha would call them. Samantha’s messages to me ensued as follows:
I talk to her she ask us to go to visited her house one day. coz her mom will come home tomorrow. and she will stay 10 day. and on 27 is ramadam. so if good come before 27 may
Oh okay. When can you go? For me only Saturday or Sunday.
No problem, you decide, for me is okay any day. so excited I miss kampong cham.
Okay, can you ask your driver if he is free and how much to <village> and home again? And ask Paula, are they free if we come on Saturday? Time for a Seattle reunion!
she said is okay, sound so happy
After a few discussions on arrangements, Samantha said:
she call me again she said not lie her. ha ha and i told her is true, she so happy.
Cham hospitality coming up tomorrow. Meanwhile, here are some photographs from Seth and his family’s Khmer hospitality three nights ago.
2 thoughts on “Rainbows of Raincoats”
I can sympathise with the Ukrainian. Sitting crossed legged to eat is not easy. Hope I wasn’t the subject of such a humerous story after I tried it!
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Yes, I agree, Carmel. I looked at the picture of that slatted platform and just couldn’t imagine sitting in any kind of comfort. I’m so glad you managed it, Helen! What a wonderful experience for you.