Monday, February 18, 2008

Village visit, the Year of the Rat is here and I’m a student of Khmer language and history!

Soeun recently went to stay in a village for a few days with some students (college mission). There were heaps of kids with lots of energy and it sounds like they had fun. It was hard to do studies at night, as they don’t have electricity. KS took our emergency lantern (like a big torch/flashlight); he said it was the brightest thing there.

The team thought they would get up early at 5.30 to pray, but by that time everyone else was already up!
One morning the students stole the camera and took a picture of Teacher Soeun asleep, as you can see here. You might be able to see someone having a wash in the background.

Village life is quite different to the city- as well as no power, they also don’t have toilets, and some peoples’ houses don’t have doors.

The church is new and small in this village. Actually, it’s more a handful of new believers than a church. They don’t have any leaders yet, and many of them can’t read. The team’s aim was to encourage them, and train them in leadership. As well as this they washed the kids’ hair. There were heaps of kids and apparently handfuls of lice!

Although not an official public holiday here, Chinese New Year is celebrated. Leading up to it I heard lots of firecrackers although not as many as I heard when I was in China. In China it sounded like a war zone, here there are spurts of bangs every now and then.

At the market there were special stalls set up selling lots of red and gold shining things, and all the normal products were more expensive. The day before the year of the rat began I was buying some uncooked rice and eggs from my usual seller. She asked me if I was going anywhere for Chinese New Year, and excitedly told me she was going out, in Khmer “dar layng” (literally: walk play, a walk for fun) to visit her mother. By that time some of the sellers had already shut up and gone home for the holiday.

Soeun was away that weekend on college mission, so that was a good opportunity for me to have a “language intensive in the province”, aka visit my in -laws. Because of CNY the bus was more expensive.

I stayed a few nights. Now they own 3 bikes, so I rode one to their church, and to the market and around town just for fun (dar layng). I also tagged along when they went to visit someone in hospital, and got to see the house where they used to live.

Two years ago when I first came to Cambodia KS took me to visit his mum on Chinese New Year too. In high school I studied recent Cambodian history (1970s, Lon Nol, Pol Pot), and I remember asking Soeun if it would be ok to ask his mum about her life during these horrible/strange times. As it was such an awful time for the whole country I was worried about stirring up bad memories, yet very interested to know what happened- especially to my then-potential mother in law. Soeun said she would be fine to talk about it- but I’d have to learn Khmer language first! At that stage I couldn’t imagine knowing enough Khmer language to discuss family history and war.

However, here I am two years later. I felt excited this year to discover I could understand enough Khmer to get the gist of what my mother in law was saying. She told me about how after Pol Pot time she left her baby Soeun with her parents in the village. She came to the town. It was deserted and there were many empty houses, so she started living in one and it became hers! I had heard those stories from Phnom Penh, but hadn’t thought about what might have happened outside the capital. (They sold that house years ago.)

Why were there so many empty houses?

At the beginning of Pol Pot time, everyone was driven out of the city. The Khmer Rouge were planning to make a classless society, everyone was to be a farmer. Being educated or rich was a bad thing. Between 1975 and 1979 and heaps of people died (some day 2 million). So the evacuation of towns and great amount of death meant there were many empty houses. As you can imagine that created land ownership issues, still a problem today. One of many problems as you’ll see if you click on book title in previous post below.