A STORY OF WOMEN, BY WOMEN: CHEUNG KOK VILLAGE
There is something about Aline’s smile that immediately makes you smile too. It’s her grin that’s special, and the way her eyes light up when she talks about her home: Cheung Kok Village.
Aline, 27, is a young Cambodian women from Cheung Kok Village, two hours North East of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She runs walking tours of her local village and tells stories about culture, history and daily life through her eyes. Within each tour, Aline weaves you through the banana and mango tree lined lanes of the village. Every now and again stopping to smile at Khmer families with honest eyes and happy faces.
Cheung Kok is famous for the brilliant artisan handicrafts made in the village by mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers. Aline does a terrific job of showcasing the lady-makers and the beautiful handicrafts. Part of the experiences on offer at Cheung Kok are hands-on. Local women teach their intricate skills to visitors. For example “krama”, traditional Khmer scarves, made on large wooden looms with both hands and feet that can take days to make. A few hours and visitors can watch, learn and have a go at making the scarves themselves. Aline stays by your side, guiding you through the process and providing insight into the practices. Cheung Kok is a village of strong, creative women and Aline is no different.
Aline grew up in the village of Cheung Kok and has devoted her life to her community. Aline lives together with her mother, father, sister, brother in-law, and her nephew. Their Khmer style wooden house is in the middle of the village. There are two large trees in the front garden that provide shade to a small concrete table and chairs. This is where her father spends a lot of his time sipping hot jasmine tea from a tea pot kept warm by a coconut cosy. Chickens cluck around the garden and friendly dogs lay lazily in the shade.
Growing up Aline would help her family in any way she could. It wasn’t an easy childhood as her family only had a little money. This meant that everything Aline or her sister did would be to support her family. Whether it was helping around the house or on the farm, they did what they could to help make ends meet.
Aline’s parents are devoutly Buddhist and every day at 4am, they begin their day with prayer. First giving well wishes to family members, then for loved ones, and then guests of their home. Following this, Aline’s Mother prepares rice and tea for the family, Aline and her sister assist with this too. Breakfast is usually salty fish with rice, eaten with soy-sauce, fish sauce and fresh, spicy chillies.
With the sky still dark, Aline’s father heads out to work on the rice fields. Depending on the season he may work the whole day there, calling on the labor of neighbors during the harvest seasons.
Like many women in Cheung Kok, Aline’s Mother is an artisan crafter. She’s skilled in sewing and makes bags and clothing from colourful material purchased from nearby Kampong Cham market.
Aline’s family also welcome tourists into their home. Cheung Kok village allows visitors to stay overnight if they wish…to truly appreciate gentle, local rural life. Aline’s family is one of many in the village who have a homestay. Although they speak only a little English, the generosity and hospitality is immediately felt. It can be a different experience learning how life is in a culture completely different than your own. Yet, it is families like Aline’s that make these kind of experiences memorable.
Upon first meeting Aline, her warmth, generosity, and intelligence immediately shine through. She’s loved by her family and respected in her community.
Aline is a go-getter: studying in her third year of English at university as well as having many jobs in the village. Her English is incredible and therefore her ability to tell stories enables visitors to connect with the people and lifestyle at Cheung Kok easily.
Aline like’s learning knew things and finding out new information about people and places. That’s why she’s brilliant as a tour guide. Not only is she a wealth of information, she shows genuine interest in the lives of others too.
Aline is also the local English teacher. Twice a day, Aline runs classes with local children who aspire to be teachers and tour guides too. The school is a small and the building is simple, yet it is having big impact on the lives of local children. It was set up with the help of AMICA, a French NGO who supports tourism, health and education projects in the village.
Alongside running up to eight tours a day and teaching English to local children, Aline looks after the boutique store at Cheung Kok. Tours of the village are by donation, so the store supports community tourism. Money from the store goes directly to the women who make the handicrafts.
Creativity abounds at Cheung Kok and this is clear by the stock on the shelves: jewellery made from wood and recycled goods, shirts, children’s toys, handwoven scarves, bamboo utensils and accessories – all made locally. Aline is a crafter too – however with all her other commitments, it’s hard to find the time to make things too.
Thanks to Aline, the Cheung Kok experience is deeply woven with the stories of women from the village. On your tour, it is the houses of women whom you visit to learn how to make artisan handicrafts; the amazing wooden looms manned by grandmothers who continue an age old tradition of krama weaving. It is the houses of women whom you visit to learn about traditional Khmer houses high on stilts, whose gardens women tend to, growing long beans, eggplant and herbs. It is inside these houses of women in which you are welcomed to share a meal, cooked by mothers, daughters and sisters. And of course it is in these houses, in the dusty streets of Cheung Kok, that Aline tells her own story.