MY EXPERIENCE OF RURAL CAMBODIA AT KHNAR PO
By Lily Freeman
When our tuk tuk pulled up to the village of Chio in the Khnar Po community, one of our guides was waiting to welcome us. Although he didn’t speak any English, he greeted my friend and I with a huge smile, and beckoned us to follow him. We walked through the village, past the school and a few stilted houses adorned with house plants, I was stuck with how green and shady the village was. There were bananas and exotic flowers growing everywhere. We went to a communal area, that was an open sided house that had hammocks strung up in it. We stayed in the shade and drank water to cool down after our journey. Several members of the community came to greet us whilst we were there. After we had relaxed in the hammock following the dusty journey, our homestay host, and leader of the community project came to take us on a tour of the village.
LOCAL LIFE IN KHNAR PO
As I set off for a walk around the village I was a bit worried that I might feel a bit intrusive of people going about the evening routine. However, this wasn’t the case at all – people were so unbelievably friendly! We walked past the first house and there was a man resting in a hammock. As soon as he saw us he jumped up and started waving. He spoke no English and I spoke no Khmer but we manage some basic communication none the less. He showed me his dog, who had recently had puppies. He called his mother down from upstairs and as she came to the top of the stairs she started smiling too, and descended the stairs to greet us.
We then moved on to another home in the village. There was a rice mill in the garden of that home, and although the women told us she had finished her milling for that day, she and Mae Mon, our guide, demonstrated the different stages of rice milling. I had never seen that before, and I found it fascinating to watch them show how they used a manual machine to separate the rice from its husk and how they then separate the white rice from the seed.
We then went to the home of a woman who made matts and brooms from thatch. She showed us how she weaved the thatch into mats, and also how they can intricately tie bundles of straw together to make brooms. I had a go at it, but definitely was not talented enough to tie the knots corrects, and my broom quickly fell apart!
By this time we had gained an eclectic following of children and babies, ducks and chickens, who seemed to be following us around the village. As we come back to the main road, people stop on their scooters to smile and wave. We walk back through the village. At this point it is getting dark and people are getting ready for the evening. Between the colourful, stilted houses, see the pink sun setting over the paddy fields. The flat, agricultural scenery gives way to huge skies, which make the sunset even more spectacular. Storm clouds are also on the horizon, and Mae Mon tells us he thinks it will rain that night.
EVENING AT THE HOMESTAY
As we arrive at Mae Mon’s home, his eldest daughter is finishing preparing our room by stringing up mosquito nets. I offer to help, but instead she beckoned to us to sit on the chairs on the terrace and watch the last of the sun go down. There were some boys playing volleyball at the court across the road, so I sat happily watching the match, and listing to the cheers and chants coming from the court. We then showered before dinner. Dinner was a wonderful experience, we ate with the whole family, and it was just like any family meal, and the language barrier didn’t seem to be a problem at all, there was lots of laughing and eating. After dinner, the youngest daughter, who was 13, was keen to practice her English. We spent a happy half hour going through her textbooks, as she read me stories and songs from her textbooks. I practiced my Khmer with her, but it is safe to say that her English was in a different league to my Khmer skills!
After that I went to bed and in the night there was the most terrific rainstorm outside, and lying in bed listening to the rain crashing around the house.
I woke up early the next morning to a delicious plate of noodles and a hot cup of coffee. I had to leave early, but I really wanted to explore the fields more and the vegetable gardens more, so I went by motorbike to discover the surrounding farmland. We walked into a field of green beans growing, and a cow who had managed to climb into the enclosure somehow was happily feasting on the beans. We tried to chase her out of the field, but she was pretty reluctant to be pulled away from her breakfast! We then passed some villagers who were working in the field and tending to cows. It was coming to the end of dry season, and I could see the first green shoots of the rice were visible in the paddies. I had never seen rice grow before, so I found it really interesting.
After that, I had to leave to continue my journey to Siem Reap. The whole family came to wave me off as I climbed into the tuk tuk. Even after we had left, community members were still coming out of their houses waving, and trying to give the driver instructions. Because it had rained, the main road was flooded and we went a back way.
In a nutshell, I had a really nice time, and what made it really special was how friendly and welcoming everyone was. This area is not flashy, or spectacular, however, I would recommend this project to anyone who is interested in getting a real insight into genuine Cambodian village life, and who is keen to meet really friendly and welcoming people. I was really sad I didn’t have time to make it to Banteay Ampil temples. Oh well…I’ll have to save that for my next visit.