Subjects of Wonder: Chapter 4

And finally, what tears your heart apart in Cambodia, the poverty. I wouldnt be giving out a decent account of Cambodia if I miss the most apparent of them all.

The fact was not more evident than while visiting the floating village on the Great Lake in Cambodia. With the recent striking of floods in Thailand, it wasnt a pretty sight in Cambodia. Huts are built about 4 metres above the water level in lieu of the river flooding and the chances of water level rise. But then the water level rose to about 9 m above the baseline. And what does it mean? Literally it means that the huts stand sunk in water. Oh My! The people seemed non-chalant about the fact. For them it was a good thing, as fishing had gotten a tad easier! The fish they ran after, came to their door-step and at times into their doorstep too. The only problem was using their home which is clearly water-logged.

Again, an idea that tides them through. Using bamboo they build a mezzanine to their homes, and live upon the created plane for the months of flooding and till the water recedes and gives them back their home! The height from the plane to thatched roof is about 0.75 metres. Hardly comfortable, they use the place to just about sit, sleep. And when the need to go out comes, they simply dive into the water and get on the boat. When S means survival, theirs no time to worry about wet clothes, washed make-up, undone hairdos. The sun dries them up as they begin rowing the dinghy and row out to the mainland. Our local accompaint who drove us in his tuk-tuk, said he lived in this village 3 yrs ago. During that time he and his father would farm for half the year and fish for the other half. Then they would row the produce/catch and sell them off at the Vietnam Border. A hard life he said, and then he chose to hit the city like 80% of the world’s population, and become a tuk-tuk driver.

At a hospitable place in the village, we dared to have lunch. I was so grossed out when a lady sat a couple of yards away from me as I waited for food, picking out lice from her daughters hair. Children seemed to pop out of nowhere in that house. Looking down under the ribbed floor schools of fish were swimming about. I knew what I would get had I ordered fish, but as a vegetarian I was skeptical. When the noodle came I was so worried, taking God’s name I took a bite. It was decent, the veggies were crunchy, tasted fresh and werent so bad. Just then a couple of women rowing teh dinghys came up with stuff, it looked like a mobile supermarket. They had veggies, groceries, like everything that one would need to be. Seeing the state of the rowed in veggies, I felt a little braver to eat my food. Our host paid up the woman in dollars. Since riele is not extensively used, their barter syatem has more to do with dollars.

From the sights and the feeling generated I could eat no more. Quickly had swags of coke, which I believe would kill all germs in my tummy, I watched S eat, and then we prepared to leave. The bill consisted of a note-book with numbers. That was the bill, the account book and all. Not exorbitant we paid hurriedly and got on our boat.

The kid who was the helper on the dinghy, sat in front of me for the 2 hour ride. He learnt English in school and practised it with me. He looked very interested to talk. Kept throwing questions at me. When asked he said, that now he helps his father with fishing and farming, like everyone does, but he aspires to go to the city and do business or drive a tuk-tuk. Our tuk-tuk driver was certainly the inspiration for the kids there. Five sisters he said he had, I asked what do they do? Well he halted, one goes to school with him and the others have husband he said. His brother-in-laws also work on fields, the same like everyone, but they all dream of getting away, to the city. To be rich man, he said, was his dream, business would be the means. He looked like he knew what he wanted. To be out of the shackles of poverty.

The rest of our journey was quiet.


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