SORRY GONE SO LONG
I’ve been in Cambodia right at two weeks. What an amazing country. I haven’t been around wireless for awhile so I have a lot to catch up on Lightfoot Diaries.
I started my travels here because I was looking for a place to settle down and be quiet for awhile. To let my soul rest. To catch up with myself. Kep is perfect. It is affordable, beautiful, remote and my friend Mandi is here. I wanted an American contact and though I had not met Mandi in person before I got here, she graciously let me live with her and her children for a few days until I could get my feet on the ground. Mandi is a 33 year old Texan. Peppy and beautiful, God has called her to live here and foster 6 Khmer children. The oldest, Kim, is 19 and the youngest, Simon, is five years old. They are a fantastic family. You will be hearing about them as my stories unfold. More about Mandi can be found under the People section of this blog. Here is a picture of the family that has fostered me. 🙂
THE KHMER ROUGE
The Cambodia countryside is lush and green. Here, off the shores of the Gulf of Thailand, is as beautiful a place as I have ever seen.
The people, though smiling and welcoming, have suffered a terrible and recent tragedy. It’s devastating effects still reach into the heart and soul of the people. Everyone has a story. Everyone’s family is still recovering from loss.
In 1975 the communist party,the Khmer Rouge, came into power under the leadership of Pol Pot. He made it his goal to exterminate all those of intellect, education or those who were creative and artistic, seeing them as a threat. Millions of men, women and children were killed, many at the Killing Fields, outside the capital city Phnom Penh. There, in those fields, is a tree that is marked as having been the one that thousands of terrified children were beat against until they ceased to live. The United States, aware of the situation, was unable to help, inside the country itself, because the king of the people had then aligned himself with communist China. Instead, the U.S. government set up refugee camps on the Thailand side of the Cambodian border offering people relief if they could get there. The journey to these camps, though, was difficult as land mines littered the way. Many were injured or died trying. Finally, in 1979, the Vietnamese government came to aide the people in overthrowing Pol Pot and his followers. Even so, Pol Pot held onto some power until 1997. He died under house arrest in 1998. Many Khmer Rouge soldiers remain in the country and have attempted the very difficult process of reintegrating themselves into the society they have destroyed. I have talked with one of them at length and will tell about that later in this blog.
The Khmer people of Cambodia, in the aftermath of civil war, live very close to the land itself. Mainly farmers or fishermen, they eat rice and vegetables with very little meat. The primary modes of transport are scooters (Moto’s), bicycles and carts drawn by white cows or small ponies. Rain is caught in big cisterns for water. Oddly many have cell phones. Alcoholism and gambling is very much a problem. Even so, the pace of life is slow and beautiful.
MY FIRST SOLO DAY AT MARKET
Yesterday, it was time for me to say goodbye to Mandi and her family and move down the street about 7 miles to be on my own. I rented a room for $150 a month. I have a lot of catching up to do on Lightfoot Diaries but for now, I’ll tell a little bit about today.
Today, I set up house. Part of setting up residency includes bits of housekeeping. I want to be frugal and cook instead of eating out constantly, so I picked up a used and slightly battered gas stove at the market for 12 bucks. I had snagged a pot, a kettle and a cheap water filter in Phnom Penh. Today was the day to try it all.
I got up early and got down to the market before the rain started. The rain is setting in for three days or so but this morning the sun was bright. I entered the open air market with some trepidation. This was the first time I had shopped on my own. I went over my mental list. Rice, fruit, and fish on a stick. I had been eyeing that grilled fish on a stick for some time now wondering what it would be like.
I wandered slowly around looking at each booth. The women selling wares greeted me and stated the price of whatever my eyes should land upon. That fruit? One “dolla” a kilo. The next booth had the same thing for 3000 reil which is 75 cents.
I continued on and finally found a booth with a lot of dried things and it looked like the type of booth that should have rice.
“Rice?” I asked, making gestures in the air as if that would help them understand the word “rice”. How to you mime a rice? I mean really.
But the woman, who seemed to know what I was talking about, got up confidently and started rummaging through a red cooler of ice covered drinks looking for what ever it was I had just asked for. I motioned… no… “rice” I repeated. The woman’s husband sitting at the booth eating his lunch understood exactly what I was saying. “Rice” he repeated to his wife who nodded and moved to a second drink cooler to rummage around in the ice again, very intent on her task. I realized they thought I was asking for a Sprite. “No,” I waved my hand again. Then I went over to the man’s lunch and pointed to the rice. “Rice” I said. Ah! They understood it now and went to the pot that contained the cooked rice they had been eating for lunch but were more than happy to sell me. “Um…Yes!” I nodded and then pointed to the dry grains of stuff other than rice that were packed in bags, “but like this”. They looked confused. Uh oh. This was no good. I looked the dry items over once again and there, bright as sunlight, I found a bag of rice. “Ah!” I said, and looking very happy, pointed to the rice. “Ah” they repeated. I think we all felt relief that the labor of communication was over. The woman cheerfully filled a black plastic bag with 1 kilo of rice for which I paid 25 cents and sent me on my way.
I emerged from the market with the rice, some homemade Khmer chili sauce in a jar, locally produced sea salt in a tiny bag, some fruit that is excellent though I don’t know the name of, and my fish on a stick. I know the market vendors over-charge foreigners and I never know by how much. So, whatever price they tell me I offer half, just to see what will happen. That fish on a stick was two dollars. I offered the vender one dollar and the her face fell. “Lot of meat!” she said in broken English picking it up and swinging it around. I forked over the two bucks. I really wanted the fish on a stick, though I felt like I had splurged.
Then I realized I had forgotten to borrow a plate and utensils from Mandi. I walked back into the market looking for a spoon at least, but saw nothing that would do. Finally I came upon a disposable Chinese spoon…the kind Chinese restaurants bring with soup. They were being sold 20 spoons in a package but the lady gave me one for free. Yay!
I made it back home and spent the rest of the afternoon boiling and then filtering my water which is what everyone who was suppose to know told me I needed to do, but I wondered if it was necessary. By this time in my trip I have put many unknown foods and liquids into my mouth (more on that later) and, thus far, have remained unsick.
Here is dinner. I’m pretty proud of myself.
for more pics and to see my outdoor kitchen look on the food page!