The last month or so of my life has been lived in the small village of Kbal Dremei. This place is about an hours car ride away from the big capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.
The capital of Cambodia is populated heavily and it’s general movement is one with purpose and drive. It is at the forefront of the Cambodian corporate world and it buzzes, accordingly.
We met a total of about 12 different volunteers come and go throughout this time spent living in the house. Situated in a rural part of town called Sala Lek, we lived in a quite neighbourhood of Cambodian country folk. It was nothing but dirt roads, beautiful grasslands, lakes and small clusters of forest. Usually, you had a temple sit amongst a the forest, as it provided nice areas of shade for its visitors and residence; monks of all different ages.
We became so part of the family that little sister, Chealy or younger bro Kimhua would shout, “Eat rice, eat rice, eat rice!” every night consistently to let everyone know dinner was being served. If you were late, your name would be called. “Chris, eat rice”!
“I know, I know, I’m coming”.
We would all sit underneath this wooden hut type of thing. It had a kitchen in it and Mama and Papa would also sleep in it. They slept on a hardwood platform with a mat beneath them and bed sheets that would cover the perimeter of the platform to give them extra shelter. By no means was this an act of poverty, but simply just a way of life for these old timers. They were traditional, old school rural Khmer. They wouldn’t have the conditions any other way. These guys lived through the Khmer Rogue. They know what it’s like to truly experience an intense life and it shows through them. They both carry this sense of empowerment, peace, resilience and true wisdom.
Papa was usually the leader on the construction site. He was the one who would call most of the shots. He was the visionary and we were all his workers, collaborating as a system to get the job done. I once heard that Papa was saved from being killed during the Rogue because he had extremely good practical skills. He could build things and he was also a creative artist, selling his Buddhist artwork to the local temples.
There were about 3 properties with houses on them and all 3 properties were housed with different members of the extended family. Mama raised 7 children, so there was an abundance of grandchildren running around, constantly. Plus, all these kids attended the school in the house we lived in and at the public school next door to the house we were living in.
When school was out, I would put headphones in and jog laps of the grass paddock, sometimes having to dodge cows who were also there but for a grass feeding frenzy.
When there was a ceremony on in the village, everyone will know because the music gets played so loud. Festivities in the village are important and some are very formal events.
I was there for Khmer New year which was like a 3 day bender of events held at the temple and local park. It was like Blaxland oval in Menai on Australia Day, but it went for 3 days straight where they had food, music and games.
The bonds formed, I can’t even explain. It becomes so natural, you feel as though you have known each other your whole lives. I didn’t grow up in a huge immediate family, but this is what I would imagine it to be like.
Personal space isn’t a thing and you shower yourself by tipping buckets of cold water over your body. You squat on top of a whole to do a shit and you sleep under a mosquito net on a mattress on the floor. But seriously, once you get used to all of these changes, you realise that it’s actually not as bad as what it sounds. You just start to accept the fact that this is how life is now and you just learn to embrace it.
There are chickens running around everywhere. I would observe them constantly and I would laugh at how funny of an animal they were. They are so stupid lol.
The kids run riot, but they are just so cute. You get to know them for their own unique character. They all have their own unique quirks about them and they make you laugh.
What you decide to do outside of the hours of work, eat and sleep is completely up to you. Everyone has their own unique approach to deal with this sort of free time. It’s a lot of time and it can go slow if you don’t play with it in a proactive way. Usually, I would read. That’s what I did most of the time. I would read books and I would nap a lot. I made it a mission to just take my learning to new levels, meanwhile the reality of the life I was living was teaching me in ways that I’m not even aware of yet. I will realise these lessons as time passes.
It’s the nature and process of forming social bonds like these with such random people from all over the world that perplex me. It’s one of those things in life that make me awestruck.