Sharing a greeting … and more

By Frances Micklow

Under the shade of the concrete-stilt house, on top of the dust-like, dirt-covered concrete floor, was a wooden frame. To a Westerner it was about the height of a coffee table and as big as a queen-sized bed. Across the frame were two-inch thick, weathered, wooden slats. This was a multifunctional piece of furniture for the family who lived in the house. It was a table, a mid-day resting place, and today, a seat for visitors.

The lady of the house spread out a mat of woven blue, yellow, and cream plastic fibers. She looked at me, looked at the mat,  motioned between myself and the mat, and then smiled. I gladly accepted the shaded seat, flanked on all sides by hammocks made of  blue nets, the family cows, and all the local children that had flocked to us, the outsiders.

After some of the other girls in the class and I were seated, the woman went around to each of us, placed her two palms together, slightly bowed, and said “cham reap sour.” I asked our guide what she was saying.

“How do you do,” he said. “It is the older, proper way that women greet.”

Touched by this woman’s hospitality and warmth, I practiced the Khmer phrase with my guide. Once I felt like I had mastered it, I turned to the woman. I placed my palms together, bowed, and said, “cham reap sour.”

The woman in the village and I shared both a greeting, a laugh and an understanding today.

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