Village hospitality

By Nicole Meadows

According to one travel guide about Cambodia, “life is centered on family, faith, and food.” We saw the heart of this in a visit to one of the guide’s home village.

Our bumpy tuk tuk ride on the wide dirt road, orange and corrugated, was like a victory parade. Almost every kid we passed waved and shouted “halloo” to us – sometimes unseen from behind the dry palm trees. I wondered what they associated with the sight of visitors like us. It seemed to be exciting things.

On our tour we were able to taste rice wine, which we were told is hard to make. Then we visited the stilted house of our guide’s mother, who makes rice noodles to sell at the market and to other villagers.

A cluster of concrete posts stood to the side of the yard, on hand for replacing the wooden pillars supporting the house when termites ate them away. Like a good ol’ barn raisin’, fixing a house is a community affair. By the strength of gathered neighbors, the house is lifted and the posts switched out. In payment, thanks and celebration, a meal and wine are shared.

We passed grandmother and aunt, both widowed nuns, and sister with her children. We stopped at a woman’s home where her relative taught English to students for $2 a month. Older women asked our guide why he had so many pretty girls with him and laughed, one touching a girl’s arm like it was a fine fabric.

A cloud of children gathered behind us and floated on the ground as we waited for fresh coconuts to drink the milk from. Our hostess sent her daughter to get a woven mat to cover the bed, which was wooden slats and long leaves, for us to sit on.

Some kids had necklaces of string with coin pendants. One young boy, with a droopy eye and swollen forehead, even wore a car key. These necklaces were protection from sickness.

Our coconuts were fresh – a teen scaled a palm tree and brought a clump down, then they used a machete to slice the tops off and make an opening. After handing out the “cococups” our hostess, who had held her kissing palms to the girls of the group with an old greeting, rushed away and back, bringing a bag of straws and making sure no one was left without one.

It may have been a side effect of our guide being in his own village, among his relatives and friends, but it felt like we were also visiting home on a special occasion.

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