Wednesday – homestay

I slept pretty well, but was a bit chilly! Also there were a lot of new sounds to get used to. Buffalo bells, cows and traffic (we weren’t that far from the road)

Breakfast was at 7.30 sharp, but first we had to get ‘showered’. With water coming from the well this meant a bin full of water and a scoop to throw the water over you – refreshing to say the least!

Breakfast the same (but different) as I’d had the morning before – pork and rice – but also some super yummy treats – sticky rice balls with palm sugar and coconut, deep fried batter and grilled bananas and copious amounts of coffee.

Can’t remember if I’ve mentioned Cambodian coffee but it’s delicious! Its very chocolatey in smell and the flavour is slightly sweet.

We set off for our cycle ride at around 8:30, had to mix and match the bikes for our various heights – I loved mine, 1 gear, sat very upright, basket on the front, felt like a proper lady!

This wasn’t a hardcore cycle ride, more a cycle a tiny bit then stop and chat to whoever we met. Kheang was keen to emphasize that this wasn’t a ‘shopping’ tour, but if we did want to visit some handicraft places we could. We all said we wanted to so first stop was about 100m down the road!

We stopped at the home of 2 polio survivors and their little girl. She was sat in the front yard using a big cleaver to chop up tiny fish, the bodies for them to eat, the heads for the chickens!

We followed the parents upstairs to their workshop where they make beautiful bags and purses out of silk. Most of their work comes from companies placing orders, but they don’t make much profit from the work. While we were there they were making messenger-type bags from red silk. The company provides the silk and pays them $1.50/bag, but they have to buy all the lining and the zips/clasps etc and each bag takes 8 hours to make.

They did have some small purses for sale and it was then I wished I’d brought money with me…… We asked them a lot of questions and then asked them if they had any for us – they wanted to know if we had any ideas as to what they could do to increase their business. They had both received training in the practical skills they needed but nothing on business or marketing. The obvious thing for us was to put a sign out the front advertising what they did. But firstly they couldn’t afford a sign, also they’d have to seek permission to put it at the roadside.

They were very excited that we had blogs and would write about them! We took photos of them at their sewing machines and with their products, it was good fun and when I can get my photos off my camera I’ll put them on here.

We said fond farewells and cycled off into the village where Kheang had grown up. We soon came across a group of women and were soon joined by more. They were asking if we were married, Susanna and Kalina said they were and were asked if they had any children – one – the response to this was totally unexpected. ‘Do you use birth control, is that why you only have 1 child?’. So that’s what we talked about! They can get the pill or an injection from the health center for very little every month or 3 months. They told us lots of women didn’t like the pill but one of the ladies we spoke to had the injection and she was very happy with that. They asked if we had a male pill which caused much laughter all round!

We then came across an 80 year old lady who was taking care of her granddaughter while her parents worked in Thailand. They would periodically bring money home to support them but they struggled with their existence.

We met a family with what I think were cockles (2 shells like a mussel but more fanshaped) they had them laid put on a table and sprinkled them with salt and chilli. We wondered why they were laid out in the sun – to cook them. She wanted to know if this is how we cooked them at home – we explained we didn’t have enough sun for that!

We stopped and saw a family harvesting rice, they’d been there since 5am. We went to a temple and were shown around the complex. Houses for the monks, a house where the old people from the village with no family can come and be taken care of. Once we’d looked around a monk was sat and we went to speak to him. He’d decided he wanted to be a monk at 13, his family are very proud of him for the decision. He’s now 24 and still very happy with his decision. I asked about the women not being able to touch monks and vice versa thing – it means they lose their power, they feel very guilty about the contact even if it’s only an accident. Some school children also came and sat with us. The monk used his book to push one of the girls away – turns out it was his little sister – even she can’t touch him, or his mother – no contact of any type. The only exception would be to save someone’s life if no one else was around to help. It seemed very sad to me that from 13 he’s not had a hug from his mum, but he seemed very OK with it.

The highlight of the day for me though was meeting a family that weaves. We had so much fun with them. Saw them spinning the cotton, weaving with the loom, but best of all was discovering the 101 ways to use the scarfs (kromas) that they produce. Shawl, scarf, sarong, belt, nappy/swimsuit for a man, hats of various types, hammock for a baby, a bike seat for a small child, a toy bunny rabbit, a whip, for fruit picking, an apron, a bag, for tying together the rice you’ve harvested, to protect your modesty when using the ‘tree toilet’ each one demonstrated with great gusto!

We must have been there for well over an hour and by the end had quite a crowd of school children watching us, we were on their route to afternoon school, they were very curious but all ran away when we turned to talk to them!

We asked the family about their life, how the parents had met, they brought out their wedding photos to show us. The man of the family supplemented their income by working as a teacher, $35/moth he wasn’t, not enough to live off. They made more money from selling the scarfs they weaved and they only sold to locals, they were the go to place for the locals. We all wanted one, for $2.50 how could we not? We thought they’d have some ready made, but no, she went to the cloth on the loom she’d weaved that morning and cut off the correct number of lengths and there they were. We were told to wash them to make them soft, the cotton is starched before its woven and needs washing out.

By now our 3 hour bike ride was already over 4 hours so we headed back to the homestay still stopping for quick hellos on the way.

We treated ourselves to coconuts on the way back and bumped into her mum at the place we bought them from, even more slender and beautiful in the daylight. She was out buying dessert for herself.

We finally got back after 2pm and while we drank our coconut water, poor Kheang had to go and make our lunch, the woman never stops from before dawn to after dark.

The food was again spectacular and so much of it, we were well and truly stuffed and glad of a chance to relax and take a shower before Kheang’s sister came to talk to us after she’d finished teaching in school.

The sister arrived at 5:30 and like the night before we asked her about her day, her life. As a teacher she said she got into school at 6:30 every day, half an hour before the students, worked through until 11am, the end of morning class, then started again at 1 until 4 for the afternoon. We asked if her salary was enough to live from and she said no, she supplemented it by selling snacks to the students at break times. This is a common thing in schools. In some of the bigger cities teachers charge their students to come to class. If they can’t afford either they don’t attend or are picked on by the teacher. Parents who can afford to pay a bit more will find that their children will get better treatment.

The students are taught 4 subjects, maths, science, Khmer and social studies. As they get older English is also introduced. What is never taught though is recent history, Pol Pot or anything associated with him. The curriculum is set by the government and doesn’t include any arts either.

When we asked what she’d change about the education system she wanted a living wage for teachers and a broader curriculum with text books etc to teach from.

She hasn’t wanted to be a teacher, but a nurse, but at the end of Pol Pot’s regime there was a desperate need for teachers and the pay was better so she signed up.

Again, we could have talked for hours, but as she revealed she gets up at around 3am to make the snacks she sells, so it would have been unfair to delay her.

We had yet another amazing meal and it was time for bed

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