Saturday, 3 February 2007

How comfy is a Cambodian mat?

Unfortunately I became really ill as I made my way to the floating village of Prék Toal to meet the local team of Osmose. Butthe women of the village are very sweet. As soon as they noticed that I was not well, out came the old bottled Chinese medicine. I had to rub a violet liquid on my stomach - and a green one on my face... Their attention is very sincere and straight forward, the effect of the potions less so... I spent the rest of the afternoon in a hammock regaining a bit of strength onboard the floating house of Ravi my host.

Later in the afternoon I joined Chheang from Osmose for a little tour of the village. He had to do a few interviews trying to identify the families interested in the new collective savings programme that Osmose is just setting up. He also wanted to see which of the women in the village are interested in participating in the new mushroom plantation project. Now, you would think: how the hell can they grow mushrooms on floating houses? It's quite amazing how resourceful they are here. Some families have wonderful floating gardens - including palm trees, mango trees and banana trees. They grow morning glory (a local Cambodian plant), eggplant, lemon grass, papaya, pineapple - you name it.

It does take a lot of work though, and not all the families Osmose has helped to set up these floating gardens have managed to keep them alive. This is not one of the most beautiful gardens, Chheang tells me, but it is still yielding fruits and vegetables...

Back at Ravi's it's soon time to go to bed...

My first night on a traditional Cambodian mat is better than expected. A bit hard (I must admit), but the rocking of the waves put me rapidly to sleep... and it's only the blarring of the village's "radio" that wakes me up the next morning. Well "radio"... it's more like a big loudspeaker alternatively shouting out music (both pop and traditional), information (propaganda) and prayers. On this day Cambodia celebrates "Miak Bochea" - the time when Buddha reached Nirvana. To me the prayers seem particularly long and loud. Gosh, it's so good to have a radio you can turn off!!

I was the last one to get up. Here Ravi's kids get ready to go to school in their white and blue uniforms.

Only the youngest one stays at home because she doesn't know how to swim. The four year old gets a lice inspection instead (and ever since my head started scratching... you might see me come back with short hair).

In the meantime the women of the family clean the house and the men work on repairing the fishing nets. For me it was time to inspect the 50 crocodiles at the back of the house. (I forgot to ask whether the little altar was for the crocodiles or someone else - maybe snatched up by the reptiles?)

I spent the rest of the morning sitting on the veranda in front of Ravi's house, watching the villagers float by... I wonder what people here expect of life. Ravi tells me she doesn't have any big problems. Only minor ones: for example with her employees who are not working well and are too lazy. Those employees also happen to be her relatives, and that doesn't make things easier. But she shruggs her shoulders and says she dreams of times when more tourists will come to Prék Toal and she will have her own souvenir shop.

Everyone in Prék Toal knows that the rich fish stocks of the Tonlé Sap are in decline, that life will become more difficult in the future and that it's time to think about alternative sources of income. Sambath, the local project officer of Osmose in the village hopes that more and more children will manage to get a university education and ultimately be able to leave the floating village for a better life on firm ground.

Back in my hammock waiting for the boat from Battambang to Siem Reap. There are two boats a day - one in the morning, the other one in the afternoon - between 1.30 and 2.30 PM. Like with many things in Cambodia you just have to wait and be patient. And when the boat comes just simply wave it down - and the journey continues.


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