Bitter-sweet, should we say !
Showcasing poverty for quick bucks is a norm across the under-developed world. We all know about it, yet all of us fall for it. It’s a vicious circle. They must remain poor to earn money. Further discussion calls for a separate post.
I started on this bitter note, as I still remember three years back it hit me on the face while I visited Kampong Phluk. It was a good enough winter morning in Siem Reap, and the brochures claimed I should not miss a boat ride on the Tonle Sap and the floating villages while I am in Cambodia. It’s a six-hour trip designed as a diversion for the by-now-temple-weary tourist. Poverty sells in half day packages 🙂
Do not get me wrong. The stilt villages are indeed remarkable. Human resilience and the hard life of the people of Kampong Phluk would definitely make us thank our stars for the luxuries we take for granted. For half a year, their sole means of transport is by boat, when the Mekong fills up Tonle Sap during monsoons. The other, drier half means trudging along mud and slush left behind by the retreating waters.
Rickety diesel bumboats take you out for a short ride through a labyrinth of muddy canals out into the open lake.”Lake” would be an understatement, if ever there was one ! Perhaps it is geographically a correct term, but it is the same muddy swirling waters as far as could be seen. That done, the boat turns back to surer waters, whereupon you have the option of canoeing deeper into the mangroves. “Floating” eateries line the canals. We dodged these and docked at the final stop of our trip, the village of Kampong Phluk. Upon arrival, I find the world is not such a bad place after all. The trip includes charity in the form of buying notebooks and other school stationery, and donating these to the village kids. Talk of recycling 😉
But these kids for sure know how to have fun. It was as if I was back in school, blissfully soaking in the chaos. In my friendliest avatar,I struck up a conversation with these two pretty ladies (the not-so-shy ones) but they ticked me off with practised ease. Suitably chastened, I went back to taking photos. Then I met the shy one. There are some faces we never forget. I do not even know her name, since all she did was keep that unsure smile on her face while I spoke to her. But I have never seen such bottomless eyes. I could say this is my most cherished photograph.
Walking back to the village square, I realised not all of it is “floating”. I am very much on solid ground, and I could take in how the village runs. In those settings,I was the odd one out, the perfect outsider, as life went on. Women dried and salted fish, toddlers ran and fell and screamed and laughed, grandmoms sold vegetables, all content in their role.
As I was walking back to the boat, these two lovely ladies tugged at my camera strap, and indicated they would not mind having themselves clicked. I did as ordered, and they broke into an impromptu jig after inspecting my effort.
At times, happiness is just a click away !
A lot of people do wonderful work for these villages. One such organisation is Helping Hands Cambodia. They sell beautiful photo products to garner support for a better future of Kampong Phluk and its people. You can look them up at http://www.helpinghandscambodia.com