Thursday, January 17, 2013

Dispatch from Cambodia, 8 // The Farmhouse

I rode a tuk-tuk the thirtyish kilometers from one aunt’s house to another’s, southward through the crowded streets of Phnom Penh to Setbo, a small town on the western bank of Tonle Bassac.
You can see me in the right-hand rear-view.
The six days went by more quickly than I expected and I was torn about whether to extend my stay or leave as I’d scheduled. I was enjoying the peaceful time with my aunt and uncle, their little dog, and the chickens that roamed about each day. I read The Motorcycle Diaries, got Khmer lessons from my uncle, wrote a bit, learned to make Khmer sticky-rice desserts, went on a few joy rides on the moto, and itched. My aunt told me stories about growing up in the area: how their house was right over the water, jumping from the porch to the river during the rainy season, getting whooped by my grandmother after sneaking out to play. It sounded not a little idyllic. We laughed a lot together.
The pup in the basket was not my idea. We were both a little terrified.
Banana trees at golden hour.
My uncle washing dishes by candlelight. The power goes out often, sometimes several times a day. 
So much lovely papaya.
One thing I’ve had to adjust to while spending time with family is having three square meals a day. I've had to abandon my usual routine of morning coffee followed by light grazing throughout the day. My aunts tell me in Khmer to “Eat large!” at nearly every meal, and more often than not I find a big scoop of rice or soup or fruit or something in front of me before I had a chance to protest. On my last full day, we went on a long tuk-tuk excursion to Phnom Saang and Tonle Bati via rough rice-paddy roads that left all of us sore, and I actually managed to convince my aunt to let me skip dinner (which she probably only agreed to because she herself was also feeling frighteningly full). 

Passing a duck farm between Phnom Saang and Tonle Bati.
I considered extending my stay, but I was being fed farmhand portions without the accompanying calorie-burning work, making me fear that my stomach would burst. Refusing food somehow feels akin to refusing love in a Khmer household, and I had accepted as much love as I could from my sweet-toothed aunt. So I ran off back to Phnom Penh, promising to make an effort to return before I leave Cambodia.

My last breakfast involved these two gorgeously orange-yolked fried eggs.

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