For 15 mornings the alarm clock has been the sounds of monks’ chanting to ghosts at the gates of Hell.
This ancestors festival is a huge celebration, second only to Khmer New Year. The monks sing all night without sleeping as the gates open ghosts reprieved from their time of purgation escape whilst other unfortunates only get a temporary leave pass but must return to more repentance. Piles of food are laid at the feet of the monks by locals to gain ‘merits’ that indirectly benefit their family dead. Some locals throw rice balls into the air via direct post leaving out the middlemen. Whatever your beliefs about your ancestors’ fate, some souls obviously made it to heaven, it is a time of celebration with all spirits, pious and devious benefiting from the attention.
We were invited to a friend of Quinn, Waitya’s house to stuff our faces on Cambodian cakes, a mixture of sticky rice with any combination of banana, red bean, shrimp, pork, nuts, honey, lentils, corn. We arrived to a feast of oranges and fruit, our mouths never empty, before the cakes came out…and then the curry and rice. With pants popping we managed to extract ourselves from our plastic chairs to go on a village tour to visit relatives, and eat more cakes.
Walking through palm fringed tracks only wide enough for motos and bicycles. Cars not a common sight.
We stumbled across the boys’ teachers house- a modest hut with the extended family all on the frontal platform. Grandma, aunts, uncles, brother, sisters, grandchildren- one being 3 year old whose parents are working as construction workers in Thailand, Grandma who looked 80 but may have been 50, taking up the slack. As I stood there, talking to his sweet teachers in Khmer English realising that just because someone speaks good enough English to get a job in a school, doesn’t mean that it is a well paid. Nor does it mean this husband and wife teacher team live in their own home. Like 40 year old virgins in our culture (that they are not, their cute daughter toddles at their heels) they live in the family home, their salary going into the communal pot.
We are finding the Khmer such warmhearted people. Their generosity is without boundaries. I speak for all my boys, we feel very welcome and at home here. Even with our
Tik Tik Khmer
which means ‘I don’t speak much at all’, we get smiles at our jumbled attempts and nods of appreciation that we even try. Take away speech, body language is the radio channel and so often I find that if I initiate a smile, I get a HUGE one in return. It is easy to see that home truth in action you get back what you give out.