Greener Pastures

So for those who’ve been here since the beginning, you may remember my post about our landlords and their attitude to children, in particular noisy children.https://bangonaboutbattambang.com/2014/08/20/peace-in-paradise/

After Beau managed to put a dart through a fly screen; pull a wicker cupboard on top of him smashing the mirror on his head, beautify the wall with crayon, get trigger happy on the bum gun one too many times, we’ve parted ways. The landlords eager to find us a new place and us eager to feel like we weren’t living with our parents.

 

Our New Digs

Our New Digs

According to our previous landlords, this place was just waiting for us. The owner is a judge who moved to Phnom Penh a while ago, not desperate to rent the place remained elusive. That was until our previous landlord desperate to find us a new domicile accosted her calling up to ten times a day and a deal struck.

We now live further out of town amidst paddy field green and buffalo tracks. The kids can play rough and tumble in the garden lined with 4 dragon fruit trees (large succulent sculptures), mangos, limes and passionfruit. We have an extra bedroom that’s swiftly been utilised as a kid free zone as it has a lockable door. This is where I’m shacked up to write this piece.

These beauties in our garden

These beauties in our garden

The local neighbours are Khmer and have already inquisitively scoped out our joint. Quinn and Beau can be found out the front with any number of sticks or swords in action.

Goat Curry ?

Goat Curry ?

These four legged friends were seen on our first bike ride to the market. The market being a cross between an abbattoir, a farmer’s market, hardware store and a bargain shop. All live or not so lucky critters (eels,crabs, insects, chicken, goose, duck, pork, beef, snails, snake) and fresh vegies/fruit are rolled out on grass mats for your perusal. Best to get there early because after the sun is higher in the sky, so are the number of flies.

Quinn turned 7 this weekend. It feels like quite the milestone for all of us. He’s growing into a thoughtful, sensitive and artistic young man. He was full of home made pinata and commando course building ideas for the party. None of which actually happened…but water pistols fights and pass the parcel sufficed.

Chocolate cake! Quite a rarity

Chocolate cake! Quite a rarity

We had quite a turn out. Tim being the social broadcaster he is- invited everyone we’ve met since arriving 3 months ago. It turned into a beautiful motley crew of Khmer and Expat- from the hotel owner and porter from the Royal Hotel where we stayed when we first arrived, to our old landlords, to work colleagues, new French friends from Beau’s preschool to the entire staff from our local, backpacker bar Here Be Dragons. 8 kg of barbecued meat later and eons of coconuts, beer and sweet cakes, everyone was suitably porky. Even a souped up ice cream van Cambodia-style came who must have got the call up.

Suzuki City cum Mr Whippy

Suzuki City cum Mr Whippy

So we are adjusting to our new digs peacefully. It feels like a new chapter has begun for our time here.  Whenever, I leave our walled garden and ride my bike along the country lane, I feel like I’m in a movie- the seated fishermen by the irrigation ditch with their home made fishing stick; the local jetty made out of a few pieces of bamboo easy to replace after heavy rains, smells waffing from outdoor ‘kitchens’ of the neighbouring corrugated huts.

What year is it? What century are we in?

Pchum Ben Festival

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.

Choo Choo: Waitya, Quinn, Waitya's sister, Beau

Choo Choo: Waitya, Quinn, Waitya’s sister, Beau

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.

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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.

 

Outside Teacher Pin and LeMong's house

Outside Teacher Pin and LeMong’s house

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.

 

Boys will be….boys

A wise friend doing the Battambang life with kids recommended we get outta town regularly. With school holidays limping into their third month, it was definitely time.

We packed ourselves into the back of a taxi for the 3 hour drive to Siem Reap with 2 hyper boys practicing head stands on the back seat. This city is a cultural mecca being the home of the Mighty Angkor Wat and many lesser known cousins.  A must see on anyone’s bucket’s list. Its ancient architecture whispers of a forgotten kingdom, patriotically kept alive in the minds of the Khmer as a time of strength and power. Even today a pulipal energy radiates as Buddhist monks still visit shrines daily keeping the spiritual fires lit.

The Bayon- Tim's favourite pick

We left the boys poolside in an innocent housekeeper’s care. All went surprisingly well, except for receiving 6 missed calls to say the kids were ravenous and needed to order pizza. Ce La Vie.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We so enjoyed the quiet togetherness. Moving away from family, you rarely get time to relax with one another, rather we tag team our breaks. And try not to bicker over who gets more sanity savers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 We are still adjusting to our new life. From other expats I’ve heard it takes up to three months to acclimatise, but from Battambang locals, who have lived the high and lows that occur on a daily basis, it is more like six months. So whatever the magical figure may be, it is where we are at right now.

The boys still in the throws of missing their friends keenly, and without school or routine AND living in a strange new world, they are emotional. Their sibling relationship showing the strain of being only friend, brother, sparking partner and side kick. Beau has regressed in his toilet training big time which may be influenced by the size of the cockroaches in our bathroom or never knowing what kind of squat, pit, hole or seatless throne may be on offer. Quinn has retreated into this fantasy world of fighting and weapons…whereby he is slaying ninjas in our street every night, and by day hitting plastic swords on a pole, or punching clothes hanging on the line.

Having two boys I’ve witnessed some aggression but it is definitely magnified at the moment. A coping mechanism?

So when Quinn got wind of the War Museum, he came alive so I acquiesced. The word was that it was a government rip off who bullied the more informative Land Mine Museum into moving premises out of town.  We arrived to an open field of rusty tanks ready to attack if only they had wheels.

Friendly Staff members play with the boys

Friendly Staff members play with the boys

With no conservation signage, safety measures dependent on how adventurous you are, the boys clambered over the tanks like monkeys. That was until they spotted the gun exhibit- a bungalow with rows of rifles that you could freely touch.

OMG!

OMG!

Quinn yells with characteristic Elvis thrusts as he strokes an AK-47, affectionately known from then as ”Gun-ji”.

Heaven on Earth

Heaven on Earth

I was reminded of the gun racks in my Uncle’s bedroom at my Grandma’s farm. And how I never wanted to sleep in that room, let alone touch them.

Tim and I had the whole gun conversation early on, our consensus being no toy guns in the house. But like water wears away at stone, a wooden handcrafted (that makes a difference, right?) toy rifle slipped into Quinn’s clutches at aged 4.  I can only describe the whole process as seeing an avalanche coming towards you, and deciding to calmly step out of the way.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said things about war, and what it means, and how hurting people is bad. They kinda listened the first time but now it is like trying to get your kids attention when they are glued to a screen.

So the boys were in army heaven fondling all the paraphernalia, one of the guides wanders by, I smile and say:

‘My boys love guns. I tell them war is bad’, looking defeated.

As the sky changes to yellow, the same guide returns beer in hand. We are still in the hut, hours gone. I’m scrawling in my notebook, snatching precious time, the boys still enthralled.

He gestures to the boys and tells me I’m a good mother for letting my sons go.

‘Your boys ok, they come from you, they will be good, you must believe that. ‘

Maybe I’m easily flattered, or enjoy validation whenever I can get it, but I was touched by his words. With linguistic limitations and a traditionally patrilocal culture, you don’t get too many conversations with blokes on any deep level.

He continues:

‘I loved guns as a boy. I play with his father’s gun and make him worry. Then at 13, I join the Khmer Rouge, for 14 years’

As a boy soldier for a notoriously brutal regime, he saw what no person, let alone child should ever have to witness.

I lose everything. All my family dead. I see war. Not good. You tell your children that.’

Do you have kids I ask?

’After war, I want for nothing. I become drunk guy’.

With that he’s gone, raising his bottle in a quick salute. And I’m left in that space where someone’s shared a part of themselves that leaves a mark.

As the sky turns to pink, I touch the sleek cold metal of a M-16, feel its secrets and know its been used for real, not just in boys’ war games.  And I promise to keep sowing the seeds for love and peace in my little soldiers’ hearts.  Teaching compassion for all things, and dropping those crumbs hoping that my boys will always know that it is wrong to hurt others. Maybe it was unwise to let them covet these weapons. But watching Quinn I get a sense of his own dad as a child, who wanted to join the army but has never been in a fight.

I can’t change where their present passions lie, only trust that by allowing them to explore them, they will tire of them and move on, hopefully with equal zeal but less violence. I’ve seen those kids deprived of television, who once they see one, have no self control or discretion, they watch shopping channels verbatim.

I don’t vouch to know what I’m doing most of the time, but raising boys is like a biology lesson. Neither Tim nor I encourage violence. I teach yoga and enjoy Buddhist philosophy. What I’ve been working on is acceptance of my self, no matter what to stay soft and listening. And I’m realising this extends to my kids.