Monday, March 24, 2008

Weekend Wedding: Day 2

Another early start for me at 5:30am as I would be picked up at 6:10am. However this is pale in comparison to the bridal party who gets up at 4am or so to start the hair, make-up and getting dressed. The music usually starts blaring at 4:30am just in case the village had no idea there was going to be a wedding in their midst.

The first order of the day is organizing the procession of fruit trays and other food items. The close friends and family trot on over to a selected house where the groom and the bridal party (sans bride who is waiting upstairs at her house) get ready to lead about 40-50 people including dancers and musicians down the road and to the bride's house. Since the groom does not live nearby, we borrowed a relative's house (which happened to be the same location where my engagement procession started from 3 years ago).

There are several chairs set up along the walkway which have one tray each of fruit or food on them. As people arrive they sit down in the chairs from start to finish filling in the empty spaces. We were handed little red envelopes which had 500 Riel in each (about 12 cents worth). Because there weren't enough people to carry all the trays, there was some shuffling around and doubling up so that some people carried more than one tray (and more cash, too). I was in between 2 young girls. As we walked the section of my line decided to become less of a line and more of a blob of people. Obviously they didn't care about keeping two neat lines of people walking along the road.

Our procession became the object of some tourists' fancy as were were passed by a bus heading out of town. What a lucky break for them as they got to photograph Cambodians participating in a traditional activity wearing an array of brightly-colored silk dresses. The bus ended up stopping up ahead so that they people could get off and get better shots. I wondered if they would spot the one single white person in the mix. By the time my section of the line got close, though, they had already boarded the bus and were on their way.

We get to the house and everyone sits in chairs along an aisle that has been set up under one of the tents. This is so that the dancers/singers can do a little jig while collecting a piece of fruit from each person sitting in the rows. This collection of fruit is then offered to the bride's parents for approval to allow the bride to come downstairs.

What goes on next is just a bunch of staged photo opportunities of the bride and groom placing jasmine leis on each other's neck and holding flower arrangements. They then head back up into the house for the rest of the ceremony which includes some blessings and tying red string on their wrists. Everyone else scrambled over to the tables to eat the breakfast provided. I wasn't interested in eating as I saw what it was and it didn't appeal to me.

The rest of the morning I chilled out until the music started signalling the beginning of the lunch for all the hundreds of guests who would be arriving. At that point I needed to escape as I didn't care to have my hearing impaired by the unchecked excessive volume and bass that the Cambodians seem to think is perfect for a wedding. I scurried around the back of the house to shield me from the avalanche of noise and to the area behind the speakers where the grandfather's house is located. Underneath the house is the perfect area to sit as it receives the freshest breezes from the field, especially useful then as it was also excessively hot, too. I also wanted to see how long I could hide out and avoid putting my silk dress back on as I knew it would be stifling to wear it. I was supposed to be standing in the front of the party welcoming the guests to the wedding.

Aha! I was found out! Back on went the dress. To the front with all the music and to be a pleasant sight for all guests entering. But, no, there was a little girl standing next to me in the receiving line. Whose daughter she was, I don't know. I think she was a child from the groom's side of the family. She was neither dressed appropriately nor greeting guests in an appropriate way by holding up her hands in a prayer position in front of her lips. Why was she there? Then when she started telling all the guests the obvious fact, that is that I was a foreigner, I decided to attempt to teach her a lesson using my limited Khmer which essentially meant "shut-up." She got the message and shortly disappeared.

Most people acknowledged my presences, while a few didn't care or weren't really paying attention. I recognized a few people who were friends of mine or Da's. But overall it was hot and tiring to stand there. I was thankful when the guests trailed off which meant I could trail off and away from the sound, too. I found a bench in the shade (or what I thought was shade) on the other side of the house where it was only slightly less noisy. The other bonus was that I found a fan, too.

The peace and calm lasted for awhile until I was discovered by an older school teacher who was the host for my engagement party. He could speak English well enough to be understood and we spent some time catching up on old times. He even assisted me with some pronunciation problems in Khmer. However, it soon became very clear that I was merely a resource for him to asking an unceasing amount of grammar and vocabulary questions from me, seeing as I was the English teacher. At first it was cute, but it eventually became dull and my throat was parched. Some child brought him a Coke, but nothing for me. My throat was already on its last legs after the strain of the weekend.

Thankfully my savior arrived in the form of Da asking if I had eaten yet. He politely explained to the teacher that I was being requested to join the wedding party for their lunch now that most of the wedding guests had eaten and left already. Then the new husband also appeared and requested my presence. Yippee! However I had one stop and that was the table full of Da's good buddies and a few of my friends too. I needed to share a drink with them and have chat before they left as a courtesy.

Finally, I sat down and ate some food. It was the leftovers from the party. I didn't really care for much of it, but it certainly was impressive for the wedding food. As we ate, the music and tents were in the process of being torn down. Tables were being cleared away. All this stuff had to go to the next event as this is the peak of wedding season. I think I have filled my quota for participating and attending Cambodian weddings, even my own. If I don't have to do this long and drawn out affair ever again, I will certainly be content.

Going postal in Cambodia

Today I had my first official irritating Cambodian post office moment. Now I would say I am lucky since I've managed to last more than four years without feeling I've been ripped off. However, today was the icing on the cake.

I mailed a few postcards with a couple of packages for Swap-Bot, which I had been doing since I got here in February. Along with that I found out that the postal workers had been overcharging me for all the previous postcards I had been sending since I arrived . Normally postcards were 55 cents when I was last here in July 07, but the women started charging me $1 this time. I thought this was high, but figured since many prices had increased, this was one of them, until today. The laday today charged me the normal price and I was slightly shocked even when she said the special stamps were $1. I had never asked for special stamps and figured the women were charging me for special stamps and putting normal stamps on the postcards.

Oh well, I supposed they needed the extra cash more than I did.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Wedding Weekend: Day 1

the bride

My Saturday morning started early with a 6:25am pick up by a former student driving a minivan. He was my transport to the house where I would attempt to participate in the preparations for the big wedding event of my sister-in-law.
Being the only daughter, her wedding was a huge celebration that brought out the assistance of the entire village quite willingly, though I was less inclined. I thought I would be more helpful, but my morning was full of emotional chaos. For what reason, I do not know. I spent the morning on the brink of tears. Mom-in-law attempted to put me to work on the old standby of garlic pealing. It seems to be something harmless that the foreigner can do without too much harm. Of course everyone wanted to talk to me but I wasn't in the talking mood. Then it came down to the "big" comments by everyone. Not today!!!! Please!!!!
Once the garlic was finished, I was finished too and walked away from the area towards the irrigation canal to stare at the fish jumping and colorful dragonflies landing on leaves. A boy came over to ask me why I was here and I replied with, "I don't want to listen." And that was true.
I continued to stand there for awhile and then walked down the lane for a bit til some dogs announced my entry and I turned around. I came back and sat around some more. Da was busy with all kinds of errands so he had little time for me. Eventually he showed me a little attention by taking me tamarind picking.
We drove over to the tree and the village climbed up to shake the branches for the tamarinds to fall. We scurried around in the dirt picking them up to place in the basket. It was sweaty and dirty work. I came back drenched in sweat and it was still morning. Did I mention that it was hot and humid. It's slowly gotten hot so this wedding weekend will not be fun since we're out in the countryside without fans.
Lunch was served. I ate a little, but wasn't extremely hungry. After I went upstairs in the house to rest and read away from the stares. Eventually I was found and told that it was hot. Yes, of course it's hot. Then I was showed the new bed so I could take a rest. Somehow I didn't feel right resting on the newlyweds newly purchased bed. The bed that looked as if it was built to the exact dimensions of the room as it filled it in its entirety.
With no nap, I was invited down to help the old ladies prepare the rice cakes. Actually I was put on the soy bean paste ball rolling station. All I had to do was roll balls of the filling until there was none left. Of course the old ladies had to put their two cents in of comments about me and my size. I'm so over the never-ceasing need to talk about my size.

procession to the hair cutting ceremony

The next event of the day was the evening's wedding activity with the hair cutting ceremony. I don't have any idea why this is part of a wedding. I don't think anybody really knows either. The groom and bridesmaids took off down the lane with some guests decked out in wedding apparel outfits to take part in a small procession back to the house. The chairs were set up as two aisles with the bridal party at the end. The bride comes out of the house and joins the groom. A lot of the events are poses staged by the photographer for the typical wedding shots. There is a host and two dancers who sing and do a bit of a comedy routine leading up to the "hair cutting." Then there is a show of fake hair cutting and spraying of perfume by the dancers. The utensils are handed off to the parents for their turn at clipping away. And then a whole procession of family members and guests go through the motions of cutting the bride and grooms hair.
That's it. The first day's events are over. We eat a meal and people go home or stick around and keep preparing for the next day. Another early rise.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Give and it shall be given to you

Last Saturday I spent the morning at Tepaday Village to the north of Puok District. This is the home village of Da's father and it is considered quite poor. We have been looking into building a well for the village, but the conditions are not ideal as wells have been tried before with limited success.
However, our purpose last Saturday was more of a goodwill gesture as I had organized some donations of small hygiene items and school supplies for the children. Twenty mothers were chosen who had children for us to give a school bag full of goodies to them.

Before handing out the bags, though, fun was in store as I brought a secret stash of bubbles. When I pulled out the bottle the crowd of children and women eyed me with uncertainty. "What is this barang going to do?" As soon as I started blowing the bubbles, the cries of the children were all the answer I needed. It was so noisy that I had to move out to a more open space so as not to irritate the older folks.

Leaping and dashing to their delight (sometimes in the oncoming traffic of motorbikes), the bubbles were a hit. I passed the first bottle off to another child and pulled out a second bottle which I eventually handed to another boy. It was fun to stand back and watch them try it out. It was even more enjoyable when they started making their own bubble wands out of pieces of palm leaves. How inventive!
After the bubbles, it was time to hand out the school bags. Once we finished that we gave out some crank operated LED flashlights (no batteries required!) and a couple of solar powered and crank operated radios. There were 10 flashlights, but unfortunately one didn't seem to work, and that was the one we gave to the monk. Oops! An aunt gave up hers to the monk and then he got a radio, too. All was saved.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Bamboo Shoots (BASTIGO, NGO)

I had a fun morning a couple of weeks back when going out to visit the Bamboo Shoots school preparation program in villages behind the temples of the Angkor complex in Angkor Thom District.

The program aims to prepare children to enter the public school system by teaching them hygiene and basic school manners for how to act in a classroom. They have had a very good success rate with many of the children going on to enter the public school. The ages of the children range from 3-7 or 8 years old, with a few young teenagers who have never attended school before.

Started by a local couple who had been working with the Rajana group, the schools have been funded by donations from a couple of German churches among other assistance. It is easy to envision the benefit of this kind of education, but convincing the parents to fully support it is not always the case as they often need the children to care for the youngest siblings while the parents go to work in the fields. Despite this, the children seem to really enjoy the time spent at school.