On our second day in Cambodia, my fellow 11 GCP travelers and I set out with our guide, Sopheara (which translates to “handsome”) to the countryside. Our plans included visiting an ancient temple and a Buddhist monastery and having a traditional lunch with a local family, who we were told, did not speak or understand English. Our guide would translate our questions and their responses.
|Photo by Faith Ihongbe|
We arrived at the lunch spot prior to the family and sat down on the mats at calf-high tables. I could tell that we all were a little nervous, wondering what the family would be like and what they would think of us. It wasn’t too long before they arrived – a grandmother with her daughter, grandson and granddaughter. The grandson (we found out later that he was 6 years old), chewing on a can pop tab, almost immediately broke into tears and clung to his mother for security. His mother, translated through our guide, said he had little exposure to people outside of their home. How very strange we must have looked to him with our Western clothing, technology, and different skin and hair colors. The granddaughter (we found out that she was 8 years old) crouched down next to me at the table and starred up at me with her big brown eyes. I waved and smiled, trying to look as unintimidating as possible. I imagine she was just as scared as her brother but was trying to put on a brave face.
Through our guide, Sopheara, our group learned that the grandmother was 78 years old and a mother of several daughters. We asked how many grandchildren she had. When Sopheara translated our question, she laughed and said in Khmer that she couldn’t remember because she had so many. We also asked about her experiences during the time of the Khmer Rouge. She had been fortunate and did not lose any family members, most likely because her family was part of the peasant class and not a concern/threat to Pol Pot’s regime.
|Photo by Michael Hollin|
When lunch was over, we passed out Shenandoah University-themed trinkets to the family. For the grandmother, we presented her with an umbrella with an automatic opening button to shade her from the intense sun (after all Cambodia is close to the equator). She blessed us repeatedly in Khmer, and I couldn’t believe that such a gift (what I considered insignificant and boring) could result in so much praise and thanks. I’m not even sure, at that point, if she knew what we had given her, but she nevertheless expressed abundant gratitude.