I walk alongside Kathy who makes her way to the centre of the village, “come on kids!” The children run from their clusters and congregate around her while she sets out the guidelines (“stay in pairs and don’t forget to get a receipt for every item..you must have a receipt for each item!”) and hands each child their allotted money..their hands respectfully folded in front of them ready to accept. “Thanks mum” “thanks mum!” “Thanks mum!!”. Today the older teens get to go to the city to buy new clothes. We herd like cats slowly onto the bus and make our way to Phnom Penh.
Once there we find our buddy. I am paired, quite by accident, with an 18 year old boy. When Kathy told me I could help take the kids shopping I thought ..’oh I so got this’. That being said, being a mother of only daughters, shopping with a teen boy was far from familiar. We struggled to understand each other but somehow managed to make our way through the congested stalls in the city warehouse. He shakes his head at my every suggestion and instead selects himself. I help him, however, to barter a little. “Did you get your receipt?”, I ask after each purchase. He nods and smiles. It is not until the last purchase I realize that he doesn’t understand me. I grab the receipt book from the vendor and show him. His face turns white. Kathy needs every receipt for accounting.. it’s imperative she has them. Oh dear, I think. We then have to retrace our steps and go back to every stall and get a receipt for each item that he purchased. This feels like an impossible feat due to the fact that every stall (and there must be hundreds of them) look the same. But by god we did it. A high five and we both sigh in relief and meet the others.
I am so impressed by how Kathy manages everything. She is a mom to these kids and they all feel it. With every little gesture of affection and term of endearment they feel it. We arrive back to the village and one by one they get off the bus-everyone of them thanking Kathy clutching their new purchases with excitement-“thanks mum!” “Thank-you mum” “your welcome baby” she replies..”thanks mum” “your welcome babes”. I want to cry. Not out of sadness but rather out of sentiment.
I spend the afternoon walking around the village, chatting with some of the kids, watching them dance and play music. I am moved beyond words.
Then it’s time to clean up and put on my new dress, as I was invited to join the Tucker’s and the teachers to a traditional Cambodian wedding outside of the village. A few pots of water over my head and I clean up well.
When we arrive the others each hand a decorative envelope to the greeters. I gesture for an empty envelope and put some money in it for the young bride and groom I have yet to meet.
Tonight I am the wedding crasher!!
The stunning bride and groom
At a table with the teachers we laugh and converse.
Food arrives continuously and is placed on the serving round in the centre..and boy did I ever spin that lazy susan! Traditional Cambodian feast of duck , chicken rolled in shredded candied ginger, rice dishes, fish! It doesn’t end!
One of the local women at the table insists we cheers our beer chilled with cubes of ice, colourful bendy straws and all! Ah well why not. Kinda tastes better with a bendy straw. “You must cheers with every sip because with all the senses alive we must not forget the sense of hearing! “Cheeeerrrsss”..makes sense to me.
“Drink drink”..she says! “You be my best friend if you drink half! He no my best friend he not drinking fast!”. She is a hoot.
Before we know it we turn our heads towards the stage where she has grabbed the microphone from the band who tries politely to get it back ..she sings with all her heart. She will not give up that microphone. A wedding is not complete without a moment like that..even in Cambodia.
We are gestured to join the circle dance around a table of fruit -a traditional romvog dance. I dance the night away, little girls placing flowers in my hair, the older women feeding me fruit as I dance in the circle under the bright moon.
I am dizzy with joy. The greatest thing about travelling are those unplanned, unsuspecting moments of thrill! It’s the gold dust on this memorable visit.
I mean really..who woulda thought I’d be crashing a wedding in Cambodia..
Maybe it was the late night or come down from the festivities but saying my quiet goodbye as I prepare to leave the next morning has me feeling heavy and light all at the same time. I negotiate the two in my thoughts-The heaviness is in my desire to stay and offer what I can, anything I can to help this extraordinary program keep going. And the Tucker’s, the teachers, the workers..they are all little angels in their efforts, and that, I suppose, is the lightness..knowing that indeed angels do exist.
Off to Siem Reap..