Mr. Sothy, our guide for the morning, took us for a memorable trip to his village. He is not a “certified”, official guide, but provides this one tour of his village when requested by JW, to show just what village life is like in this part of Cambodia. Roughly 85% of the country consists of rural farmers.
We drove out of Siem Reap for about 45 minutes to an hour, until we came to a dirt track that serves as the ‘main road’ back to his village. From this road we walked a few miles, viewing countless small homes, rice paddies and little shacks selling everything from bottles of gasoline (usually in old whiskey bottles!), to a can or two of warm coke, and often small candied treats popular with children walking the track home from school.
We stopped along the way at several homes and met some of Mr. Sothy’s friends, relatives and neighbors. There was a rickety wooden bridge over a creek that we needed to cross to get to his home (see image). He wasn’t sure we would do it: he was showing his village to some people few months ago that, after looking at it, decided to cross through the water. For me, I choose the bridge–sure glad I had been doing balancing exercises at the YMCA this past year!
Sothy was raising his three children as a single dad with the help of his mother. The extended family lives together in a single-room home built on stilts. This is the predominant structural technique here, to avoid the annual flooding of the low-lying land. We met his son, niece, sister and mother. His other children were at school. The village had been helped by some international aid to develop small, individual, clean water systems. He was very proud of his, and wanted to show us how it worked!
The small rice fields attached to many of the small homes were doing reasonably well this year; but in 2011 they had so much rain much of the crop was lost and everyone suffered. As families’ incomes increase they would choose to build a home with wood or stucco, but most still had the traditional thatch homes (wood is VERY expensive, and they scavenge any and all scraps for this eventual “build” endeavor).
Sothy is quite an entrepreneur: he raised a few pigs, had a rice mill set-up to separate the husks from the rice for himself and for neighbors, and is able to grind rice into flour. He also had a crude distillery set-up to make rice wine! We didn’t try any though …
In all, a fascinating glimpse into the routines and lifestyle of these hard-working, gracious people. It was a privilege to have met Sothy and his villagers!