Visit to Kratie

 Posted by Karin Holzknecht at 7:43 pm  Cambodia
Sep 142008

During the orientation week the volunteers all went by bus up to Kratie-town in Kratie province. This was a trip of six hours or so, and very far out of Phnom Penh. We went to visit the organization our school supports, the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT), and to see their projects in action in local rural villages. A 45 minute mini-bus ride and a short boat ride later we were on an island in the middle of the Mekong River, meeting villagers and seeing the ways CRDT provides support to them. Most significantly they had encouraged the use of fish-ponds and frog ponds as a renewable source of food, and also installed bio-digesters in some homes. Bio-digesters are a great invention – they turn animal manure (and most villagers have a cow or oxen or chickens or a pig) into gas that can be used in the house to cook on and to power lights with. A few cowpats in the morning will last one house a whole 24-hour day. The frog pond we saw was entertaining to sit and watch – it was more like a frog enclosure, and there were so many in there hopping about.  

How to describe the village? Everything is so green – the villagers had planted large areas out with rice-paddies – and the dirt road going through the village is in very good repair. The different houses are spaced along this main road. The houses are all wood and on stilts and have slat-flooring with small gaps between to encourage airflow. One house had bamboo slats as flooring, which felt a bit unsafe for us heavy Westerners! Cambodians are a very narrow people. Beneath the main house in the area left clear by the stilts there are hammocks to rest in during the heat of the day. Chickens wander around everywhere. I thought the rural life seemed cleaner and healthier because there wasn’t so much rubbish everywhere, and the air was fresh, and everything was so green with trees and grass and rice, and they had more space and a patch of land.  But it is certainly no-frills living. We visited the village school, which was in a long barn-like building. There were about thirty kids in the class. They sang us a welcome song and we sang happy birthday and “lean on me” back. One or two of the girls stood up the front and sang a song for us by themselves. They were all very sweet but torturously shy. 

After dinner that night, we all walked up to the local wat (temple) for some dancing. There is a wide space in front of the actual building where there was a huge speaker set up and the music was turned up very loud. The monks in their bright orange robes were sitting on their verandahs nearby watching. It took a while for the little kids to lose their shyness but after a little while they were dancing along with us very happily. We even managed to get some of the older villagers out to dance too. Every now and then on the more melodic numbers the women would come out and do a more subdued traditional Khmer dance, and it was fun trying to learn the steps and being able to catch your breath. It really was a great night and lots of fun – although I think every one of us volunteers managed to soak our clothing completely through with sweat! By 9.30 we were all just about dead and headed back to our respective host-village houses for a well-earned sleep. The country life seems so idyllic to me but every now and then you would see something that would remind you how remote the island villages are on the whole. It was so beautiful though.  

Coming back to Phnom Penh the bus trip seemed twice as long. At one of the pit stops there were a few girls carrying platters of fried spiders around. This is not unusual in itself – what freaked me out was that one of the girls was wearing a live spider on her blouse like a brooch. I guess this might have been to prove the freshness of her wares? It wasn’t a small spider either! This spider was about the size of my outspread hand. I thought I was pretty good with spiders but that scared me a little. I’ll stick with the crickets. They’re much yummier anyway.


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