January 24th, 2018 – 1 Year and 6ish Months at Site
Reading: A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin
Brought to you from/by The Village Void
“I want a baby girl,” says Sweetie as she shows me the picture on her phone background of an anonymous blonde toddler in a dress. Sweetie is newly pregnant, about a month, and she’s sleepy and hungry for pumpkin desserts. We push our tutoring ambitions aside and just chat. She says her son, Gkon Pich, is already jealous of the baby and also hopes it is a girl. More likely to listen to him as an elder brother, he reasons. “Goodbye, I love you forever,” she says and waves as she leaves for school. I play and sing loudly upstairs in the empty house for a few minutes before I head to work.
At the health center I grab my laminated health education materials as each coworker harasses me in turn about the shirts I ordered for them. I bike to R____ Village where Vuth would meets me for vaccine outreach. When we both pull up the chief’s wife tells us he’s left to work in his fields and no, he didn’t notify the village residents about outreach today. We chill, briefly, before Vuth leaves to walk around and notify people himself. I take care of the few mothers who trickle in.
On the bike-ride back I stop at Chay Siekliev’s gas station where Vuth had said they own a small tractor. They don’t own one, says Chay, but she gives me some wood apples and points to the family next door who do own a “mechanical cow.”
The husband of the neighboring family, Uncle Som Aht, is bent over a deconstructed motor which he works on with a few familiar guys looking-on. He smiles in recognition as I show up and nods as I explain I’d like to hire him and his tractor to fetch some rice husks from the neighboring village. He tells me sure, come at noon.
From there I head to the market where Yaay gives me a little bag of sweet sticky rice with beans. We both startle and laugh as I open it and ten trillion ants pour out. I set it in the direct sun on the edge of her selling platform. Across the walkway, I sit with Om Oen and we admire her fresh fruit as I wait for the ants to disperse.
A young man is making his way towards our end of the market from the opposite side and all the aunties are hooting at him and grinning. He gets close enough that I recognize him. It’s Hanh Luch! He’s home on extended holiday, he explains, and I silently reflect that he’s grown tall and broad enough that I barely recognized him as he walked over. We catch up and he compliments my Khmer, I laud his Chinese (as if I would know). We wave bye, I munch on my ant-free sticky rice as I walk home where I make some muesli with longan fruit.
From the dining table I see Mak wheel up on her moto and park across the street. I’ve closed the gate to deter houseguests, mostly Pa’s customers, while I am home alone. I go to open the gate so she can drive in when her moto topples, spilling her various fish-selling accoutrement in the road. The onlookers react derisively. I approach to help but she avoids my eyes and shoos me away.
Around noon I stop by the health center to drop off my health ed materials and give the wood apples to the staff as I cannot stand their chalkiness. My coworkers, though, begin snatching them up as soon as I set them down and volunteering one another to run home and grab some chili-salt for dipping. I walk to the tractor house where they are setting out lunch to which they invite me, but I decline and relax in the hammock as they eat and chat with guests who come and go.
Eventually Uncle rinses off and nods across the street where the tractor is parked. His wife hustles across the street to offer me an empty rice sack on which to sit, since I’ve elected to ride in the trailer. The twenty-minute ride through the rice is lovely. At the rice refinery we heave the sacks of rice husks to the trailer and pile them up four sacks tall. We are left gritty from dusty stuck to sweat but we feel good. On the drive back we pass two children negligently herding their water buffalo between “hellos” and the beasts take their chance to break away and gallop through a rice paddy beside the road. Uncle and I laugh as the kids giggle and tear after the buffalo.
Uncle nods toward the mountains across the lake and asks if I’d like to go sometime with him and his family. It would be a half-hour boat-ride, he says. Yes, I say, I’d love to. I wave triumphantly from atop the trailer as friends tease along the road. We stack up the husks under the palm tree behind the health center.
At home in the early afternoon I settle upstairs into the wooden chair on the landing outside my room and bring my book. I freeze when I hear a voice and steps coming up the stairs. No one ever comes upstairs during the day except for me. I can tell is a man. I hear him knocking on the inner door, to my sister’s room, and I recognize the sweet voice. I call Granpa Oern out on to the landing and laugh, ask to what I owe the surprise. He grins, bows, and presents me with an invitation to his son’s wedding next month. For Vuth and I, he beams. I promise we will attend.
I bike to Takeo Town and meet James for banchayuu (Vietnamese pancakes with fresh herbs and bean sprouts), then we find some Wi-Fi for our Volunteer Reporting Forms. The rain misses me on the way home, just as it did on the ride to town, and the chief of R____ Village drives up next to on the road, his granddaughter perched between his knees on the moto. He apologizes for forgetting about outreach this morning then asks when the gardening training will take place and I tell him. He wishes me a safe ride home and accelerates away, smiling.
In the evening I scrape off my filthy arms and legs in the shower, then slather on bug spray to help Yaay put away the veggies. We eat a quiet dinner and I read myself to sleep under the net.