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Musings from the World of Jewel Scarves for Cambodia Journals for the Journey

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Yin and Yang of Cambodia Con't...

For many older Cambodians, life is centered on family, faith, and food – a timeless existence that still remains after centuries of change. Family is more than the nuclear family that we now recognize in America; it is the extended family of third cousins and obscure aunts – as long as there is a bloodline, there is a bond. Families stick together, solve problems collectively, listen to the wisdom of the elders, and pool resources. The extended family comes together during times of delight and times of difficulty, celebrating festivals and accomplishments, mourning deaths and disappointments. Whether the Cambodian house is great or small, there will be a lot of people living within the four walls (and maybe even under the floor).

Faith is another rock in the lives of the many older Cambodians, and Buddhism has helped them to rebuild their lives after the devastating effects of the Khmer Rouge. Most Cambodian houses contain a small golden shrine to pray for luck; and on Buddha Day, the wats are flooded with the faithful. Buddhist monks perform a number of essential functions in Cambodian life; they participate in all formal village festivals, ceremonies, marriages, and funerals. Wats are not only the moral-religious center of village communities, but serve important educational, cultural, and social functions as well. In earlier years, the temples were the main establishments of learning, with schools and libraries where the Khmer culture and language was preserved and transmitted from generation to generation.

Food is more important to Cambodia than to most, as they have tasted what it is like to be without. Famine stalked the country in the late 1970s; and even today, malnutrition and food shortages are common during frequent times of drought. For country folk (still the majority of the Cambodian population), their life is their fields. Farmers are attached to their land, their very survival is dependant upon it, and the harvest cycle dictates the rhythm of rural life.

For the young generation, brought up in a post-conflict, post-communist period of relative freedom, it is a different story – arguably thanks to their steady consumption of MTV and dramatized American soap operas. Cambodia is experiencing its own ‘60s swing, as the younger generation stands up for a lifestyle very different from the one their parents have accepted as orthodox. This creates plenty of feisty friction in cities like Phnom Penh, where rebellious teens dress as they please, date who they want, and hit the town until late hours of the night. But few actually live on their own; they still come home to ma and pa at the end of the day (and the arguments start again.)

Photos credited to my friends Phalkun and Janell, Titus, and Rolitess.

Love love love, Jewel

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