Of Monsoons and Memories


Finally, after all these years of coming to Cambodia, I have experienced a real Cambodian monsoon. Actually, several days of them. Monsoon — the word alone summons up all these feelings of exotic otherness. And, although they can be a colossal pain in the butt, like when the first floor of Anjali House flooded this week, they also bring cooler, sweeter-smelling air, and the most amazing sound. I have to think of a new way to express it. I’ll let you know when I do. But for now, believe me when I say there is nothing quite like being tucked into bed and hearing the sky open and dump all its moisture on your building. There is also nothing quite like riding in a tuk tuk, feeling one and then two drops of rain, and having the driver know it’s time to pull over and unroll the plastic sheets that zip up to keep you dry as you drive. Everything slows down — except for the occasional truck or tour bus which feels impenetrable. But it’s like moving through a wall of water. A little scary, but also exhilarating.

But today the skies were clear and the heat was back. But that didn’t stand in the way of my facilitating two Writing Through ‘Big Events’ for the Aranh and Bakong schools sponsored by Caring for Cambodia. Each school is very different. Each event was different. But both treated the presentation like the special occasion that it is, with visiting dignitaries and younger school children invited to watch as the week’s students stood up and read their work. It was also hugely encouraging to see a small but proud group of parents, aunts and  uncles take the time to come watch their kids. In a country with a poor population that hardly knows about the value of education, this was a big step forward.

The kids were nervous, but they all read beautifully. Every last one of them from both schools. They had clearly been practicing during the night, and each arrived at school early, as did we, in order to have one last practice session. And afterwards, there were hugs, photos, promises of sending more poems to each other, entreaties that we come back next year. And at Bakong, as we were about to leave, one of the students came up and said, “Please, just 5 more minutes. We have prepared something for you.” We sat down, and the entire group of 13, boys and girls together, between the ages of 14 and 20, sang to us. What did they sing? That song from Titanic.With closed eyes and dramatic expressions.

Once more, you open the door

      and your here in my heart, and my heart

      will go on and on…..

Did I start to tear up? What do you think? It was all too much. The principal of that school gave a short speech, which this year, happily, someone translated for me. And he said that these are poor village students, and our program has given them new opportunities. And that, in a nutshell, is what it’s all about.

Students from Aranh with their new Writing Through magazines
Students from Aranh with their new Writing Through magazines
Bakong '15 Funny
Students from Bakong

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