This week is the run up to the Khmer New Year celebrations, which begins on Friday the 14th April and goes all weekend long. The date of the holiday is always the same, or nearly so, because it is based on the solar calendar (unlike the lunar holiday of Tet), but with its origins in the ancient astrological calendar. Khmer New Year is one of the two biggest holidays of the year. Schools are already closed. Thousands of people have already taken off to visit their families in far-flung provinces. And, most importantly of all, super soakers have been bought and readied! The nationwide water fight has become the hallmark of the celebration.
My start of the holiday season was the annual New Year party at Anjali House. (Some might be confused — I am on the International Board of Directors of Anjali House, but Anjali House is also a client Partner of my own, separate educational NGO called Writing Through. Two separate organisations — two equally important to me). It had been several years since my first and only experience of this, and I was eager for a rematch. The Khmer sure do know how to party! The festivities started at seven in the morning and went on until around five in the evening. When we got there at about 9.30, the place was totally decorated, the industrial-sized speaker system was set up and blasting out into the street, and the tug of war games had already started. The rest of the day included more games, then a huge barbecue lunch for all the kids, staff and volunteers (over 100 or us all together), then some downtime watching Zootopia. And the downtime was sorely needed, because the afternoon brought the most important part of the celebration — dancing to the blaring music and then the water fight. Kids had bottles of talcum powder which they ran around with, smearing on each other’s faces. Then we all took sides — females on one side, males on the other. Out came buckets full of water balloons, and then it was war. Once the water balloons were finished, bedlam broke out. Any available container was filled with water and we spent the next hour chasing after each other, pouring water over each other, throwing it at each other, pouring water down backs and fronts, over heads. All of us, students, teachers, volunteers alike, were all drenched. We knew enough to know not to wear anything we would worry about, but I hadn’t thought it through, I guess. I wore an old skirt, but it got so soaked it threatened to fall right off me from the weight, and I had to sit down and wait it out. It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time.