Select Page

Sitting on a wooden floor, covered, softened by colored bamboo mats, as thin as an effort can be to prepare the praying area more comfortable, for visitors, foreigners in particular. After a couple of blessings and bows there was no bone in my body anymore, which didn´t felt the heaviness of finding an acceptable position. In Cambodia you don´t sit cross-legged, your feet, sole of foot is not allowed to point or to be shown straight forward. Bad times for foot fetishists like me. The legs are angled, one in front, the second sideways, behind. I tried, couldn´t hold even stand the position for more than 10 seconds. My whole back didn´t know how to handle the imbalance. My intervertebral discs flipping around, my pelvis felt like a vice. Or sitting kneeling, on your butt. Every stitch is pressing on the back of your feet, like an old cannibalic women, lost her teeth but not her hunger. Whatever. I am allowed to sit like I want to, because I have long legs they let me know – I am just as non-elastic as a steamrolled snake. So I found myself sitting upstairs, waiting for the monks to get the celebration started. Half-drunken, slept for 2 hours, not enough to sober up. The home of the Svay family is a traditional piece of architecture. The property surrounded by a wall, here and there with some leftovers of barbed wire. You access opening a creaky rusty metal gate. The court is a bourgeois and fussy Heaven´s Kitchen. Not a piece of anything which is bigger than dust twirling around. Ground level is concrete, with an open area used as a garage and storage space. Attached, toilets, kitchen. Up to the second floor on wooden stairs, roofed, guided by a shaky banister, you are in the what we call living room. It is more a room for any matters of life. Dining. Religion. Power Naps. Work. Telling fortunes. Teaching fate. And occasionally hangovers. The second floor is like a gallery, mainly wooden walled. Fans. A whiteboard. A temple. Images of the Kings. A Cambodian flag. No chairs, no furniture. Two small seperated rooms in the back, where the family sleeps, number variable, twelve on te whole.
Happy Khmer New Year! – I expected a eat-and-sit-around celebration. Of course, praying and blessings. I supposed to be more in the background, taking pictures and sort out what is going on. I felt blessed to be invited. To be a part of it and the family shares this special two days with me. – So, joking with the kids. Helping wherever I can. Put me on a mission. My pleasure! A place where I can hide my overwhelming, my overload, my helplessness. I am a sociopath! Used to be. Cambodia still challenges me. Soya and Pomsen always try as best as they can to translate and to tell me about the ceremonies, rituals, but as I said, BACKGROUND! As a member of the family, like I am treated, no background. And without a mission. “Just pray and join!” It started at 3 p.m., as the monks arrived. I can not repeat the singsong or what the praying was about. But I was told to remember my ancestors, for example my grandfather. And think about him intensively, invite him to enjoy the celebration with us. Think about my parents, how they might be now and wish them love and happiness. I did and really do. One of that quiet moments you feel grateful for, in peace, it could have been much worst. And I forgave them, maybe long time ago. Parents are parents and I had to be a kid and wanted to be an orphan. How ridiculous this sounds on this part of the planet. Of course there are more levels than that, but there don´t have to be always more than that. So. It is mainly about reflecting and reminding, yourself, if you did something wrong or whom you might have hurt. – And to apologize. If religion wouldn´t be always such as pathetic! Of course I did something wrong, I always do, we always do, because we learn und don´t learn. Because we will eternaly search for justice, fairness or balance, for a good reason. We don´t know how to survive instead of. But I love rituals. I really do. Even though I don´t understand one word. I just follow the procedure. I like how all of the gestures and sacrifices are based on connection. We, the family and I, have been thirteen members. Not possible if you have just five monks. So if you present the gifts, or more in a religious meaning, donations, like food, gift baskets wrapped in plastic, the one next to the monk touches, meaning simulates to hand over – “No, you don´t have to do that! Don´t give it to him.” “I thought I have to, sorry.” “No worries, you are foreigner.” “Gosh!” – The loved ones behind are touching the one in front, next to the monk, when she or he presents. Understandable? Kind of a conga line, but sober and maskless, naked, how we were created, by whom ever. Loosing the red line… red… ah yes, and so, after one hour struggling with my limbs and bones, we stood up, what a relief! Red ribbons were distributed, fixed around the wrist. “For good luck!” And two gorgeous banners were enrolled, with a small bag at its top end, where you can or should put some money inside, for good fortune or maybe merciful fate. Be aware you choose the right banner, there is one male, one female. The male one has two bells at its bottom end, they said. The banners have been hoisted at the corner of the small dirt road, leading to the Svay family´s house. The dinner was opened. Ricesoup with chicken. You are not allowed to eat before the monks didn´t start to. A god-sent taster. But, before we were allowed to eat – did I tell you about the tent? For celebrations like this you usually rent a tent and all you need. Chairs, tables, a sound-system and gadgets to adore. The tent was located outside, in front of the house, blocking the road. Who cares anyway, the whole neighbourhood was invited. The praying was followed primarily by the family, nuns, beautifully marked, smiling, teethless like the sun, in peace. But not the young ones, my brothers and sisters, they welcomed the guests or were just bumming around, kept ordering me I have to go upstairs, to pray with the family. “But you are here? I don´t even get a word and you know I am not a religious person, I don´t have to sit there the whole day.” “Yes you can. It is not about religion, it is our culture.” Here we are again. “So why you are praying?” “I will translate. I join later.” “But I can help you maybe?” “No, it is ok, you have to do.” So I did. Anyway. The ceremony was drawing to an end, temporarily. In the center of the court a huge kind of a pavillon, guess you can not call it temple, or let´s call it temple, so a temple was arranged. With blossoms in pots filled with water around. Facing to the house. Suddenly, excitement. “What´s going on?” “Now we clean.” “Whom?” “You will see. Go down.” The parents got up, all their kids rushing around, roused by the close end. Gathering. Splitting up. Getting down on their knees. In a row, one by one. Creating stepping stones, from the stairs leading upstairs to the two steps up the pavillon or altar. Now the parents coming down, the father at first, stepping on the backs, one by one, leaned on the eldest son. When both, father and mother have passed, they close the gap on the way up the altar, taking an extra round around, like leapfrogging. I was told, if the parents step on you hard, it means, you caused a lot of sorrows, smooth, if this is possible, you are as sinless as a frog on a wooden stick, specialty here in Cambodia. I recognized the father ignoring one back, can´t remember which one it was. Anyway. It is a purification, to receive their respect, back. Reaching the altar they both sat down, obviously relieved not one turned their back on them now – never would happen anyway, they are all as good as a kid can be, at least honestly respectful. Three girls dressed in traditional clothings started dancing around them. We had to sit in front of the altar, facing the parents. Then the monks get on stage. We had to kneel in front. The monks started to pray and bless, with a wooden rounded brush, dipping in the flowered pots and sprawling the whole family, including me. Did I mention I felt blessed anyway? More water on the schedule. The monks left the stage in exchange for pleasure yelling. I was armed with a small silver pot and instructed to wash the parent´s bodies. No, not just me, and it didn´t take long the parents were soaking wet. Soaped with Head & Shoulders and hundreds of bowling leaves of blossoms. This was fun! The parents endure the washing, pouring buckets and buckets over them. Well, same procedure as every year. This was it. Day one. I was blessed, again, to reach home before dusk and dawn. Eating? No way. My stomach was a bubbling pond of moonshine. I had to leave quickly, before my brothers put the beer on the table.

On day two I was the sober one. Yes! Waking up at 6 a.m., the ceremony started at 7 a.m. Praying. Surprise. But this time I was prepared, joined the opening ritual and got myself straight into the kitchen as soon as I was allowed to go to toilet. The siblings don´t behave different. I don´t have to break all my bones just to listen to a looping singsong and even if I could I can imagine – the purpose of religion.
Cambodian noodle soup. Yummy!
More donations for the monks.
I helped in the kitchen and played with the kids.
The atmosphere was more relaxed, or maybe I was.
Finished at 2 p.m.
More lovely impressions, faces smiling at me, people talking about me obviously in a respectful way, more of everything.
I was stuffed with an experience out of words. I just tried to remember, describe or reveal one cultural meaning or aspect of religion and its ceremonies. And I am sure I missed important details. – I am not a writer. I don´t believe.
The siblings were happy. It was their first Happy Khmer New Year they organized without the support of their parents. So they have been pretty excited and they did a great job.
I am deeply grateful for the family and they trust me.
I am deeply grateful to be part of their life, even if they never can be part of my life. But who cares lives, your life is where your heart beats.