E: In the Sea of Rainwater

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In the Sea of Rainwater

[This project took several days of writing, discussing, and producing.  With lots of discussion, Emma wrote the script, below, then she got some daddy help on mixing sounds]

David’s intro to floating village
… According to David, there are nearly 200 floating villages that are built for both the rainy season and the dry season.There are  around 2 million people on lake Tonle Sap.  Over 60% are Vietnamese who came when Vietnam invaded Cambodia in the late 1970s.  They are too poor to buy land somewhere else so they are stuck on the lake.

Lapping water sound

We’re going to visit a school and give the children supplies that we bought in Siem Reap.  Now we’re getting into a motor boat.  The driver steers by turning a wheel with a rope wrapped around it.  The rope goes out to the sides of the boat and back to the rudder.  We’re sitting in folding wooden deck chairs, and all the boats around have different types of chairs.

Sound of motor boat

It’s really cool to see less and less land as we motor further away from the dock.  You can’t quite call this a river because there are not any banks.  Maybe in the dry season this is a river, but now it’s just a chai-colored stripe in this sea of rainwater.

We’re traveling through a maze of tangled mangroves and we begin to see fishing canoes.  In some places men are standing neck deep working.

End motor boat

As we get closer we see reed cages floating on petrol barrels with pigs and other livestock.  Most of the houses are made of thatch, both roof and walls.  The houses are built on stilts with staircases that go right into the water.

Moving into the village I see kids rowing boats, there is a boat with two little thatch houses on either side with a tarp stretched between them – making a mobile home on the water.  Outside is a little bamboo raft supporting a garden of herb pots. 

Water plants grow around many of the houses, and the people have cut these “lawns” making a water driveway.  You might be imagining a kind of lovely forest with a few houses, but this is almost like a city with streets of houses so close that you could lean over and hold hands with your neighbor while a boat passes underneath.

I can only see one patch of dry land in this whole town. There is a low wall around it so the water can’t wash away their precious soil.  On top of the hill is the monastery, and behind it the school.

Playing kids

Walking toward the school, I see kids playing.   It’s surprising to see the ground so littered with pieces of food packaging – I didn’t think they would have this kind of product here.

The school is two stories of cinderblock with several classrooms on top
and one on the bottom.  When the water gets deeper they will only be able to use the upper floor.

We go into the bottom room.  It’s small, square, grey, and wet; half the room is flooded from the rains.  The only light is through the opening for the door and the window.  The room is crammed with 1-person sized wooden desks — but three children sit at each one.  The kids are wearing uniforms, but they’re all different, a mix of white tops and blue bottoms.

The teacher raps her pointer on the desk for attention and the kids quickly sit quietly.  As we hand the children their gifts, it’s amazing how grateful they are.  It makes me mad and sad that some of the kids hide what they get so we’ll give them more.

When everyone in the class has a pen or notebook, we give to the children crowding outside the doorway.

It’s really squeezy in here, and I don’t want to touch the children because I worry about catching some sickness.  At the same time, I feel ashamed by my own feeling.  I wish I could feel friendly and loving, but I feel overwhelmed, scared, and intimidated.

Before we arrived, I thought the children might be too eager to touch me and grab the things we were giving them, but that’s no what they do.  They wait, and look intently, and even the kids outside the door put their hands out without grabbing.

I also wonder how special this is for the kids because I know many tourists come here and bring books. They seem excited, but I am not quite sure.  We asked if they knew a song.

Children singing

After they sang for us, we sang for them.

My paddle

We chose this song because there are boats everywhere outside — and all four of us know the words!

As we leave, the older children are rowing home together for lunch.  The men outside the school are fixing a boat.  Boys are playing outside the monastery.  Life in the town continues.

I would have thought that living like this, the kids would be unhappy, but I guess this is what they know, and they seem content.  I guess that people can choose to be happy wherever, whoever, or whatever they are.  It reminds me that my happiness just depends on me, not about the people around me, or about getting what I want, or about things.  You can choose what you feel.

Buddha taught that you have to let go of everything to be free, and I guess, also to be you. I thought the children on the lake didn’t have much because they live in a fishing village, so I was going to give to them.  But it turns out they have something to give to me:  Where I have anxiety about the past or the future, they know how to live in the moment.

Half the classroom is flooded


3 thoughts on “E: In the Sea of Rainwater

  1. Emma;
    If only everyone who reads and hears your thoughtful and understanding feelings about what makes one happy could practice that, we would be in a better place.

    You are truly fortunate to have parents who understand and provide you with many opportunities to experience different cultures. We learn from others and each other. I am sure you will make a difference in many people’s lives in your very exciting future, whatever you want it to be.

    Thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts today.

    Love you lots,

  2. Dear Emma,
    Thank you for being so open and honest about the difficult feelings you had during your visit. You have been thinking and writing about topics that are very challenging for kids and adults too.
    Also, the actual writing in this piece is very beautiful. I especially like “a chai-colored stripe in this sea of rainwater.”

  3. Emma, I would find your journey difficult, and I really admire how you can empathize yet not get swept under by the difficult situation….this teaches me something. Thank you for sharing this.
    I love you all,

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