Lounging by Jasmine Lodge’s pool Saturday, my phone beeped with a text: Hout Seng Heng: 12:40 PM: “I would like to invite to eat dinner at my house at 6:00 tonight. We already kill the pig for dinner. Please let me know if you available. We have some soup and vegetable so please come. How is Soken?” How adorable is that?! Silken was still recovering from her hospitalization, but Nicole and I squeezed on the back of Hout’s scooter at 6:00 and zoomed off into rural Siem Reap Province. It was lovely to get out of the city; the muggy, cricket-chirping fields felt like summertime in Ohio or the bayou section of Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. The deep purple clouds hung low, accented by occasional heat lightning. Scattered shacks on stilts beamed electricity as we bumped down the dirt road. At Hout’s home we were welcomed by his wife, son, daughter, daughter-in-law, mother-in-law, friend, and mother – who gave us a long hug, nuzzling our necks and inhaling our scent. They motioned for us to sit on straw mats around a bowl of bubbling stew under the night sky. The language barrier didn’t matter; the evening was magical. We tasted the infamous pork and Hout encouraged us to have at least five bowls of noodle soup. The women wouldn’t let us lift a finger; his family made us feel like we had an actual home in Cambodia.
Silken recovered while Nicole and I returned to the Happy Sunshine School for our third week. The 40-minute bike ride to school is exactly like my Prius’s commute from downtown Los Angeles to Hollywood. I’m bumping Kanye West, drinking cheap iced coffee, and swerving like an entitled bitch to avoid potholes and/or death by Asian drivers. This week would be shorter due to a party on Thursday.
What type of party? Why a party? All lost in translation, except something about Singapore volunteers. Silken was still sick, but Nicole and I donned our daily uniform of elephant pants and baggy tees and picked up some Swedish Christmas cookies for the fiesta. We thought this was a staff party, but apparently it was a school-wide soirée. I showed up in pajamas while our teacher stuffed her size-4 feet into metallic wedges. Woops. Volunteers and teachers piled in the back of a truck with 40 children through Angkor Wat’s jungle, down a pot-hole-ridden dirt road to Savong’s other school. Nearly 100 children lined up at the entrance, singing and waving as we walked in like Prince Harry & Kate Middleton. We were summoned to help the Khmer women prepare stew to feed the many mouths – two caldron-fulls of mystery meat and porridge! Nicole and I de-shelled garlic while teachers chopped meats.
While the stew simmered, we sat as guests of honor behind Mr. Savong himself. Singapore volunteers and Mr. Savong gave speeches on a plastic microphone. We shook Mr. Savong’s hand, and could tell he was a genuinely great Khmer person. The celebration cumulated with a dance party – first, the Happy Sunshine Dance Troop performed an impressive K-Pop breakdance. Then everyone joined in, as the speakers blared children’s classics like “Smack That” by Akon.