Displaced Yankee Productions | Leakhena

Leakhena

Our seven am wake up call finds Nin and I ready to go, but there is no sign of the boys in the room next door. I rap on the door to see what the delay is and discover them watching a movie with Britney Daniel it in – the actress we met at the CCF who came to the dumps and relocation camps with us. What are the odds we’d find her on Cambodian television at the crack of dawn?
There isn’t a whole lot of options to eat in Battambang (fried cockroaches at the market notwithstanding) and our merry little band of doc filmmakers found ourselves back at the same restaurant from the day before planning the day’s shoot. Man, I thought it was hard keeping Theresa fed every three hours. My DP Art is always in the mood for a meal and such a typical guy. At lunch he eyed my fries, which looked so sketchy I didn’t plan on eating them. Art pulled the plate over, popped one in his mouth and announced, “these are horrible” he then drove this point home by continuing to eat the horrible fries. Can’t let good food go to waste.
We pile into the van for the short drive over to Leakhena’s pagoda. Leakhena runs into my arms and I give her a kiss. We are lead to her grandmother’s small room where she lives with four of her grandchildren. Despite the fact they are extremely poor, they present Art and I each with a large bag of oranges. I am touched that a family with so little would give so much. This is a precious gift. We ask permission of the family to have our cameras present. This is our first full day spending it with one of the main children of the documentary. Each of the four kids: Leakhena, Layseng, Meng Ly and Saroeurn were given journals back in March to write about their lives. Leakhena’s story is touching and tragic. Abandon by her mother to live at a pagoda with her grandmother, Leakhena was often lonely and the victim of abuse. Her words are more powerful than mine could ever be. She is the first of our “Small Voices” She writes of living with her grandmother, aunt and uncle:
“Constantly they didn’t get along that well, I saw them fight a lot. Sometimes they stabbed each other with pieces of glass, sometimes they drown each other in water, sometimes they chock one another and sometimes they beat me too….”
“Even though they hit me I would never be mad or anything because I think that we’re family, we depended on each other and suppose to help each other, count on each other and if we don’t help each other who else will?”
Leakhena had not been back to the pagoda in over a year and to her delight, her three brothers, who had not lived with her at the time she was there, were now living with their grandmother. She proudly introduced them and we spent some time talking to the family members on camera. We learned that Leakhena’s mother had abandoned the children years before and they did not even know where she was. Leakhena’s eight-year-old brother misses her terribly and doesn’t go to school because he doesn’t have the proper clothes. It isn’t long before the grandmother and family must go to the main hall to begin preparing the monks food. Here at the pagoda, the poor families that live on the property take care of the monks. The old women prepare the meals and the children help set the elaborate temple hall for the seventy plus monks that live there. I am humbled to watch this very traditional routine take shape. At precisely the right time, a procession of monks marches into the temple hall to sit in long rows on the floor where the children have set their place. It is a beautiful sight to see these devout men with their shaved heads and simple saffron robes file peacefully into their place at the table. They offer up a chant to bless the food.
Now at this point the one person who can truly understand what I am feeling is my still photographer, Theresa. Back in March, we couldn’t find a chanting monk to save our lives. Despite our best efforts, the only thing we can up with was a funeral at 5 a.m. and a randy monk at Ankor W’aht who asked me to marry him. To suddenly find myself surrounded by scores of chanting monks brought a smile to my face. However, I am sure Theresa is going to spit nails when she reads this. J
It is a busy day. After the meal we follow Leakhena around as she plays with friends and interacts with her family. They are all eager to hear of her schooling and the grandmother begs me to speak to Scott about taking Leakhena’s younger brother. Leakhena is only too happy to speak of her experiences at school and the shelter. Later, she and her friends play hopscotch and tag and we all discover hide and seek is NO fun with a movie camera involved.
As the afternoon begins to fade, we set up for Leakhena’s formal interview. Luck is not with us however, as the afternoon rains roll in. We frantically grab the gear and hustle over to the temple overhang. We attempt to set up there, but the sound of the rain, coupled with – yes – more chanting monks – make it impossible for good sound. We try to outwait the rain, but the skies really open up and we gracefully give in to mother nature. But all is not lost. The children of the pagoda scream with laughter as they scamper out into the rain, splashing and playing, slipping and sliding along. Art grabs up his camera again and we capture the moment. It was totally worth getting soaked for.
We end the day by taking Leakhena and her brothers to the market to buy them school shirts. When I open the door to the van, I am nearly knocked over by the most pungent, nasty, nauseous inducing smell outside of Stung Meanchy. SoPhy gleefully tells me it is Durian, a fruit that is considered a delicacy and wants to know if I want to try some. Now I’ve actually been ill the last few days and not eating that much so the smell of this rancid cross between sour milk and rotting fish is not exactly doing wonders for my constitution. I hustle the boys past the fruit stand and towards a garment booth as briskly as I can without dropping all my dignity and simply running. We find some white shirts appropriate for school and drop the siblings back off promising we’ll see them tomorrow. It’s been a long day and we’re all tired. Art, no surprise, is quite hungry and we tromp over to the one restaurant for our third meal in less than two days. Art clearly doesn’t want me sitting next to him because he orders a Durian shake and I subtly scoot my chair over as far as possible. He says it tastes fantastic. I will take his word for it.
As I finish writing this blog this evening, I am once again thinking of Leakhena – a small, sad lonely girl abandoned by her mother who has found new life through the chance at education and love. I will leave you all with these poetic works of an exceptional young woman:
“I feel like I was born again. My life back then was like a flower that grew in the dark and never see the sun or feel the breeze or get watered and had nobody paying attention. But now this same flower is placed in the right place that it need, with a lot of sunshine and a breeze and get to be watered when it need it.”

 
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