Displaced Yankee Productions | On the Road Again

On the Road Again

Was it only last weekend I was complaining about the road to the village in Battambang? We didn’t know how good we had it. Poor Nin, she of the car sick prone constitution, is once again installed in the front seat of our decrypted van as we bounce and slide precariously along on the road to Prek Dach, the village in the Kandal province where Meng Ly, one of our documentary boys, grew up. We stop at a market before heading onto the village roads to buy a case of noodles for the family as a gift. SoPhy returns with a little something extra – Durian fruit for Art. I swear he’s going out the van door down an embankment when he least expects it.
Our Cambodian fixer, Borom, had confidently reassured us that Kandal was only twenty minutes away. After spending so much time here, I have discovered that asking for directions from a Cambodian is like getting directions from an American male. They will never admit when they are lost or heartily insist the village is just around the next bend.
The roads are in terrible shape and washed out in sections along the way. The van screams in protest as our driver forcefully shifted gears trying to maintain control on the backcountry road to Prek Dach. The mud and holes are so deep in certain areas, we have a real concern we may get stuck and actually begin discussing sleeping in the van if we cannot get out. At a particularly bad spot next to a large tree and a small hut, the van loses traction and begins to slide sideways. We narrowly miss taking out the hut’s front porch and slide backwards down a short incline missing the tree by inches. I am concerned we will hit the tree trying to power our way back up and I have Meng Ly and Saroeurn switch seats with me in case we crash and the window breaks. Three tries later, our masterful driver, Poun Maub, however navigates his way out of this mess. We applaud his efforts but he smiles and assures us it is far from over.


It takes two hours to wind us through this thriving farming village to Meng Ly’s house. Cows and kids are everywhere. Simple wooden huts on stilts are built close together with a real sense of community. To our left, a large lake muddy brown and choppy. To our right, acres of corn with their tall green stalks bending in the breeze- the local farmer’s mainstay. The local children are getting a kick out of the stupid westerns in the large van trying to navigate the treacherously slick and deep muddy roads. Suddenly a bridge loomed before us. Art and I look at this dilapidated structure in dismay. The bridge is framed in rusted metal with planks and saplings spread across it for support. There are rather large HOLES in the side big enough for, I don’t know, perhaps a van tire to simply fall through. We start over very slowly, slowly enough to read the sign on the side with a picture of a truck with a big X through it. I poke my head and camera out the side to snap a picture of the giant holes mere inches from where our driver is slowly navigating along. Art makes the helpful comment that the metal is rusted through in some spots. We make it over, much to our relief and promptly get stuck again. But at last we get through it and arrive at Meng Ly’s home. By western standards it is a simple affair. A large basic wood home on stilts with two levels. Below the first level under the house are spots to cook and to the manger the cows. Meng Ly introduces his family: Mother, Father, Brothers and Grandmother. They all bid us welcome and spread out their best mat for the floor and ask us to sit. The grandmother is fascinated with me. She tells Nin, our CCF chaperone, that I am a funny looking Cambodian that doesn’t speak Khmer. Nin explains I am a western. She pokes and prods at me like cattle on its way to market. After she feels up the muscles in my arms, she declares I am worthy. They offer to let us spend the night, but the crew is exhausted and not really interested in anything other than an actual hotel. We start back the way we came and it isn’t long before we are deep in the quicksand of the road again. The locals, especially the children, are highly amused by us. We can almost see them thinking “What are these nutty foreigners doing trying to traverse the road again? At one spot, I am fairly certain I see a group of men giving odds and taking bets on whether we will get through. We don’t. After narrowly missing a traveling butcher on a motorbike, who nearly loses control of his bike as we fishtail by him, we are stuck fast in the mud. We decide to use the amused locals to our advantage and wave a few dollar bills out of the window. Instantly, we have a half a dozen boys pushing the van. As soon as we are out, I hand the bills to one of the boys. He takes off yelling down the road in the rain, waving the two dollars over his head like it was the Stanley Cup. The other boys are hot on his heels and we are finally on our way.
Our hopes of finding accommodations in Kandal are quickly dashed when the town simply comes to an end at the river. There is a ferry crossing and it appears that is our only option to find lodging for the night. The ferry-crossing roundabout is a beggar’s haven and children and street vendors are everywhere. A badly disfigured girl with no hands and awkwardly bent legs shuffles toward us. She is quite adept with her stumps and makes the rels we give her disappear into her bag before any of the other children ever notice. I suffer a moments frustration knowing that her parents, if she has them, are probably somewhere nearby and not begging themselves when they can send out their daughter with her sympathetic disabilities to do it for them. So while they sit, she wanders for hours walking on the sides of her bent feet. The ferry arrives and we drive aboard. I am mentally rehearsing what I will do if this rust bucket tips over when SoPhy calls our attention to a train in front of us. We ohhhhh and ahhhh before we realize that it isn’t a train but the moving shoreline. We’ve already disembarked. Yeah, we’re a little tired.
On the other side of the river, a cracked, half lit sign reading “Chinese otel” seems our most likely bet. IF they can’t afford the H in the sign, it can’t be that expensive. SoPhy and Nin hop out to negotiate a room rate and within a few minutes, we are the only ones renting three rooms there for the night. $11 sounds like a steal till we saw the rooms. I checked out the prison style bathroom first with its showerhead protruding out of the wall next to the toilet. A couple of cute lizards scurried across the wall, much to Nin’s dismay. When I went to lock it, the lock fell off and bounced across the floor. My sheets were a suspicious tint of white and brown and the air conditioner hummed at a steady 80 degrees. The boys thought we were lucky. Their toilet was completely broken off and black with grime. We settled in for dinner at the hotel restaurant, as we were rather limited on options. Limited indeed. The menu boasted such fair as beef intestines with squid sauce and stuffed whole frogs. My stomach roiled in protest and I opted for the safest looking item on the menu with a beer to kill any germs. We headed to bed only to be woken up by an overzealous construction crew around 4 a.m. banging their hammers. At 5 a.m., my angry sound guy was yelling out the window at them in colorful Khmer phrases to no avail. Welcome to another morning in Cambodia.

 
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