Anth in Phnom Penh

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Meeting 1

I sit in the village chief's house on bamboo floorboards. The long bamboo slats are spaced with one centimetre gaps to allow airflow throughout the house built high on stilts. As I sit I eye the family photos proudly displayed on the wooden beams; depicting stern faces in traditional dress superimposed in front of popular Khmer holiday destinations. Around 20 farmers come along to the meeting a mix of men and women, old and young. Children, barefoot and wearing cotton pants squirm in mother's laps. Elder men sit legs spread, with kramas wound around scrawny waists, all wrinkles, muscle and veins.

Sothat sits in the middle of the room and reigns supreme. He is in his element facilitating Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) activities. Large sheets of butchers paper are spread out on the floorboards in front of him, with colourful labels covered in squiggly Khmer text. The villagers are deeply involved in an exercise where they rank the advantages of different types of rice seed varieties. A heated argument erupts over whether the quality of one variety should be given a (very high) score of 5 or 4. A farmer leaning against a wooden beam loudly interposes, a gold watch glints on his wrist his voice rambly and raspy. A woman with baby and krama in lap screaches back and everyone laughts. Sothat lets out the characteristic Khmer "eeahh" sound, a wordless response which conveys a meaning of joking displeasure. More laughing ensues.

I sit dripping in sweat, quietly watching. I have helped design the exercises but from the moment of arrival in the village I become a fairly useless appendage. The discussion continues. I am slightly concerned that the project's brand of seed has been given a top score of 5 for all criterion. Perhaps we are being told what we want to hear? I am loosely following the animated discussions, but reserve comment aware of the fact that much of the detail is lost to me in the fast paced, clipped colloquial Khmer.

I help hand out biscuits, and pass around plates heaped with wafers and sweet biscuits stuck together with cheap icing. At this point of proceedings the only concrete thing I can conclude from the PRA exercises is that farmers like biscuits.

The meeting is finished and we wend our way out of the village. It is past 4pm and at this time of year and day the village is a hive of activity. We pass men and children sitting atop muddy buffalos, wooden carts filled with bright green bundles of rice plant stems for animal feed. Women in baggy pants with kramas tied around their waists stroll by shiny knives in their hands fresh from the field. Small children abound; naked, intensely brown and with swollen hungry bellies. As we leave the village everything is lush and green, with plots of rice as far as I the eye can see. The bright green squares of younger unflowered crops mixed in with the squares of faded light green crops, ready for harvest with their stems bowed heavy with grain. As I look out at this green shaded, textured, patchwork quilt of landscape we drive to town for the night. I am exhausted by the days work.

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  • At 5:40 PM, Blogger TomLop said…

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