Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Truth in a Grandmother's Tale
I was planning to prepare a pretty meager dinner for myself. I had just jumped into my shorts, ready to lounge for a few minutes before I began the "arduous" task of whipping up a ramen/maggi noodle storm, when I heard Mrs. Sitach Korn shuffling up
the last few steps to my apartment. Sitach, pronounced see-tatch, is my landlady and resident grandmother-to-all. Did I want to join the two tenants from the downstairs apartment, her daughter and her for dinner out on the front patio? She speaks rudimentary English, heavily doused in bouts of Khmer, and then lightly sprinkled with French (a colonial remnant). Ah yes, of course - sure I did! As she resumed shuffling back down, I took to covering up my lower limbs more adequately, for mosquitoes and modesty...
Dinner was thoroughly enjoyable. Basically, a Kampuchean version of the oil fondue. Meats, vegetables and fruits I have seen, but not bread and...eggs! Literally, an egg is cracked and proteins allowed to coagulate in the simmering oil. I passed on the egg and freshly fried bread and, towards the tail end of my dinner, ended up chomping on, or the way I like to see it, rescuing the vegetables and fruits while they were still fresh on the tray! Pineapples are in plenty here.
<-- Pedro with Yey Sitach(grandmother)
---> Leonard and Yey
But the most important gem at dinner was nearly 70 year-old Sitach's personal account of her life and struggles during the Khmer Rouge. Slaving on paddy fields, scrounging for the very rice they farmed, bearing scars of physical jibes...Exquisite in its simple and matter-of-fact narrative, it was profoundly humbling to be reminded that these are horrors I could simply never fathom. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge dance about in our imagination, two of few things that come to mind when we think of "Cambodia". Nowadays, though, perhaps the buzziest buzz words might actually be "Angkor Wat" (wat = temple) or "Siem Reap" (the location of these ancient Hindu temples, pronounced ree-up). Still, the period of the Khmer Rouge is no so far in the past - a mere thirty years. But a lot has changed, especially in the past decade, it seems. Friends who have traveled here during our high school and early college days will find that Cambodia has seen a lot of improvement since, albeit they remain one of the lowest even of the "least developed countries" (LDCs).
The winds of change blow yet...