Monday, July 02, 2007

the one about the buffalo

For Bon, because she asked for more.

When I think of Cambodia I am filled with intense longing. An exotic humbling country filled with great sorrows and great joys. A place of poverty and desperation, of magnificent beauty, of survival and wit. I've longed for Cambodia, before, during and after I spent a month inside it's borders. An honorable and trying month that changed me forever. There is so much to say about how much I love this country that I could fill your ears and put you to sleep. But I won't, because this is just a simple post about a water buffalo.


We had left a southern village called Kampot the night before. Our taxi broke down an hour outside of Phnom Penh and as such we were late arriving. We were lucky enough to find a terrific room for the bargain price of $10 and a benevolent owner who helped us procure some Johnny Walker Blue off the black market before turning in for the night. We had to be up early, the bus for Siem Reap left early, at least an hour after they told you to arrive. It was maybe a five hour drive to get there and we were one nazi sympathizer (i swear to god), two ugly americans (not us), three chickens (they were fine) and about four hours into the drive when all of a sudden...WHAM!

A few people screamed, but mostly it was quiet. The bus veered to the side of the road and there was much commotion. We understood nothing but after awhile we wandered off the bus. As we made our way to the front it all became clear, and what was most amazing was how the driver didn't swerve. His driving straight into the buffalo most likely kept us all alive. And how he didn't flinch as a 300 pound buffalo came flying up to greet him is beyond me, but dude, you were money. That puncture in the bottom right corner of the window was the horn of the buffalo, popping through.

We get off the bus and are on the side of a dusty hot road. It's well over 100 degrees and there isn't much in the way of shade. And besides the aforementioned JWB, we didn't have anything to drink. It was a full bus, about 30% backpackers and the rest locals all in various states of annoyance. New bus coming soon, 20 minutes! was the refrain we heard for the next six hours.

By now a crowd had gathered around the buffalo, the villagers had come out to see what the fuss was about. They circled around the poor wailing beast and stared for well over an hour. I was silently begging someone to put it out of it's misery but I had no idea how these things were done. The crowd kept staring at us from the other side of the street, neither group crossing sides. Hours wove on and we were starting to get a bit worried. There were babies on the bus, and it was hot, and there was no water. Some of the tourists were annoying, talking too slow and too loud and selfishly taking the last bit of shade. Carrying on about places to be, important things to do. We wondered if the next Lonely Planet stop was as important as what some of the locals must have been on the bus for; a shift at work, picking up a child, delivering some goods...all of that seemed more important to me. But it didn't matter what anyone thought, because there was nothing to do but wait.

After about four hours a minivan stopped. We glanced up and I said wow, terrific. those moms and babies can get a ride into town. We looked up again and it was every white man for himself. All the backpackers had crammed their way onto the minibus and overflowing with whiteness it chugged away, the frame nearly scraping the ground. J and I looked at each other and said so much for women and children first. fuck those guys.

We continued to wait in moderate discomfort and silent yet mildly creeping panic when a woman came out of the house in the picture above and gestured to us to follow her. We creep up the steps of her home and she invites us in for tea. We can't communicate beyond simple gestures but the tea was delicious and her home was cooler than being outside. One of her children came and sat on my lap and played with my hair, another took J's backpack and opened and closed it. It was a soft and still moment in time that I knew I'd not forget. The kindness of strangers bringing us in from the streets.

A little while later another bus pulled up, we laughed and realized it must have already been 20 minutes and it was now time to go. Once again all is well on the road. Except of course, for the bus and the buffalo.

These last pictures are from Siem Reap at the Temples at Angkor, one of the most incredible places I have ever seen. They don't relate to the story but they show the beauty and intrigue of this magnificent country and besides, you got me started and now I can't stop.

This little girl was begging in one of the temples with her mom. We spent a few minutes with them sharing some food and some money. When we were leaving she gestured the act of picture taking and I couldn't resist. She is sitting on stone from over 1000 years ago. And she's gorgeous, isn't she.
And this is perhaps my all time favorite picture from the hundreds we took and in fact I've posted it before. This woman was so beautiful and will always personify and simplify one of the most complicated places I have ever seen. Ah, Cambodia.

38 comments:

Sober Briquette said...

Incredible. I resolve, right now, to get and stay healthier so I can travel in my retirement. For now, I'm enjoying my armchair travels.

Jenn said...

My heart broke in a few different places reading this.

Again, reminded of how much I do have.

Julie Pippert said...

Wow. Cambodia with you and Israel with Chani, all in one day.

What a story.

I feel a new turn of phrase coming along now. Something about when you need to stop and focus elsewhere for a time. Something about, "I think we hit a water buffalo. Time to sit, look about, consider, and relate."

I still feel sad for the poor water buffalo too.

kaliroz said...

I love that picture of the woman in the temple.

Cambodia's another place I've always wanted to go. One of these days.

Lawyer Mama said...

Ah, I so want to go now.

I will.

You've convinced me.

Blog Antagonist said...

What an amazing place. I enjoyed reading about it. And yes, the people in your photos are incredibly beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

meno said...

That is a beautiful picture.

It must have been embarassing to be associated in any way with the pushy and important white people who were on the bus.

I am sorry for the buffalo though.

Susanne said...

I'm so glad that Bon asked for the story and that you told it. I like to read about your travels. I've only left Europe once and I'm not sure whether I would want to go to Asia at all.

But I drink in the pictures and stories. (And what meno said. But then that always happens that one meets fellow tourists that make one feel a little ashamed for being from the same country as oneself.)

QT said...

Thanks for sharing - what a great story. I hate it when I have to associate with ugly americans abroad. If I am by myself, I pretend like I don't speak English.

The pictures are wonderful! And how fortunate you were to be invited into someone's home for a quiet drink. That makes it all worthwhile.

thailandchani said...

Cambodia is wonderful! I didn't spend as much time there as you. For me, it was cross the border/hang out for a day or two/get my passport stamped/back to Thailand. (Visa runs became part of the routine.)

Just the same, I got a sense of the country enough to love it just as much.



Peace,

~Chani

Her Grace said...

This post makes me want to get on an airplane and see something new. Thanks for sharing it. The woman bringing you into her home for tea was so touching.

Tabba said...

thank you so much for indulging us.

this post was a rollercoaster of emotions.

and as soon as i saw that picture at the bottom, i got his huge,goofy smile on my face.
and then you described it and i smiled even more.
there most certainly is something about that woman in the picture.

i so long for these types of adventures. i hope that the days will come for me to take life and live it in a similar sort of way.

amazing. simply amazing story.

urban-urchin said...

gorgeous pictures Jen. My friend volunteered in Cambodia at an orphanage for sick (HIV+ plus other illnesses) kids for three months and now pines for the place daily.

flutter said...

Oh jen, I love this. I think I need to live through you vicariously

Deezee said...

Everything you write just has a way of making me want to expand my life...

TastesLikeCrazy said...

That was amazing.
I have honestly never thought about traveling to Cambodia, but after reading this, I think I'll add it to my list.

http://TastesLikeCrazy.blogspot.com

KC said...

I'm so drinking in this story, Jen. Like a nice cup of tea when you most need one.

Mrs. Chicky said...

An amazing story, friend. If I ever travel to any of these amazing countries and lands remind me to take you with me.

painted maypole said...

Wow. Thanks. My world feels bigger already.

Karen Forest said...

What a wonderful story, what a wonderful life.

Christine said...

Why did this make me all teary? Probably because it was a beautifully written piece about what seems like a beautiful place.

and probably because I am jealous that i have not been there.

all those selfish tourists reminded me of a Katrina story about how some tourists in New Orleans were leaving fancy hotels with big half empty mini vans refusing to give rides to some stranded backpackers.

kristen said...

someday i'll get here, someday. i loved reading about this story, and i love that little girl's face - she seems to personify the vision i have of cambodians.

crazymumma said...

poor not so wee beast.

but the wait. and the gift of the visit to the home.

jen. that was quite a magical read.

Bon said...

a complicated place indeed. thanks for this, Jen...and i could almost smell the dust in the air as the bus full of whiteys rode away. i'll put up my complementary post, about how OUR bus full of whiteys got sold as chattel, sometime this week...but in the meantime i shall be busy reminiscing about the smells and sounds and tastes that your post brought back. i find myself suddenly wanting me some lok lak very badly.

that photo of the little girl...i love it.

deb said...

I loved the photos. The girl is beautiful as is the old woman.

mitzh said...

Your post touched my heart.

I remember watching Babel and I cried when Brad Pitt tried to gave the man who helped him some money and he didn't take it.

In those small acts of kindness, the warm generosity of strangers or the hand that reaches out when we least expect it. Those are the moments when I know that this world has a better tomorrow.

I love the photos and the girl is sooo pretty!

Aliki2006 said...

Beautiful pictures, really stirring.

The water buffalo story reminded me of a scene in "Last King of Scotland" which we just saw this past weekend.

NotSoSage said...

I love it. It's too bad that those selfish tourists will never realise (nor likely appreciate) the gift of the tea and the visit that you were given for sticking it out.

Lucia said...

I love Cambodia, and especially love Angkor Wat. Truly one of my favorite places in the world. I let your tale pull me along. So many things I've experienced, a piece here and a piece there. I think recognizing the enormous generosity of local people as compared with the grubby behavior of tourists would be a huge eye opener for a lot of people.

Hel said...

Be still my beating heart.

I don't even how to say wow.

I will have to read it again. And again. And once more.

My favourites the photo of the girl on the steps and the moment drinking tea.

carrie said...

Wow. Just. Wow.

Carrie

J Fife said...

Oh, your life... just amazing. Amazing.

amusing said...

Fabulous. Thank you so much!

ewe are here said...

It's amazing the things you can 'see' when you just take the time (or have the time handed to you unexpectedly when your bus hits a water buffalo.)

And loved the pictures, especially of the little girl. She is indeed lovely.

Binky said...

Johnny Walker Blue?!?!? You don't mess around. That is some high-end hooch.

And that water buffalo was something else. I can't imagine the sound of his wailing. I hope he wasn't in pain for too long.

Momish said...

Sounds both heavenly, yet frightening (for the likes of me). But, overall, you make it sound like home. I admire your heart and talent to make such a strange and far away place sound like home. Not a known home, but a place anyone can call home. Lovely.
(but, of course, I am still sad about the buffalo :(

Ruth Dynamite said...

You must talk to Linda. She lived there. Raised her first baby there - with the help of a village. Literally.

I can hardly stand this.

Beaman said...

Truly wonderful post. The photos and your words are fascinating.