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.
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.