© Bartay | All Rights Reserved

Battambang Province

OK, I haven’t posted in awhile. I’ve been busy riding around the country, went to Kampot, Kep, rode up to the top of Bokor Mountain overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. In my neighborhood they’re getting ready for the final funeral of the Father King Norodum Sihanouk next week. They’re expecting an influx of 2 million people here for what they say will be the largest Sate Funeral in SEAsia in over half a century. So…………..

Last week I rode my motorcycle 294 km West NWest of Phnom Penh to the city of Battambang, out towards the Thailand border. Yes, on the roads here in Cambodia that was a very long ride. I met up with a young woman originally from Boston, Meghan Battle, who started the NGO ‘Our Strength’ awhile back. They are primarily focused on women’s health issues and empowering the women out in the surrounding villages of Battambang. There are health clinics but most are not very close to the villages so the women tend to not use them. Our Strength tries to fill that gap and educate the women on their own health and their families. I spent a couple of days with Our Strength going out to a few villages seeing what they’re doing.

It was great, we took three moto’s (three on their two moto’s and me on my motorcycle) out along rivers, rice paddies, and farm land. The first village we went to, Rokha – pop. about 900, was maybe 15 km away, A rather easy dirt gravel road, but rather dusty. When we arrived at the Village Health Volunteer’s (VHV) home, there wasn’t anybody there yet for the workshop. When the villager’s hear the moto’s they know they’ve arrived so the women start walking to the VHV’s house.

It was still fairly early in the morning when we got there. Very still, very quiet and cool (OK, not hot yet), it was gorgeous! There was a long creek splitting the village in half and some of the women on the far side crossed over a single log footbridge to come to the workshop. It was great, the dogs swam across.

 ( All Blog Post Photos:  © Bartay )

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They just find a clearing in the shade, it’s always hot in Cambodia, clear it off put down a rug or two and they’re ready. What I find amazing, for someone from foggy San Francisco, is the Khmer get cool when it drops below 90 F. They wear scares, long sleeves, and sweatshirts when it get’s into the 80’s. I’ve been ‘warm’ since I got here.

What was so interesting about this group was the diversity of the generations that came. From teenagers, to young women, to mothers, to grandmothers, they all came for this workshop on women’s reproductive health.

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We later rode in and out along a river to the next village Chiettiel. a tad bigger than Rokha. When we got there the women were all sitting at machines on the first floor (under the main house) making shirts for a distributor. They only make about 700 Riel per shirt. That’s about 18¢, not much for what they put in to it.

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All the kids started showing up and they do love the camera.

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Again the diversity of the women was great and as Meghan told me, there is usually always one elderly woman who is not shy with her questions and stories! They are great, they listen and they do love getting involved. I’ll leave you to your own ideas of what they ask about women’s reproductive health. I wonder…. would they have been laughing and asking so many questions if I understood Khmer? Knowing these wonderful ladies, I think they would.

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Our Strength aligns themselves with the entire village, from the seamstress’s to the farmers. So we stopped by a few farms to talk with the people. Our Strength also makes house calls to see women they’ve seen in the past or who were sick and couldn’t make the workshop. To check in and make sure everything is alright.

We stopped by to talk to the VHV who was 8 months pregnant and she couldn’t show up. She was telling us that she had gone for her first sonogram, her 4th child. She told us she was quite nervous because of all the equipment in the room. Said her husband wouldn’t go in. Then I asked if they gave her a photo and she was so proud to go get it and show us. It’s a girl.

We stopped by to talk to Channa’s grandmother where she helped her plant some corn in between the pepper plants that were already growing. I saw their neighbor out harvesting his lettuce crop for market and went over to check it out.

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On the way back that evening, Channa, Vanna, and I stopped to go out on the only bridge for kilometers where you could cross the river. We spent about half an hour out on the bridge watching the people below swimming as the sun was getting low.

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The next day we rode quite a long way along the river, north of town to the village, Bak Roteh. I made a mistake that morning and wore a white shirt. OK, I wasn’t too smart. A very bumpy, washed out, dusty trail was the only way along the river. After about an hour when we got there, my white shirt was rust coloured under about a quarter inch of dust.

As usual the women know when Our Strength arrives, they either hear or see the motos. So when we got there I went to meet some of the women who would be coming to the workshop, which today was on Personal Hygiene. Being sandwiched between the river and the land, everyone makes their living fishing and farming. The women and men share most of the fishing duties.

This woman was coming in with her catch when we got there, I saw her at the workshop about a half hour later. She had her daughter with her and she actually scooped out fish and water from inside her boat and filled a bucket for her daughter to haul up the bank.

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They also will need to just start at one end of the net and pull the fish out as they work their way to the other end.

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They will clean them, cut the heads off, then cook them over bamboo grills. Grandma is preparing reed sticks to put the fish on for cooking. Think Satay.

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Today’s  workshop on Personal Hygiene was given by Kunthea and Sochenda. There aren’t a lot of trees around for shade so the first floor of the VHV’s home is usually used for giving the workshop. It’s the coolest place to be and everyone can get out of the direct sun.

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We stopped by for a house call to check in on a woman who wasn’t able to attend the workshop and I honestly can’t say what she found so funny. I got there just after the punch line. It was probably my rust coloured white shirt!

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During one of the workshops I saw this young fellow out plowing his field and had to go out and check it out. I think his butt must have felt like mine after 5 hours on the motorcycle. He’s getting ready to plant watermelon.

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As usual, the kids love following me around while mom is in the workshop. They’ll usually be still and quiet if I take their picture. Of course then we all must take a look at ourselves on the back of the camera.

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I’d like to thank everyone at Our Strength. Meghan, Kunthea, Sochenda, Channa, and Vanna. I had a great time. The NGO is doing a fantastic job and like a lot of places I’ve been, I am blown away at the dedication of these local women working here. I also wish you all well with your next level of English classes and again….. Happy Birthday Kunthea!

 

 

 

This entry was posted in Cambodia.

One Comment

  1. Maria Epes January 28, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    Truly inspiring I agree to see the dedication of all involved and fascinating to see the women of all generations, get a sense of their way of life, and to see that countryside.

    Remarkable what you are doing Bartay.

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