22.01.2017 - 23.01.2017 28 °C
Kathy wasn't feeling very good so she decided she would just relax for a day so Don gets to write the blog today.
The area named Chiro is made up of 12 villages that are spread out along a 10-15 km section of road. They call it Chiro village but I was told that 80,000 people live there!?! We couldn't distinguish one from the other but were told we were in Chiro1. Where we stayed there were about 200 families, mostly farmers. The homestay where we stayed had a series of activities that one could participate in, where one paid a small amount of money and you went off with local people and helped them do some of their day to day activities. The money was split between the villagers and OBT with most going to the villagers.
Life is pretty basic in this area. I arranged to volunteer in their farming activity. I was picked up bright and early by a grade eleven student who was going out to tend one of his family's tomato patches. He drove me out to the area on the back of his motorbike to one acre area the family was renting from a local school and had planted tomatoes. He collected a bag of 15-15-15 fertilizer, two five gallon pails and a yoke from the school and he took them to where there was some casual water. He climbed down, jumped into the water, filled the buckets, attached the pails to each end and carried the 100 pounds of water (10 gallons) up a 3 m. slope and over to where the fertilizer was, put two canfulls of fertilizer in each pail and then mixed it up with his hand. He then got me to fill an old kettle and we walked up and down the rows watering and fertiziling each plant. There were a lot of tomato plants ad we didn't finish watering all of them before he decided we should go back.. He said they organized with someone to buy the tomatoes to sell in the city. On the parcel of land that they own they grow only corn and tomatoes.
We were supposed to have the coordinator Marine give us a tour of the village. She eventually turned up but I only had a look at the school. This school gives supplementary classes to the children in the area. They have five teachers, 400 students. The go to the state school in the morning and then get an extra class each afternoon in either English, computers, math and Khmer. School was a series of bamboo desks with a white board for the teacher. They have no school books just a notebook and a pen. They are trying to become part of the state system as their finances are mostly obtained through donations and the few projects they have and are unpredictable.
It was Sunday so there was no school. Many children were hanging around in front of our cabin and happily played soccer for a lot of the afternoon. and many of them practiced traditional dancing and playing music. It was delightful music- it reminder me of Balanise Gamelan playing.
In the afternoon I rented a bike and rode around the countryside. As i went by many children would run out and say hello as I rode by. One lady started taking to me in English so I stopped and found out she is one of the teachers from the school. She said she taught grade 4-5 children, She was going off to a wedding later in the day but we had a nice chat.
Kathy had asked if I could buy some juice so I checked out a few places but couldn't find any. It didn't seem like there were any refrigerators as most of the families selling stuff kept a large cooler with some ice or else just had their fruit out in the open. There were no real stores only families selling a few things from their homes. It was a challenge buying without being able to speak their language but I managed to buy a pineapple, watermelon and a coconut on my outings. There are no restaurants here as the people don't go to restaurants, so they don't exist.
Part of the land they are working is on the flood plain of the Mekong. They plant during the dry season and have to have finished harvesting by the end of April when the wet season starts. After I got back from the bike ride I decided to walk down to the Mekong. The flood plain was about .5 km wide and filled with individual plots of land that were either irrigated from shallow wells or from the Mekong itself. I noted tomatoes, corn, something like zucchini, eggplants, and tobacco along the way all growing on a heavy clay soil. Closer to the river it became sandy with beautiful beach sand. The farmers still use oxen for the heavy work of plowing and cultivating. I was told that they earn about $400 per year.
For supper I went over to one of the villagers along with four other volunteers and had a delious supper with the family. One meat and veggie dish, one veggie stew called Amok and rice, with fruit for desert. The Khmer diet includes rice or rice noodles with all their meals. Mostly they only have two meals a day. The parents didn't speak English but some of their children understood and talked to us. I wanted to buy bus tickets for the next day and it was all transacted through a nine or ten year old girl. It's amazing the responsibilities these kids accept and are able to carry out. On my way back to our cabin I passed another village house where half a dozen men were watching a boxing match on a TV set out on a table on the ground below their house. Their Sunday night entertainment. Most of the houses are built on stilts to keep thing dry during the wet season and minimize insect and rodents in the house.
This morning I went out fishing with a local Chams man called Mr. Ya. After the Krymer Rouge were displaced from power the new government gave a piece of land to each family except the Chams people, who were Muslim. As a result they ended up becoming fishermen. I, along with Marine and one other Canadian, who is a volunteer at OBT, were picked up by Mr Ya and his eldest daughter in a type of motorized dugout canoe. We drifted along the Mekong and he would throw out a net with chains along the edge and see what he could catch. They both used a single oar tied to the side of the boat to very skillfully steer. His catch was pretty pitiful with about a dozen little two inch fish and one foot long eel. He offered the net for me to throw so I tried it. Guess what? My throw only covered about a third of the area of his and no fish. He then took us to his fish farm. He has a little covered enclosure along the edge of the river where he keeps 4000 fish. He either catches very small fish or buys the small fish and keeps them until they are market size. Sort of like buying chicks and selling chickens. He said he gets $2.50 per KG. He bought some fish food, corn pellets and water lilies, and we got to see the fish frenzy as he fed them. His wife and baby daughter came over to visit with us. Marine said Mr. Ya lives in a village up out of the flood plane but also has this place beside his fish enclosure.
All in all it was a good insight into the simple lives those people live.