A house in the village

From Professor Pruim

Delighted eyes, high cheekbones and a bright smile frame her young face as she jiggles a kitten by its front legs in front of my nose before giggling and running away. I am a visitor and this is her home. I am standing in the scant shade of nearby foliage looking at a 10’ x 10’ box on stilts. On the dusty ground near my feet are an upside-down bowl, a small cracked plastic plate, and a 2-foot wide domed cage woven of grasses with a hen underneath. Chicks dart in and out between the grass “bars”. A puppy scampers between the legs of another child and under the house.

“You can go in.” Our interpreter motions to the doorway. There is no door. I can just see a bit into the darkness and wonder if they tidied up for us.  In five times of coming to Cambodia and working for NIBC, this is the first time we have been invited into a village to see really close up how some of the school children live. A few Calvin students slip off their shoes and climb up the four bamboo rungs of the slanted ladder and through the doorway. The rest must wait outside; the house is too small for more than a few visitors at a time.  More village children gather around. We are the entertainment of the day. My students smile and wave. “Soo-es-dtay!” (Hi!) The children squeal, laugh and wave. “Hello!” the oldest ones try their fledgling English. I smile and swat at mosquitos.

The family in this house is being introduced by our interpreter Ti-fa. Four children line up with tattered clothes and convincing smiles. The parents of the village seem to be mostly gone. Where? Fishing. More village children gather around. A girl rides up on a small bike. Her baby brother sits in front of her on the seat grasping the handle bars. I know it’s a little boy.  He has no clothes on.

It’s my turn to see the inside of the house. I manage not to slip on the smooth rungs and step into the darkness. My toes can slip between the narrow bamboo slats of the floor. As my eyes adjust I can see the two spaces of the house. Kitty corner from me a smaller square is partially defined by some drab hanging cloth. Through that doorway I can glimpse a few brown cloths strewn on the floor and mosquito nets hanging – the bedroom. Straight ahead at the far wall must be the kitchen with its arrangement of stones on the floor and the one pot resting on top. I wonder if the serious hole in the woven leaves of the far wall is for light and ventilation or just a product of the frail building materials and the dry season. To my left I notice a pretty empty space. Another drab cloth lies on the floor slats. Suddenly I wonder if the bulk of our well-fed, strapping young men would be too much weight for the floor and the ladder. Did they fit in here? I look up at a rippled metal roof.  The roof line is slanted slighted and a 6 foot person could stand in here especially at the tallest point.

As I clumsily make my way down the ladder, I remember that book from years ago: Material World, a coffee table book that showed different families from all over the world photographed along with their worldly possessions hauled out in front of whatever structure they lived in. It would take this family 15 minutes to get ready for that picture, maybe only 10 … maybe not even. I estimate it might take me several days and the assistance of several muscular people.

Quotable:

A: That was amazing. I am so glad we got see a real village.

B: It’s like a neighborhood, right?

C: Yeah. Do you think they let us see their village and homes because we’re working at the school?

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