The mighty monsoons...

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Asia » Cambodia » South » Phnom Penh
May 31st 2006
Published: June 2nd 2006
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From May through to the later part of the year, the monsoons hit the city of Phnom Penh in overwhelming force. In the thick of the rainy season, the afternoons are characterised with ongoing downpours. Apparently, the rains are easy to plan around, though, as the residents of the metropolis know when they are about to hit, and so they confine themselves in-doors during this time.

Perhaps the journalist had confused his experience of the monsoons with another country, I thought, as I held onto the back of the moto belonging to the young Khmer driver, who had been kind enough to give me a lift home after our one-hour chat at Del Gusto Café, both of us unable to go anywhere due to the pelting rain. The fact that the water stood a good metre above the street level in entire crossings seemed to just attract more and more people, their faces joyful with the fresh air and coolness of the water streaming around their feet. Young and old were making their way around the city, trying to get from one place to the next, the rains acting as a sufficient encumbrance to slow the traffic down to walking speed, sometimes a complete halt. But, unlike the guidebook had explained, there were people everywhere.

Unlike in Australia, where we scold the driver in front of us for being too cautious on the wet roads, conscious that we will be late to our 3pm meeting, the people here were relishing the activity, the abundance of water in a place often so desolate and dry, dusty and irritatingly-hot.

An old lady sat on her plastic stool, watching intently as the passers-by navigated through the streets on their motos, in their cars, on their cyclos, by foot. Within two hours, the city had been transformed into an intricate system of canals, the drainage entirely insufficient to move the water underground. But the people were ecstatic, filled with warmth and sincerity that radiated for miles.

There was no divide between young and old, rich and poor, Khmer and foreigner. People smiled and greeted each other with delight, laughing loudly at the onslaught of moto drivers kick-starting their machines for the second, third, … fifth time. At the young school girls shyly hitching their long skirts up above the water. At the elderly man weighed down by the brand-new moto, which he had propelled onto a cyclo in an effort to keep it dry. And the victims of the amusement chuckled back too, relishing the chaos and mayhem that the moment was providing.

Entire Khmer families were crammed into cyclos, caught out by the deep waters on their way back from the market. Young girls balanced upon their mother’s laps, who in turn sat on their mother’s knees. Three generations of women all happily packed into the small seats, the groceries at their feet splashed wet in rhythm to the peddling of the delighted cyclo-driver, full of pride that his services were finally in high demand, his passengers humbled by his ability to steer them through the bottomless streets.

A middle-aged lady, clad in a bright yellow skirt and pink top, smiled as she watched me beaming at the bedlam before us. A Western woman joined our antics as she was left with nothing to do other than grin about the impossibility of crossing the road without drenching her black, high-heeled boots and pants. The corporate look definitely wasn’t practical in this scenario, yet it added to the instance we were all savouring.

The children waded their way through crossings, following closely behind their parents, uneasy with the depth the water was reaching on their small statutes. Their anxiety is finally defused by the affectionate splashings they received from their fathers, the cheeky grins born by their seniors launching them into uncontrollable laughter and irrepressible courage to continue boldly through the floods.

The liveliness and ecstasy created by such a simple, priceless act of nature was infectious. The people relished the simplicity, the purity, the beauty of just being. In that moment, no one worried about where their next meal would come from, how much longer their AIDS-infected 6-year-old daughter would live for, when they would finally be able to break free of the treacherous cycle of living on less than $1 per day. In that moment, they forget their worries, and take pride in being alive, in being blessed by the opportunity to enjoy the cleansing of the water, the cooling of the soul.

‘Why?’, I ask
‘Why?’, she says and shrugs. ‘Well, just for the beauty of it.’
‘But it’s all over in five minutes,’ I say, ‘all gone.’
‘Yes,’ she says with a smile, ‘but you’re here, aren’t you?’

… they are seizing the moment, because we are not forever on earth, no. Only a little while here.

x Maz


2nd June 2006

Maz, You have the most amazing writing style. I can feel your emotions through every word that you write. I can visualise it in my head, and I feel like i am there with you. I am so proud of you being so strong over there. This is such an amazing opportunity for you. Keep the words coming through! Nik xo
4th June 2006

Dear Maria, I felt like being there on the streets of soaking Phnom Penh with you,seeing all the characters right in front of me,enjoying the moment almost as you did... I, for a moment, could even smell the air and humidity. You should write a book! How is the Happy School going? Love and miss you soooo much! Mum

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