Sunday, January 7, 2007

QURBAN IN THE LAND OF THE KHMER ROUGE - PART I

Last minute decision, "visa" from Home Minister for a week away. Booked Air Asia, alas not so cheap. Ustaz Mat Salleh, a UIA Lecturer going back to Phnom Penh for Hari Raya Qurban, bringing with him US$ from generous donors for the Qurban. And I tag along. "I will follow him, follow him wherever he may go....." as the song goes. An excellent opportunity for this first-timer.

DAY 1 - (28th DEC 2006)
Air Asia flight left on time, plane half full with Malays of my age group or older. Most with skull caps (Kupiahs), covering either the white thinning hair or the skull itself! Me, I let my skull be in full view - an exhibisionist I had never allowed my hair to grow profusely, since small.

On arrival, we were greeted by Ustaz Ahmad, a 63-year old gentleman, slim, soft spoken with full of widsom. Speaks fluent Malay, English, Arabic, Vietnamese, Cambodian and Cham (the language of the Muslims). Our destination, a village called Kilomet 9 and its 9 kms outside Phnom Penh.

The stay for the duration will be at Al-Ihsan Institute for Islamic Knowledge & Development, a rented property used by its founder, Ustaz Ahmad to further his course for Islam in Cambodia.

The evening of the arrival, I attended two akad-nikah ceremonies in between Maghrib and Ishya prayers in this bustling fishing community. This village sits along the bank of the great tributary of Tonle Sap, which meets the mighty Mekong further south.

Lonely Planet reported best time to visit is Dec and Jan, the coolest month. I'm right on spot. Add the breeze from Tonle Sap, you had the best formula for a great weather.

DAY 2 ( 29th Dec 2006)
Early morning, I stationed myself at the river bank. Photographic subjects aplenty and with 512mb disk space on my DSLR, shooting was very liberal. The wonders of technology. Several year ago, capturing scenes on films and transperencies would have cost a bomb for films and prints.































Day 2 was also a waiting day, for arrival of another donor, Dr Rahmat who had brought precious US$ for about 15 cows for Qurban. Flight was delayed by 2 hours.

DAY 3 (30 Dec 2006)
We left Kilomet 9 early for a 100 odd kms to several villages in the Kampong Cham province. Kampong Cham is not a kampong, it's a province. Our Mission : To hand over the Qurban donations to pay for the cows for slaughter on Hari Raya Qurban. The journey was to be a 80kms of normal road with about 20kms of potholed laterite and dusty road.

Great driving skill and patience is required. It would appear that vehicles will not move until it is fully loaded. Fully loaded is of-course an understatement. Locals justified this over-load culture to cover high transportation cost. There will be no insurance too. One cannot enjoy good business making number plates either.



Mr Honda dreamt and invented the Honda motorcycle. I'm sure he never dreamt beyond his invention. He'll be proud! Rest in peace Mr Honda.


The 100kms journey took almost 4 hours. The road to the villages reminded me of villages in the outskirts of Kota Bharu, 30 years ago. Only difference is the full coverage for the mobile phones.


Houses tell a story. On stilts, they are flood proof. The animals (mainly cows) take shelter for the night below the house. Inside the house, the curtain provides privacy, for whatever purpose. Some houses boast of wet and dry kitchen, depending on the season.




















I didn't have the opportunity to visit the more previleged houses. They generally belonged to the towkays who sell the net and fishing gears to the fishermen.


The funds collected for the Qurban were officially handed over to the "hakim". He's not a judge, but presides as a religious head for the village. The villagers, in appreciation welcomed this annual visit from well intended Malaysians.
















Day 4 (31st Dec 2006) HARI RAYA QURBAN

The mosque at Kilomet 9 was full by the time we arrived for the prayers. Food and drinks were already laid out. We couldn't stay long at the mosque. This morning, we had to make the 100kms journey back to the villages we went yesterday. This time for the killing field - the slaughter.



Our first destination, the village of Au Tekon, across the Mekong river. Entry for vehicles into the ferry takes some skill. Drivers reversed into the ferry, as it's same way out. Ferry appeared to be safe except for 3 masked bandits.

I discovered an English "class" conducted in the village - on Hari Raya Qurban! Teacher, Mr Sari Abdullah, is a volunteer and came all the way from Phnom Penh, once a week. Teaching and learning were both challenging to teacher and student. The classroom converts as a machine shed, with poor ventilation. And I was wondering, where were the boys? I was invited to give some words of encouragement to the students. I did, translated by Mr Sari. I think the words I said impacted me more than the students. I exchanged e-mail address with Mr Sari and said good-bye. Will I return?

With official slaughter done with, we crossed back the Mekong to 3 other villages - Kg Ang Dong So, Kg Swai Te Nom and Kg Angkor Ban and repeat the ritual of the Qurban. The Killing Field was not over yet. During my motorcycling days across Thailand, I recalled "Ban" as Kampong in Thai. So, Kg Angkor Ban must be a kampong twice-over!

We politely refused lunch as the lunch we had at Kg Au Tekon could last us well into the night. But, we cannot refuse hot chinese tea, which is a standard drink for visitors.

A few more cows fell and meat carefully weighed for even distribution to all the villagers. Meat is of-course a delicacy.
By the time we were ready to leave, it was dark. Darkness comes early in Cambodia, by an hour to Malaysia. We made the long tiring journey back to nearer comfort, Phnom Penh and reached our base well into the night. YAWNNNNN

2 comments:

Did I just say that? said...

haha..covering thinning hair?

euphoria said...

love the photos!!!! :-)

thinning hair?? err.. no comments LOL!