When I was making plans for this visit to Cambodia I made sure to not fill it up so there could be space for spontaneous moments and plenty of opportunities for me to say: WHY NOT??
But I definitely didn’t expect to find myself on a tuk tuk speeding through northern Cambodia so that I could meet 37 weavers at a temple for their first ever road trip 🙂
So I want to share a bit more about our adventure since it was just so lovely to be able to treat the women to something so special.
The way it unfolded was that when I first arrived to the village they didn’t realise at first that it was me. Apparently I looked sooooo different and thankfully that explained the somewhat cool reception 🙂
But once the penny dropped they were laughing about me being the barang lady who went with them to the rice paddies two years ago. Not sure why but to them it was really funny that I had wanted to go there. So on day two of the visit they suggested that we have our lunch in the rice paddies which seemed like a sweet idea. We all piled into a “tractor” with lots of fried fish, rice and cooked vegetables.
As you probably know I don’t speak Khmer and it makes conversation a bit of a challenge. I thought they had all visited the temples so I wanted to show some photos of my visit there when I realised that they hadn’t been. Not any of them! Now if you’re not familiar, Angkor Wat is the most sacred and special place in Cambodia and at the heart of their culture & history. The weaving village is only about three hours away. Although to be fair, the road to the weaving village has only recently become user friendly. When I first visited 12 years ago we actually had to get out of the car numerous times and walk in the burning sun because of the giant pot holes.
But all that to say I was shocked to find out that they hadn’t been. Turns out that most of the women had never left the village at all – and then only to go to hospital with a sick child. They laughed and said that there life is spent going between weaving and cutting rice.
When I mentioned that I would like to pay for them to visit the temples I wish I had a camera to capture the moment because their faces lit up and they started chattering like school kids to each other and before I knew it they were on the phone finding out how much a bus would cost to hire for THE NEXT DAY! Apparently they wanted to make sure that I could come along as well.
(Talk about spontaneous!)
So sure enough. At 5am the next day two buses with 37 weavers and one 24 year old dude (who I will share more about in my posts) and 6 children left the weaving village for the temples.
It was the last day for me and my (24 year old) son in Siem Reap and we wouldn’t have time for Angkor Wat so suggested we meet them at the Lady Temple which seemed like a perfect temple for the occasion.
Lots of smiley (and a bit nervous) faces greeted us and it was clear that they all had put a lot of effort into what they were wearing. Some of them were even wearing pants which I couldn’t recall seeing in the village. They had brought with them some blankets & cushions so I could take more photos for the crowdfunding campaign but the temple guards told us that we couldn’t bring them into the temple which of course made sense. I have to admit that I often forget about temples being sacred and not just a tourist attraction. It’s the same in Jerusalem and something I really need to get my head around.
Let’s just say that walking through a temple (even if it’s a tiny temple) is not easy without a shared language with so many people. But all in all it was lots of fun with LOTS of photos being taken. It was really wonderful seeing the women just having fun and posing and having an adventure. Once we got through to the other side of the temple there were some musicians playing Khmer music and some people dancing. And to my horror they wanted me to join in. So yes, there’s now footage of me attempting to dance using my hands as is the traditional Cambodian way (and no, even the most simple hand motion my over heated brain couldn’t grasp…but at least I tried!)
I realised that the reason some of the women were late to the temple was that they had stopped at the market stalls to buy new dresses. They looked very glamorous and I could tell the other women were keen to have the same experience. I had actually wondered if there would be enough money for everyone to buy a little gift to remember the day but in my mind that might have been a little statue of the temples. But I quickly realised how important these dresses were becoming and found out that they cost $5.50 each. I explained through the young man (who was my translator for the day) that I could pay $3 each if they could pay the rest and let him know that if anyone couldn’t pay I would of course pay the full amount. I also asked him to make sure that every kid had a hat since it was already burning hot and it was still morning and they had lots of temple visiting ahead of them.
So we headed over to the market stalls and let’s just say it was pretty craaaazy with not just lots of women trying on dresses but market stall holders wanting my attention since there are so few tourists visiting and this was a great opportunity for them to get some sales.
We had a plane to catch so couldn’t stay much longer but made sure that we got some photos of the new dresses. I had already given enough money for food and drinks but decided to give more because I wanted to make sure that there was enough and I have realised that I’m always being told less than is needed. (Which is a lovely thing about the Cambodians that I come across but for practical purposes I would rather be told the full amount)
Me and my son jumped back in the tuk tuk waving the very happy weavers good bye and they went on to have a fantastic day and I got sent some updates which just made my heart so happy.
And I’m now realising that in writing this I forgot to mention that all the costs were covered by some wonderful women in the Happily Made village who contributed money for the occasion. The idea of going to the temples happened so quickly that I said yes before knowing how I would find the money. But as we were visiting a silk weaver and I was wearing my silk scarf I had the idea of selling the gorgeous silk scarves that I brought over a few years ago at below wholesale cost just to get some money through quickly. And thankfully lots of women got involved!