By the time we arrived, many of the shopkeepers were closing up. I ran into the dark and desserted market, looking for anyone who might be able to help me. In desperation I ran to a small Khmer woman almost hidden behind a multi-colored mountain of silk, smiling as I greeted her as politely as I could. She smiled and looked very eager to help an obviously clueless foreigner wandering around the empty market. I showed her my hair band and she pointed me a few stalls down, smiling and laughing. I ran down to the stall just as they were pulling the metal barrier down. With one look at my desperate face and the broken hair band the old woman laughed and sent her daughter back into the storage space to find me a huge back of hair bands. I bowed, pressed my palms together and gratefully sighed. "Awkoon chiran (Thank you very much)." Relieved, I headed back out onto the street. The sun was fading fast, but the street was coming alive. Colorful mounds of fresh fruits and vegetable spilled out onto the street, as fresh fish, many of them still alive, flapped around in pans or neatly packed baskets.
Oh! See the bright orange squash in the upper left corner? Thats what they call "Japanese pumpkin". I have been told many times that the Japanese word for it, Kabocha, actually comes from the word Cambodia, because that is where the vegetable was originally imported from.
Flopping about, only moments before being "cut to order". Brings new meaning to the word fresh, does it not?
Since it was getting dark, I figured I`d better head back home and get ready for my trip to Siem Reap.
That`s when I met this adorable little girl. She was so beautiful, sitting on the street with her mother, staring up at with me with those big brown eyes. "Hello!" I smiled back at her, waving. "Hello" she said shyly, looking around for her brothers and friends. They were already running towards us from every direction screaming "Hello, hello, hello!"
"Hello!" I laughed, suprised at their speedy response time. Someone took hold of my hand, and I looked down to find an adorable little girl smiling up at me. "Ha-lo" she whispered, giggling to herself. "Da da!" ( Lets go, or something along those lines!) one of the boys called out, and soon we were on our way down the street, stopping at every child we met to say hello. Most of them joined our odd little parade through the crowded street, single file, with me infront and the rest of the crew close behind.
When the crowd thinned and we had some space to play without getting run over, I marched forward with exaggerated movements. The kids would hurry behind, mimicking my every move until I stopped suddenly, and they all crashed into me, laughing. After awhile the kept their distance, bursting into giggles if I even pretended to stop, or looked back at them over my shoulder. Then I would pull and instant replay reverse, running backwards until I got someone. Up and down the street, we marched, amusing moto dups and adults.
"I'm thirsty!" I caught myself exclaiming nvoluntarily. Its not like any of them understood me. The little girl looked up at me with sad eyes. "Thirsty! Gulp, gulp, gulp" I smiled at her, pretending to pour something into my mouth and finishing the gesture off with a great big "Ahhh!" Her eyes lit up and she took my hand, leading me a few steps. The she stopped. "No. Madame, no." She put her hand over her heart "Me, 500 riel. Madame, no. Madame, 1000." She was trying to tell me that if she bought the water for me, it would be cheaper. "Awkoon chiran!" I I said, touched that she was thinking of me as a friend, and not a rich tourist. I gave her the 500 riel and she disappeared for a moment before sneaking up behind me and under my arm. She smiled as she handed me the cool, wet bottle and a straw. " Thank you cuteness!" I said as she hugged me. Suddenly one of the boys reappeared waving for us to join the fun on the sidewalk.
We tip-toed through the tangle of street venders watching over their wares and up onto the pavement. One of the boys pointed at my camera, pretending to take a picutre and then pointing at all thie kids. "Picture?" I asked. Silly question.
Striking a pose...Now where do you suppose he picked this up?
After they had exhausted their curiousity, seeing themselves in every possible pose played back on my LCD sceen, we began to play Cambodian children`s games. We were split into teams, and squatted in parallel lines facing each other. One team covered their eyes while their team captain tapped a member on the shoulder. That person continued to cover their eyes, holding out one hand. The opposing team silently chose a member to slap it, and if the person could guess who it was, the slapper joined the guesser's team. We played tag and all kinds of good things, and a few of the children even sang and danced for the rest of us.
By now it was quite dark. The mother had found a neighborhood university student who spoke fluent Engish, and brought him over to act as a translator. "Wow. You really like kids!" He said, amazed by the crowd of children that had attached themselves to me. "I love them!" I said, looking down at the sweet heart that continued to cling to my waist. "I just wish I knew what they were saying."
"You don`t speak Khmer?" he asked in suprise. "How long have you been here? What have you been doing?"
"Just a few hours, playing," I said, feeling foolish. He laughed. "What NGO do you work for?"
"No, I don`t work here. I`m just visiting," I said carefully avoiding the T word (toursit).
"Wow. You`re not like most tourists," he said. "Thanks," I smiled.
The little girl tugged at his shirt, saying something softly in Khmer and then looking up at me, smiling. "She said she wants you to take her home with you. She said she wants to sleep with you. I don`t know. Maybe you make her happy, you play with her and make her feel love. She wants to go home and sleep with you. Maybe then she can feel safe."
I looked back down at her and she smiled, nodded, and burried her face into my shirt. My eyes filled up with tears. " Please tell her I want to. I wish I could take her home with me. Wouldn`t your mother miss you? I asked. Oh my gosh Im gonna cry..." I looked away, out into the darkness, trying to catch myself.
"Madame," she called to me softly, speaking Khmer. "Don`t cry, she said" the young man translated. He broke into a long explanation in Khmer, and the mother, standing close by added that it would be Ok with her if I took her, smiling.
The beautiful little girl in question, standing behind me with her mother, brothers and a few friends.
"Please make sure she knows that if I could I would take her home with me, but its not that easy...Please make her understand." He began speaking to her in what seemed to me to be unconcerned Khmer. I wanted her to know that I meant it. I held her little face in my hands and looked in her eyes, but my eyes couldnt hold back the tears any longer. " Madame, no cry." She said, wiping my tears away.
It was getting really late and I was alone. After many hugs and more tears, the kids found me a reliable moto dup willing to make the trip back to the riverfront. They ran after us down the street, waving and saying goodbye. I wish I could have brought them all back with me.
When I arrived at the Paragon, a small group of kids from our pervious feast were there to greet me. "Tomorrow you go to Siem Reap?" They asked. " When you coming back?
So many children ...