Preference for the Floor

This woman working in a curtain shop illustrates a cultural aspect of life in Cambodia: much of life here is lived on the floor.  Poor rural families could not afford tables, chairs, etc.—and didn’t have houses that would support furniture (remember most of the houses were bamboo slat floors on frames up on stilts)—and so the people cooked, ate, slept, played, and worked on the floor.  Those people moved to the city and continued the same life style so that it is common to see people sitting on the floor doing any number of different jobs.

Looking at Each Other

Going across town to mass early one morning I caught this picture of a little boy playing on the back of a truck.  He was looking at me as I took the picture, and down in the lower left corner you can see me (in the rearview mirror) looking at him.  I was shooting the pictures from chest level so you can’t see the camera.

Motorcycle Loads #225

This is a motorcycle loaded up right across the street from the Maryknoll office where I live.  Probably most families run some kind of small business on the side, and every morning the man who owns this motorcycle loads it up with boxes of snack foods that he stores in his house and delivers them somewhere.  It’s just part of the culture.  As you can see there’s not much room for the driver to sit.

Sunscreen or Hijab?

Overtaking this woman from behind, at first I thought it was a Muslim woman with a hijab since the head covering was under her helmet as a hijab would be.  But then when I got beside her to take this picture, I saw that (I think) it is just a light veil or shawl that she is using to block the sun, protecting even her face, and it is thin enough that it would fit under the helmet.  For many Cambodian women, keeping their skin lighter in color is just about as demanding a principle as following Islam for the true believers.  Notice this woman makes sure that not even her hands are exposed to the sun.

Traffic Insanity

Traffic in Phnom Penh is incredibly bad due to an incompetent government’s lack of control and planning.  Now we are in a two-week campaign period before commune elections and the traffic has devolved to insanely bad because of all the demonstrators wandering the streets in large caravans of vehicles.


When I left the church Sunday on a motordupe (motorcycle taxi), the highway was blocked by hundreds of political demonstrators riding on their motorcycles and dump trucks and cars.  My driver tried to detour through a back alley and for the first 100 feet it worked.  Above, our traffic on the right is stopped but the opposing traffic on the left is still moving away from the demonstration a block ahead of us.

The Cambodian psyche, though, when traffic is stopped cannot abide an open space and so when the opposing traffic a block ahead also got stopped and the left lane became empty, the right lane traffic moved over to fill up that lane, too.

Of course, just as our southbound traffic was inching along when possible, so the northbound traffic tried to do the same but was blocked by the southbound traffic that moved into the northbound lane.  Here the man with the face mask is trying to weave his way northbound through all the southbound vehicles now in his lane.

Finally everything just stops with gridlock caused by vehicles going in all direction.  No one gets angry or shouts.  Cambodian drivers just accept it as the way it’s supposed to be.  It took us 25 minutes to go one block.  The Kingdom of Wonder….

Solar Power

It’s not really obvious in this photograph, but the rectangular fixture on the top rear of this tuk-tuk is a solar panel.  I’m not sure what it is powering.  Quite often these tuk-tuks don’t even have headlights or taillights.  Maybe this driver has hooked up some small LED lights inside the passenger compartment.

Rainy Riding

Yesterday I rode nineteen miles–just within the city of Phnom Penh—on the back of a motorcycle taxi going to meetings, visiting a hospital, etc.  That is not fun.  As an extra exciting element, we had a tremendous rainstorm while I was out.  My motorcycle taxi driver (above) and I could see it coming so I stopped and bought a cheap plastic rain poncho like he is putting on, and then when the first drops started we pulled off and covered up before resuming the ride.  If you’re on the back of a motorcycle, the poncho can’t cover your legs so I was soaked from the waist down.