Today is the second day of the three-day Water Festival, the biggest holiday of the Khmer year after the New Year in April. It’s had a rough recent history, due in large part to the paranoia of the ruling party which is terrified of any gathering of people it can’t control. And this year about a million or so people from the provinces have descended on Phnom Penh to race their village boats in the Tonle Sap River. I didn’t get too close to the crowds this year but passed these crews taking a break from paddling and waiting for the next heat to begin.
A not-too-uncommon sight in Cambodia is seeing one car towing another using an improvised wooden towbar. If you don’t have a chain or a strong rope, it’s the next best thing, although usually bamboo is the wood of choice because it’s so readily available.
A lot of the business in the informal sector in Cambodia is on wheels, like this food serving cart. It’s kept in the living room during the night but in the morning is rolled out on to the sidewalk and hooked up to the propane tank. The large bowls behind the glass will contain several different pre-prepared offerings which can be served on demand. The prices list at $1.50 or $1.75 for bowl of rice with your selected topping.
The English-speaking Catholic community borrows a hall in an old building at St. Joseph Church on the north side of Phnom Penh. We had been leery of making any renovations because the plan is to tear this building down to build a real church on the rear part of the church compound. Earlier this year, though, we learned that the planned demolition will not happen for several years so we are going ahead with plans to air condition the hall as cheaply as we can.
One of the first steps was to cover over the ventilation slots you can see at the top of the wall. They allowed air–and birds–to flow through freely. We also had to add more lights now that we are having some night-time services here.
This is a picture in mid week when the workmen are getting the room right before adding stand-alone air conditioning units along the walls.
I don’t know the official percentages but a huge part of the economy in Cambodia is informal. 85% are involved in agriculture and most of the non-agricultural people work in the informal economy rather than in established business with 9-to-5 jobs. Many, many households are running some sort of business out of their homes–maybe in addition to a formal job–and then there are these pop-up businesses everywhere.
Cambodia has some fast food outlets–the first and only Carl’s, Jr opened up last week and we have KFC and pizza outlets, but most fast food in Phnom Penh is served as in the picture above. There are numerous stalls set up and taken down every day that provide a variety of dishes, mostly big pots of vegetables with some meat that is served over rice. It’s pre-cooked–Cambodian people don’t value hot food as something desirable–and you just point to the pot that looks good today. I tend to avoid the stalls where the dishes are washed in the big tubs of water there on the street.
Today Mr. Paul O’Callaghan, the CEO of Caritas Australia, came to visit the Deaf Development Programme in Phnom Penh. Caritas Australia has supported DDP for quite a few years but Paul had not had a chance to visit us until today. This evening we took a dinner cruise on the Mekong River and Paul spoke to staff and leaders of Caritas and of the organizations they fund.
Monday afternoon I flew from Louisville to NYC and stayed at the Maryknoll house in Manhattan. Early Tuesday morning I took the bus to Newark airport for the 15-hour flight to Shanghai where I had a nine-hour layover. Then it was six hours to Bangkok where I slept in the airport till a 8:30 AM flight to Phnom Penh. Click here.
After the reunion mass with the family in the morning, I had another reunion, with “Charlie’s Angels,” a lovely group of ladies with whom I worked in Louisville back in the 1970s and 1980s. Nancy Reynolds (L) and Donna Lashley (second L) I taught at Angela Merici High School; Sally Newton went to AMHS also and was part of St. Lawrence Parish where I was first assigned; Norma Lewis is the doyenne of American Sign Language interpreters in the United States; and Peg Darcy has worked with Norma and assisted with interpreting for the Catholic Deaf community for many years. We try to get together each time I come back to the U.S.
Often I stay with Mary and Mike Davis when I am in Louisville, but this trip, because their daughter was married the day before I arrived in Louisville, I stayed at the English house where we had the reunion. After the wedding house guests had basically gone home, though, I came over to the Davis house for my last night in Louisville. From L to R: Dennis Dittmeier (Florida), Bailey Davis, Mary Dittmeier Davis, Martha Dittmeier Reed (Ohio), Amy Davis, and Charlie, with Mike Davis seated.
The whole weekend was set aside for the reunion. Friday night we had a dinner together, Saturday there was the family picnic, and this Sunday morning we had a family liturgy together at the English house. Click here.