Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Magical Hamburger.

The most magical day in our travels would also have to be our most frustrating but humbling and enlightening day! We travelled, by boat, from Siem Reap, Cambodia, across Tonle Sap and up the canals to Battambang. 6 hours in searing heat accompanied by the loud monotonous beat and fumes of a noisy outboard motor. Sunburnt, exhausted and thirsty we finally found accommodation, booked in, showered, and headed out to celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary!

Our wedding anniversaries we try and make quite special by planning that we be in some exotic location. Whether that is Marrakesh - didn't get there but Rhonda in southern Spain was more than a compensation - Cappadocia, or just up around East Cape in New Zealand. Yes, been to a few lovely places for 7th January.
In Battambang, we thought, surely there'd be a nice restaurant serving a good meal, and most of all a chilled bottle of wine? But sadly, hardly any restaurants, so we settled for a street corner kitchen, collapsed into our seats on the pavement, and - sorry, no wine! Meantime, my wife's impatience with the day is finally boiling over, because as she now needs go without a nice wine, we guys can find a chilled beer anywhere. But we're easy to please.....

We notice a young local girl who was surreptitiously scrounging leftovers from other diner's tables up and down the street. Not hassling them, nor begging, just removing any scraps off half-finished plates. Clutching a burger a diner had given her, she ran  across the street and handed it to her mother crouched on the pavement edge just beside our table. A baby in arms, and a toddler nearby completed the street-family quartet - some of Battambangs homeless. Cambodia is dealing with the legacy of Aids, that has left many families fatherless or even with both parents lost.
We observed this tender moment of the family sharing this one whole burger. We just couldn't help but get engrossed in this delightful scene unfolding right beside us.

When we look back and remember, we often say we wished we'd videod the event. But right then, my camera and video stayed on the table untouched. There was no way I was going to intrude on that family's dignity as they shared their little meal right beside us. It was so touching. Sometimes it's better to put the camera down.

It hit us both, because we had visited orphanages in Siem Reap and learnt a lot about Cambodia's problems, and why there were homeless, or families without a breadwinner, and so many orphanages.

We'd ordered a meal that we couldn't finish. So, we caught the girl's eye and she, holding her plastic bag, which we'd seen her go around several tables with, scooped the leftovers into it. We thought that would suffice. But, when she then motioned that we should also pour the salad dressings in we both suppressed our surprise at her cheekiness. But good on her! She seemed so proud of herself and how she was feeding her whole family.

But this was not the blatant, arm-tugging begging we tourists so often encounter. She had a style, and always waited until a diner had finished and the dish was about to be cleared away. Yeah, I know one shouldn't encourage begging but somehow this wasn't quite in that league. This was a young school-age kid, taking real pride in the way she could forage and feed her family. There was no pestering of the few tourists.

But for us it was a lesson learnt on that street side that night.
Here we were, after a long, tiring hot day, annoyed over not getting a chilled wine to celebrate our wedding anniversary. But that family group, enjoying the simple pleasure of their leftovers smorgasbord, put it all into context for us. And in doing so gave us such a humbling and magical evening as our wedding anniversary present!

A note-
This is the orphanage we visited in Siem Reap.
Read some of the orphan's stories. And if you do travel to Cambodia, contact them and ask what supplies or aid you can contribute. Often it is best to take just money. For money spent in the local village economy has a twofold beneficial effect.


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