The hitchhiking Cambodian monk

Tempel in Phnom Phen

After a week in Cambodia, I am only mildly surprised by the young hitchhiking monk and halt to let him jump onto my scooter. We share no language, so the following minutes pass by in solemn silence. He navigates me with graceful movements of his index finger.

When we get to his home, he clasps my arm. With a slight smile, he indicates me to follow him inside.

The red-robed man leaves me in the shady garden and vanishes into the simple house, reappearing only moments later with an age-old woman who must be his grandmother. She signals me to sit down and produces a greasy jar from behind her back. The second she opens it, the reek of fermented fish violently hits my nose. I have had fish sauce before, but this smells like it is actually rotten. Leaving the source of disgust open on the table, the woman elegantly picks a bright green mango from the adjacent tree. She cuts it into squares and hands me both the unripe fruit and the jar with a demanding look on her face.

Where I come from, verdant fruits are known to cause stomach ache. And foul fish, well, you cannot even feed that to your cat. But these people offer me some of the little they have and they do it with generous pride. Turning this offer down would leave me feeling much worse than with an upset stomach. And so I eat the bitter fruit dipped into the strong, gooey liquid. I put up a brave front while the woman is watching me with a wide, almost toothless smile and genuine satisfaction. Then she walks back into the house. Her grandson points towards my camera and I understand.

When she comes back, she has changed into a spotless white dress and looks almost festive. With the self-timer I take a snapshot of the three of us. While I smile, both of them look into the lense with virtually inscrutable faces.

My stomach does not get bad after all. This evening, I am not stuck to the loo. Instead, I find myself looking at the picture over and over again, trying to fully comprehend what I have experienced.

This post is also available in: German

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