March 6, 2010

Dolphins, bugs, and island parties

On our first afternoon in Koh Pdao, after our second (sic) nap of the day, we went on a quest for the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins. Only about 70 of these creatures remain in the Mekong, due to improper fishing habits, environmental pollution, and upstream dams. I had low expectations of spotting any, given the dolphin to river ratio, but much to my delight, we saw many of the flat-faced dolphins playing in the currents. We sat quietly in our tiny boats, watching for the mysterious creatures. Cambodian legend reveres these animals: It is said that a beautiful young girl was swallowed whole by a snake. Her father found the snake and cut it open, and when she emerged from its belly, the girl was so ashamed that she put a bowl over her face and threw herself into the Mekong. Perhaps something is lost in translation, but as we learned at the crocodile temple, many a Khmer folktale involve large predatory animals eating daughters, being cut open and bringing shame to she who was eaten. Why the shame? I haven't figured that out yet.

If the dolphin is endangered and rarely seen, the night fly and mosquito are in overpopulation and are the only thing you can see at night on the island. Back at the school, the village had brought out the mega amplifiers to kick out the jams Khmer-style in celebration of our journey from around the world to Koh Pdao. The setting would have been perfect if not for the clouds of bugs. Around the generator-fueled lights, awesome swarms of small winged buzzies hummed along to the music. Unpleasant as it was, even getting constantly pelted with insects couldn't stop a great evening (I won't tell you what happened when I blew my nose the next morning...). I can be a bit of a wall flower at dance events, but this time, I took the advice of ABBA and became my inner dancing queen. I let loose with the kids and volunteers, allowing the exotic music to entrance me. Pheap did her best to teach me the beautiful Khmer classical dance with the intricate hand movements, but I struggled with the coordination of it all. Regardless of my dance (in)abilities, I joined the line of Khmer women and made the circular track to song after song, batting the bugs out of my eyes.