April 10, 2010

Khmer New Year: Staff Party

The best thing about my work with CWF is how much I get to learn. Today marked the halfway point of the semester (gasp!) and the beginning of the Khmer New Year holiday. I had each student draw me a scene from his or her Khmer New Year celebration. As usual, they were shy, but the pictures were incredible. They drew the traditional games that children and adults play. They drew Pagodas and temples and monks and Buddhas. They drew families and people and themselves enjoying the festivities. Some even drew Thevada, the goddess figure who changes every year. Typical of the culture and religion, nearly all students sketched a table of offerings for the gods, and they drew people taking alms to the pagoda for the monks.

Through the pictures, we were able to have interesting conversations about the traditions and the events of the holiday. I didn't know that Khmer people don't celebrate birthdays the way we do. Instead, during Khmer New Year, everyone adds one year to his age. It's like birthday, en mass.

All day, the CWF staff had been running around the volunteer house to prepare for our staff party. It was fun to see the receptionists and the security guys preparing food and moving tables. The party itself began after our evening classes. We ate fresh spring rolls, curry and fruit. A royal feast. Then we moved on to Coke, wacky Fanta, and beer.

The fun really began once we started playing Khmer games, like the Khmer version of PiƱata. The rules are the same, but instead of a paper mache donkey full of candy, it is a terra cotta pot full of baby powder. Imagine swinging a bamboo rod at such a pot—yes, shrapnel. I did pretty well on my turn. Not only did I bust the pot and get covered in powder, but I also managed to avoid getting hit with the large chunks of falling pot.

After surviving the games unscathed, the dancing portion of the evening was great fun. Khmer dancing is very complicated, but the CWF staff love to give lessons. Pheap is especially fond of dancing, and it's fun to watch her. For as much as they have been through (and as much as they do on a daily basis), the Cambodians know how to party. Even when the Khmer version of Akon's "Right Now" comes on, they dance like there's no tomorrow (blissfully unaware of the adulterous lyrics).

I look forward to experiencing more of Khmer New Year this week. I'm headed northeast, to Mondulkiri province. Hopefully the "Alaska" of Cambodia will be the break from city life that I am seeking!

Susadei ch'nam Thmei! (Happy New Year))