Just another beautiful day in Cambodia. Riding on the back of a motorcycle, camera slung across my shoulder, plastic playmate cooler balanced on my leg, straddling what was a complete stranger until yesterday. Somit and I are off to visit the village of Phnom Reum – proud partners with JWOC in its village centered Clean Water Project. We are going out to collect water samples, to test if the filters provided to each family are operating properly. Humming along down the newly paved road, a steady stream of bicycles pass, often with 2 people per bicycle and motorcycles with 3 or 4. Dad at the “wheel”, mom, baby and brother or sister riding on back. There is also an occasional tractor, filled with people, tour bus and Lexus SUV’s for the up market travelers and NGO’s. Along both sides of the road are rice fields laying in wait of the rainy season, oxen grazing, an occasional house or market. The ever present “gas station”, a cart with Johnny Walker bottles filled with the rich blends for the motorcycles and tuk tuks. We near the market at Pouk and motorcycles are racing past us with bamboo cages stuffed with piglets, or baskets with chickens hanging from their feet all around the perimeter. All on their way to the daily food market. We turn off the main road and head out to the village.

Here the homes are mostly wooden with tin or palm thatch roofs. The road is a raised hard pack red clay. Rain collection ponds on either side, the raised houses sitting a bit further back and the rice fields just beyond. At times the houses are spread out and at other times, grouped into compounds, behind split bamboo railings. We head off this road into what could only be called foot paths. Driving through what seems are peoples very yards. We arrive at the village elder or chief’s house first. Here we get an update on any news, then proceed to 6 of the 200 houses that received the ceramic filters to test their efficiency. When we arrive at the houses, the man of the house is always asked for, none of which are present, we continue with the women. Drawing water from their systems, marking the GPS locations and collecting names from each location. Everyone seems to like the new clean water system. They indicate the water is no longer staining red from the iron. These filters will last up to 2 years. New technology, no plastic bottles littering the landscape, no burning charcoal to boil the water. Environmentally a big step.

Upon closer inspection the homes have outdoor kitchens. Burning charcoal fireplaces, pots hanging on the walls, dirt floors or wood on the raised homes. One large room, often with a shelf for books. a wood slat bed, folded linens. A shrine or stupa with candles and incense at the entrance. Under the raised houses a concrete picnic table and benches for eating and relaxing. Hammocks are often strung to avoid the mid day heat. Clay water pots, the ever present motorcycle and bicycles, and rice in some stage of harvest round out the scene. There is no electricity, but some homes have a bank of batteries for power. Fishing nets hang even when no water seems present, as crabs and snails come into the fields during rainy season. An ox and chickens are often in the compound as well. Each home has an average of 8 people living within. Husband, wife, mother of the husband, and children, as well as any of the husband’s brothers. The village here seems almost suburban. Well laid out, leafy with trees, fenced in yards and very tidy. A primary school is filled with children.

We collect our water samples and drive on our way back to Siem Reap and the water testing lab to deliver the samples. Our route takes us through the Angkor temple complex and suddenly we are upon the ruins of the Bayon in the ancient city of Angkor Thom. It has been 10 years since I first saw it but it still takes my breath away. The Bayon, my favorite of all the temples is of a scale that is not entirely over whelming. Heavily carved, faces on all 4 sides of every spire or stupa. Just as quickly we are back into the leafy jungle. Siem Reap can enchant you in so many ways.

All images: martibrownphoto (www.martibrownphoto.com)

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