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Camping with the Sre’s

The Cambodian roadside views continue to imitate a war zone. Blackened tree stumps and fallen trunks litter the wasteland that leads up to the edge of the forest. Often no crops or trees or anything else take the place of the forest. Why go to the trouble of hacking and burning? We hear some of the wood is sold to Vietnam. We speculate the burning has some religious significance. In the evenings locals often come to us and stoke our campfire, clasping their hands together and kowtowing in the Buddhist style of prayer.

In the soft afternoon light we stop at a plain hut raised several feet above the ground. Mr. Sre, a man in short blue sports shorts and a loose-fitting shirt climbs down the ladder to greet us. He bemusedly rolls a cigarette as Nakia and I, by motions and phrasebook phrases try to ask his permission to camp in his field.

He unconcernedly lights his thick stogy and speaks softly in Cambodian. As the strong smell of tobacco drifts over us, we think we’ve obtained his permission. “Thanks,”we say, being glad say something in Cambodian the pronunciation of which we are certain.

Later, as we set up camp in the field, the whole village comes to watch. A shirtless man speculates to his friend in the red-checkered head scarf as to the nature of my tent. A naked child jumps up and down excitedly as Nakia unloads her bike. The white flash of smiles illuminates the crowd. Laughter filters through the dry air.

Cambodia - family Sre's welcome

Drew takes out the instruments. To the beat of “Steal My Kisses” he raised puffs of dust from the bone dry paddy . Pete bows out a quick melody on the Er-hu, then sets it down in favor of the drum. Mr. Sre, our landlord for the night, picks it up. Everyone wants to try to play the er-hu. But he actually does play it. With fingers positioned expertly on the strings, he slides out a fast, haunting Cambodian melody. How does a Cambodian peasant know how to play the er-hu? Unfortunately, we can’t ask.

In back of Sre's - Er hu player

After the crowd has retreated in the face of our cooking preparations, and after we’ve eaten our food and sip contentedly on Pete’s birthday beer, Mr. and Mrs. Sre come back. The proceed with a blaring radio and a headlamp. They let us toy with their radio. We are amazed. None of us have controlled a radio in months. We fondle it the way villagers often do our bikes and cameras and tools.

The Sre’s communicate with us intermittently. We try the phrase-book, but it takes us only so far. Mr. Sre lights another sulfurous cigarette, Mrs. Sre asks Nakia questions that evoke peals of laughter in the asking. We assure her none of us are dating, that Nakia has no kids, that she is not married. What other kinds of questions might generate such mirth?

All the excitement generates exhaustion in us. After the Sre’s take their wailing radio back to their home on stilts, we lie down to sleep, grateful for our hosts and the fact that you don’t always need language to communicate.

12 Responses to “Camping with the Sre’s”

  1. Ousmanou Abdul Masih Says:

    OK _ so you have awakened a deep desire to hear this music, Er-hu, Mr Sre and the haunting melody. I hope you are continuing with the part of your mission statement to make music and communicate therewith. I realize the pics and blogs are great yet we have waited long for more than three songs . . . you do say “more songs coming soon”

  2. Netzy Says:

    Jimmy - all of you are looking good. Great house on stilts….. take care and keep trucking - you might all have to get up earlier to beat the heat of the day. In costa rica, I started riding at 6:00am because I was so hot…. keep drinking lots of water. take care and keep writing the articles… they are so interesting and help us all feel part of your trip. Take more pictures too. love, your mo

  3. Tommy O'Keefe Says:

    Did Mr. Sre know any M.C. Hammer songs? Vanilla Ice perhaps?

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  8. Maya Brooks Says:

    i enjoy camping specially in dense wooded tropical forests. camping is a fun way to spend time with your friends too..;;

  9. Bailey Jenkins Says:

    camping outdoors is one of my favorite, it is quite relaxing to be with friends.,“

  10. Muhammad Morgan Says:

    camping is my favorite thing to do during my younger years coz it is fun;`”

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