I live in Sihanoukville. It used to be a small town, but it’s growing fast. Hotels, casinos and apartment building are popping up everywhere. We’d like to sell our house and move to a more rural area, but are waiting for them to extend our road. In the meantime, we go to rural areas whenever we get the chance. We got the chance to go to rural Cambodia just yesterday.
We hung out with a friend of Sopheak’s. They live at the edge of an oil palm plantation, just far enough away from it that we didn’t have to look at neat rows of palms. Instead, the view was of nearby mountains.
You think you have it made with a nice house and all the amenities you can get in the city? To my way of thinking, this guy and his family have it made. They grow all their own food, have chickens, ducks and cows and go fishing whenever they feel like eating fish. By growing all their own food, I mean all of it. They grow a variety of vegetables, bananas, papayas and mangoes. They even grow their own rice. When we had lunch, I tasted fresh rice for the first time in my life. It wasn’t white and didn’t feel sticky. It even had a slightly nutty flavor. After lunch, our host gave us some bananas. They were almost as sweet as banana ice cream, but no sugar had been added.
The man works at the oil palm plantation occasionally to earn some money, but mostly he hangs out with his family and friends and tends to his garden or builds something around the house. The little gazebo is the latest addition. He thought I might like a fan after lunch when I was lounging in a hammock, so he brought out a fan and hooked it up to a motorbike battery. I didn’t really need it. There was a nice cool breeze blowing off the mountains, but I accepted his kind gesture and had cool air coming from two directions.
A Perfect Lifestyle in Rural Cambodia
It’s worth noting that the family doesn’t plant their trees and other plants in neat, orderly rows. It feels like a jungle around their house. These yellow flowers will become edible gourds one of these days. They also don’t wait for their fruit to ripen before they eat it. The man gave us a huge papaya before we left. It turned up in our lunch today. It was still green, but tasted delicious cooked. We had rice, frog and papaya for lunch today. Sopheak bought frog because it’s so hard to find meat or produce that doesn’t have “gimmee” (pesticides, hormones, etc.) in the market now. Everything is imported from Thailand or Vietnam. It didn’t used to be that way, but as Sihanoukville has grown, the market can’t keep up with demand from local produce only. Sopheak looks for whatever is locally grown or slaughtered and sometimes even finds edible greens growing in fields around Sihanoukville.
Don’t let the lack of smiles put you off. For some reason, Cambodians don’t smile for photos unless you trick them into smiling. The kids had a wonderful time playing in rural Cambodia. With no TV or internet to distract them, they found plenty of healthier things to do. I did, too. If I’d been at home, I probably would have frittered away the afternoon online. That wasn’t an option where we were, so I lounged around in the hammock and enjoyed the sound of the breeze through the trees.
I’m kind of an idealist and wish we could go back to rural living. We can’t, though, even in Cambodia. The family we visited seemed to have found the perfect balance. They were almost entirely self-sufficient, but when they needed money, the husband could work in the oil palm plantation. He keeps enough cash on hand for visits to the doctor and supplies he has to pay for. They don’t often go to the doctor, though, because a Cambodian natural healer lives nearby and has herbal mixtures for most of their illnesses.
I’m beginning to rethink our lifestyle. I thought the kids needed a good education to survive. They do need an education, but I think it would be healthier for them if they also learned to live in a rural environment. Cambodia has become a capitalist country, but who knows how long that’s going to last? My mother lived quite happily through the depression because she lived on a farm. My Dad lived in the city and his family struggled. Capitalism seems to have had its day in the sun, but that day may be passing. I hope we can sell our house and move outside of town. Sopheak knows how to live in a rural environment and can teach the kids what they need to know. I can continue helping them with their English and math, so they can still get a decent education. Then we, too, would have the perfect lifestyle in rural Cambodia.