In between traveling from Battambong, Cambodia to Phnom Penh our group stopped in a small village just outside of the city that operated the bamboo trains. The tracks were constructed during the time of the French colonization. Once large metal steam engines traveled from this direct line from city to city. Unfortunately, their demise was met when the Khmer Rouge reigned over the country and enforced their harsh rule over Cambodia. Such trepidations always allow me to appreciate a local's smile.
During our stop my students (who I was co-leading for a photography trip) were literally mobbed by a dozen children holding a variety of colorful bracelets around a paper towel roll holstered by a string. These children (mainly little girls) hounded my students for money to sell a bracelet and their were quite feisty in their proposals.
"You want to buy bracelet?"
"No, thank you."
"Why, you not buy bracelet? Your friend buy bracelet."
"I don't have any money."
"You lie, your friend said he has no money and he buy!"
"Buy a bracelet, I made you grasshopper, and you won't buy bracelet."
All the while this may sound like a simple conversation, but as tones and glances are exchanged, many of these little girls get emotional and competitive. In fact I saw tears and yelling at one moment, and partly because I submitted and purchased a bracelet. Let me tell you about it.
I was leading our students with my friend/coworker Mary and as we quietly toured the village on this decently warm day we were followed by three wide eyed girls.
Of course they questioned (interrogated) us about how and why we aren't capable of purchasing their bracelets. I had $20.00 USD on me and I think two bracelets costs $1.00 so, I wasn't ready to scrounge around for change. Eventually, the dialogue shifted from inquiring about our purchasing to conversations about their English ability (which was pretty good). They replied that they learned from approaching so many foreigners.
The girls were sweet as they led our tour and helped us find our students (so, we can also convince them to purchase bracelets). During the tour the middle girl politely asked if we wanted to come over to meet their mother and grandmother.
This is what I enjoyed most about my stay in SE Asia, the cordial approach to meeting people and the feeling from meeting families. Mary and I followed the patterns of small feet leading to a small house along a dirt road about 75 yards away from the train track.
The grandmother was sitting in the back of the house on a small chair, but she quickly rose to her feet upon seeing us and shook our hands and smiled. She greeted us with Khmer phrases that we were familiar with. The mother came from inside the house and greeted us as well. The grandmother decided to stand and offered Mary and I seats. The little girls conversed with us more and also translated things to their elders. We all smiled and enjoyed homemade tea while the little ones pulled out puppies.
One thing I noticed as we sat in the back area of the house was the grandmother's work. She must have had a few dozen bracelets in her lap that she was making from vibrant colors in a variety of patterns. Seeing how her effort was then translated into the little girls tireless energy to sell struck a cord.
We eventually concluded our visit and as we walked down the street (the girls accompanying us), we were asked one more time about buying a bracelet. At that time I paused and said, "come with me." We walked back to grandma and I took a twenty dollar bill out my pocket and requested that they all share. She smiled, gestured and confirmed.
The next thing I said to the girls was "Now you have to take a break from selling and just have fun with us."
They shook their heads and smiled. We walked more and played, laughed and explored. Eventually we met up with our students and a new bamboo train had arrived.
The girls smiled, and then pulled out their paper towel rolls and vanished, they had more money to make for their family.