The sun rays burst through the tin roofing, revealing the ubiquitous red dust. Untreated rectangles served as walls, upwards planks battered by time.The rigidity of the bed broke my comfortable haze, proceeded by dried mud floors hitting my soles. Every morning I wake up and must recollect where I am. Here it hits quicker–it’s much harder to forget.
The Cardamom Mountains hid Pol Pot’s cronies until the late 90s. Everything feels distant; vegetated peaks, neighboring villages, civilization. The world conceals for you.
The sky flattens along the expanse of the horizon. Clouds press downwards, mountain ridges punctuate the sides. The lake provides much needed coolness.
Mr. Nim always rises before the roosters screech loudly, already working while the light uncloaks the shadows. His motions energetic, arms move animatedly, a small bandage secured to his calf.
‘Good morning’ he says, gently patting any visitor on the shoulder. Two eyes reveal his tired state, only from afar youthful energy seems apparent.
It’s understandable. He’s building a new future for the village, one day at time. From Osoam Cardamom Community Center, he’s working against flames.
The fires clear the jungle, providing villagers with fast farmland and timber profits.
It’s not sustainable, however every material carries worth.
The grass cracked sharply with every step forward, any tenderness scorched away. Black ash clung to my shoes, darkening them heavily. A dusty cloud permeated the air, a suffocating mixture of dirt, smoke, and heavy humidity. Every breath required more effort than a step. Sometimes I’d take a sip of water, careful not to empty my supply too quickly. For brief moments the drops would cool the back of my throat, aiding against the dryness. In my mind jungles were lush, wet environments.
Droplet of sweat snaked down my face, tickling my nose, falling through hairs on my chin. The local’s course of walking also followed a winding trajectory in the clearing. Upon entering the bush, every molecule of water is pulled away by plants, by air, into the skies above. An unattractive stream flows below, muddy, dirty remnants of what the earth didn’t need. Vines cling tensely to the trees, dangling lifelessly. Life holds a firm grip around these parts.
He promised crocodiles, sloths, water bears, but only encountered leeches stuck to his legs. The guide seemed disoriented, we were rolling marbles in a basin. Occasionally, he plucks a leaf, unearths a root, offers a sample. It’s barely edible, bitterness seizing the tongue. Proceeding forward is difficult. So is living.
Villagers survive off of 1$ a day.
Regardless, a heart of positivity beats in the village. Children roam with smiles on their face, eager to wave hello. Families gather, enjoying company over meals. A lack of material wealth hardly stands for a lacking of communal richness. Quite the opposite, Osoam teems with life.
The villagers connect to outsiders with remarkable openness. Eager to share words, gestures, emotions. Osoam instills remarkable faith in the universality of the human spirit. Altruism, community, impress gratitude witnessing this part of the globe.
Osoam is located in western Cambodia, not distant from the Thai border. A painfully slow, bumpy road leads north to Krong Pursat. I made the journey on a shared 4X4, 10 people squished into a 5 seat car (with the driver sitting on someone’s lap).
Conversely the road south to Koh Kong glides through 100 km of new asphalt, albeit only one lane wide. I was curious to know why a construction of such quality had taken place.
Mr.Nim told me of the Chinese investors constructing dams in the jungle. They burn for short term contracts, providing free electricity for 5 years, investments for the horizon. Constricting rivers, destroying habitats, all for personal profit downstream.
Flames of various sizes surround Osoam.