Village Life

In addition to this section on ‘Village Life’ see the sections on right on ‘Village Children’ and on ‘Schools’ and obviously there are overlaps so please make sure you check all the sections to get a better picture.

This is the main street of our main village, Chuor Ph’av. 1000 people live in Chuor Ph’av. Our translator and chief helper, helps with daily delousing.

and 5 years later in December 2011, headlice…same people same place.



headlice just wont go away.


This photo is not a setup. These six people are off to a relatives house on one of the two 100cc motor bikes in the village.

80% of Cambodian people live in rural villages. It is considered that almost all of those 12,000,000 have intestinal worms from unclean food and water and almost everyone has head lice, poor access to medicine (if at all as was certainly the case in our villages) poor or non-existent schooling and no official social welfare system. There is no pension scheme, no unemployment or sick benefit…..BUT it’s not quite as bad as all that seems:

The Buddhist monasteries are everywhere and are the local centers for weddings, funerals, parties, traveling theater and fun and ceremony for the villages. The monasteries also pick up the pieces in cases of extreme mental disorder, and anyone anywhere can stop at a nearby temple/monastery and sleep and eat near the monks and if they have no money, it’s free.

Very often the clever children of poor families (most of the population) who have to leave the villages for a week or more at a time to study at say a High School can eat and sleep in a monastery. In most cases this is still boys only but things are changing slowly.

There’s a saying in England that goes, ‘The village raises the child.’ In developed countries this has come to mean the school, TV and the internet raises the child! However in our villages it really truly is the village that raises every child, indeed everyone DOES look after EVERYONE. Children roam freely from house to house and even complete strangers from a far off village may stop by and be fed or sleep for the night. (everyone sleeps on the split bamboo floor so there is room for as many turn up.)

Nat and her daughter Kamau having pulled rice seedlings and bundled them, take them for planting. The rice fields are directly behind the house of the one street villages.

The street (track) of houses is just behind the row of trees. You can see clearly the water buffalo and bullock pulled ploughs. Everyone owns one or two rice fields and villagers move from neighbour to neighbour until ALL the village work is done. Its back breaking work in 35 degrees, 12 hours a day for US$1 a day.

The photos of rice planting (‘stoom’ in Khmer) were taken in July 2009. The following group of photos were taken at harvest 2011 – August:

This photo of Chanthai is also added to Chanthai’s sequence in the ‘village children’ section. August 2011.

Chanthou (no 1 helper and mother of the twins Sok lep and Sok leah) August 2011.

Below we find Sok lep on Chathai’s cow with Chanthai looking on August 2011.

With the flooded fields there are opportunities to fish for tiny fish, snakes, frogs and insects.

Rice planting (stoom) is a transplanting operation fro a field of densely packed seedlings. Bunna brings more seedlings on a yolk.

Annie below showing us how its done

I’ve added five more photos of rice harvest Chuor Ph’av village August 2011.

Nat prepares rice for a meal. This is where I (John) live with an extended family.

This is the wealthiest family in the village because I live here and pay Chanthou to be our chief helper and translator. Chanthou learnt her spoken English in street wise Phnom Penh from very unsavoury tourists. She can’t read or write her own language but is slowly learning now. These are her twin daughters. Her husband is dead. There is no welfare system whatsoever except village and extended family support – who are all just as poor.

The twins are three years older now in September 2011, and have been attending our first school from day one. They can read, write, do basic maths and understand simple science, world geography and most importantly they are safe. When they leave school they will have choices that fer mother and aunts never had.

Chanthou is washing at the pump (above). This pump is ground water that is also gives the drinking water. To go to the toilet she will step one metre back and contaminate the ground water. This is a lesson that is hard to teach even in the home where I live….We need a complete overhaul of the water system and sanitation in general. This will happen when we have money.

So now it is December 2011. The children are all at school and Chanthou has been our number one Cambodian helper for four years.

Directly opposite me is Chanthay’s house, the four year old. (there is a whole part of ‘Village Children’ devoted to Chanthay’s development). Her house is what you see, one room around six metres by six metres made of palm leaves woven though thin wooden strips and in this case she has managed to line her house with plastic bags.

This is a very full photo, taken in November 2011. Under Chanthay’s house. She is sitting on the bed. Her family kitchen is at the back – outside -  it’s a wood fire. Two aunts are pounding food with a huge mortar and pestle.

Grandad sadly died in January 2011. He was 85 years old. Out of a village of 1000 people I know 5 people over 80 years of age. 50% of the population is under 15 years old. Any serious illness requiring say hospital usually results in death because it is so far away and initial diagnosis is rarely made. We are building a nurse run clinic for this very reason – plus for health education. This cart is not some historic relic; it is used every day either pulled by water buffalo or bullock. He built this cart 60 years ago and it is constantly maintained. His grandsons will now maintain it.

This is Nang (grand daughter of the man with the cart) Nang and her daughter Peery both should have died several times before Grandad. Nang features in the Khmer Rouge section and will soon have her own section. She represents the appalling health legacy left by just four years of Khmer Rouge 32 years ago.

We have many photos of Nangs history as we struggle with the utterly woeful healthcare available. The bottle of medicine you see in this photo next to Nang costs just $2.50 per day and she must take them for two years to treat her Myasthenia Gravis. To cut a long story short, the family, faced with that enormous bill actually arranged her funeral two years ago. We are determined to fight for her life for at least two reasons – every day, her baby gets bigger and Nang is a wonderful mother and secondly, what we are doing in working closely with Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh is building a knowledge and belief in our community that death is not necessarily the inevitable outcome of sickness. In our villages, 50% of the population is under 15 years of age, and that is as a result of the death rate.

There are cars and trucks but most Cambodians who own a vehicle own a 100cc motorbike. In rural areas and from rural areas to city markets, bullock carts are common.

There’s not so much a ‘season’ for parties, fairs and weddings – there are times when it’s just not practical and they are at planting and harvesting times and the surrounding weeks, so January right through to around August is generally OK…except that ideal times are around festival times such as New Year in mid April because all the family members away working in Phnom Penh or Thailand are returning to the villages for those special days (New Year is three and often four days); At New Year, which is the same days as in Thailand, Phnom Penh virtually closes down as a million people head home to their villages, hopefully with some of the meagre money they’ve been earning in garment factories and hotels (see the section named ‘harmed’.)

Weddings are three day affairs and massive communal effort goes into it. At a later date I’ll add a section on weddings. I’ve been to a lot and believe me they are a BIG BIG celebrations at minimal cost for what you get.

The Show:

If a village wants a fair, all the travelling marketers get to know and arrangements are made. Fairs happen usually in Wat grounds (monastery cum temple) or in a group of dry rice fields.

In this article I’ll include photos of a traveling play or show. If we in the west could remember back five or maybe eight hundred years then this is exactly what it would have been like I’m sure – the only exception being I think, the diesel generator.

On a huge cart pulled by cattle the troupe of players travels from town to town; the site in this case is an area of dry rice paddocks within Chuor Ph’av village. The cart is opened out to form a raised stage and dressing room at the back. They bring lights, amplifiers and costumes. The plays are historic, satirical, a little bawdy…and four hours long! There’s lots of local reference added in and in our case the audience of 5000 were enthralled.

On an opened out bullock cart and a diesel generator the traveling players enthrall 5000 of our villagers with a four hour historical comedy with lots of current satire added.

A raised stage by virtue of a big wheeled bullock cart. They let me backstage. Khmer people wear these sort of clothes today as best clothes for weddings and parties.

Yes, it’s a huge event. We estimate 5000 in the audience and another 2000 at stalls, dancing and drinking rice wine. The photo bottom left is a very popular simple darts game….burst a balloon and win a prize. The show is happening behind them.

This is a special little photograph. The party, above, is still in full swing – 5000 are still at the show – The older ladies have had enough and been given a special piece of ground behind the stage area, curtained off – to sleep – open to the world and weather but it’s a dry night. The party goes on past dawn.

I am standing at the edge of Chuor Ph’av village track for this photo. In the distance on the left is our first school. This is our farm transport.

see below for Chanthoes first photo notes. On the right, her baby, Chankim, is now two years old. They are standing on the track through the village. (August 2011)

This is inside a larger home with a raised split bamboo floor. Again its one room where everything happens together (cooking smoke from the fire drifts through the roof).

This (above) is a very rare photograph because it shows a tradition never seen by outsiders: Chanthoe has a brand new baby and it’s her first baby. For three days she will lie ion this bed surrounded by female extended family who will teach her what to do with her new baby (Maijin, who incidentally is now thriving).

Importantly – directly underneath her bed is a bed sized metal tray filled with a very hot burning charcoal fire. There is bowl of spiced water on this side of the bed to splash onto the fire to fill her air with good smells. She drinks from half a coconut shell. It is all an ancient tried and trusted attempt at infection control post delivery.

A few photos now from areas near but not in our villages:

These are deep fried tarantulas. Khmer people eat almost any animal whether its birds, cockroaches (a real favourite – SERIOUSLY) spiders, frogs, excess dogs etc etc.

and more for sale at a bus stop outside Kampong Cham an hour north of our villages.

This was John’s very first trip to Cambodia and hadn’t yet discovered the villages. “I’m sorry to say, it tasted revolting, and I didn’t even get further than the fat it was cooked in!’

A family selling fried frogs on the banks of the beautiful Mekong River in the town of Kratie – similar pronunciation to crochet. Two hours north of our villages.

My motor bike is just to the right. I paid the lady for this photo. It’s a 12 km track to a zoo of sorts north of Phnom Penh to which tourists are often taken. (Believe me it’s a desperate place of dancing elephants and closely caged animals.)

Every ten metres for the entire length of the road men women and children station themselves with a bucket and a bowl. The bucket is topped up from a ditch behind her. As we approach for the whole length of the road, a bowl of water is splashed onto the dust we are about to cross. Sadly the splash only covers about half a square metre but the idea is DUST SUPPRESSION. There is some forlorn hope that the passengers or drivers will literally throw money as a “thank you’ for their good work.

In all my time in Cambodia, seeing people carrying bathroom scales to weigh for ten cents; seeing people with incredible illnesses and deformities begging….this ‘dust suppression’ has to win the prize for desperate ingenuity.

In the section named “The Khmer Rouge” you will read something of the recent history and geography of Cambodia. Every year there are a few months of dry season followed by the wet season. Rural life in Cambodia (and South Vietnam) depends on the state of the River. (Our villages are a long way from the Mekong itself but rain and ground water change dramatically with the seasons.)

This photo is of a house which is actually raised high on stilts. It’s in Cambodia very close to the border with Vietnam at the start of the DELTA region. It’s flooded so the family fish. When the water goes down the family plant rice and when it’s almost dry, they plant vegetables….Flood? What flood?!

(photographed August 2011) The village, Chuor Ph’av is is the District of Kamchay Mear in the Province of Prey Veng. The Provincial capital is Prey Veng town.

the main street of Prey veng town leads to a big market (psar) on the left and then the Mekong which at this time of the year is in flood and becomes a massiove lake.

part of psar Prey Veng (Prey veng market)

the ‘barbers row” in the psar.

the view from just beyond the barbers row.. The Mekong in flood becomes a massive lake.

This was taken ater in the day from close by the photo above…… (there is a photo of Prey Veng jail in the BLOG section.)

This is Chanthon and his children. Chanthon is a wonderful District policeman. He earns $20 a month. He works all day every day. This is his house provided by the government.

and closer and then inside their home

this is the sleeping bench.






This photo can also be seen in ‘village children’. It is now December 2011. Kamau is 16 years old and has been at our village school for three years. She can read and write and I think is safe from many of the traps for young cambodian women. She wants to run a little shop in the village and help at home. I have given her $25 as a start up for her little shop in the grounds of the house where I stay. The tin which she clutches contains her money.




Rice harvesting is called chrow… cutting rice. There are two photos of chrow. Chrow employs the whole village as done planting time – stoom. The third photo is of a harvesting MACHINE. It is deceptively small but could harvest the entire village crop. Sadly the only person to montarily benefit from this machine would be the machine owner. The villages are very aware of what this could mean. Theres a lot of talk now about more people leaving the village to work and send money home but there is also talk of the village searching for an additional industry at home.










On January 25 2012 a group of Australian Rotarians visited to see the schools so far and progress with our clinic. We maintain our ‘way’ of doing things with the clinic and if you look for the BLOG dated February 3 2012 you can see the progress. There are 53 new photos covering the schools, progress with the Clinic and several photos of children you know and villagers you know… but rather than separate them into sections we have kept that particular visit as one collection of photos. John (February 12 2012).