Five tourists (one South African, one Russian, one Spanish, one French, and me, surely the only Bosnian in Cambodia) on our bikes, alongside the Mekong river, for two days. We ride through “isolated” villages or at least villages where tourists don’t come often. The Cambodian people are very warm and welcoming. All the villagers say hello to us, with big smiles. The children run behind us… Our jaw is actually hurting from all the smiling, but our joy is immense. We gladly play along and answer back “HELLO”.
To ride a bike on muddy roads paved with a thousand potholes is quite tiring, hunger strikes fast. Here’s the deal though, Cambodia is a poor country and as soon as you sidestep the tourist routes, it becomes hard to find a ‘restaurant’. After an hour or two, we come across a place that could very well be one. We ask if we can eat and we can indeed. We think about placing our order when we are served the same as everyone else. We are just happy to be eating at last!!! During the meal, we observe our neighbors and we are intrigued as they all seem more or less inebriated… There are no women, no children, just men.
Once we’re done, we ask for the check. Out of the blue comes this man that we hadn’t seen before. He sits at our table and says to us in a sad voice: “Please go, my wife is dead today. No don’t pay, just please go.” We are shocked! Did we understand this correctly? Did he use the adequate English words? What should we do in this situation, in a country that you barely know?… Covered in shame, we can’t think of anything other than “Sorry” and we leave immediately. I think some of us leave a little bit of money, me, I feel so out of place. I feel so bad that I can’t think of anything else, but get on my bike and go. I look back and see, up high, a white sheet cut up in the shape of a human, like a flag… Does this mean the house was in mourning?
Place Kratie, Cambodia
Arnela is a young Bosnian, who became French during the war in ex-Yougoslavia. She visited South-East Asia with her French husband in 2012. Courageous and natural, Arnela brings up the question of mortuary rites in different cultures.
What do you think?
Davin Vann, 27 year old Cambodian gal who works in a French company in Phnom Penh (Cambodia) finds this photo on the Internet to explain:
This white sheet is called tongprolay, ទង់ព្រលឹង (flag of soul). It’s a flag that actually represents the funeral, it means someone is dead in the family. And they will keep this flag outside the house for seven days because the funeral will be the seventh day.
After the seventh day, they will take this white sheet down and bring it to the pagoda so the monks can pray for the soul.
In the Cambodian tradition, after 100 days and then again after 3 years, there’s another family reunion, moments when they commemorate the person who passed away.