Over 30 years ago my husband was born in a 3 sided hut on a mountainside in Cambodia. At the time a war raged. He was the 3rd child born to his parents. The 2nd child, a girl, died before she turned a year old. My father-in-law had to burry his infant daughter. He still says it was the hardest thing he ever did. When Proeun was born his father was in a prisoner of war camp. It would be 6 months before he saw his son. The night of the first meeting was also the night the village left their mountain in Cambodia. A family member bribed the prison guards to allow my father-in-law and 2 other men to come home for the evening. They came home and the village left. If anyone had stayed they would have been killed when the “escape” was discovered.
They would never return to the life they loved. They hunted and fished and gathered. They grew some crops. Wove mats to trade over the border in Thailand and had a few animals. I have heard stories of amazing hunting dogs that saved the village from starvation and wild cats to be feared. When they crossed the border they didn’t know that they would never return. Some could argue that this way of life ended when the war began but now they were physically leaving their home.
One hundred and 27 people left. Seven did not make it. It was a harrowing journey. The dogs couldn’t come because they would draw attention to the group and had to be killed so they wouldn’t follow. Family members saw relatives step on mines in front of them. Crying children where an especial danger. An older cousin caused a particular problem. It crossed her father’s mind that she may have to be left to protect the others. He didn’t, but just to even have to think that is enough to make me shudder.
Fast forward 30 some years. This week was a special week for my father-in- law. He passed his citizenship test and retired. Somehow the years have not separated these families. Though they came to this country at different times and were sent to different locations they have continually worked to be near each other again. On Saturday we held a celebration for my father. It wasn’t in a 3 sided hut on the side of a mountain in Cambodia. But it did have a freshly killed and roast pig with all the fixings. Family sat on the floor and ate from a communal bowl. The young people served the old, there were plenty of children running around and the stories flowed freely. There was much laughing and eating and everyone was filled in more ways then one. It was a wonderful evening. it made me sad. When this generation passes who will continue the traditions? I honestly don’t know if we are up to the challenge but that is a huge part of the journey we have chosen. The mountainside in Cambodia is now a casino. That home is gone, but can we recreate something like it? By growing our own food, being as self-sufficient as possible and drawing family to us perhaps so.
We are just coming off of the 2 hottest days of the year. Well back middle of May we had one day hotter, but no one knew it until after it was over. These last couple of days however were real punishers. Factoring in the dew point it was a heat index of over 105 degrees yesterday. Up until then we had toyed with the idea of not installing our window unit this year. I had been reading about how young children have maximum sweating capability. However if they live in an area with a colder climate they gradually loose this ability and later in life will most likely not be able to regain it. Also I know that constanly moving between extreme temperatures like going outside and coming back inside is really hard on your body. Then there were the questions about air quality when using an air conditioner (central or window). So we decided we would try and tough it out.
The first day of heat came. We kept the shades closed, fans on and used the slow cooker, rice cooker and toaster oven to cook our food. On the plus side clothes on the line dried really fast. We sweated away the day in front of the fan. I looked forward all day to Proeun coming home and taking a quick dip in the kiddy pool, or at least my feet. Finally he was home. Two was outside and threw his “spear,” a piece of wood, into the the pool and punctured it–of course right at the bottom so there was no way we could fill it up. This was a hole and not a crack so duct tape wouldn’t fix this one. I had to settle for a cold shower.
The second day came. We got up early to go to the farm. When we got there at 8:30 it was already 80 degrees and the field was full of farmers. We worked until 10:30 and then had to leave. All day long we sweated in the house. It reminded me of the days when I worked at historic Fort Snelling. You knew it was hot when your eyelids sweat and you could literally feel beads of sweat running down your legs. At least then when the day was over I got to come home to air conditioning. At that point I didn’t care about the air quality. When Proeun came home last night he put in the window unit. It still isn’t a great temperature in the house but at least is is no longer 88 degrees in the house.
This growing season it seems like we are always playing catch up. We hurry to get the field ready, hurry to get the plants in, hurry to get the seeds in, hurry to get the trellises up and now weeding. As we have been focused on getting all our plants and seeds in and set up the weeds have quietly been growing. When we go to the farm frequently you don’t notice them so much. But after our last camping trip we knew that was where our focus would be for the time being. On Monday after our return from the camping trip we intended to focus entirely on weeding. However we were late getting out there and it was already too hot to work–not for Proeun and I but we didn’t want the children out in the hot sun. Our day was cut short.
On Thursday we returned and realized that our focus had to be getting the weeds under control before we moved on to anything else. We would have to come out whatever time we had every day until the weeding was done. We have now completed our 4th day in the row of weeding and the task is accomplished. Well we still have the border areas on the end of our rows that are harboring interlopers and already we are noticing the lucky few we missed and the baby weeds growing up where their parents had been. Next on our agenda, trellising again. Then likely weeding again. It’s hard to believe but pretty soon it will be harvesting. We now realize no matter what don’t let the weeds get like that again. It was a completely exhausting 4 days and we still have chores around the house to do!
Yesterday I was talking to my mom. We came home around 3:00 and were completely beat. The idea of staying up until 8:00 pm seemed like such a long way away. Mom was talking of Father’s Day plans and wanted to know if we would like to come over for dinner. I knew we still had at least one more solid day weeding and would like be exhausted at the end. Then Monday it was back to work for Proeun. I had to decline for the first time a dinner invitation on the basis of exhaustion.
Later I was feeling sorry for myself. Thinking about all the people who get to do what they want on the weekend. They don’t have a farm to go to. They don’t have plants that need care, or animals that need tending. But then I was reading an article in Countryside magazine about self- sufficiency. About knowing how to take care of yourself and meet your basic needs. I thought back to my recent reading of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She said in the book biologically speaking parent’s completely fail if they raise children that can not take care of themselves. I don’t want o be a failure.
On the way home today I was driving by the local playground. I realized it has been forever since my children have been to a playground, or zoo or anything resembling entertainment. But today they hauled weeds with us. They saw tomato plants, bean plants, eggplant and peppers.They may not be able to point them out yet, but at least they know how food grows and the dangers of weeds. They played in the dirt. They saw a mother kildeere pretend to have a broken wing to lead us away from her nest which was in a neighboring field. They felt rain falling on us, cooling us and cleaning us (sort of) as we continued to work. At times it is still hard to make decisions so far from the mainstream. It makes you question choices (especially when you are exhausted). But then what is the ultimate goal we are working for? If we chose ease and pleasure then we are failing. It we chose a life of hard work, self-sufficiency and the health or natural living, maybe we are on our way.
We just got back from a great camping trip up north. Here is a small sampling of our photo album.
Mavis and Bpa (Cambodian for Daddy) as he rests.
Two and grandpa working with the tractor.
Naomi, Matthew, Two and Avril use their imagination.
Matthew and Bella, the cat we found while camping. It lives with grandma and grandpa now.
Two with a catfish his uncle caught.
When my sister told her soon to be in-laws that she intended to invite every family from the daycare she works at they were dubious to say the least. Here in America formal celebrations are often relegated to the world of adults, children to the world of babysitters, but this was not what Beth wanted. She wanted the people who know who best and who she enjoys spending time with there to celebrate with her. This meant lots of children. The guests numbered just under 100 with 20 children under the age of 5.
The ceremony was “short and sweet” as Beth put it. She and her husband wrote their own vows. The official part of the ceremony lasted just under 15 minutes. Then everyone was invited to get drinks and share memories of the happy couple. Even the children got to do this which meant they got to use a microphone while everyone listened to them.
The dinner came next. A buffet had been planned and since the group was relatively small the line moved fast. There was plenty of fruit and a punch fountain. No cranky, hungry children here.
After dinne the real fun began. Tables were moved revealing the dance floor. At other weddings we have been to it has been a struggle to keep the children off the floor so the adults can dance. Normally they don’t or least not enough to fill the floor. This time the children made room for the adults and danced the night away. At least until 7:00.
That night when we had our evening prayers I was praying for the usual, thanks for our family and a good day, Avril said, “thanks for the best party ever!”
Beth with one of her day care children.
Two and Avril dancing
It may be hard to believe that I have made it to my 28th birthday largely afraid of bugs. Up until recently if there was a spider in the bathroom it would drive me to distraction until I could get someone in there to kill it for me. My dad was the first person I would call (my mom if he wasn’t available). Later my husband fit the bill. But there were times when he wasn’t around, then what was I to do, ask my son? No I knew I had to face the music.
When we first started our farming classes last fall and I heard about “beneficial insects” I was sceptical. There are some bees by our field that really bothered me though I knew logically we actually needed them much more then they needed us. It wasn’t until this weekend though that I really had any sort of sizeable break through in my bug phobia.
Ticks have always been one of the worst offenders in my mind’s eye. Growing up in the city I didn’t come in contact with them much. I was so disturbed by them I would even avoid activities specifically because I might get one on me. On the occasion when I felt that creeping sensation and my hand actually touched a tick that was on me there was reason for screaming, again not logical or intended. Often it would end in a flicking of the tick anywhere away from me. I was then convinced it was dead and would not resurface.
However there is a dark side to avoidance. Our dog got lyme’s disease I am sure partly due to negligence, (and partly due to not understanding possible medication, with a dash of chance thrown in). Since then I have been more vigilant, but still in the avoiding category.
I have heard our farm has ticks on it, but it wasn’t until our first camping trip of the year this weekend I really had to face the music. I know the dangers of ticks first hand and now was the time to protect my children. If they had a tick on them, I needed to get it off and make sure it didn’t have an opportunity to get on them again (ie make sure it was dead, by fire, water or squashing). I did get a couple on me as well but the majority were on the kids that love playing in the woods and grass. Oddly Avril wasn’t as freaked out by them as I thought. If the country is really to be our home I know ticks and other such inconveniences are unavoidable and a natural part of life. I hope to be able to pass this mindset on to the children.
So now an element of fear is gone, though I still worry about disease, I know that I can at least do my part to protect the children.