Renae and Henry in Svay Klang

Henry and Renae on their front doorstep.

Renae and Henry are living in Svay Klang in Kampong Cham Province, about a 5 1/2 hour van ride away from Phnom Penh. Their home is situated right on the Mekong River, though the riverbed directly in front of their home is dry at this time of the year (the hot and dry season), and community members grow crops on the land while they have a chance.

Svay Klang is a largely Muslim community in a Cambodian Province that is 50 percent Muslim, descendants of the Cham people who once occupied much of what is now Vietnam. Our local assistant, Sen Marya, also is a Cham Muslim (or Khmer Muslim, as is sometimes said now) and knows Henry and Renae’s parents, so she helped arrange for this service assignment.

Renae and Henry both are living with Sa Hapsa (Ma) and No Min (Pa), the village chief in Svay Klang. Two of their brothers have left home and settled elsewhere, but brother Min Satroni usually is home for the nights and brother Min Visal stops by occasionally.

In Svay Klang, as in most provincial settings, houses are left open throughout the day and neighbors and neighborhood children wander in and out fairly freely. Poo (Uncle) Dam Saa is a regular visitor, and was at the house off and on throughout the time Keith was there. When Renae and Henry showed Keith around their small village, young neighbor Ameeyut and his sister Meselmaya accompanied us on our walk through the village, stayed with us at the coffee shop, and remained attached to us as we went to the school.

From among the SSTers Ann and Keith have visited thus far, Renae and Henry seem to have the busiest schedule. They teach English about four hours each day, at least six days a week. Henry teaches a rather raucous fifth-grade class from 10 to 11 a.m. and 4 to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and Renae teaches a sixth-grade class during those same hours six days a week. Keith enjoyed watching Renae and Henry work at corralling the public school students, and was impressed with what natural teachers they were.

The Svay Klangers also teach high school students Monday through Friday at another privately funded local school, though their schedule at that school is a bit more irregular. In general, they teach an intermediate class from 1 to 2 most days, a pre-intermediate class from 5 to 6, and sometimes an intermediate class from 6 to 7 p.m. On some days, Renae has begun wearing a head covering for teaching the high schoolers out of respect for her many Muslim students.

Svay Klang is largely a tobacco-growing community, so Henry and Renae sometimes get in on stripping stems out of tobacco leaves and assisting with other tobacco-related tasks. They enjoy an iced coffee almost every afternoon at the local coffee shop 100 metres from their home. Their mother, Sa Hapsa, is an excellent cook, so Keith got to enjoy an extraordinarily good spiced tofu dish and a kimchi-like chicken dish when he spent the night at Renae and Henry’s home.

Keith was up at 4:30 a.m. to take a dump shower before returning to Phnom Penh. The village’s call to prayer sounded at 5 a.m., the first of the five calls to prayer broadcast throughout the day. On the trip back to Phnom Penh, Keith’s 12-passenger van (with 22 people in it, which is pretty typical for Cambodian traveling) crossed the Mekong on a ferry.  

Keith was home about 20 hours before the whole Graber Miller clan headed up to Siem Reap to visit Audrey and Joel in Kampong Phluck, and Sara K and Jake, who live in small villages outside of Siem Reap. Those visits will happen over the next couple of days, so watch for a blog by the end of the week. Jake celebrated his birthday at the end of last week, and Corey’s birthday is coming up Tuesday.