Last week it rained three times in Siem Reap, which is unusual considering Cambodia is in the peak of its dry season. The monsoonal rainstorms typically begin in May kicking off the wet season. Coincidentally, these weather patterns have mirrored the structure of our program.
Last week we also completed finals (“the rains”), and now have our second weekend off before heading into Directed Research (“the storm”). Directed Research is an intense two and a half week research period culminating in a final research paper and presentation.
My research focuses on fire occurrence in Banteay Srei District of Siem Reap Province. I will be examining the local uses for fire, causes of local landscape fires, and whether or not the fires are set intentionally. Some of the research that we are conducting at Banteay Srei is the first formal research on the area. Venturing into the unknown means that there are few examples of precedent to draw upon. This makes research in Cambodia simultaneously fascinating and challenging. I am eager to see the final products of my research, but for now I am relieved to have a free weekend to recuperate.
This weekend also happens to be Khmer New Year. In Cambodia New Years celebrations last for three days! This year people across the country had to get up at 3 AM on Friday April 12th to ring in the New Year.
We had the exciting opportunity to learn about New Years traditions from both the Khmer staff members and Paññasastra University of Cambodia students. We played New Years games, witnessed Khmer traditions, and learned about the spiritual significance of the holiday. One of my favorite traditions to watch was the washing of the Elders. This is where the oldest members of a family sit in chairs and get soaped up and bathed by their descendants. This tradition is meant to show gratitude toward the family elders who bathed their children and grandchildren when they were small.
We also received several forms of New Years blessings. Originally water was poured on the shoulder as a New Years blessing, but over the years this practice has evolved into a nation wide water fight. On these three days children, teens, and adults run through the streets with hoses and super soakers showering water upon anyone in the vicinity. Needless to say I spent part or all of the last three days completely drenched and it was fantastic!
As we head out to the field for research and into the last few weeks of the program I will be soaking up every moment and maybe a little water too. Let the storm begin!