Where the Red Road Leads by Fiona Mahurin

Sap. Sage. Veridian. Cadmium. Emerald. Olive. How many varying shades of green can I identify beyond the edge of the red dirt road, as my head thumps against the window every time our van, the fishbowl, maneuvers in, up, and around potholes the size of water buffalo nests (as if such a thing existed)? Nothing grounds me with such soothing gratitude as lush greens  surrounded by terra cotta earth; each sheltered beneath cobalt skies. My solo road trip game is instigated by the thought of a dinner conversation last night where we had discussed how, in some languages, the color blue does not exist. Instead, infinite greens are learned through countless associated titles. So begins, as we venture into the jungle, a self-training to find lost senses that I feel jealously deprived of by my supposedly elite language.

As my obsession transforms into counting leaf shapes, I force myself to gaze beyond the greenery. Midday Cambodian clouds finally crawl from the seams of the horizon to grace the bent fingertips of a dead tree reaching its seemingly mangled, arthritic knuckles. A sudden thud returns my attention to the road. Hitched to the back of a motorbike, a flat rickety wagon, resembling an industrial trolley, serves as a resting spot for two elderly men that bend outstretched arms over their faces and adjust their legs, as their backs vibrate against the weathered wood. What appears as a herd of elephants, up ahead, are nine muddy water buffalo led by smiling, waving children. As we pass by several villages, the statistic stating that more than fifty percent of Cambodia’s population is under the age of eighteen, becomes increasingly evident, and perhaps an underestimation if considering the countryside alone (UNICEF, 2011). Two women bow to two young monks, perhaps ten years old, beneath the shade of their roadside stand housing various pickled things and stacks of mortar and pestles for sale.

I am reminded of home, as I spy wood stacks within a vast field dotted with floppy-eared, majestically basking cows – a point of common ground that Ven. Y Nol and I found, as  as we spoke of his childhood while looking out at the rice fields from the railing of a girls dorm yesterday. After a heated conversation around NGO corruption, a discussion of a shared affinity offered a sort of solace. Now, together in the van, he pointed to the landmine museum. Shortly after, I spot the school where we met a curious little boy who had named himself candle, after having lived beneath the kindergarten for one year, as adults patiently handed him food, until one day he crawled out able to recite the entire alphabet.

Having flooded my senses with scenes behind the dusty window that conjured a series of reflections from the past days, as well as being blessed with an especially  skilled off-road driver, reaching the Angkor Thom Junior High does not feel like the anticipated two hour journey. We are warmly welcomed by the school’s principal who shares this year’s accomplishments, such as the construction of boarding house, a water filtration system, and an organic garden project providing the kitchen’s vegetables. Inside an uncompleted classroom, Ven. Y Nol tells us, “in 1990 if they study in the fresh air under the tree it look okay. But in 2012 if they study under the tree it look not good.” Walking past the school’s impressive beds of lettuce, beans, and prided morning glories – all fenced behind naturally bug repellant lavender – I’m introduced to grasshopper green, slightly more tender than rice patty green, as a new friend catches and pockets his beloved garden critter. After our stint roaming around the school grounds: back to the wavering fishbowl.


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July 2012
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