True grace under pressure
FOLLOW THE READER
ADELAIDE, SA IT is noon in high summer in Cambodia and stinking hot. We are travelling by tuk-tuk on a dusty red dirt road during the dry season. There are no crops to tend, just a few sparse trees in barren fields waiting for the rainy season to bring them back to life and, with it, food for local families.
The only colour comes from the ubiquitous blue plastic bags, entangled in the struggling vegetation.
We have been out since dawn, with our driver, including a trip to the famous floating villages. We’d had an informative and enjoyable morning, albeit with two young tour operators who made every effort to extract the guilt dollar. Now we are on our way back to Siem Reap, looking forward to a tasty lunch and a rest, followed by a search of the markets for souvenirs.
Covered up from the harsh sun in trousers and shirts, sunglasses and hats, we also wear a splash of colour, our kramas, the national accessory of Cambodia, made from rough cotton and generally in red and white checks. They are used for protection from the elements, and for carrying babies, wood and food. Ours have a special meaning — presents from a house-building charity that has taught us life in Cambodia is very hard.
The road is bumpy, dusty and somehow fun. Then we get a flat tyre. Luckily, there is a tree ahead, about 10m from the roadside, where a man is eking out a living with a few tools, inner tubes and repair equipment.
While our repairs are under way, along comes a weatherbeaten man of indeterminable age with rags on the lower half of his body. He is riding a very old and rusty bike. He stops, alights with grace, leans his bike and a crutch against the tree and hops over to the proprietor. He borrows the old-fashioned hand pump, hops back to his bike, pumps up his flat tyre, hops back with the pump and then back to his bike, slings his crutch over his shoulder and rides off, pedalling with his one leg.
We stand silent, selfconscious of our place and advantage in the world. We are both so moved by his grace, which more than outshines his extreme poverty. Send your 400-word contribution to our Follow the Reader column. Published columnists will receive OSA Brands’ universal travel adaptor with USB ($39.95) and Tatonka Check In bag ($29.95), ideal for keeping documents safe, with zip compartments, belt loop and detachable shoulder strap. More: 1800 558 707; osabrands.com. Send your contribution to: firstname.lastname@example.org.