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Bon Om Tuk

In Cambodia the Water Festival, or Bon Om Tuk, celebrates the end of the rainy season and the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River with three days of festivities. The prime minister canceled the races in Phnom Penh this year due to low water levels and drought in the south. But this last week the Siem Reap River was filled to the brim with boats and floats and scores of partiers, many of them Peace Corps Volunteers from other provinces.

Siem Reap was transformed overnight into a teaming metropolis with a river that two weeks ago you could have walked across, now going with the increased flow. The outlining rural villages saw their water source sent to the city. Our local roadside stream dwindled to a trickle. I expect after the festivities the water will come back to the village. Meanwhile, everyone and their srey was in Siem Reap for Bon Om Tuk either strolling, eating, or selling something. I went with my host family on the first day. We picnicked on the lawn at the Royal Gardens where bats and fireworks filled the sky just after sunset. Vendors sold little woven grass floaty boats outfitted with flowers and a candle for those wishing to send their troubles downstream. Lei howie!

The reversal of the Tonle Sap River occurs as its water level falls deeper than the Tonle Sap Lake that it flows into. Which means the river runs southeast into the Mekong River half of the year, reversing northwest into the lake the rest of the year. This results in an abundance of fish that get re-routed and picked up along the way. This surplus fish is caught, dried, and some of it made into prahoc, a fermented fish paste that most Cambodians savor and use to add a kick to just about anything.

Personally, the end of rainy season is not cause for celebration for me, since dry season means hot season is just around the corner. It’s difficult to imagine turning up the heat even more. Such is the nature of living in the tropics. The rice has been harvested. Water buffalo and Brahmin cows are gleaning the fields. The cycle begins again.

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