A modest ceremony 1
November 21, 2019
Vann and I had already selected a plaque together, during our trip in June of 2019. He had insisted that the names should be displayed in both Khmer and English. It had taken some time to agree on the exact spelling.
On November 20, we drive to the village and pay a visit to the grave. It’s completely overgrown with weeds. Vann starts pulling at them, but soon gives up again. We look to see how we can attach the marble plaque. He knows a way.
Back at the farm, he unpacks the plaque and shows it to his mother Khun Ann. The 90-year-old woman hunches up ever so slightly at the sight of all the names, as Vann points and reads them aloud, one after the other. She doesn’t read along.
My husband and I spend the night in a nearby guest house. Vann sees to it that the grave is cleaned and that the plaque can be hung up.
The next day, we drive back to the farm after a simple breakfast of noodle soup. The sisters and some other family members are ready and waiting. They have laid out some things, including a mat, incense, bottles of water, and some fruit. Vann goes to fetch the monks and the supervisor from the temple, as the rest of us make our way towards the grave.
A modest ceremony 2
November 21, 2019
It’s touching, seeing the sisters together with Oun’s young children and Loon’s daughter who is hauling the plaque along, lovingly caressing the names on it. Among the banana trees, the aunt examines all of the names.
The young monks arrive with the supervisor. Vann lifts up the plaque onto his shoulders and makes his way through the crops, over the cashew plantation, towards the grave. The grave looks neat and tidy.
The sisters get everything ready for the ceremony, in the shade if they can, since it is as hot and humid as ever.
A short ceremony commences. Incomprehensible to us, but so intense. The youngest children join in, turning it into a bit of a game. Ry keeps catching my eye, sat back underneath a tree, waving her hat for some cool air. In her own way, she is very present.
The same goes for Loon’s daughter. She is mourning for her mother, who lost her life over 30 years ago.
As a photographer, I manage to stay unseen: able to walk around, taking pictures from up close.
The time comes to secure the plaque. A cousin from the village arrives with a bucket of cement, which he spreads onto the plaque. Under the instruction of Vann and Ry, it is placed next to the steps.
They ask for a picture of the two of them at the graveside, which I take.
Then, in procession, we return homeward. It feels lighter than it had earlier that morning. We share a drink at the farm, and the sisters chat to the mother.
We say our farewells, hoping to see them again soon once the book has arrived!