Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bleary-Eyed After Khmer Wedding

Sleep is getting harder even as I’m craving it more. Our room this weekend overlooked the pink and yellow garlands of a Khmer wedding tent, and undoubtedly those guests, too, were bleary-eyed. The traditional wedding is a 2- or 3-day affair, the duration a measure of the bride’s family’s means. Often the tents are assembled across sidewalks and roadways, even one lane of a speedy thoroughfare. I guess you can’t leave a tent like that unguarded. Neighbors and relatives dancing, or breakfasting, or holding tired chins in hands, are drinking and eating at all hours. A marathon of family togetherness. And all day and all night from huge speakers the plaintive, nasal warbling of Khmer festival songs. It was impossible, mind-cracking noise, and we lay above our covers with pillows on our faces, enduring.
On the long cross-country bus rides I am also craving sleep. But the driver is forever honking and swerving, and the kids are fidgeting little chicks. Feed me! Feed me! I spend seven or nine hours doling out snacks, recovering dropped toys, and settling minor disputes. When Yoshi fell asleep on my lap, we suddenly stopped at a roadside snack stand, and all the lights came on. I am in perpetual alert.
On Sunday night we collapsed into our own beds in Phnom Penh, and I really longed for sleep. Tik wanted her hot leg on top of me, and Puck put his damp hand across my face. Again vigilance and awake. Then in the early hours of dawn a nasal wailing—this time not of wedding music but of a cheated woman—in the apartment over our heads. Her voice became a rhythm of accusation punctuated by shattering ceramic. How many dishes do they own anyway??
I think about the poor cleaning lady as I pour another cup of coffee in the morning.

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