“Yes” I reply, delighted.
It is early morning and I am taking a walk to the monastery I can see from my hotel window. I have been curious since I saw it peep over the other buildings.
He starts to tell me about the monastery. Bright coloured paintings of the Buddha’s life. The images are bright like poster art. Lines of tables with tea pots and women washing dishes in the corner. It seems as much like a community centre as a temple. He takes me to the head monk’s quarters and obtain the key for a second temple. We creak open the door and I step inside as the first light of day shines on the altar. The rest of the temple is dark and so peaceful.
“Demain il aura une petite fete” he smiles. Will you come? A party tomorrow.
I come in the afternoon, but the party has finished. He is clearing up offerings with children, throwing flowers into a big bucket.
“Il y avait beaucoup de monde” he smiles. So many people. The children laugh and scream. They beg for photos and make peace signs. Their feet hit the ground with excitement.
Earlier in the week I visited the genocide museum, horror which is important to remember and witness. And an event which has not been fully dealt with. But I was determined that would not be the image that I retained of Cambodia. I walked the streets of Phmon Penn, looking for life. I stood at school gates. Sat in restaurants. Rode tuktuks. Watched jokes appear on street corners and laughter rise through the clouds. Another generation with their own problems, their own restrictions, own ideas and own hopes.
In the monastery there is quiet and peace, then the laughter of children, the sound of washing up. Everyday life persists here. It does not ignore the past, but it defies bad memories by continuing the good ones. Children laugh, men clean up offerings, candles sparkle and they speak for a present which has peace, love and hope and a future without injustice.