The Fabric of Life, Woven in Baskets and Birthdays

Photo: Youn (left) and Nheab (right) share a laugh by Joe Raffanti.
Photo by Joe Raffanti: Youn (left) and Nheab (right) share a laugh.

Cows, chickens, dogs, kids both human and four-legged play and hang out in the fields of Kansaeng, a corner of Siem Reap, Cambodia that leans on agriculture—and women—for its livelihood.

On the porch of her home, Youn sits on a mat with her legs tucked under her, surrounded by baskets of varying shapes and sizes. The 65-year-old widow weaves them from the palm leaves she and her daughter gather in the early morning from a nearby forest. When she has enough to sell, she’ll stack them onto her bike to take to a nearby market. “I can ride only the bike,” says Youn. “We take them to the market where there are customers in front of the pagoda.” 

For the 10 years prior, she’d struggled with deteriorating eyesight, relying on her daughter to help plant rice and do everyday chores on the farm. After receiving cataract surgery, she said, “It’s much easier because I can see with both eyes more clearly.”

Down the road, little girls vogue it up in Van Nheab’s yard. “Miss Cambodia!” they cry, smiling and doing their best beauty queen wave before dissolving into giggles. They are Nheab’s grandchildren, and they’re just part of a large family that she looks after. “There are five grandchildren with me, and with another house two more. I can’t even count how many are there, and in another province there are almost 20 grandchildren.” 

Nheab’s cataract surgery brought light back to her “dark eyes,” and made looking after her grandkids much easier. “For me, when I am able to see clearly, it’s good to see and to watch them way better. Now I can see and I’m able to catch them easier!”

Youn and Nheab’s work as creators and matriarchs are an integral part of the fabric of Kansaeng. Earlier In the day they were making various types of rice for the monks. In two weeks there will be a big festival. “The people will come and help, like with a wedding, birthday or something,” said Youn. “We are always together.”

Nheab offered a blessing, straight from the heart of Kansaeng to the Seva community:

 “Have a long life to everyone that helped my eyes to get sight back. Joyful to you guys.”

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