The road was the kind of fine white sand
that will grab a motorcycle’s tires
throwing the rider to the ground like an animal
dragging down prey.
And the rice-fields on either side were brown and dry,
in the heat while we dozed in the shade,
or talked softly
as mangy chickens scratched for bugs in the piled straw.
Then the women came out of the house,
shining in the lowering light,
puffs of dust
rising from their heeled shoes
at each step.
We started the motorcycles –
a roar, a cough, a sputtering puttering –
and the women sat side-saddle behind
in bright gowns that glittered with sequins.
The sun turned orange and rested on the palm trees as we rode out,
minds stretched tight,
on the handlebars as we rode over the sand
that had turned pink in the evening.
And the five bikes crested the rises in the road
like boats on the ocean,
Out in the fields
white cows ate the dried-up stalks,
and hundreds of swallows twisted in the air above them,
snapping at insects in their wheeling and banking
in the cool, liquid, dying of the light.
We stopped for fuel on a dusty highway
halfway between Mui Ne
and Nha Trang.
Ahead of us would come mountains
they were almost blue
but all we saw were low-tumbled rocky hills.
“Sang?” I asked a woman in a shop-front,
then, trying again,
She nodded and pulled forward
a rusted hand-pump on metal wheels,
and it clattered and rumbled as it rolled,
She said something to me,
three or four quick syllables
that I immediately forgot,
and pointed at a plastic bottle,
twenty-five lurid-green litres of petrol.
I thought of the slim men I’d seen lifting things like this
with apparent ease,
though their pale-brown forearms and fingers
were taut as cables,
and I decided I would not drop it.
The fuel poured out into the pump over a long minute,
the same green as the ice-blocks we kept in the freezer when I was a child,
rushing evenly from the bottle,
the liquid surface creased
like a fast-flowing river,
before splashing and gurgling
into the metal
My body and arms ached
from the unfamiliar weight
and I felt so happy
that it was like feeling well.
It’s easy to become accustomed to life just about anywhere I guess, and after less than two years, I find Cambodia very familiar now, so I don’t notice things they way I did when we first arrived. However, I travelled to Vietnam this past month for a holiday with a friend, and we rode motorcycles around the South of the country for nine days. It was really wonderful to be somewhere that was different again, and to be reminded of the new experiences this part of the world has given me as I’ve lived here. Amongst other things, it’s led me to look again more closely at Cambodia, and try to really notice it again.