Sergio Volani – Cambogia
A country a bit left aside in the past years, perhaps because of its tragic and fairly recent vicissitudes, Cambodia is a fascinating jewel rich in history for a traveler and even more for a photographer.
Not only the famous site of Angkor Wat, one of the most visited destinations in the world, remained hidden and forgotten for centuries, but much of Cambodia deserves to be visited and experienced.
The Buddhist temples scattered everywhere, the thousands of monks who live there, the lush nature with its large forests, the Tonle Sap lake with its people who live on stilts and move on boats and canoes as we use cars, its incredible and fascinating markets, the excellent local cuisine and the grace and kindness of its population.
Buddhist monasteries are a gathering point for several children and young people who would otherwise have no other opportunity to study and live off the street. Their prayers, their rites, the ceremonies, the blessings to the faithful are a unique opportunity for the photographer and to try to understand a little their philosophy of life.
The markets, as often happens all over the world, are incredible places to meet the varied humanity and pulsating soul of each country or city. From the market for meat and fish, obviously outdoors without refrigerators and invaded by flies and various insects, to the incredible “Russian market” of Phnom Penh, so called because of the attendance of Russian expatriates in the 80s, where, between shops or rather small spaces crammed to the unbelievable, everything is sold and, without dividers, next to the butcher is the “beauty center” or, Among hundreds of spare parts for motorcycles and bicycles, children, present everywhere, live their days.
Cambodians, at least those I met on my trip, have always been a kind and welcoming population. The possibility of entering their homes, living a few hours with them, eating with them, gave me the opportunity to get to know them a little more closely and know some details of their recent tragic history in the Khmer Rouge years.
The nearly ninety-year-old ex-fighter has his body covered in tattoos as symbols for the bullet protection of his own compatriots during the bloody civil war of 1975-1979, which caused the death of almost a third of the Cambodian population. Just visit the Tuol Sleng museum in Phnom Penh (the famous S-21 prison) to realize the absurdity and atrocity of that dark period of their history.
The brutality of that period is now contrasted with the grace and kindness of most of the young Cambodian population. Children, numerous and present everywhere, have fun with what little they have or find on the street. During the many local festivals the girls are often made up and dressed for traditional local dances.
As in all developing countries, the contradictions of local life are pushed to the extreme. Most of the population is poor, not to say very poor, and next to them, in the big city of Phnom Penh, there is the dealer of Rolls Royce, Lamborghini, as well as the shops of the most famous Italian and French fashion designers.
It was a beautiful journey, between past and present, between wealth and poverty, which made me discover another part of our small-big globe on which we live.