Peace Corps probably should have included in the welcome book we got before coming to Cambodia that you will be confused 95% of the time. I seem to never know what is going on. I figured that once I understood the language a little better, I would know what was going on… nope, not true! We celebrated the full moon festival this week. Peace Corps had done a good job with teaching us about Khmer holidays, but my family is part Chinese, so we celebrate both Khmer and Chinese holidays. So basically I had no idea what was going on the whole time.
It all started on Wednesday. My host mom had told me that she was going to Phnom Pehn because her niece was engaged. She comes back at around 7:00 pm and everyone runs outside. I follow them and see my host mom shoved inside this van with 5 boxes and bags of flowers. It looked like she had gone to Sam’s Club. Now in Cambodia gas is super expensive, so even though my host family has a car, they rarely use it and my host mom took a big van to Phnom Pehn. So she crawls out of this 10 passenger van with at least 8 other people, a moto, and a ton of boxes inside. It was crazy! We helped unload everything and bring things inside. Now at this point, I’m so confused. She said she was going to Phnom Pehn because her niece was engaged. Was she getting married at our house? It wasn’t wedding season yet! My host mom opens her boxes and out comes a ridiculous amount of fruit and cakes. In my broken Khmer I try to ask what is all of this food for. They say something about the moon and something will happen tomorrow. Alright, I’ll just have to be patient.
The next day I come back from the market to see my host mom filling plates with beautifully arranged fruit and cake on plates. She divides them up, and places them on the many altars around our house. I think I ask if they are offerings for their ancestors, and she says that no they are for the gods, which of course confuses me even more. Do Buddhists believe in gods? Why didn’t I pay more attention in world religion class?
After the altars are all pretty, I run upstairs and read for about an hour. I come back down, and all of the food has disappeared! What? Now my family had told me that the cakes were very expensive for Khmer standards, so why would this food be gone? There was no sign of it anywhere! I tried to ask where it went, but my host family just laughed at me and said something about tomorrow night and the moon. Did the gods eat them? Did the dogs jump up and grab the food? Did my family stealthily eat the 4 boxes of food in an hour without me noticing? Aut dung te! (I don’t know!)
The next night everything is normal, until after dinner. My host sisters move our dining room table outside, and my host mom brings out another box filled with more unopened cakes, and starts putting them on plates. They bring the food outside, and set up the table with candles. They explain that because its the full moon, they offer the food to the gods. My host family prays and lights some incense, and then the table and the food go back to the house. We got to eat some of the fancy cakes and fruit. It was a fun, albeit very confusing first holiday in Cambodia. I still have no idea where all of the original food went, but maybe next year I’ll find out :).