It’s been raining and raining and raining some more for the past week or so. Our ponds and canals are full and the driveway and road to town has officially flooded – well the rice fields have flooded over the road. October is one of the wettest months here.
The blessing is that with all this rain I have had more time to do school work because we haven’t had to work in the dorm gardens in the afternoons. Laura and I work with the dorm girls. Their job is to collect leaves to put on the garden as mulch. It is not hard work but at this time of year there is less leaves and everything is always wet and heavy and the girls are not the most willing of workers under these conditions. So when it rains we are not required to go and collect leaves. I’ve been feeling quite tired so I was glad that we didn’t have to work.
I’m told the rain is coming from a tropical storm that is over Vietnam and has caused some damage and flooding in Vietnam. There has also been flooding in some of Cambodia’s southern provinces. We are quite blessed in this location. We will get a lot of rain and some lighting and thunder, but we don’t normally get the destructive winds that go along with most tropical storms.
Today is the one of the days of the Khmer ‘Festival of the Dead’ holiday. Which corresponds to Halloween in western countries. The Khmer name is Pchum Ben.
The following is from an article from the Phnom Penh Post and can be found here: http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/background-history-pchum-ben
WHAT does Pchum Ben Festival mean in Buddhism? In the Khmer language, Pchum or Brochum means “a meeting or gathering”. Ben means “a ball of something”, such as rice or meat. The Pchum Ben festival originated in the Angkorian era when people followed animism, before Brahma or Buddhism.
Both Buddhism and animism reflect Khmer respect and remembrance for their ancestors.
Pchum Ben is also a convenient way for Buddhist monks to receive food during the heaviest part of the rainy season while they stay in the pagodas to follow their moral principles.
The first 14 days of the Khmer month Pheakta Bot are called Kan Ben (“observed celebration”). The 15th day is called Brochum Ben or Pchum Ben Day. During Kan Ben, people give Buddhist monks gifts of food and candles. At night Buddhist monks recite a protective prayer. Cambodian artists play traditional music such as yike and lakhon basac. Pchum Ben Day is the biggest celebration. Villagers come from all around to prepare the pagoda of their village the night before the celebration. Pchum Ben is when the villagers gather to celebrate in their villages.
The scriptures relating to the festival are complex, but the first scripture involves the five Buddhas negotiating with hungry ghosts. In the second scripture, from Pet Vuto (Monks’ Governor), the King’s servants and soldiers were commanded to make war. On the ship at night, they met ghosts who were hungry. The servants and soldiers asked: “How can we get food to you?” The ghosts said: “You can offer the food to the person among you who has the five moral conducts or eight moral conducts, and invoke our names.” The third and fourth scriptures say that in the first 15 days of Pheakta Both, the heaviest rainy period, the devil releases the ghosts to find their relatives to receive food.
There are four kinds of ghosts: those eating pus and blood, burning ghosts who are always hot, hungery ghosts and the Pakrakteaktopak Chivi, who can receive food through the monks. The others cannot receive food from their relatives until their sins are reduced to the level of Pakrakteaktopak Chivi.
What is bay ben?
Bay ben (balls of rice) are offered to ghosts at dawn. People believe ghosts with heavy sins cannot receive food during the day. Bay ben is made from sticky rice and sesame. Sometimes people add coconut cream to make it more delicious. Buddhist Institute consultant Miech Ponn said he thinks bay ben should be put on a plate. “Getting rice to the poor, people also can get more merit than only giving it to ants,” Miech Ponn said.
We have been hearing the music from the pagoda’s (Buddhist temple’s) for the past couple of weeks. On the actual day of Pchum Ben they often play songs that talk about the ghosts coming to haunt their relatives until they are fed. Many of my students here are made afraid by the songs and music.
Apart from all the spiritual aspects of the holiday, it is a time when they all stop work and spend time with their families. They make a special kind of sticky-rice cake and share it with all their neighbors and relatives. I have 15 girls out of 28 left here at the school. The rest have gone home. Most of the girls that have remained are from Oddar Meanchey (one of the northern provinces near Thailand). It is too expensive for them to travel home.
Laura, my co-dean, has been given the task this year of teaching Grade 9 and 10 History classes. So all of her spare time has been filled with watching countless historical documentaries.She takes the documentaries and cuts the bits she needs to show to her classes. I have learnt so much about history in the past 4 weeks. Seeing as today is a holiday it meant extra time for her to gather more bits and pieces. This morning was Aztecs and Incas and this afternoon was American colonization history. A couple of the girls wandered in, a bit bored because the rain prevents them from playing outside, and spent the afternoon learning about American history and the American Revolution.
I pray that each day as we work here in Cambodia that we can be showers of blessing to the Cambodian people, that they may be freed from fear and darkness to walk in the light of God’s wonderful truths.