The water people

Abby Seiff

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Kampong Luong, Cambodia, Photograph : Nick Axelrod

It’s late afternoon, and Reth Roth is shaking her son, slapping at his head. “It’s time to get up”, she yells in his ear. Already, her husband Cheng Chak is dressed, gathering together phones, cigarettes, a camp stove. Their son sleeps like a dead man, unmoving, and then, suddenly, he is up. The sun is streaming through the open sides of the house, slicing along the spacious, bare floors. He blinks, confused, then moves to gather supplies.

Ten minutes later, three metres below, the men are loading up a minute wooden boat. There are gas, water, nets and coolers. Roth runs down with a handful of instant coffee packets: fuel to make it to dawn. It’s early December, and already the water has sunk far below the house. Father and son will push out past floating morning glory and clumps of trash, manoeuvre through the receding waterways and into the Tonle Sap Lake. And then, as they do every night, they will fish.

The fishing, at this moment in December, is decent. Most days, they can bring in about forty kilograms, says Roth. If we compare to last year, when there was a terrible drought, or the year before, when there was a bad drought, the fishing is better. If we compare to “before”, it is much, much worse.

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