Campong Chhnang means “port of pottery”. You see this big beautiful vessel as you enter into this providence and drive around a round-about. This is the birthplace of pottery in Cambodia. Remnants of pottery can be found on the ground in places that date back as far as the 6th century. It was one of my favorite places we traveled to.
One of the best days there had to have been when we went to the home of a woman who makes traditional clay pots used for cooking in. There are no pottery wheels, there is no electricity. When we arrived, she was walking around a log that was standing upright and she had her hands wrapped around and inside of a lump of clay that was sitting on top of it.. She was literally spinning around the log as she was shaping, patting and decorating it. We watched and within minutes she had created the most beautiful, shapely 4 gallon pot. I was invited to work on a clay pot with her. She guided my hands and taught me how to hold and use the crude tools that she made herself. They were the simplest of tools (paddles made from bamboo and a block of rounded wood) which she allowed me to buy from her after the demonstration was over! I would have never imagined how something like that was done, if I had not seen it with my own eyes! She makes about 12 pots a day at .75 cents a pot, in between working in the rice fields.
Take the time to watch this slide show, you will be amazed.
From there, we traveled to the home of another potter. There were a few different potters working with clay and making pots, lids and piggy banks. They had piles of finished pottery hopefully waiting to be sold to a distributor. Every piece that was made , was made to perfection. The quality of these handmade pieces was so impressive. They showed us the process of making these from start to finish. I loved how they wedged the clay with their feet. I know that Yary, has also wedged clay with students in Lowell the same way, which is something I would love to try one of these days. It was also really cool to see how they really just lived off the land. They had cows, pigs, chickens, fruits, vegetables, and herbs all growing and living right on their little piece of property. It was so heartwarming to see how people can live with so little and feel like they have so much, and they really do in Cambodia.
The last adventure of this wonderful sweltering hot day, we were invited to the home of Proung Kam. He is also a potter and there were many pieces of pottery for sale there as well. They invited us all for lunch ,so first we sat down to a beautiful spread of delicious soup, fish, morning glory, rice, and fresh fruits that was prepared by his wife and mother.
When we finished, we watched two women make more pots that are used to cook on.They were like little b.b.q. grills that they build a fire in and place a cooking pot onto, to cook the meals. They make many of them and sell them to a distributor. Once again, there were so many of them already made but this time, waiting to be fired. Little did we know that we would get a chance to help load all of these hundreds of pots onto a bed of bamboo and banana leaves, that would be lit on fire and baked until they they turned to ceramic.
So we formed an assembly line and began to pass the pots down the line until it reached two of the women who piled them into the pit, ever so gently. It had to have been the hottest day there but we made the best of it by singing Cambodian songs to help pass the time. We loaded until every pot that could possibly fit was in there. Some of us took breaks in between and some never stopped until the job was complete. It was such an honor to be able to help these hard working women who do this every day to make a living for their family. It was probably the most intense labor I have ever done in my life, or maybe just felt like it because it was about 100 degrees under the blazing hot sun.
Our day ended with the oldest woman panning water out of their giant water vessels to pour over our dirty hands and feet before we boarded the bus to go home.(Our next Cambodian home) I felt uncomfortable using this water as it was precious rainwater that is collected for their cooking and bathing. but the elderly woman with the shaved head and big smile did not seem to be bothered. Once again, another demonstration of what wonderful and gracious people they are.