Black and White for Thanksgiving
This Thanksgiving Day, I wore black and white.
No turkey, pumpkin pie or celebrations around a dinner table. Just bananas, rice and salt -- traditional offerings laid out by Cambodians in their individual shrines to honour the victims of the tragic incident that left more than 340 people dead.
In stark contrast to other years, we didn’t awaken and prepare festivities for the holiday. Instead we rode with SomOn, our tuktuk driver friend, to the site of the Koh Pich (Diamond Island) bridge and watched one of the first memorial ceremonies to take place after the tragedy.
At the foot of the bridge, hundred of black and white clad mourners had gathered. But, despite the numbers, the air was silent and the mood sombre. One by one, people from various regions solemnly walked the path to the bridge, carrying single flowers and sticks of incense, each group following two army officials bearing huge garlands of yellow and white flowers.
We'd heard about it from SomOn. After spending hours browsing Twitter, Facebook and Cambodian news sites to find out about memorial activities, we learned about this morning's ceremony from our tuktuk friend when he picked us up today. While we were meant to be headed to work, we asked him to make a detour and walked along with the other mourners to the bridge.
It was tragedy which touched everyone in this country. Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly wiped away a tear and burned incense at the site while his wife, Bun Rany, wept openly. A military band played a mournful tune and there were none of the ever-present Cambodian smiles in the crowd.
Along with the sorrow, there was also fear. Fear of the ghosts of those who died and a burning desire to appease their souls by making offerings to the pagoda and to the spirits.
Everywhere you walked in the city, pavements were scattered with tiny shrines containing bananas, water and rice; candles shimmering in the warm air and single sticks of incense burning throughout the day.
For us, as westerners living in and learning about this part of the world, this day was about Cambodia.
We stood alongside our new neighbours, colleagues and friends and mourned with them on a day which is usually filled with joy and celebration.
But, it’s never about the turkey, the pumpkin pie and the celebration.
It’s about the people.