Every day, just before sunset the Apsara Authority personnel make a final sweep from east to west through Angkor Wat. Since 2001, I’ve been coming to Angkor and whether I’m alone or with workshop and photo tour participants, I always visit Angkor Wat in the late afternoon and then linger until asked to leave. The end of the day is the time when Angkor Wat is most serene, beautiful and photogenic.
At the end of the day, the only people remaining in the temple complex are the Apsara Authority workers and several elderly widows, with whom I’ve become friends. They collect plastic water bottles which they sell to a recycling shop to earn a few cents.
As we were leaving, Som Reum, an 74 year old with severe cataracts who is barely able to see, was making her way down a set of wooden stairs from the main walkway to ground level in order to check one remaining refuse bin before heading to her small home which resides on Apsara Authority land. I photographed Som Reum while she was at the top of the stairs and contemplated getting a few more images as she carefully made her way down, but at the last moment I decided to put my cameras down and assist her down the stairs.
I speak a tiny bit of Khmer, so I greeted her, took her hand, and said in Khmer…”ohm, kinyom chong chue neat kom oue neat duel” (I’ll help you so you don’t fall down). She said “ja, ja ja akun” (yes, yes,yes, thank you) and we proceeded slowly down the stairs together, at the bottom I wished her luck by saying “som nang la-aw”, and as she walked away, I raised my camera again to get a shot of her moving towards the day’s final trash bin.
Srey Kaiv Nee, another widow who lost her right arm just below the elbow in a land mine accident was checking garbage cans for recyclables on the west side of Angkor Wat. Srey Kaiv Nee is a delightful person who greets everyone she encounters with a huge smile. I asked her if the money she earns from recycling is enough to support herself, to which she replied ” ja, kroep kroan” (yes, enough).