Friday, July 29, 2011

Boys of Koh Rong

From a very young age the boys on Koh Rong are out fishing.  Often they fish from dawn to dusk. It's their entertainment and it's how they help feed their families.  The youngest boys fish from the boardwalks between the houses and from the pier.  They find scraps of old line and old fishhooks and wrap the line around cans or whatever they have.  Sometimes they catch bait fish and use them to catch larger squirrel fish, grouper, snapper, bream and rabbit fish.

A young Koh Rong fisherboy wrapping line around n Ankgor beer can
Young boys sorting out a bunch of tangled line

Boys fishing between the boardwalk and our neighbor's house



These boys managed to catch a number of small squirrelfish and others
 If there are boats docked in the village, the kids will often fish from the boats.
As the boys get older (probably 11-14), they tend to paddle out into the bay or sea on small boats made from layers of Styrofoam with baskets attached for their fish and equipment.  Their paddles are made of many things, but they seam to usually be flexible, plastic trays.


A Styrofoam boat captained by a 12 or 13 year old fisherman.


These guys really wanted their picture taken
  In many cases these young boys will travel far off shore and, occasionally, the get caught out in the elements.
Young boys paddling hard to get out of the storm.
  
Teenagers tend to start running the larger boats similar to the one as in the picture above (behind the Styrofoam vessel) and go considerable distances, often for most of the day.

Once the day of fishing was over, many of the boys ran down to the front of our house for their English lessons....the oldest boys would only show up if the older girls were there and then they'd hang off to the side and pretend not to be listening.  Although the boys studied hard, only the youngest ones were willing to come up to our white-board and answer questions.  The teenage boys needed some coaxing.  

I'm really going to miss some of the boys (in fact, I miss many of them already) and I worry about what will happen to them in the future.  I'm skeptical that the fish will always be there for them or their families. Although they work hard they also play a lot and if the island becomes a giant resort, they may become a tourist attraction.  

Most all of the boys and girls were really friendly.  In fact, most all of the villagers were very welcoming.  There were a few villageres that I especially bonded with, one was named Bora.  Bora was always on the move.  If he wasn't fishing, he'd be running around in what looked like pajamas, doing cartwheels and kicks or swimming or hanging out at our place looking at books and playing thumb wars.  Bora really loved English class...it was probably the songs that Ceri had that he enjoyed so much.   

Bora and Katie (very pregnant)
 

Bora and our neighbor girl Lin, waiting for class on a rainy day.
Bora and Lin studying their notebooks from class.

If the kids knew that you were pointing a camera at them, they would instantly turn into hams.  Here's the boys swimming and showing off for the camera (Bora is in the colorful, striped shirt)




The middle-school-aged boys would typically attend class, but they really seamed to get excited on the day of the three-hour tour when they started asking me what the marine critters on our posters were called.  After that day, they would stop by and practice all of the time.  I wish that I'd had more pictures to show them because they really wanted to know more. The young-man below was especially good at naming urchins, giant clams, coral and fish.
Carrying dried leaves for roofs and for fish traps
 Someday I would love to return to Koh Rong and see what has happened to all of these kids.  I'm afraid that the changes to the island would be overwhelming and sad for me to see.  I wish them the best of luck in navigating the changes ahead. Maybe we did some small part in preparing them.  I can at least hope so.

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