Thursday, 18 October 2012

A Nation Mourns, But Comes of Age

by Chris Howarth, Director of United World Schools with which PGS works closely to raise funds for the school in Chai Thom, Cambodia.

King Norodom Sihanouk
(source: BBC)
Cambodia is now in mourning for the father king, King Norodom Sihanouk. His body returned home to the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh today from Beijing. I reach out in sympathy to the nation.
I stood street side with 100,000 Khmer people all of who, it seemed, were dressed in white shirts and black trousers or skirts. Most wore a small black ribbon tied in a bow and pinned to the shirt. The plane carrying the king touched down at 3.00pm but by 2.30 a nation stood and waited. The atmosphere at first was one of excitement; an expectation that we were to witness something special, a rare home coming of a respected king. The man who led the nation to independence.

As hours passed by and the sun impacted, the mood changed to being more sombre and reflective. Many, of which I was one, carried a flower, a lotus blossom with incense and a candle. Sweet smells filled the air. Some held pictures decorated with flowers. The crowd was of all ages, children, students and those who in Cambodia are considered old. There was no noise or shouting, no wailing or screaming but a respectful buzz of a crowd in waiting. The police presence was minimal but even these were redundant. Packed 10 deep on the pavement, the road was left unobstructed, clear; the pathway home. A stray piece of litter caught in the wind invaded this space only to be caught by a lady using a leaf as a glove. Nothing was to foul this day.
 
I saw few foreigners. The backpacker tourists stayed away. An older lady asked me if I knew the king. I replied in the negative adding “but I do know the nation he created.” As the hearse approached headed by a tradition orchestra and flanked by monks and Buddhist leaders, many slipped to their knees, hands pressed together in front of their faces, flowers held between the fingers. All passed in silence. There was love, an Olympian togetherness. As when they arrived, the crowd melted away. Many left their flowers and incense at the unofficial shrines. There were tears but these were to say thank you. I asked a friend for their thoughts. The reply “I feel proud”.

Now I too choked back the tears for it was pride that I had witnessed. A nation had come of age. It could look back, through years of pain and immense suffering, and still feel proud. I again feel privileged to be part of that journey.

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