Mourning a King
Experiencing a country in mourning isn't something that happens very often, and we are very thankful that we were able do so. However, as our team landed in Cambodia we were not just faced with that situation, we were plunged into the heart of it.
We arrived in Phnom Penh in the midst of the King Father's funeral events. His cremation ceremony took place on Monday, February 4th, just a day and a half after we set foot on Cambodian soil, but the mourning process had begun long before that. The King Father actually passed away in October and his body had since been lying in state to offer Cambodians the opportunity to visit and pay their respects. Memorials had been erected all over the city and his picture was displayed in front of many businesses and homes.
King Father Sihanouk became King of Cambodia in 1941, at the age of 19. He saw the country through independence from France, the Khmer Rouge genocide and the country's subsequent rebuilding. He was seen as a champion of the people and his elaborate funeral arrangements reflected how much he was loved by Cambodians. As he has been a leader through the last 7 decades of great change here, he has been a figurehead for the entirety of most locals' lifetimes.
Monday was declared a national holiday which meant our project start was pushed back a day. We were anxious to get going and a little restless, so we used the day to begin to explore a little bit of the city. We could immediately see that the city was not experiencing a typical Monday. Almost every single person was wearing white shirts, dark pants and hand made pins with pictures of the King Father at various ages. Many of the streets were blocked off and people were meandering down the avenues. Large groups of people were headed in the direction of the Royal Palace. Our apartments are steps from one of the main boulevards so it was almost impossible to get anywhere unless we were on foot.
It was amazing to see such busy streets at a standstill and the national dress of black and white replace the typical lively colors. Here is a picture of Wes, Andy and Sarah in front of Independence Monument. The road we are standing on is usually hustling with motorcycles, cars and tuk-tuks so it was quite strange to be able to take a picture there!
Business were closed for the National holiday. Even the Superbowl could not be aired at its normal broadcast time, much to some team members dismay…no names, no names. Though we didn't get into the office that day, we were able to experience an extremely rare event and see this city in a completely unique way. On Tuesday everything returned to normal, almost as if things were on pause and someone had now hit play.