I had written to the King a few weeks ago to tell him of the Smile photography project** I had set up. The King is a man of the arts. He studied Fine Arts and Dance in Europe and is very much into artistic pedagogy (basically teaching using the arts). Despite this clear connection to the project I was somewhat doubtful that an audience would be granted so when I was told about 10 days ago I was a bit surprised! Initially the invitation was just for me and the 10 children on the Photo Project but after asking General Van (the Kings aide) nicely I managed to get a further 3 invitations for the Director of CCH and his wife and Brian who is also involved in the Project.
Traditional Cambodia dress dictates a formal long skirt, coloured according to the day of the week and a white shirt. Having been to the tailors earlier in the week my outfit was ready to go. I knew my white shirt from my litigation days just HAD to come in useful at least once....good job I packed it in the 40kg case those 8 months ago!
Unusually for Cambodians the children arrived on the dot at 9.30am. Luckily, I had managed to speak to General Van to be told (roughly) what would happen at 6.30am that morning! The children would line up according to age and gender – I would go first. Ummm – not quite as comprehensive as I would have liked.
In we go....
Up the red carpet we went, the General and I. I asked him whether I should do the traditional bow (hands up to forehead for highest respect) or shake his hand. The General said “yes”(!). And before there was time for clarification time then ran out and I as face to face with the King. Well instinct kicked in and my hands were up by my forehead and I was bowing Cambo style. We then shook hands and had a brief chat about how honoured we both were to meet each other and then I went and stood by the picture we had given the King as a gift. The others followed me up in the order they had been told. I then presented the gift to the King. I told him about the child who had taken the picture and a bit about the project. The king thanked us a lot. We all bowed a lot. We all expressed humbleness!
I told him about the great success of the opening party and how the children had done a 10 week course. I praised the orphanage and the Director and told him he was a survivor of the Khmer Rouge and that his vision was to give the children better hopes through education. We talked for about 10 – 15 minutes. During this time I was aware that no one else was getting to speak to I kept trying to speak about other people in the group!
Eventually, the King then moved on to speak to the Director – Sokha and then each of the children – who were quaking in their trainers. Before we went in I asked them if they were scared and they had said “no” and laughed... well they were now!
They addressed the King in Khmer (I spoke to him in English as he speaks French, English, Czech and Khmer). They told him their names, where they were from and about the project (I heard my name many times in the Khmer that was being spoken!).
The King then proposed a toast. Well at least I think that is what happened as it was in Khmer. He got his juice and said some kind sounding things and looked at me. The said some more kind things in English and then we took a sip. I tried to gulp as much as possible in that one sip!
Me on TV getting my gift
Off we went to Gasolina so that Sokha the Director could see the photos as he had not been able to see them the night before. We then posed for some group shots and showed off our gifts.
From the King to me! and to the children
Me, the director and his wife - Sokha and Dany