Every Mountain Has a Song
They tell me, on this journey through Cambodia, that every mountain, has a song. I walk amongst these mountains with the large, extended family that has wrapped their arms around me. We travel throughout the country, picking up cousins and aunts and uncles who walk with us for some days and then leave again. Many years ago, a daughter and son, who survived Phal Pot, walked out of these jungles and made their way to Thailand’s refugee camps and to my family. Now I walk with them, visiting ancient temples and sacred pools, telling stories and offering prayers.
It is the rainy season and everywhere there is the great flooding of the Mekong River. It is green and I can see that the people go out in the rice fields to catch fish and small animals for their noon meal. The roots of the lotus flowers are picked and eaten. The houses, sitting on stilts, have known many other rainy seasons and many other times of flooding. The front yards are filled with a rich wetland garden of lotus flower, cress and other green things. The children cast nets and wade waist deep to catch the fish they prepare for the dry times. I had not understood what it meant to live within a wetland or a place of seasonal floods. By the time I was born, in my country, they were filled in and the streams dammed. We called then swamps and did not hold them in any regard. The first people of my country also waded out and picked the roots of the wapato and caught small fish for dinner. They too lived within the bounty of the rainy season and the food it brought.
The first people of my country have said that, like the mountain, we are all born with a song. I hear this song each time I touch a newborn baby. I feel the warm water of birth; the waters that carried and nourished the baby as it is washed to earth; in the time when we hear the song of the mother and baby being sung together.
In the mountains the monks of a thousand years ago, carved Buddha resting out of rock. They are large and tangled in the roots of trees. Still others are small; tucked beneath caves overlooking the valleys and rivers below. Sweet, lovely resting Buddha with a soft smile on his face. Resting there through war and peace, as pilgrims, like us, made their way up paths and stairs to this place of renewal. We walk there; stopping often to pray with the few monks that still reside in these far away places. Money is left on plates, baskets and pools. Incense is lit. We touch the ancient rocks and think of the monks, whose carvings merged into meditation in a timeless tradition of emptiness and acceptance. The place women have gone, in their hearts, during birth since time began.
After the long walk back to the closest village, we eat amongst the trees a meal prepared by a family who lives there. We watch them catch a chicken or bring a fish from the river. Beneath each mountain temple, there are places to rest on bamboo mats and enjoy a meal or sleep in hammocks strung between bamboo poles. In these times, I visit with the children and talk with the women about their births and their babies; about life for them in this place. My son translates for me as I listen to their stories. They tell me of the women who have died and the babies. They touch my aging skin with tenderness and ask me questions about their health. I look in their eyes and see there the spirit of the Buddha carved int every mother’s face.
Soon the meal will be over and my big family will climb into the van. We bow with our hands together, a sign that means the heart in me touches the heart in you.
An uncle begins to softly sing a song he knew as a child; a song from long ago before Phal Pot; a time before they ran and hid in the temples on a mountain top looking for safety. The time when my children were born and their mothers were alive and the rainy season flooded the rice fields bringing abundance to a grateful and peaceful people.
These children of mine, from this land, grew up in my home where their strange, new American mother was a midwife. And so this big caravan of extended family, drops me off at a guest house in Takao to work with the midwives of Cambodia. We all wave and they promise to return in three weeks to pick me and take me to Vietnam where I will work with midwives there. Lee Hai we call and I throw kisses, American style and they throw them back to me.
I was raised a Quaker and we were taught to look for that of God in everyone; to look for that song given to us at birth as the waters of the changing seasons wash over and nurture us. As they drive away, I go inside and sit and listen about birth in Cambodia; thankful for my week amongst the mountain temples of Cambodia and all the blessings offered me and yet to come.