“Chum reap sour” (Hello), all the smiling faces repeated over and over again as they bowed their heads with their hands clasped together as if in prayer, the traditional style of greeting in Cambodia. The children watched expectantly as 29 American students and their 8 adult chaperones entered the “Apsara Arts Association” building. Most of the children were from poverty stricken families and attended the dance school free of charge; some of them even lived in this building and were being taken care of by the head instructor, a woman in her early 50’s. Amidst all that the kids were going through in their personal lives, you would think from their smiles that they had not a care in the world, as it should be. It was our fourth full day in Cambodia and the agenda for the day was to spend time with the children of the Apsara Arts School.
We removed our shoes as a sign of respect and sat on the mats they had laid out for us. They seemed so excited to have visitors, and I too could not contain my happiness. Although the language barrier prevented the kids from understanding my English words of greeting, their beaming faces and occasional joyful giggles were communication enough.
The young Cambodian girls had prepared a small performance for us showcasing the traditional Apsara dances and their incredible talent as well. I gazed at them as they danced, in awe of how graceful and focused these little girls were. The way they bent their hands and maneuvered their bodies was way more than I could ever expect my inflexible body to do. When they were done, we had a bit of free time to play with all the kids. A few of us made a circle to play the game “Down by the River”. My friends and I were prepared to teach the kids how to play this game since we were sure they wouldn’t know how. I braced myself for the comical charades I would have to do to get them to understand how to play the game because they obviously wouldn’t be able to understand my instructions in English. But, amazingly, and to my pleasant surprise, as soon as we made the circle, the kids knew what to do. They began to chant the song “Down by the river with the hanky panky…” in Khmer, their own language. It was the same tune and everything. I couldn’t believe my ears. The game took off from there and we had a blast smacking each other’s hands out as we went around the circle.
The girl next to me thought she had me, but she had no idea I was going to give her such a hard time. She wasn’t going to get the chance to smack my hand out of the game without a fight, oh no. And at that very moment, not even a slap to my face could take away the smile that stretched from one ear to the other.
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