Lost and Found in a Baby Bird’s Egg
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Sometimes, somehow, when you’re traveling alone, just when you are feeling down and feeling like you must move on before you sink into a place you don’t want to find yourself, something extraordinary happens that keeps you going.
Tonight, was one of those nights. Darkness was falling quickly on the town of Siem Reap, night lights had turned into flickering fires set by the side of the road, reeking of burning plastic that wretchedly turns your stomach when inhaled. Wandering, I decided to not let my despondency get the better of me, and stopped by a local makeshift noodle stall for a can of Bayon beer. Just three days into my trip to Cambodia, I contemplated if I had come to a place I can manage, and better yet manage alone, with my happiness and heart intact. A legless beggar incessantly peered into my eyes from below the foldout table, clasping his hands together in desperation. Dragging his torso closer, his head came no farther than the scruffy black dog’s in the position next to him, together scrounging for scraps as though a traveling circus act.
After nearly 20 minutes, two minutes shy of resigning myself to my guesthouse around the corner, a young Khmer couple shyly sat down in front of me. They arrived by way of a well-maintained tuk tuk, the shiny lacquered sort designed for carrying tourists around Angkor Wat by day. We all smiled congenially, and after exchanging a few glances, the young woman inquired if I was traveling alone, and quizzically wondered why. I never quite know how to answer that question, but at this particular moment, I could only think to say “I really don’t know.”
They ordered two large white eggs, and began to crack the tops of them open when after some discussion, appeared another egg in front of me, teetering in a saucer just large enough to keep it upright. Having no idea how to carry forth, the couple proceeded to direct me: Here sat an egg with a baby bird inside, for starters. Upon creating a quarter-size opening at the top, the woman took charge of my egg, dropping its contents into a small dish. A grey-embryo substance dropped first, followed by a harder sack, which was vaguely described as the baby’s pillowcase. She adeptly mixed a cup of ground black pepper and limejuice, tore off a few sprigs of green leafy herb from her pile and sprinkled the concoction over the egg’s contents.
Her face glowing with an airy bliss, I thought to inquire if they were married. The woman’s face brightened, and she said they were to be married next month. Her fiancé smiled, more of an uncontrollable reaction at the thought of it than a part of the conversation itself. Vet, shortened I’m sure for my sake, explained that she didn’t know the exact date of their wedding, as she must first approach her fiancé’s family, at which time they would decide what specific day would bring them everlasting luck and good fortune. Upon her insistence, we exchanged numbers, and she invited me to be her guest at one of the pre-wedding festivities. I was instructed to wear a nice dress ï¿½ a wonderfully funny moment considering the scruffy T-shirt and dusty travel pants that had all but melded themselves to my body.
The combination of egg, herb and limejuice was simply delicious ï¿½ tart, meaty and flavorful. By far, the tastiest thing I had eaten so far in Cambodia. The couple explained that this was his dinner, he had just dropped off his last temple customer, and she was simply accompanying him for a late-night snack.
My efforts to pay for the egg were swiftly waved off and in the same moment, the couple bounded off, swerving into the oncoming chaos in the road. I wished them the best of luck and happiness, and off they went, giving me the energy to hoist my rucksack over my shoulder and carry on.