My family and friends emailed me when they found out about the Water Festival stampede, an incident on Diamond Bridge that left almost 400 people--mostly from the provinces and many children and adolescents -- dead from suffocation, internal trauma and, now, we're hearing electrocution.
Despite my plans to stay away, I was in town that day. I had just arrived back from quiet Siem Reap. In fact, I was out that night, enjoying dinner near the river with my Aussie flatmate and his friend. We were only several kilometers from that bridge.
But I didn't hear about the incident until the morning after. The community is horrified, angered at authorities. I am horrified. Families in the provinces travel to Phnom Penh to look for relatives' bodies; most bodies remain unclaimed, a day after the incident, sitting in the open air; the weather is hot and humid. Plastered on newspapers and on the television are pictures of the deceaseds' clothes and sandals littering the bridge. Yesterday, 400 saffron-robed monks lined the riverbank by Diamond Bridge to pray for the spirits. I didn't see it, but it would have been a sight to see.
As you walk around the city, offerings of burned incense and food line the streets. Incense smoke fills the evening. Tomorrow, Thanksgiving holiday for Americans, has been designated as a day of mourning--everything is closed.
And I am in Battambang again, meeting with resettled communities. Tomorrow, I leave for the Thai-Cambodian borderlands.
What a week.