by Lye Tuck-Po
As the boat glides in, wavelets fan out in all directions.
Boat crossing the Stueng Saen (Saen River), Cambodia, 2005
The other boats on the riverbank bob gently on the swell. The passenger steps off, and pays for her ride. The women running the boats stay on board, keep a watchful eye on the ridge. The first sight of a likely passenger, and they’ll be touting for custom. Meanwhile, there is time for rest.
Boats at rest, Kampong Chheuteul, Cambodia, 2005
All morning long they’ve been running the boats, back and forth across the Stueng Saen. They want to make as many trips as they can. Soon they’ll break for lunch. Some will keep going until dusk, resting through the mid-afternoon lulls, paddling through the peaks. The service never stops. If anyone wants to cross the river, someone will bring out a boat.
This is what it was like in the wet season (June to November), boats crossing the river back and forth, dawn to dusk, day in and day out.
Like many if not most in Cambodia, the women who ran the cross-river ferries in Kampong Chheuteal were strong entrepreneurs. They were always looking for sidelines. In Cambodia, market business is women’s business. In Kampong Chheuteal when I did fieldwork, boat business was also women’s business.
En was one of three sisters. Her father is a farmer; the mother runs a convenience store. One sister was in and out of the village; another one helped in the store. En’s earnings were a useful supplement. She would never get rich from this work. But in a rural village, there were few opportunities for salaried work. Short of moving to the towns, women like En had to create their own sidelines.
A bridge is built: the bridge connected Kampong Chheuteal north and south, 2006
With the building of a permanent bridge across the river, the ferries became obsolete. The women would have to call on their entrepreneurial instincts once again to find another way to earn extra cash.
This is a slightly edited excerpt from: