January 13, 2023
Meet Yeay, or grandma in the local Khmer language spoken at this remote village/outpost about 40km from Pursat Province of Cambodia. As matriarch of her family, she’s seen an evolution of her native people and the family she’s birthed and protected over a long, hard life. She’s lived through famine, poverty, genocide, and many years of struggle. She wears all 82 years of the hard life she’s lived on her face, and in her eyes. If you were to ask her, she’d tell you her body feels as tired and old as the looks. This is what living in the rural backcountry of Cambodia with with no resources or opportunity yields.
Yet still, on this hot and humid Saturday afternoon, she smiles with joy to see us Barong (white) visitors tour her village and stop by her home to check in on her and her family. Once the alpha, she now takes a step back and instead looks on, overseeing her children and grandchildren prep the rice patties and deserts they’ll soon transport to the market for sale, their primary source of potential income. Despite the circumstances that have defined her life, her eyes seem to sparkle today. Optometrists would tell you it’s the byproduct of sun damage peppered with with untreated cataracts and a host of other ocular disruptions. But to me, as I pull her aside for her first (and likely only) portrait photograph, I can’t help but see a blue-ish grey, extenuated by the glimmer of sun, and maybe hope. A hope that the next generation, and the ones to come after that, will see a better life than the one she has had to persevere through.