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 the matriarch of her family, she has witnessed the evolution of her native people and the family she has birthed and protected over a long, hard life. She has 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 would tell you her body feels as tired and old as her looks. This is what living in the rural backcountry of Cambodia with no resources or opportunities 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 as they prepare the rice paddies and desserts 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 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, accentuated 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.