Despite the New Year’s holiday, Tuesday was like any other day for Hem Bunny.
By 7:30 am she had lugged large platters of fried crickets and beetles, boiled silkworms and speckled duck eggs to Wat Phnom. In the shade of a stupa, she settled herself on a plastic stool for a humid, 12-hour day of hawking.
“I have been in this business since I was 16 years old,” said the 39-year-old mother of five.
As the day wore on, Hem Bunny filled bag after bag with her crispy, crunchy bugs. She doled out measured scoops using a tea glass, or for the hungriest customers, a rust-spotted tin milk can.
Most of her snack-seekers were among those spending the week free from the rigors of work or school as they celebrated the three-day Khmer New Year holiday.
But not everyone got to enjoy that luxury. Taking three days off wasn’t an option for Hem Bunny, considering that her family is poor and her three eldest children also work instead of going to school.
“I really want to take time off, but I can’t,” Hem Bunny said, while surrounded by families celebrating their holiday by picnicking on reed mats sprawled out around Wat Phnom.
“I spend all my profits each day. I cannot stop selling or I will die because I will have no food to eat,” she said.
Yet Hem Bunny doesn’t have time for pity; she needs to make money.
On Tuesday, she kept her focus on the task at hand: keeping flies out of the cooked bugs so they looked appetizing to passing customers.
Using a plastic bag tied to a chopstick, she swatted at the tenacious insects that bother her every day and that, like her, didn’t take time off for the holiday either.