Prahok’s Cycle Flows On Despite Change

The grandmother swings in the hammock at midmorning. The child lingers, stick of sugarcane in hand.

Nearby, the mother works.

“Tell them,” the mother says to the child. “Tell them you want to be a teacher someday.”

“I want to make prahok,” the child tells the visitors.

The smell of centuries hovers over the riverfront village. Tiny fish heads and large containers line the crowded riverbank. For generations, this has been the time of year for making the famously strong fish paste.

In the city, the father drives a motorbike, traveling past storefronts and school children in their uniforms.

In the village, the mother weighs a bag of rice and worries. The price of prahok is more expensive this year. There are fewer buyers.

After several years of flooding, there was little rain during the recent wet season, and fewer fish are running. Upriver there are bigger nets and more fishermen—the mother has heard that many of them are not from Cambodia.

“We have made a complaint to the ministry,” she says. “The lot owner is now bankrupt.”

Eighty years ago, the grandmother was born here. When she was young, she helped her family make prahok. Now, she watches, sometimes rolling a cigarette.

The river flows by, switching directions with the season, carrying fish and the boats that search for them.

Parallel to the river, on the other side of the village, runs a highway, recently paved and smooth and continually busy. Trucks, cars, people and goods pass through.

The child settles into the hammock, next to the grandmother.

“If my family’s condition becomes better, then the children will not do this business,” the grandmother says. “If they have the ability, I want them to do other work. Like in an office.”

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