A Day on Buffalo Island; Baobabs and Pagodas

My University of Puthisastra students.

Buffalo Island I am assuming is an island. Surrounded not by ocean or sea, but by rivers. In a celebratory day trip with some of my students from the University of Puthisastra, I spent several wonderful hours under mango trees eating delicious food, staring at a river scene with Asian fishing boats and a pagoda across the water, and dodging scary red ants that look like flakes of fire in the sunlight but are no more harmful than cricket.


My students were relaxed. I imagine their relief with the stress of final exams wafting away under the warm Cambodian sun. A day of friends. Of singing and dancing. — While my students were at their complete ease, I was experiencing the acute heartache from the nostalgia inflicted by deja-vu. Those very mango and banana trees. The smell of water and dust. The cooking rice and the dull thud of somebody pounding spices in a tall wooded bowl. The good-humored chuckles of boys playing cards under a mango tree. Did I step back into Africa? It was as if a portal somewhere up the road had transported me to a different continent. But it isn’t the same, my brain said to me. Where are the tall, dark bodies of men and women? Where are the goats and where is the mosque? But the largest affront to my sense of “already”: where are my Baobab trees?! My beautiful and unearthly Baobabs. This can’t be Africa if it is missing its heart. That mighty tree that is the African peoples. It is the jungle and the desert. It is the farmland and the wild. It stands stout and sturdy against the African sky. Its pulse, the beating of its heart, slow and laborious, coming from its roots up through its branches and outward into oblivion. The pulse and throb of the heart of Africa, beating, sustaining its continent. Oh my beautiful Baobab. I have replaced the mosques with pagodas, but nothing can ever replace the Baobab tree.

The Pagoda across the river.

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