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High Floods, Low Funds Keep Some Home for Holiday

Residents travel on a flooded street in Phnom Penh September 26, 2011.The death toll from flooding in Thailand since mid-July has risen to 158, while 61 people have died in neighbouring Cambodia in the past two weeks, authorities in the two countries said

With much of Cambodia taking three days off to celebrate Pchum Ben, when the country honors its ancestors and the ghosts who roam the spirit world, some unlucky residents were stuck in the capital.

Severe flooding in the provinces and a continued high cost of living meant people living in the city’s margins were not able to return home for the annual festival.

“I can’t this year because I haven’t been saving money,” said Kao Choy, a cyclo pedicab driver from Prey Veng province.

Kao Choy said he left his village in 1982 to pedal passengers in the capital, where we sleeps on the streets by night and earns between 10,000 riel, or $2.50, and 15,000 riel by day.

“I can’t go to any pagodas this year,” he added.

Chantha, a motorcycle mechanic near Independence Monument, said that low earnings meant he would stay put, as well. The 40-year-old man, who is also from Prey Veng, said he earns about $5 a day.

“If I go to my hometown, it costs for travel, and also my relatives are waiting to have a party with me, expecting that we have fun together,” he said. “But I don’t have money, so it’s better not to go.”

Cambodians have been facing an increased problem of inflation, as the cost of goods rise and wages stagnate. This year, major flooding in at least 14 provinces has added an extra burden for travel.

Chea Toch, 57, from Kampong Cham province, said the extra flooding meant too many costs for taxis and ferries, making this his second year away from the holiday.

However, he said, even though he is unable to go home, he dreams of his relatives and parents.

Many Cambodians believe they will be cursed by their ancestors if they are unable to pray at a pagoda during Pchum Ben.

However, venerable Kang Namany, head monk at Phnom Penh’s Sampov Meas pagoda, said this is not a tenant of Buddhism.

“Anyway, they can pray for them anywhere,” he said. “There’s no need to go home to the village.”