Mat For An Easier Life
By: May Titthara..Photos by: M.Thara ( December, 2002 Volume 2 No.12 )

Wearing a happy face with her hands both busy at weaving leaves of the palm together and one leg holding down at the other end, Ou Nuy, 61 explained that clients would complain that your mat is of bad quality if it is not straightened properly. The humble mat may look ordinary but actually watching it being weaved, offers yet another aspect to the humility of it all. While weaving, the weavers talk to each other from one house to another. They discuss their rice harvest, how much they got during the previous season. Some talk about their daughters who work as garment factory workers in Phnom Penh. They talk contentedly while their hands and legs are busy weaving mats. When the rice-planting season is over, many rural Khmer people take another job - like weaving mats - while they wait for their rice harvest to grow, to earn some extra money for their family. They don't want to waste their free time just sitting at home doing nothing. The work helps a lot of people who live in countryside live easier lives, without having to leave their homeland to find a job in the city after the rice-planting season.

Cambodian people use palm-leaf mats for many things. Not only do they sleep on them, they also often use mats as impromptu eating spaces, on picnics, in the home and at weddings, when renting tables and chairs is too expensive for some. Palm trees have a lot of different advantages for people who live in the countryside. People use them for all kinds of things, including making palm juice, palm sugar and palm wine. The leaves are used to weave mats, as we have seen, and as a roofing material, and the trunk of the palm tree can also be used to make a boat.
To weave a mat, you must first cut some palm leaves, then dry them and slice them into small strips. To make a mat four meters long and two meters wide, you need at least 15 midribs. It takes a practiced weaver about three days to make a mat of this size. The weavers sell the mats in their houses. Ou Nuy, lives in Samor Leu village in Takeo province. She spends much of her time with her hands busy weaving palm-leaf mats. "I'm weaving a mat before harvest season because when the harvest season arrives, our villagers need to buy mats to dry their rice in the sunshine," she said. She does not work on the farm, so she can weave whenever she likes. Ou Nuy added, "When I sell a mat, I can earn enough to buy some household items and food. I can sell one mat for 5000 riel." Mats sell best during the harvest season, but they also sell well when people celebrate religious ceremonies. "5000 riel is enough for living in the countryside like this, but for city dwellers it may not be enough at all," said Ou Nuy. Eang Toy, 40, lives in the same province. She is also a mat-weaver, and is disabled.

"Mat-weaving is my job," she explained with a smile. "It keeps my life going, because I am disabled, so I can't walk anywhere like other people. I can't do anything else around here," she said. "You know, my life was very difficult before I chose this job, because I had no income," Eang Toy continued. "I live with my older sister, but money in other people's pockets isn't the same as money in your own pocket. So after I saw my neighbors busily weaving and selling mats, I tried to learn to do it also. The very first time I found that I could do it too, I was overjoyed. I was very happy when I sold my first mat, because it meant I could earn money for myself, " Eang Toy said.
Looking over her shoulder, she added, "Before, when I wasn't busy like this, I just used to sit and watch people walking past my house, and ask them where they were going. But now I'm busy with my job and I don't waste time idling around any more." She added "Mat-weaving is a good job for me because I need only to sit in one place, so it suits me. And I can earn some money, without having to ask my older sister." "Sometimes it is quite difficult for me though, because I can't pick the leaves by myself. I have still to ask my nephew to get them for me." "Weaving mats can help disabled people like me to live easier lives, without having to go begging. I'm very happy with my job - it makes me hopeful about my life, because it means I can take care of myself without having to depend on anyone else," said Eng Toy.