In Cambodia, I am constantly hitting the snooze button on my biological clock. 50% of the population is under 15, and at least half of those are the sweetest, most biteable babies and toddlers you ever saw. If you don’t believe me, ask Angelina Jolie.
The real proprietor of the sugar-cane juice stand I went to yesterday was a two-year-old girl with bangs, a wavy pony-tail, and a red gingham dress like a tiny, Khmer Brigitte Bardot. First she stared at the pale freak who sat down, until, bored, she trotted off and came back with a box of matches. After several tries she lit one, dropped it in fright and then burst out laughing. Her parents looked on adoringly. Then she climbed on Dad’s motorbike, standing up on the seat. (Child passengers always stand up on bikes and motorcycles in Phnom Penh, for some reason. It’s quite something to see tiny kids balancing on the frame of a pushbike while an older brother pedals and a sister sits on the carrier.) She put on Mum’s sunglasses and steered that bike like a Saigon taxi-driver, and I was glad it was still on the kickstand. ‘Vroom!’ she said, or something like it.
One child in five dies before the age of five here. Many are orphans; street kids with old faces are everywhere. But oh, the others, the lucky ones—they lead kid lives that are richer and just plain funner than the cocooned, scheduled, and sedentary western kids I know. It really does take a village.