We were greeted at the Lotus Farm by Awen, the founder of Samatoa Lotus Textiles—a social enterprise that employs rural Cambodian women in making silk from the stalks of the lotus flower (the stalks are usually a waste product, as the flowers are harvested for religious use in Buddhist temples.) He sent us straight to the boat: a long, flat-bottomed thing with a motor whose propellor was at the end of a very long metal rudder (or so it seemed to me.) We took off across the water, through water-lilies and water hyacinth, but we quickly found our boat stuck in the mud.
At this point R began to panic. “Are we stuck? What if we’re stuck here forever?” she wrung her hands while the boat driver grabbed a long bamboo pole and started pushing our boat off the sandbar. Two things soon became clear: first, the water was only a foot or two deep, so we could have walked back if necessary; and second, that getting stuck was a frequent occurrence and our driver knew how to get us unstuck.
We were in a 20-acre… field? paddy? lake? marsh?… that was full of aquatic plants (also some water buffalo.) The boat driver and our guide helped us to pick the flowers, then showed us how to fold the lotus flower to display it in a bouquet—which they then proceeded to make for us. The girls were enchanted and we spent a lot of time on our floral designs. It was cooler than usual, there was a breeze, and it was so peaceful that I would have been happy to stay on that boat for another hour or two. Alas, we had other things to do; so we headed back to the main building to try our hand at some textile production.
We all learned how to pull apart the lotus stalks and lay the stringy fibres along a wooden plank, and then twist the fibres into a string. From there we expanded into making wicks (thicker than the string, and twisted when dry rather than wet.) Then we took the remaining stalks (i.e. the waste) and made paper.
While our paper dried, we were ushered upstairs to make bracelets from the dried lotus seeds (and to snack on the fresh ones, which have a very mild, sweet flavour and a crisp texture.) We were served lotus tea (the girls asked for seconds and we ended up buying a bag) and were then taught how to roll incense sticks.
Even R, who had been reluctant to go, had a fabulous time. Of course, the bubble tea we got on the way home might have had something to do with it.