By Jody Hanson
Nothing screams “Cambodia” louder than the ubiquitous krama. But, what, exactly is a krama – spellings vary – and why does everyone need one? This versatile piece of cotton or silk – or a combination thereof – is perhaps next to the wheel when it comes to versatile usefulness.
The scarves come in two sizes: small, 35 by 170 cm and large, 65 by 170 cm. Colours abound: red and white, green and black, purple and brown. Or go for the rainbow effect and get them all in one. Different provinces have varying shades, although the design stays the same. It is a much classier way of making a statement of where you are from – or have been – than “Hard Rock Cafe Siem Reap.”
Uses of the Krama
Found only in Cambodia, the uses of a krama are infinite. Distained by the contemporary upper-echelons of Cambodian society as old-fashioned, the peasants cling to their cotton scarves and don’t hesitate to use them.
There are numerous innovative uses for the krama besides being a mere scarf. Carrying a baby on the back, wiping a kid’s snotty nose, using it as a sling or a dust mask, protecting heads from the blazing sun or an umbrella for starters.
The perfect travel companion, a krama can also be a towel, a pillow, a nightgown and a catch-all for whatever. Further, no self-respecting tuk-tuk driver would be without one. Ideal for mopping up the monsoon rains or cleaning the dirt off the seats, the rag goes everywhere and does everything. If the driver is sleeping in his tuk-tuk at night – as many do – it also serves as a blanket.
If someone gives you a krama and you don’t have the imagination to figure out what else to do with it there is always a wall hanging, a table cloth or a dish towel.
And then there is fashion, which is another area where the krama can take front and centre stage. Darlinggggg, can you ever be too thin, have too much money or own too many scarves? No, so that is settled. Given the fabric and color choices you can mix and match to your wardrobe’s entire content, as a krama goes with absolutely everything.
According to Princess Soma Norodom – a woman about town and a bit of a fashion icon – Cambodian designers might want to look at repurposing the krama. “Some people in Cambodia think the krama is only for poor people and they would never contemplate wearing one with their designer clothes. I don’t agree. Check the market and you can find luxurious hand-woven silk scarves that can double as shoulder wraps. Although they may not be popular here, women in other countries would pay a proverbial fortune for the beautiful scarves we take for granted. Get with it, girls.”
Personal Uses of the Krama
“What are you doing?” demanded my mother in the exasperated tone she saves for me, her oldest and most difficult child, “there are potholders in the drawer.”
“No need,” I shot back as I manipulated the casserole dish of cabbage rolls from the microwave to the table, “I have my krama.” My long suffering mother rolled her eyes and went back to cutting vegetables for the salad. Lifting the lid, a few drop of steam morphed into water. I wiped up the puddle with the corner of my scarf, slung it back around my neck and carried on.
To date I have used my krama to mop my sweaty brow, filter out the dirt when riding in a tuk-tuk and wrap around my shoulders to keep warm when I have to go into an air-conditioned spaces. In the house the krama has come in handy as an emergency dust cloth, a laundry hamper, a napkin and an eye shade to filter out the morning sun. Hells bells, I even wear one around my neck when I sleep to protect me against a draught from the fan.
Like earrings and a properly packed handbag, I never leave home without a krama as I sort of feel undressed. And the few times I have, I’ve needed it.
Krama wearers of the world unite, we are onto a good thing.
Jody Hanson is an insufferable travel junkie who has visit 107 countries – 67 on her own – lived in nine and holds passports in three. She has visited all the countries in North, Central and South America except for Venezuela, Guyana, Surname and French Guinea. She wrote this article on behalf of Tucan Travel who offer all types of travel excursions to Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia.