Litany for a Hidden Apsara*

Original Performance: This piece was originally performed with 1spoken word artist, 1 visual artist, 1 Apsara dancer and live musicians/singers. This piece also includes a video projected onto the installation wall depicting the children of Cambodia dancing, singing, playing and laughing with each other. The installation is an oversized mosquito net housing a smaller mosquito net. The net is surrounded by hundreds of old children’s shoes of varying sizes. Beneath the net are hundreds of large white scraps written in Khmer and English. The words are written in black and express human rights violations such as: Child Trafficking, HIV/AIDS, Prostitution, Poverty, Famine, War, Abuse, etc… Performers begin by tearing the scraps of paper inside the net.


[Poem begins]


Before coming I longed for Home

Ached for a place of Belonging

Upon my arrival, I felt Nothing.

No tangible sense of connection

              No sudden fulfillment

                            No familiar sensation


             Not even emptiness.


Phnom Penh felt like just another “poor”

“struggling”     “Third World”     city in Southeast Asia.


And it is that…

But much more…so much more!

I have never been filled with so much joy


Brown shutters open to jasmine blossoms

the sound of children playing     /    laughing

Motorbikes drive by

Revved up outside        red         dirt

The blue breeze kisses my ears

A tropical sky scorches forehead

Blueness kisses my ears

Wraps its tongue around my neck

Down to my clavicles

Fresh  /     blue  / mid morning sky


Feet shuffle sounding

Strong  /   brown    /    sturdy

A November breeze calms and cools

I have never been filled with so much joy


This is Cambodia

An ancient land of dreamers and builders

              Sorrow and strength


This is for the history our children have inherited

This is for the land we till

             For the dry air we breathe

                           For the fire we dance around

                                         For the water we bathe in

                                                       For the wind we cool off in

This is for those who keep our culture alive

This is for the tiled floors

              that line our makeshift dance studios

This is for the hidden Apsara in all of us

             Beauty beneath brown flesh


This is for the arched fingers pointed towards god

This is for the 50% of us who are under 15

This is for the other 50% of us who are over 15

This is for all the children of Cambodia

             For those who left

                           And those who never chose the leaving

This is for those who stayed

             For those who returned

                           And for those who never got to return

This is for those who are still hunting for Home

              And those who made new Homes

This is for those who died before their time

              And for those who are still dying

This is for those who are alive

Those bright brown faces who offer smiles, laughter, hope and joy


This is for those who were birthed in silence

And those who came kicking and screaming

This is for our borrowed tomorrows

This is for the futures our children will carve

For the children who dance

              Eyes wide with passion and innocence

For the children who paint

              Eyes wide with passion and innocence

For the children who speak

              Eyes wide with passion and innocence


This is for all of us…who will never forget our past

             Who sweat for a better today

                          And daydream of an even better tomorrow


This is for the children of Cambodia

This is for everything that we are

             And everything that we are becoming

We are the ones who will keep our culture alive.



*Apsara – literally means “heavenly nymphs” – refers to the classical court dance of Cambodia dating back to the 8 th century. The Apsara dance brings Cambodian history to life and is considered a national treasure of the Kingdom of Cambodia.









2010 © Anida Yoeu Ali