Friday, August 27, 2010
Today Andong was in the Phnom Penh Post, the English speaking newspaper that some people from Andong village scrape a living selling copies of near the airport.
Please read this article: http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2010082641546/National-news/evictees-fear-homelessness.html
For those who can't be bothered, it says that all of the hard work done at a grassroots level to create livable homes in this community is going to be torn down, so that the government can build new houses (the same size and design) to sell back to the families at a cost unaffordable to most, trapping them in a debt cycle or forcing them into homelessness.
I feel a deep connection to the community and their struggles. Leigh and I have been fortunate enough to witness the ongoing grassroots construction efforts happening in the community. To read this news today was devastating for us, but whats makes it worse is how powerless we feel.
It is clear what the community want, and they have worked hard to improve their lives after the government forced them to relocate in 2006. Why is the government not listening to their people? Is this yet another attempt to reclaim their land? Unfortunately, I suspect it won't be long until the land title awarded to these people are actively revoked by the Cambodian Government, once again relocating them into a situation of desperate poverty and alienation from educational and employment opportunities.
I hope to visit the community one more time before I leave, because Andong will always have a piece of my heart.
There may be dark days ahead for Andong.
Monday, August 23, 2010
I suppose I needed a bit of a push.
I knew I could register as an individual participant, but the idea of ONLY being able to collect online donations seemed ridiculous. The majority of my friends are university students, who are too poor to have credit cards to donate online. At most, I reasoned, I would make about $15-$20.
Then, on Friday, I recieved the push I needed.
I decided to set up an online profile, and do a last minute push on facebook for donations. I was impressed with the response, and Im still recieving donations today even after the weekend is done! I have made somewhere around the $60+ mark, which is 3-4 times what I thought Id make in such a short time with only facebook as my means to beg off my friends. Sometimes its possible to be pleasantly surprised with people's genorosity. This is one of those occaisions.
On Friday night, I began the challenge of going without food, furniture and facebook. With election fever in the air, it was very difficult staying off facebook. At Saturday night's election party, it was difficult to pass up the kind offer of western-style food as a group of Australians gathered aroudn a Phnom Penh television set to hear the news. Not that there was any news to hear. Sleeping on the tiles of my hotel room floor on an empty stomach was, admittedly, pretty difficult, but the tuk-tuk ride from the election party to Takmau gave me a pretty strong reminder of why I was doing the 40 hour famine in the first place.
It couldnt have been later than 12:30am, but the rains were the heaviest I had seen them. My tuk-tuk driver had kindly unrolled a layer of waterproof protection between me and the elements, but I was still able to observe sites, even with nearly everything being boarded up for the evening. Then I saw a group of kids, probably around 7-9 years old, collecting garbage on the streets. They were all carrying garbage bags and reaching their bear hands into rubbish piles to see if they could pull out anything of value. Its 12:30am, these kids should be in bed. Instead they are collecting rubbish, in the pouring rain, unsupervised.
Somewhere out there, I knew that there were parents or carers who were somehow profiteering from the kids streetpicking. I knew that these kids will probably always find themselves risking exposure to disease and risking injury just to scrape over the poverty line, either to support their siblings or, as is often the case, supporting a parent's alcahol, gambling, or drug addiction.
I went home and slept on the tiles, on an empty stomach, without having updated my facebook status. It was uncomfortable. But so is poverty.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Or, maybe, I have simply learned to stop over-analyzing.
Whatever it is, I greeted Chen Chea's family with a polite bow of the head, a smile, and a poorly pronounced 'jum riip sou''. It is always impressive to see how far she is progressing in just a few short days. Outside were large squares of material covered in rice being dried in the sun. I had seen these in Vietnam and other parts of Cambodia, but hadn't yet had the chance to touch it, or ask questions to people who spoke good enough English to answer me.
After a brief translation, Chen Chea's mother explained that she will sell the rice for income generation instead.
Cambodian people are just so generous!
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Chen Chea's village is one of my favourite places in Cambodia. it takes an hour to get to in a tuk-tuk and is green, lush and completely untouched by tourism. Its the REAL Cambodia. When we arrived, the team did all the normal things... re-casting, standing excersizes, and got to see how well she has progressed.
The village visits are always the highlight of my week. Chen Chea is doing well, and fortunately she is off the steroids now so she will be regaining her strength with much more ease now (ironically). Her chickens have had chooks now, so there were PLENTY of baby chickens getting in the way of the casting, which was both inconvenient and adorable. Chen Chea was discovered because Impact Charities was doing work to make the community more sustainable by building wells and vegetable gardens. Like Chen Chea's mother was saying, she looks forward to seeing chen chea walk again so that they can both work again and live somewhat normal lives. Its so exciting watching her progress.
Then, it was back to Takmau for a very quick pack-up, then heading into Phnom Penh to get a share cab from the pineapple palace (the affectionate name given to the house that friends share in Phnom Penh) to Kampot. It took about 3 hours, and was really good fun. It was nighttime by the time we arrived at a place called the Boddhi Villa. Check it out: http://web.mac.com/houstonair/bodhi_villa/What_is_Bodhi_Villa.html
None of these photos or write-ups really show how stunning this place was, or the vibe it has, particularly when the live music was pumping on Friday night. When I asked Joanna what we were doing over the weekend, she said we would spent alot of time swimming in the river, having cake and coffee and maybe even go for a massage on saturday. We caught drift that there was a waterfall about 7km from the hotel.
It wasn’t 7km. We piled into a tuk-tuk, and started off down a normal road, that quickly turned into sand dunes. How a tuk-tuk negotiated sand dunes im still not quite sure. We were heading in the direction of the mountain and dealt with every terrain possible, and had to get out and push the tuk-tuk out of holes. It was good fun. Soon, we had reached as far as the tuk-tuk could go.
If a tuk-tuk had endured that much, you can imagine how bad the next road was. Well, wasnt. For the most part, there wasnt actual road, and Joanna and I were holding tight onto each other and the motorbike was jumping gaps where road literally failed to exist. We were all good friends with the perfect english-speaking workers at the boddhi who were driving and knew these roads well. It was an absolute adventure, for sure.
Then we headed up the hill (somehow) along a path not quite big enough for the motorbike and our legs became covered in scratches from jungle trees. When we reached as far as the motorbike could go, we had found ourselves outside a small house. The owners were really relaxed, and happy to see us. They picked some fresh passionfruit off the tree and let us wash our cuts and sores in the river rapids. It was a beautiful place to relax.
Then, once our mates had ferried all 10 of us to the house, we started off on our adventure. The mountains were incredible, and the jungle was amazingly thick. We all kept up a very fast pace, faster than anything I could have managed just a few weeks ago in terms of fitness. At times, there was not only no pathway, but no ACTUAL way to get through more dense parts of the forest, so you would find yourself using problem solving skills to hoist up a tree or boulder and grab the nearest vine and swings. Again, there were a few slips and falls, but feeling so remote, adventurous and intrepid of it stopped us from complaining. The climb was incredibly steep, and in retrospect im still not sure how we managed to get up some of the slopes from recent landslides.
The trek took AGES, so when we finally heard the boom of the waterfall, we all felt pretty damned proud of ourselves. It was STUNNING. The water was FREEZING cold, but after the hot trek, it felt incredible. We spent plenty of time relaxing at the waterfall, swimming, and hanging out.
Nothing much happens here, though. VERY few people speak any sort of english, but the markets dont stop being facinating. I could take national-geographic style photographs in the market place all day, if I wasnt getting enough strange looks purely based on the fact that I am white.
I am working at Chey Chumneas Hopsital, which is a convenient 200m from the guesthouse that I am staying at for the entire 9 weeks, except on weekends when I set out to explore more of Cambodia. For those of you who want to read about the adventures of the organisation I am working with, Rose Charities, check this out: http://www.roseaustralia.b
The highlight of working here is definitely going to see Chen Chea (refer to blog link above) who has laid virtually immobile for 4 years until the amazing team around me have helped her to regain muscle strength. Seeing her moving around on her own, and even walking (assisted) has been REALLY inspirational. Definitely read her story in the blog.
I could write about this place all day.
The journey to Kep was stunning, but unfortunately most of our time there was spent in the rain. We stayed in a beautiful hotel on a hill that is part of a wider national park that the rain prevented us from exploring. We did, however, get to explore the wonderful abandoned colonial buildings and have fresh seafood from street vendors and a posh restaurant. Electricity continually cut out, but fortunately I carry a solar powered lamp around with me everywhere, so it was actually quite pleasant to be living in the wooden house that was more like a homestay than the backpackers accomodation we had become accustomed too.
Next it was on to the Hatien border crossing to vietnam on a minivan, where we happened to meet up with a couple we had met in Phnom Penh a few days earlier. We then went onwards to Chau Doc. We had full intention of staying in Chau Doc, but there were literally no rooms in any of the hotels, so we decided to go to the next step of the journey, Can Tho in the Mekong Delta. It was a thriving city. We could only find 1 hotel, with 1 room available because it was apparently school holiday time in Vietnam. The couple we had been travelling with, and an extra traveller from Scottland, all shared this 1 room and shared a boat the next morning for the sunrise trip on the mekong delta to the floating markets.
The floating markets are by far the most photogenic, enjoyable, inspiring and intersting thing to do in the mekong delta, and probably the whole of Vietnam.
The Mekong delta is surprisingly developed, but it is often difficult to navigate. We opted for the local busses from My Tho to Ho Chi Minh City, and we are glad we did. Sometimes adding a bit of guess work into a holiday makes it all the more enjoyable, albiet more expensive when you run out of budget backpacker options.
The last few days in Ho Chi Minh City were very enjoyable. We saw all of the major museums, art galleries and the palace. It took a little while, but HCMC really grew on me. Vietnam is culturally very different to Cambodia and I must admit I prefer Cambodia, but HCMC is certainly good fun with a little adjustment.
Saying Goodbye to Leigh was DIFFICULT. Suddenly, I was going to be alone. Completely alone. He was heading back to all the Western comforts that I didn't particularly miss, but also to the friends and family that I did miss. I was a little jealous knowing that it wouldnt be too long until he was sipping chai with friends and following the upcoming federal election like a sport. Still, we said goodbye...
and later that night it was goodbye Vietnam and onwards to Takmau.
The second is an amazing trip to the Killing Caves, where the Khmer Rouge would literally push victims down a massive hole in a limestone cave, where they would die on impact if they were lucky. If they were unlucky, they would sit there in a pile of rotting human bodies, with broken limbs, until they starved or bled to death. The bottom of the cave has an eery feel, with a small box full of the skulls of the victims, some of whom had their skulls bludgeoned before taking the fall. It was very interesting, but very morbid, with a similar feel to the S21 prison and the Killing Field.
On a lighter note, there was a beautiful, active pagoda at the top of the mountain, with a Hindu shrine and a Buddhist temple coinciding quite peacefully. There was also abandoned Khmer Rouge weaponry and a stunning view over to the Thailand border, and we were told not to walk in certain areas of the hill due to landmines. To be honest, we were so shaken from the haphazard moto driving to the top of the mountain along a clifface that we were hardly up for a landmine-dodging adventure anyway. Going down the hill on that motorbike posed a greater threat than any landmine. It was a genuine relief to be back on the tuk-tuk, where we stopped to take a photo of a world vision sponsored school. I think I will always have a soft-spot for World Vision, especially knowing that this specific area relies purely on rice farming, and I know what effect the global food crisis is having on rice farmers.
Every mention of the Khmer Rouge, especially such a clear reminder like the killing caves, makes me more and more enthusiastic about seeing his country repair itself.
We can thank the Angkorian empire for delivering facinating architecture, a unique history, and a beautiful blend of Buddhist and Hindu culture. It is IMPRESSIVE.
Leigh and I spent the first day with a new friend from the Phillipines as we shared a tuk-tuk around the major temples, including Bayon and sunrise at Angkor Wat. The next day we tumbled through the Siem Reap markets and soaked up the atmousphere of the city, preparing ourselves for a LONG bike ride to the Angkorian temples ony accessible by pushbike. The ridiculous heat, the blasting sun, and the constant threat of being caught in a sudden monsoon puts most people off hiring a pushbike, not to mention the amount of time it takes to get between temples. Since we had a 3 day pass, plenty of enthusiasm and an intrepid spirit, we spent $1 hiring awfully basic bikes and had many of these difficult-to-reach temples to ourselves. The final day was spent in a tuk-tuk visiting temples even further outlaying, but not impossible to reach by tuk-tuk.
For anyone in South East Asia, visiting Angkor Wat is a MUST. I have seen plenty of historical must-sees in my life... the colleseum, the parthenon, the Pyramids, Teothuican... and I would say that Angkor Archaeological park ranks right up there in the top few. DO IT.
This is possibly the worst excuse ever to reclaim valuable land near the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh. We visited the land they came from and yes, now its just an empty field of grass surrounded by barbed wire to stop desperate families from Andong trying to become squatters in the patch of land that used to be their home
Land title is a major issue in Cambodia after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. People were given the right to live wherever they settled, but never given a piece of paper saying it is theirs. These families owned the land, but couldn't prove it, so the Cambodian Government took full advantage of it by forecefully relocating them, using teargas to force them onto buses to be shipped off to a new block of land, where they were given a 3m x 3m block of land per family to build a house. They were given land, but no materials, no money, no access sanitation infrastructure, no school, no electricity, no running water etc. These families lived under tents for years.
We were fortunate enough to be in contact with Abraham, who has become something of a hero to me, as he has worked with the village to create a basic school, get electricity for the village, build houses, and ensure that international medical teams do outreaches in the community. There is a sewing school for the women of the village, and they are working on getting pipes put in to deal with the flooding problem, some of which have been built in time to help Andong cope with the wet season. This time last year, the village flooded, but in some parts of the village new piping has resolved this issue.
For a few days, Leigh and I helped with the construction of the new school, and teaching English at the temporary thatched hut school. The kids suffered from various diseases, including major skin diseases. Health and Sanitation was virtually non-existent, and the 3 water pumps provided water from a pond covered in slime and waste.
It was certainly an interesting case study in holistic development, and reminded us that we cannot focus simply on ''education'' or ''health'' or ''employment prospects''. It was also interesting to see the divide between rich and poor that already exists, even though all families started with literally nothing just 4 years ago. Some families have a motorbike to get in to the city for work, and even a small radio or tiny second-hand tv, while some people still lived under a piece of tarpaulin.
Clear disparities exist between those who are given the opportunity to go into the city, those who received micro loans for selling basic food in the village, and those who are too sick or unable to work for various reasons. In a community like Andong, poor sanitation and minimal access to health care means its not hard to be too sick to work quite often.
The few days we journeyed to Andong challenged us culturally, linguistically, and emotionally.
For more information, check this out: http://www.photosensibility.com/portfolio/andong/
Monday, August 16, 2010
The city is a strange one. I don't know what hit us harder, the humidity, or the eagerness of the Vietnamese men to indulge my eyes in some foul erotic gestures before they could be averted. After some well-needed sleep, we went for a long walk through the major downtown area, not seeing anything particular, but soaking up the chaotic vibe followed by a roof-top dinner in District 1. I can't say that I hated it, but when we arrived in Phnom Penh the next day, the city paled in comparison and I found myself complaining about it to other backpackers.
Phnom Penh is a much more enjoyable city, but with its share of challenges; terrible smells, crazy moto drivers and beggars. The first few days were spent visiting all of the major tourist sights, such as the National Palace complex, Pagodas, markets and the more impacting sites such as the Killing Fields and the former school-turned-torture-prison, S21.
Note: My camera decided to stop working, so all of the photos were taken on Leigh's camera and for those who have been watching my facebook, you would notice I am yet to upload any photos of my own. For now, flick through Leigh's photo album. There are some beautiful photos in there, because while urban Cambodia is by no means the most beautiful place, it is certainly one of the most interesting.
Aid and Development is a big topic, and often so deeply associated with an altruistic optimism that it seems more like a nieve aspiration than a concept supported by leading economists, businessmen and politicians. However, the Millennium Development Goals are a set of realistic goals that could see rich governments (including our own) end extreme poverty in countries affected by the global food crisis, the aftermath of genocide or war, the effects of climate change or lack of basic infrastructure. They have more money and resources than many of the people who fit the mould of my fellow survive to five delegates... poor university students and high school students with hardly enough resources to sponsor one child, let alone the Develop a Global Partnership for Development), and meeting like-minded young people was both an incredible experience in itself, and the perfect platform to launch into my 3 months of learning first-hand about life on the field in Cambodia and Vietnam :D