The nest of the bird

October 10, 2010

Since my last post I have been trying to rest, I’ve been spending time with friends who have been helping me to laugh more. This has helped me more than I could have ever imagined and has allowed me to dive back into my work.

On Thursday I met a new friend “SP” he is a tuc-tuc driver but also a Cambodia who wishes to help his people in some way. I told him what I was trying to do and he agreed to take me to a place referred to by the residents as “the nest of the bird” a small shanty town on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

SP told me, when the land in the city was sold for development the people who lived there had to be moved. The people where relocated to this area out of the way on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Not many people knew about this place, even less people would want to come here. This was sounding more and more like the place I had to be.

As we travelled by tuc-tuc I passed a large housing development. These houses sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars to foreigners and the wealthy.

What I didn’t realise was this development would set a harsh contrast for the reality of life a mere 5 minutes away.

A local woman told us the only way in to the shanty town was to wade through the filthy water and sewage. She warned that it wouldn’t’ be good for us as the water causes skin problems, itching and illness. SP looked at me and asked what I wanted like to do. I kinda figured we had come this far, plus the residents here had no choice but to live like this every day, the least i could do is experience just a little of what they have to endure.

We rolled up our trousers and started to wade through the foul water. In places the water was up to my knees, however had it been raining it would easily have been waist high. I was thankful for the clear skies.

As we entered the shanty town we where greeted by residents who where clearly surprised to see this long haired tattooed white man making his way through the sewage. The people here where of the friendliest I have met, I was half expecting constant begging, but none of them did. SP said that the people in this town where very proud people and would do anything instead of beg for money. Many would make small recycled toys, or collect snails from the fields to sell. We where invited into homes to meet the families.

Every time we met people the story was the same, they had skin problems, rashes, hives, insect bites and worms. Illness was extremely common due to the filthy conditions and lack of sanitation. I could hear myself repeating the same thing over and over “this is not right”, “how can people live like this”.

The truth is, seeing people like this, these men, women and children. Seeing them forced to live in conditions you wouldn’t place an animals in, well it was very emotional to say the least. I wanted to cry, I wanted all of the feeling surging through my body to be out in the open. The problem was I could’t, I was unable too cry. I felt as though I was looking through someones else’s eyes, like it wasn’t quite real, if only that was true. I knew it was real, it was more real than anything I had seen before, I just couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing.

We continued through the town, stopping constantly and speaking to the people we met. The parents would show us the cuts and infections on their children, they would explain about the water levels and lack of sanitation, they explained about the illnesses and the fact that there weren’t any doctors or hospital nearby.

I dont think my photos will ever be able to truly show the unbelievable horror of the situation here. The smile’s and kindness of the people make you almost forget where you are. Here in this place is a community struggling simply to survive, any pre-conceptions I may have had where completely blown away.

In one home I met a woman feeding her infant child, they where approximately a foot from the contaminated water all around them. They had to sit on their beds as the water was constantly inside of their home.

I asked one of the men what they did when the water rose. He told me very casually that all of the family had to sleep in the bed that was the highest off the ground and pointed to a small bed an extra couple of feet higher.

As we continued wading through the town we came upon a sewage pipe than ran through with homes on either side. There was no sanitation here though as the pipe was open, and what ever used to flow through it was now a part of homes and play area’s of the children. The residents used the pipe to stay above the water level where possible.

The people here are truly in need of help. They where so happy to see me, they asked for nothing, except that I take lots of photos and show others. They simply want more people to visit their homes in the hope that it will bring about change.

I have decided to postpone my trip to the golden triangle so that I can spend some more time with the people here. I wish to find out what organisations are in the area and how they are helping. If any one reading this would like to donate then I will provide details of the NGO’s (none government organisations that try and support these people). I only wish there was more that I could do.

After being in this place I felt so much sadness, I knew I had pull myself away from these feeling otherwise my emotions could quite easily consume me. SP told me it is was Pchum Ben Festival in Cambodia and everyone in the city would be heading back to their villages to be with family. He said he was leaving tonight for the 2 hour bike trip to his small village and if I wanted I was welcome to come and stay with his family. Of course I agreed immediately, as I had instant trust and respect for SP and I know we will continue to be friends. (details of this trip will be in my next blog).

For now, wishing you all peace & love always,

dan


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04/08/2010 @21:45 (in Okay guest house)

(transcribed from my paper journal)
Well things where pretty bad for me today, Im currently writing in my journal, with the intent of placing these thoughts directly into my blog. Today I had such a low, I felt depressed, hopeless and irritable, I felt so bad that I couldn’t interact completely with the children. They where amazing though, their smiles and laughs really helped me get through the day. I let Vichetr know how I was feeling, he was very understanding, (I really didn’t want to let anyone down). He told me he had sent the children home to plant rice with their parents, and I could take time off until Monday. I didn’t realised i had not been sleeping very well, maybe a few hours each night, what I needed was to just get away and reconnect with my self again.

I immediately loaded up the bike and set off on the approximate 50km journey to Phnom Penh. It was a pretty uneventful ride apart from going off road a few times to get past slow moving trucks. PP on the other hand was chaos! The rules of the road in PP initially can be intimidating. I found that it’s sometimes better not to acknowledge the person you are about to cut up (cut in front of, steal their space etc, you get the idea). If you acknowledge them you instantly put yourself at a disadvantage. With your weakness exposed your feeble attempt at dominating any space is lost forever, a torrent of vehicle’s will surge into it in a single exquisite fluid movement, leaving you wondering where you went wrong, and how on earth they got 4 people, 2 gas cylinders and a sewing machine onto one scooter.


Once in PP I checked into a guest house, I stayed at:-

Okay Guest House
Long Nget,
Phnom Penh,
Cambodia
(0)12 300 804

GPS:
N11°33.588
E104°56.049

The guest house is very friendly and has great reviews from lots of travellers. My room cost me $7 with a fan and a TV. I requested a room on the top floor so I would have views over the city, and maybe a wee smoke before bed.

Once I had somewhere to sleep my next goal was to locate food. I didn’t really want to head out into PP, I was tired and it was getting close to 20:00 (I know not late, but remember I had not been sleeping that well) plus I wanted to get up early to pick-up supplies, and decide where on earth I was actually going to go. I made the easy decision to eat in the Okay restaurant. The food was good with a decent choice of options, both local food and western.

While in the restaurant I got chatting to a young guy from Switzerland. He lived in Cambodia and worked on a boat that took tourists to Vietnam. As we chatted it was clear that he was broken hearted, we chatted for just over an hour. During the conversation he mentioned a place called Rabbit island near to the town of Kep. He informed me that if it was seclusion and solitary that I was looking for, then I would find it on place called Rabbit island. As I expressed a keen interest he gave me the directions, he also said that if I took national road 3 then I would pass through the town of Kampot (a coastal town where his ex-girlfriends sister had a guest house and bar). As i was saying good night he kindly asked that if I did go through Kampot, then if I could pass on a message for him. I figured this was as good a reason as any to go there and asked him for the message. With that I retired to my room.


I showered, phoned my friends Ali and Dave in the UK, (just to let them know i was still alive), turned on the TV and laid on my bed to write my journal (which brings us to pretty much where we are now).

(Oh quick note, if your in cambodia then get to know a local who can get you a sim card for your mobile phone. It is so much cheaper to call overseas using a local card. I got a $5 card at the start of the month and still have $2.5 on it. I’ve made a few overseas calls and loads of local ones).

While writing I thought it would be a good idea to listen to a Khmer channel on the TV, just hearing the sounds seems to help me learn. Too my surprise Im finding it hard to locate a channel in Khmer. There are about 20 or so channels in all, and I’ve found about three in Khmer. There’s lots of english and Mandarin but thats about it. The three channels that are in Khmer are saturated with the mindless brain washing adverts for products that just aren’t needed. If you buy this you will be a better person, this will make your life better, look at these celebrates they are better than you, you can try and be like them if you buy this though. I find it atrocious that a country which has been physically destroyed is now in my opinion being socially destroyed as well. How many times has history shown countries and culture destroyed first through war and now through globalisation. Apologies rant is over….


Its probably time for me to sleep,

peace & love dx