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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I woke early again this morning, I was awake before my alarm, I laid there waiting for the invertible. A few moments later the alarm started screaming like a demented child “GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP GET UP”. It was 0600, I was groggy tired and bleary eyed, I managed to drag myself from my slumber and into the shower, the water was cold but refreshing I was instantly awake. After yesterdays trip I was clinging desperately to the idea of a finding a little bit of tranquility where I could make sense of my thoughts.

There would be no stopping me today, there would be no distractions, I would head straight to Kep, locate a boat and onto my final destination of Rabbit island.

The bike was loaded, my route set, and above all I had and uncompromising determination re-gain my clarity. I climbed onto the bike, started the engine and rode off with a clear goal, nothing could sway me from my course.

Approximately 300 meters down the road I deciding it was wise to have breakfast first (when you’ve gotta eat you’ve gotta eat). I found a place about, well 300 meters away from the guest house. I say I found a place, what I really mean is I just stopped the bike and sat at the first place that had food, it was actually a nice little place by the water front serving muesli and yogurt. (Once I was fed and watered, I would then have determination mentioned earlier).


I was now ready to continue my journey to the island retreat, nothing and I mean nothing could stop me. 20 minutes later and now on my 3rd stop to take photos, I was approached by three local boys who where clearly interested in what this long haired, bedraggled foreigner was up too. They where extremely friendly and their english was impeccable. They where interested in my pictures and asked me to take their photo. I kindly obliged and gave them my email address so that they could contact me for a copy.


Finally after only 2 more stops, I made it to the town of Kep, I managed to organise a boat, I even managed to arrange secure parking of my bike in the form of paying a police officer to look after it for only 2000 riel (about 30 pence). It was still early in the morning, maybe about 0830, I had finally arrived at Rabbit Island. There where a few huts that could be rented for about $5 a night, however these weren’t for me. It not that I wanted to be cheap, I simply wanted to be that little bit closer to nature. I was only on the island for one night, I wasn’t there to explore, I just needed to get my thoughts together. I found a nice quiet area between two coconut trees and set-up my hennessy hammock facing the sea. I then decided to wander around the the island so that I could be alone with my thoughts.

The weather was nice throughout the majority of the day allowing me to relax and mediate. I didn’t really want to be around other people at that point in time, I just needed to get my thoughts in order, or maybe it was just a case of not having any thoughts for a while. Later in the evening the wind started to pick up, I decided to go for dinner at one of the local restaurants provided by the islanders.


I made friends with some of the local dogs, animals are far easier to understand than humans, its a more simple relationship and one I can understand.


The weather started to deteriorate throughout the rest of the evening. Every one on the island took shelter in the restaurant buildings. I guess my head still wasn’t in any place to sociable so I decided to just connect with nature.


After feeling the forces of nature for a while I decided to wanter around to a sheltered cove just around the island. While writing this i’m reminded of the writings of the Tao Teh Ching, if something as powerful as a storm cant last forever then maybe there was still hope for me in this life.


I watched the boat owners in the sheltered bay for a while, before deciding to go back to my hammock to ride out the rest of the storm. I was laid in my hammock enjoying being alone and experiencing the wonders of nature, when a group of french travellers approached my hammock. They kindly invited me over to the restaurant for a beer and a smoke. Always in conflict with myself, part of me wanted to be alone, and the other part wanted to be with other. I eventually decided to join them, I had been in my head for long enough. We chatted and laughed into the night for a good 4 hours or so, eventually I wished them all good night and return back to my hammock, the storm had really picked up by this point, I knew the hammock could handle it, my only issue really was the probability of coconuts falling form the trees onto me. I decided it was not worth thinking about, climbed into my sleeping bag and fell asleep.

I didn’t find what I was looking for on Rabbit Island, but then again i’m not sure I really expected to. The journey there was a far greater learning experience than the ultimate destination, maybe that’s the whole point, who knows? I guess all I can really do is set a goal a purpose, something to merely aim at, and always try and remember that achieving it is not really the point, its the journey that matters.


05/08/2010 Road to Kampot

August 10, 2010

I woke pretty early this morning 06:00, I had a quick breakfast in the Okay restaurant, showered then packed my bags. I was going to meet Sovann for lunch, get a few supplies then head off towards Kampot.

I met Sovann at the Russian Market, a vibrant energetic place with plenty going on. When you’re here get used to haggling, but don’t take it too seriously, remember that in many cases these people are simply trying to survive.

After buying a couple of bags at the russian market, we went for lunch at a cafe called Jacobs Wall (They serve apple pie here).

Jacobs Wall
N11°33.440
E104°55.093

This is a lovely place to eat and even get a hot cappuccino due to the amazing air con. Did I mention they serve apple pie?

Sovann
Tuc-Tuc Driver, Tour Guide and all together super guy (give him a call or drop him an email if you are visiting Phnom Penh).
sovann_tour@yahoo.co.uk
+85517691083

After lunch Sovann assisted me in getting additional supplies for my trip, (things like tools for the bike etc). While we where riding around PP we happened to pass an extremely interesting structure, I had to stop and take a photo. I plan to go back here, maybe spend the day shooting, speak to the people who live here and simply find out a little more about the place.

After all supplies had been found I dropped Sovann back off at his home and said good-by. I set-off to find national road number 3, and start my journey to Kampot, my mission to deliver a message in my care to its recipient at the Honey Bar. It didn’t take long to find national road number 3, although I wouldn’t really call it a road, more a work in progress.


The road started off as a dirt road, then progressed through to rough loose chipping’s (this is pretty hairy when your travelling on two wheels), back to dirt and pot holes again and then progressing to large 40ft drops, created by unfinished bridges. There was of course some safety provision in the form of diversion signs, these where hand drawn arrows pointing in a direction away from the edge of the aforementioned unfinished bridge.

Travelling this road was slow going, as well as the poor condition, I also had the added benefit of the billowing clouds of dust created by a constant flow of heavy construction vehicle’s. I decided I would do the minimal amount of stops possible as I had a fair distance to travel. This however proved to be pretty difficult, as although it was rough going, and although the dust was hurting my lungs and eyes, it was still one of the most breath taking landscapes I had ever seen.


I was trying my hardest not to stop, but would constantly come across something that I either wanted to take a photo of, or just wanted to sit for a while and look at. I came across this building and decided that it would be my last stop, I would take a quick photo then ride all the way to Kampot.


Now the picture it’s self is pretty uninteresting and one I would normally just throw away. Its what happen next that took me completely by surprise. I had literally taken out my camera, took a shot and immediately thought “that’s a bit naff”, and proceeded to pack my camera away. I had zipped up the camera bag when I heard a kind of skidding sound followed by a crunching noise directly in front of me. Two girls riding a scooter had lost grip on the loose gravel and hit the road just a few meters ahead of me. I instantly ran over to where they where. Their bike had taken the majority of the impact but both of them where grazed and cut pretty badly from sliding along the gravel. I managed to get both of them over too my bike were I had a medical kit. By this time local villagers had also arrived over to see what had happened. None of the locals had any medical supplies so I patched both the girls up as best I could, cleaning the blood and grit from their wounds and treating them with an antiseptic cream before putting bandages on them. I gave them the rest of my medical kit and my remaining water before another scooter arrived to take them away. I had done all I could here. I was thanked by the local villagers before jumping back on my bike and continue my journey. I was now well behind time and loosing light quickly.


The light had almost gone now and I still had a long way too go, I couldn’t afford any more stops.
Too late, the light had now completely vanished, I was left riding in the pitch black, over loose gravel, pot holes, with dust, oncoming heavy vehicle’s, bridges which dropped off into rivers and pits, people occasionally simply appearing out of the darkness in the middle of the road, and now a new little twist. It seemed that every single insect in Cambodia had heard about my journey, and thought it appropriate to face slam me attracted by the headlight on my bike. (oh i nearly forgot, I didn’t have a visor either).

On several occasions the bike went from under me, I some how managed to correct it preventing it from going over. I was also forced into the edge of the trees a couple of times by oncoming trucks, but again managed to miraculously coax the bike back to the road. I continued like this for the next 2 hours, tired, sore, without water and with no real idea of where I was going except forward into the darkness. The only thing preventing me from finding some where to pitch my hammock was the though of delivering my message to its recipient and of course an ice cold beer.

Soon though salvation, I had some how made it the rest of the way to Kampot 🙂
After searching for about 30mins I finally found the Cosie Elephant guest house. I checked in, had a quick shower and made my way to the Honey Pot bar to deliver the message in my care. Ok I would deliver it after my first pint, (which went down in under 5 seconds). Sadly the recipient of the message wasn’t there, so I wrote it down and left it for her. I then had some food a couple more pints and retired to my bed. Today was a good day for being alive, I now wondered what tomorrow would bring.


So on Saturday I decided to travel to Phnom Penh again, its not that I really want to be in the city, but PP has something that little bit special. I wanted to try to feel the pulse of the city a bit, get under the skin of it, so to speak. As a bonus I was also meeting Hanna and Annie, a couple of volunteers at SSF who where leaving Cambodia and starting their journey back to the UK.

I set off early(ish) Saturday morning (0700) and headed to national road number 4 to try and flag down a taxi / mini bus. I didn’t have to wait long.

I climbed onto the front seat of the mini bus, sat back and simply absorbed the experience. As we got closer to PP we had to make more frequent stops, no we weren’t dropping passengers off, it was more to do with, what could only be classed as impromptu road taxation by waiting police. The driver would hand me notes of money, we would pull over where directed, and I would hand the said notes out of the window, miraculously they disappeared and we where suddenly on our way again.

After numerous more stops, I decided to alight the minibus at a market place… Too be honest I had absolutely no idea where I was, but decided it was as good a place as any to have a wander around. I was stopped numerous times by people who pointed at my tattoos, occasionally people would take my arm and run their fingers over the ink. This didn’t bother me at all as it was all done with a smile and with genuine interest. It also broke the ice and allowed me to just sit and chat with people for a while… (albeit in my god awful khmer) but I think they appreciated me trying at least.


After wandering around a bit I decided I should go and find Hanna and Annie. I asked a scooter rider if he knew where the Sunday guest house was. He nodded furiously and we negotiated $1 for the trip. After riding around for about 20mins it was clear he had no idea at all of where he was going. We asked directions approximately 5 times before we finally found the guest house. My driver, clearly delighted with his feat of navigational expertise, attempted to demand $2 for this impromptu sight seeing tour, I handed him $1 and thanked him politely for the journey.

I checked into Fairyland Guest house, which was next door to Sunday, (If i had trouble finding the Sunday guest house, then there was now way they would understand Fairy) it was probably one of the pricier places i’ve stayed, at $13 with an air conditioned room. But the rooms where lovely and had a TV as well. ( I found this useful as I could listen to Khmer on the TV). The view was also pretty nice. If your interested in this guest house then its on street 141.

After a shower to cool down I went to meet Hanna and Annie, we headed to the end of the street for a cold drink then off to the Russian market. (ok i need to confess, i absolutely love the iced coffees over here, try it with the sweet milk. dteuk gork gaa-fay, just incase your interested).

The Russian market, like most markets is covered, because of this its hot, now when I say hot I mean its really hot… its like a sauna in there… I love it… your hot, your wet, you have the hustle and bustle of the market, the smells the noise, the chaos, what better way to start to peel away the layers of a city and get to grips with it…


After spending about an hour walking around the market, we decided to go and grab something to eat. I was still on the lookout for apple pie (I have a thing for trying apple pie in every country I go to, it brings back good memories of my gran’s cooking). We eventually found a place that seemed to fit the bill, however just my luck it had sold out of apple pie 😦 instead I was offered a sorry looking apricot crumble. I mean who puts apricots in a crumble?

I sat there for a while poking disappointedly at my unappealing apricot crumble, I would occasionally gaze out of the window and down onto the street below. I could sense that that is was going to start raining. (the air cools a little, you can smell the moisture in the air, its pretty refreshing).

As the rain started to fall I started thinking, maybe I was looking at this all the wrong way, maybe just maybe I had been presented with an opportunity. An opportunity to continue my quest in search of the elusive cambodian apple pie. Of course I wanted to find it a good apple pie here, but would I ever really find an apple pie that was as good as my gran’s baking? would I even want too? Maybe the ultimate goal is irrelevant, it could just be something to aim at. Whats important is the journey, having a reason to move in a direction, any direction at all. With that thought, I moved towards the cake counter and ordered a large piece of cheese cake.

After stuffing my face with cake and iced coffee, we decided it was too hot too continue wandering about, so decided to head back to the guest house to play a few games of cards (Switch and Shit Head, some of you will know these games).

Later that evening Hanna, Anni and I grabbed a tuc-tuc to the riverside and ate dinner. It was nice spending time with the girls, they had both dedicated time out of their lives to help complete strangers on the other side of the world. If I was wearing a hat I would take it off too them. They where now heading back to their homes in the UK and back to uni to finish their studies.

Later that night, it was maybe about 0330 – 0430 in the morning (now back at my room of course), I was laid on my bed with the lights out and the windows open allowing me to hear the city outside. Initially I could hear voices in the street below, followed by a woman singing. I have no idea what she was singing but the sound echoed through the ally-way below. I got up from my bed and stood at the window for a while, watching the street and listening. It was a beautiful thing, it was one of those experiences that cost absolutely nothing at all, yet made me appreciate and accept everything within the universe at that single moment in time….simply perfect.

I woke pretty early on Sunday, ok I woke at 0800, it was early enough. I wanted to purchase a couple of things, first off i needed a hard-drive for a server I was building at the school, I also needed another Khmer phrase book, and maybe if I had time I could look at and maybe price a scooter. This was going to be a bit of a mission so I decided to call my good friend Sovann (he’s a tuc-tuc driver and knows every where). He arrived at Fairlyland within 10 mins of me calling. I have no idea how he does it.

We managed to get a hard drive and a phrase book within about 30 mins. Ok may as well look at a couple of scooters then. 3 hours later I was riding my new 250cc XL Honda Degree through the streets of PP. Sovann being the kind soul that he is, refused to let me ride back to Kompong Speu alone, just incase I had any problems. He jumped on the back and we started the 1 hour journey back. Actually with me riding this bike it didn’t take that long at all. Sovann seemed a little worried, when I say seemed a little worried i probably mean screamed. However the noise of the engine suppressed his vocal projection of fear from disturbing my carefully developed riding style.

So there we have it, another weekend in PP, and now I have wheels to go and explore anywhere I like, who know where Im going to end up 🙂

peace & love dx