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