A Travellerspoint blog

July 2013

Day 3 - Phnom Penh to Pursat

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

sunny 31 °C

We woke up at 6:30 am and took our time getting organized, got sorted out and met again at the Indochine 2 restaurant for breakfast. Today we asked our server what her name was and she told us Sammy. She was a happy, engaging person who laughed often and loved to play small practical jokes. Her grin beamed across her face from ear to ear. How nice to meet someone so very happy. The sad part is when she told you about her boyfriend, an older Australian man who she pointed out to someone in our group and she explained that she only got to see him twice a year. I guess this is the darker side of life in a third world country where people are vulnerable.

Breakfast was at a table outside on the sidewalk. I like hot countries as you get to eat outside year round. Of course with the heat does come the downside...a lot more bugs and they also seem to come in larger sizes in hot places. We had a western breakfast and then we went to the Phnom Penh Central Market. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Market,_Phnom_Penh Oh what a market. Shopping bliss. Bargaining bliss until I got lost. When we arrived I went to the jewellry section and bought some bracelets and earrings. Good deals. What can I say, shiny and sparkly and it was great but also quite overwhelming. We will be going back to the market in Phnom Penh before we leave Cambodia. There are still so many things that I want to buy for gifts and myself. What can I say, my surrogate daughter and Linda and I are most excited to go shopping. We have been nicknamed the Indochines. Anyways I did eventually meet up with the group outside the market, a bit late but I found them. I had gotten turned around inside the market and came out the wrong way.

We had lunch back at the hotel and after lunch we would head off to Pursat. A van and driver had been hired to take us to Pursat as it made more sense than to take two vehicles. The driver, Sing would be our driver for the entire length of our trip. We piled into the van and loaded up everything that we wanted to take to Pursat. Anything that we didn't need could be left at the hotel in Phnom Penh.

About half way towards Pursat we stopped at a roadside restaurant to get ice cream. Unfortunately, they didn't have any and so some of us had a beverage and then back into the van to continue our trip to Pursat. When we arrived at the hotel in Pursat we met Leah who is the director of HOPE in Cambodia.

We had dinner and then we went to our rooms to settle in and get to sleep as tomorrow we would be going to the HOPE office and then head to the village of Prahos Kbal.

It was a light hearted day with laughter. We all really needed it after yesterday's trip to the Killing Fields and S21, the prison.

Posted by Sydney324 21:20 Archived in Cambodia Tagged market cambodia central phnom penh pursat Comments (0)

Day 22 - Last Day - Phnom Penh to Vancouver

Sunday, July 28, 2013

We had to be up before dawn and got up at 4:30 am. I heard Lily's voice in the pitch black telling me it was time to get up. It was a struggle to force myself to wake up and get ready even though part of me was looking forward to going home. I miss my sons, my pets, family and friends.

All the hotels that we have stayed at have been around three storeys and none of them have elevators. I expect that that is due to cost but am not certain. It is not easy to lug suitcases (yes, especially mine as they are heavy) up or down the stairs. The staff at all the hotels have been amazing with helping to get our luggage to and from our rooms. There are always several hands to help and the job is completed quickly. Most of the Cambodians are of small builds and not very tall, are slender and incredibly strong. I have met more than a few women that are shorter than me which is much more rare in Canada. They are a very physically fit people.

Sing, our driver would be arriving with Leah at 5:00 am to take us to the Phnom Penh airport for our flight back to Vancouver. Fortunately there was little traffic and the city seemed to be mostly asleep except for a few people doing tai chi on a street corner. It is the calm before the polls open for the election at 7:00 am.

When we arrived at the airport our airline China Southern Airlines was not even open for check in. We had to wait until 6:00 am and then we started to get checked in. Last time my suitcases were weighed together, this time it was done separately, and I was told the limit was 23 kg each going home, not the 32 kg that it was coming to Cambodia, at least that is what it said in their website. Anyways lucky for me Rainbow had room and took my heavier items, books and some products into her bag and all was good again. Minor glitch as I managed to misplace one of my suitcase keys, likely dropped by me inside a suitcase as I was rummaging around to lighten the load.

I had a lot of stuff and almost the entire team was carrying a bag for me. I had my carry on which was a large backpack, a day pack which was my purse, a large wooden piece of art, a bag of snacks, a bag of duty free and a bag of beer. So lucky to have such nice people on the team to help. Thanks guys! You are all so very helpful.

There was one other minor glitch as Linda's booking said she could only bring back one suitcase and so chivalrous Clark (you like that name Clark?) checked in Lin Lin's second bag for her.

We got through security quickly and went to sit down to wait. Did some shopping at the duty free and was happy to be able to buy some spices which was the one item I had not had time to get before leaving for home. The duty free in Phnom Penh is quite expensive for a lot of their items such as chocolate. Spices were reasonable but likely higher which was to be expected. I didn't look at hard liquor prices but I am assuming that it is decent.

Some of us had breakfast and we also enjoyed our last bit of the wonderfully tasty Cambodian bananas. I had a ham and cheese croissant at a "French bakery". Otherwise nothing that really caught my eye. Methinks I am actually shopped out. I did my utmost to stimulate the economy in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

Before we knew it it was time to board our flight at 7:30 am and then off to our only stop in Guangzhou (known historically as Canton which is where my mom was born), China. Checked out a few stores and I did buy a birthday gift.

We were treated to a super wonderful poem that Vivian wrote. She captured all the nuances and the true essence of this trip and it was perfect. Thanks so much Vivian! It was awesome! Will post that later in the blog.

Our layover here would be short, about an hour and a half. While we were there it started raining and it turned to very heavy rain. An announcement was made and our flight would be delayed by 45 minutes and wouldn't leave until 3:00 pm. We were further delayed as we sat on the tarmac for a bit.

I fell asleep before the plane even took off. Getting only five hours of sleep was catching up to me. Had a meal and watched a movie, Snitch, and then went to the task of blogging.

This flight has had a lot of turbulence and it has been neverending, going on for a couple of hours. The plane was really rocking from side to side and up and down. The stewardesses had us close all the blinds. Kailey guessed that there was likely quite the storm outside which the stewardesses preferred us not to see. People might get scared.

It is now nearly 8 pm China time and so we have been travelling for under five hours. We have I think, about seven and a half hours to go. I may have to stop blogging and will sleep again if the turbulence doesn't settle down.

Kailey and I decided to go visit the others. Our seats were scattered throughout the plane. Clark was on the left side of the plane, Rainbow in the middle close to him. Vivian was in a middle row, aisle seat a row behind us. Lily was in a window seat on the opposite side of the plane and I think Viola was on the right side of the plane as was Lin Lin who had an aisle seat. We visited Clark who had his eyes closed and then we went to visit Lin Lin. Clark had come to visit earlier. I think he really misses his harem. Life is just going to be quieter for Clark. We then went to visit Lin Lin. It is now just under six hours before we arrive in Vancouver. We are all kind of bored. I took a gravol but haven't dozed off. I couldn't get comfortable and the plane is stuffy. I just had half a beer hoping to be able to relax some and fall asleep. Maybe blogging will help me doze off as well.

Also half watching Snitch again as the movie was interrupted several times due to announcements by the stewardess for people to please sit down. After the third announcment a woman finally sat down and nope she was not Chinois. They have mostly been behaving well. When I went to the back of the plane to the kitchen there were a bunch of older Chinese guys chatting it up with the stewardesses.

Getting drowsy finally. Beer/gravol combo working. Didn't like to mix booze with medication but I gotta get some shut eye. The combo kicked in and I got to sleep for three hours. Total bliss to get a real rest. Back to blogging.

I did fall asleep again and slept until a short time before we finally touched down in Vancouver at about 1:40 or so.

Jeremy was inside to meet me and Andrew was outside in the car. Nancy, Joe and Michael surprised me and it was sure nice to get a big hug from Nancy.

Got all my luggage, thankfully nothing was lost or delayed and it was back to reality.

Posted by Sydney324 21:25 Archived in Cambodia Tagged flight cambodia vancouver Comments (0)

Day 18 - Bamboo Train and Rice Planting in Pursat

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

overcast

Breakfast at 7:30 am at our hotel. I had a great sleep last night and it is the simple things in life such as a good night's sleep that one often appreciates. We arrived for breakfast in the hotel dining room and at the table to my left were two Asian men. One of them started to talk to me and asked me if I was Chinese. I told him I am and explained why I was in Cambodia and told him how much I was loving it but not the mosquitos. He responded that that's nature. He said he was from Cambodia originally and had lived in Los Angeles for 20 years but had moved back to Cambodia 13 years ago. He said that I should live here and I think Cambodia is a country I could seriously consider living in part of the time. As much as there is hardship and it can be hotter than hell at times, it is an amazing country and the people of Cambodia are truly amazing.

After breakfast Leah came with Sing and we all piled into the van for a short drive and arrived at the bamboo train. This was a surprise to us. It wasn't a train as we know it, but a wooden platform on which there was a rolled out mat. We climbed aboard and sat, mostly cross legged in rows of three. It is called the bamboo train because in the past they were made out of bamboo. Currently they are made of wood, what type I don't know but some type of rough and strong wood. I expect that the wood is salvaged from somewhere. The bamboo trains are called a "norry" or "nori" in Khmer and is from the French word "lorry". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norry

Leah told us that the train track that we were on stretches from Phnom Penh to the Thai border. It is a baffling distance. The train track has only one track and so when another train arrives coming from the other direction, the two drivers have to decide who must move. Soon enough another train arrived coming the other way piled high with logs. We were amazed at the ease with which our train was "moved". It was dismantled. The platform was removed and placed on the ground to the side of the track, ditto with the engine, and each wheel. The other train passed by and then our train was put back together again and off we went. I don't know what the speed was but it was at times at a pretty good clip, maybe as fast as 40 mph. Those sitting on the sides of the train had to watch for protruding branches as they could hurt as we whipped by. There was a lot of ducking and swerving so we wouldn't get hit or hit as badly.

The Cambodians are very clever and resourceful people. To me they are the Cubans of Southeast Asia as the Cubans have cars from the 50's for which they have no spare parts yet they are still on the road as they are so resourceful and use parts from other items to make engines work.

We stopped to visit a lady that had been provided with a well from HOPE. She told us that she had 10 children and 10 grandchildren. Three of her children had died. She explained how her life had been improved since getting the well from HOPE. They no longer had to travel far to get water to drink. She also had fruit trees on her property and dogs and chickens. From what we have seen, it seems like everyone owns dogs and raises chickens.

We got back on the bamboo train and rode further down the track. The driver stopped, then we walked a very short distance, took off our shoes and walked through some water to the other side and went to visit another home. This one was occupied by a family and the mother had a store. This family had also received a well from HOPE. The mother explained that she had had two microloans from HOPE. People can take out a loan and then it must be repaid within a year. She said she would take out a third loan once this second loan was paid off. The money helped her to improve her life. Her store did well and I bought five small bags of snacks and cookies. My total cost was $1,000 riel or 25 cents. We finished with our visit and got back on the bamboo train and headed back. It was a fairly hot day but didn't feel so bad as it was cooling to ride the bamboo train.

Back to the hotel for a lunch of salad rolls and a salad with a creamy sauce that contained cabbage, carrots, peppers that resembled banana peppers, cooked quarters of egg but I am not sure if there was yolk in it.

Like I have said earlier, people in Cambodia are very resourceful. Because they don't have a lot they make do with what they have. We have seen CD's/DVD's strung together in a row of three or more to act as reflective lights on the back of carts.

After lunch we went to rest until 1:30 pm and then it would be off to plant in the rice fields. We were all very excited to be doing this. We got another very nice surprise when we arrived at the rice field, both Tia and Pang were there. We didn't expect to ever see them again as we had last seen them in Prahos Kbal, the village in Pursat. Tia works with Piep for the dry rice project. Pang was volunteering. He had never planted rice before and had just learned to do it four months ago. As he does speak English but not a lot, when I asked him how old was he when he first started to plant rice, he told me four months old.

Well rice planting was most interesting. It was pretty warm out and I started out with my hat and soon turfed it as it got in the way. Of course you went in bare feet. You were bent over and walking backwards to plant the rice. New techniques had been implemented for rice planting and you planted less and obtained a better yield. I think it was called Intensive Rice Planting. We had a bundle of rice plants and we were just planting 2 to 3 stalks by making an indentation in the mud and then placing the stalks in it. The mud is sticky and mucky. The rice field is also uneven as you are walking backwards when you are planting and so when you make a footprint that part is obviously lower. There were also worms and other insects swimming around in the mud and surprisingly, we got used to it pretty fast. We didn't like it but we learned to ignore it mostly at least until Clark used a rice stalk and ran it along Linda's leg to mimic a worm.

I guess all the time spent with bugs, frogs, praying mantis, cockroaches, centipedes, fireflies and all varieties of lizards nothing was going to phase us now. I never did try a deep fried tarantula as we didn't actually come across any. I strongly considered trying it, whether I would have I am not certain. I may not have mentioned previously that there is a large amount of dragonflies as well. You would see maybe 30 to 50 flying together. It was a pretty special sight. Unfortunately we didn't see fireflies as often as I would have liked. We learned that when fireflies come out in the night when the air has more moistness.

We did this for about 2 hours and it was really hard work. I was happy to do it but it was not easy as my back, which never hurts was hurting. I was relieved when we were done. I just hope that I didn't mess up two much with my planting technique and that the crop wasn't hurt in any way by my inadequate rice planting skills.

We were washed off with water from a nearby creek after we all climbed out of the rice field. Back to the hotel for much needed showers and a change of clothes. We had a short rest before dinner.

We then went to a restaurant close to the HOPE office for dinner with Leah and Piep. It was a nice meal and we also had a cat under our table as well as a dog. They were hoping for table scraps. We were more concerned about them having a scrap and scratching us which would necessitate getting shots for rabies. Luckily they left after a while. The cat looked quite pissed off at us.

Then it was back to our hotel and bed as we were all tired.

Our hotel, like most provide a laundry service and we were most happy to pay for that. It was 25 cents for each piece of laundry. We would give them our pile and our room number. It was a crap shoot when it came back as it would sometimes be mixed up between the rooms but they did an amazing job getting the dirt and stains out of filthy dirty clothes. We were most grateful to not wash by hand which we had done at Prahos Kbal as we were in the village then. Many of us left dirty clothes with the hotel which they would wash and dry and then they would be donated to those that needed it. Leah would arrange for their pick up.

Posted by Sydney324 00:55 Archived in Cambodia Tagged villages train cambodia rice countryside bamboo hope wells pursat planting Comments (0)

Day 20 - Pursat to Phnom Penh

Friday, July 26, 2013

sunny 30 °C

[left][center]Breakfast at our hotel in Pursat at 7:30 am and then we would be heading off to Phnom Penh. I had a Cambodian breakfast of fried noodles with chicken at the hotel. This was one of the better dishes I have received as it was covered with lots of greens, carrots, mushrooms and baby corn. Before this I had a fresh coconut and happily drank the coconut water dry. I am now a fan of coconut water. All the times I tried to learn to like it in Vancouver because it was good for me didn't gel. Maybe I just needed to do it in the right setting and now I am hooked. I doubt that the canned coconut water can measure up to fresh coconut water.

We loaded up the van with our luggage and off we went. I had now been sitting in the front seat of the van after my bad bout with car sickness. I generally do not ever experience car sickness but with the bumpy dirt roads and the winding driving due to piles of dirt everywhere, it was too much for me.

We made a stop at a nearby women's cooperative which wdas operated by the government. There women made goods out of cotton, silk, wove mats, placemats, carvings out of wood and various types of stone, silk wallets, purses, kramas (the traditional Khmer cotton scarves.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krama, etc. We saw women weaving large mats, one young woman was disabled and her wheelchair was nearby. We also watched two women weave silk fabric on large looms. Another woman, a mother had her baby nearby and she was taking thread and spinning it onto a large spool using a bicycle wheel to spin with. We went to their store after our short tour and bought many of their goods as we not only found unique items but we wanted to support them as well.

We travelled for about an hour and a half when Sing turned off the main road onto a dirt one. Rainbow had asked us earlier if we liked surprises and I think everyone said that they do as long as they were good surprises. Soon enough it was announced that we would be taking a boat and going to see the floating village. We got into a boat that had plastic chairs for us to sit on. None of the chairs were secured to the boat and there were life jackets but no one put them on despite a few of us not knowing how to swim. In hindsight it might have been a smart idea to put them on.

It was truly an astounding experience. An entire floating village on the Tonle Sap River. Many homes, businesses of every kind that you would find in a landlocked village. Gas stations, grocery stores, cell phone stores, hardware and more.

Some of the homes had satellite dishes attached to them. We saw a father and son in a hammock while looking at their iPad. We also saw a sight that made your stomach flip, a woman holding a cut watermelon and she was washing it in the river.

Garbage is a real problem in Cambodia. People litter everywhere. At the village the children, would eat and just drop their wrappers, food bits and anything they didn't want onto the ground. This made it so much more work as there was constant littering and whenever you had to dig up any soil it would be littered with garbage which would have to be pulled out. It also didn't help as there were no garbage bins to be seen. Disposal of garbage seems to be dealt with partly by burning it and that just causes more air pollution. Other times it just sits there. I saw large heaps of garbage in Phnom Penh and I expect that in the city trucks would pick that up as the pile was larger than the last time we were in Phnom Penh some three weeks ago.

We got back on the road after thoroughly enjoying our little boat ride and went to the roadside restaurant that we went to for a beverage the last time we came this way. Last time the place was not very busy at all. This time the tables were filled with customers and we got to sit in a private room at the very back. Chairs were covered with white fabric and the bathroom was one of the nicest I have used since coming to Cambodia. It was now 12:30 pm and Leah said we are just here for a snack and would be going for a very late lunch at a French restaurant in Phnom Penh. We had a snack of french fries with three different dips, ketchup, soya sauce and lime juice with salt/pepper and msg. While we ate we watched a silly soap opera from the Phillipines. We had a lot of good laughs and it was great fun.

Soon we were back on the road to head to Phnom Penh. It was about another one and a half hour trip before we arrived. Along the way we saw a lot of political rallys as today was the last day that the parties could promote themselves. Tomorrow was the day before the election. Once the ballots closed they will be counted and the results known in a day or two. Large sections of downtown roads were closed for the parties. There was a very noticeable police presence and a large amount of military were stationed everywhere.

We arrived in Phnom Penh around 4:00 and Sing dropped us off for a very late lunch/dinner at a French restaurant called comme a la maison. There is a reason why you should not go for another country's food when you are not in that country. It is never quite right unless you are in a larger city such as Vancouver, Boston, New York or Seattle. There the food is prepared correctly. A valiant effort was made by this restaurant but it didn't quite cut it. I ordered the seafood with pasta and the sauce was like a tomato paste. The seafood was decent but nothing special. I had a Perrier water with my meal. Some of the other meals were quite good. After we finished eating, we walked to their adjoining bakery to order our dessert. We came back to the restaurant where I had a very tasty apple tart. This was the best part of my meal.

We left there shortly after 5 pm and went back to the hotel we stayed at last time, Indochine 2. I was excited about getting there as I would be reunited with my camera (that I had left in the safe at the hotel in Siem Reap) and also pick up a necklace with my name in Khmer that I had ordered when we first arrived in Phnom Penh.

We met in the lobby at 6:00 pm and walked along the main drag and soon ended up at the Phnom Penh Night Market. It was expected to be closed. I stimulated the economy getting some last minute items along with my teammates and then we went back to the main street.

Just outside the market, there was a sugar cane vendor using a sugar cane machine, the same type as what we were buying for Ron. Rainbow bought a sugar cane juice and we all shared this. Oh how things have changed. Three weeks ago we were such strangers, now we drink each other's water, beverages and taste each others meals and desserts. We have really gotten to know and care about each other, bonded and become a family.

I haven't always recorded the temperature in the blog as I often didn't know what it was. Humidity year round is a high between 80 to 90% and higher so you felt that much hotter. Most days I think it was between 28 to 33 degrees. You would shower, feel really cooled off for about five minutes until the heat and humidity got to you. I have to say that I think I fared the heat much better due to having gone to hot yoga regularly. The hottest day in Phnom Penh in the past 12 months was on April 6th at 40 degrees. The hottest day relative to average temperatures was July 21st when it was 39 degrees. We were still in Prahos Kbal that day. Apparently the coldest day in the past 12 months in Phnom Penh was May 4 when it was 20 degrees.

Several of us went into an interesting store called KeoK'jay which means bright green or fresh in Khmer. "They are a social enterprise that employs HIV positive women to produce environmentally friendly fashion. Our producers earn a fair wage that allows them to care for their families and actively contribute to their communities. Every step in making a KeoK'jay product is considered with the producer, the customer, and the environment in mind, from design, to materials, to production, to packaging. We aim to provide comfortable, useful, fashionable and washable products. Our creative team works side by side with our producers, delivering designs that are inspired by Cambodia and that resonate with our international customers." - from website for Binky Higgins which carries KeoK'jay in the United States.

Their products are very reasonably priced and the quality is high. Maxi dresses for $31, regular length dresses for $25 and t-shirts for $21 to $22. I bought two t shirts and returned the next day with some of the other women and bought another t-shirt and a dress. I also really like that their products are made from recycled materials, that they use garment factory cast-offs, vintage buttons, cement bags, newspapers and cardboard.

We then went to the massage place recommended to us by Sammy, a waitress at the Indochine 2. The majority of the group went for foot massages which I think were $7 for an hour. Lily opted for a head massage. Only Linda and I wanted an oil massage and so upstairs we went. The massage was pretty decent and our cost was so very little, only $8 a person for an hour massage. As it was election day tomorrow, my masseuse told me that she has to travel back home to vote and that it is about two hours away. We had been told that traffic was going to be heavier in the days leading up to the election as many people would be travelling to their home district to vote as you cannot vote outside of your district. I wasn't clear if your district was where you were born or where you were normally a resident. She was also very sweet and giggled when she saw my tattoos. She is also shorter than me. I met more women shorter than me in Cambodia than anywhere else I have gone to in the world so far. Like I said, my kind of country.

After massages for all eight of us were done, it was now around 9 pm and we wanted to go to get something to eat. We went to a restaurant nearby called La Croissette which served pizza, burgers and other familiar dishes. We ordered pizza, a couple of chocolate mousses and I ordered a cheese plate. Cheese plate was very good. Lily had been talking about how she missed cheese and I had been wanting cheese. Some had drinks and I had my first Singapore Sling since I was about 19 years old. It actually tasted pretty good, as I thought it would be too sweet. After we ate, we wandered back to our hotel with a pit stop at the corner store for snacks and some special beverages.

I had also somehow lost my Cambodian dictionary somwhere and I picked up another at the store as I hope to return to Cambodia one day in the not so far future.

Kailey and Linda came to join Lily and I in our room for some chill time and we ended up staying up too late. No sleeping till likely close to 2:00 am. It was really our last night to stay up as it would be an early bed tomorrow.

Posted by Sydney324 23:18 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia village floating hope phnom penh pursat garbage keok'jay Comments (0)

Day 19 - Pursat Province - We Can All Make a Difference

Thursday, July 25, 2013

semi-overcast

Today would be our last full day in Pursat at the hotel. We met for breakfast at 7:30 am in the hotel dining room. I ordered something different for breakfast as I needed a change. I ordered what was listed on the menu as dried fish rice. I asked our waitress if the dried fish was salty and she said yes. I hoped that it would be salty fish fried rice. Oh well, I hoped wrong. It was two pieces of deep fried fish with white rice. English is often not fully comprehended in Pursat. People here are very nice but often don't comprehend you and don't always let on that they don't understand. They do try and will often go to get someone who understands more English. It was a bit surprising about the command of English as the hotel has had quite a few tourists since we have been here. Rooms are very cheap and are about $15 a night for a room for two. The rooms are comfortable, clean and if something doesn't work they take care of it right away. I would stay here again should I come to Pursat on my own.

After breakfast we were picked up shortly after 8:30 am and we would be going to visit a family who are located in a village that HOPE has not yet expanded into but plans to do so. Once again we would be travelling by van and the trip took about 1 hour and a half. Many of the roads were new and part of the road was paved and this was only due to the government doing this as the Chinese were leasing land in the area to grow cassava.

The area was quite different from anything we have seen as there is vast amounts of the with cassava plants. Hectares and hectares of it for as far as your eye can see. The Chinese then would hire Cambodians to farm the land and grow the crops. The government is renting the farmland to the Chinese. There were vast spaces where there was no farming and eventually the land would bland e cleared and given to people to settle on. The people would own the land and not pay any tax on it. It would be their responsibility to clear the land themselves before they could build a home and live there. This would be a long and tough job as it would be done by hand. This area used to have land mines but they have been cleared for people to live here about three years ago.

We were going to see a family that HOPE would be providing a well to. They do not let the family know that there is a well forthcoming until it has been approved as they don't want to get anyone's hopes up. A lot of travelling is done

This family was extremely poor. I had never seen poverty like this before. I knew it existed but not to this degree and to see it firsthand really hits you in the gut. The mother wore a larger man's shirt that was very tattered. She is slender and gaunt. She has an air of sadness about her and her face is pinched. She seemed defeated, like life had beaten her and she now just existed. Leah and Piep brought a bag of baguettes along with several cans of condensed milk for them. Often they are hungry. They have chickens which they are looking after for her in-laws. I was told that the people do not eat the eggs as it is better to have the egg grow into a chicken and then eat the chicken. The five chickens belong to the in-laws. We did not ask how they get the feed for the chickens. They were kept in a little hut with thatched palms leaves covering the door and you could hear them clucking inside.

Leah asked them about what they eat. They eat whatever they are able to forage. Today, they were fortunate and had eaten rice porridge so they were fed. When there is nothing to eat, they take ants and put them in water with salt and eat that. This is real poverty, starvation and you just need to survive. There is no obesity in Cambodia. I have seen few overweight people. In Cambodia you walk a lot, ride a bicycle as transportation, work in the fields to earn a living and are constantly on the move. No lying around eating bon bons.

I think most people are slim due to not having enough resources to buy food to eat. As well, you eat mostly whole foods here. Also without access to water you cannot grow crops. When you can grow crops, you become self sustaining. Those crops feed you and you sell your excess crops to earn an income to purchase what you need. This is how people can find hope and do more than just survive.

This family was living in the poverty that I had expected to experience upon my arrival in Cambodia. I had expected that the children at the school we were at would be living in these types of conditions. I had been waiting for Cambodia to affect me, to change my life and it had in small degrees already but today was the day that it would change me profoundly.

The mother was there with her 18 year old daughter. The daughter has never been to school. Although there is a school, it is much too far away and there is no way for her daughter to get to the school. She also had another son and daughter there. They of course have not been to school either. The tragedy for the 18 year old is that she will never go to school now as she is older and won't want to go with the younger children. Her time has passed. She explained that her husband is working in the jungle where he has been currently working for the past two months. In those two months his wages would be $50 US. She also explained that her husband was sick previously and so to help get him medicine they had to borrow money. As collateral, they have had to give their 13 year old son to the lender until the debt is repaid. The son is allowed to come home but it is never for long and not often. The interest they are paying on the loan is set at 20%. She owes $50 US which is equal to 200,000 riel. Riel is the currency of Cambodia and is approximately 4,000 riel to one US dollar. The son is working not that far away which is fortunate. If the family had had to use a daughter for the debt repayment she could have been trafficked into the sex trade never to be seen again. This is not to say that the same fate could not also happen to the son. But with an interest rate of 20% nothing but a miracle could get that son back.

Huot_and_family.jpg

Cambodia is one of several Asian countries where children are held in debt bondage until loans taken out by their parents are paid off. The other countries that I was able to find out about this are the Phillipines, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Siam, Burma and Cambodia. How sickening that this is happening in our modern day society. We should be past this type of behaviour.

I asked Leah to ask the mother many questions. I know that it could not have been easy for the mother to answer but I needed to know. When we first found out that she had to send her son away as collateral for a debt I needed to know how old the son was. I also asked how much the debt was. Because I have two sons and love them more than anything in the world, I couldn't stand by and see this mother not get her son back. My heart ached for this mother and I wanted to help fix her situation immediately.

Questions were over and a picture was taken of the family. I told Leah I wanted to speak to her in private and it wasn't in private in the end as it didn't matter as the family did not speak any English. I told her that I wanted to pay the debt to get the son back. I asked Leah to please tell the mother now. I didn't want the mother to go another second without her son. Leah told her that I was going to pay the debt so that the mom could get her son back. The mother started to cry and kept saying thank you. Tears were running down my face and I couldn't stop crying. All I could think of was if it was my son how would I feel. I had Leah also tell the mom that I have two sons.

Leah was able to lend me the 200,000 Riel to give to the mother and I paid Leah back with $50 US. The price to have a child returned. The same amount of money we would spend to go out for a nice meal. Hardly makes sense does it?

I went to hug the mother, I didn't care that it is an act of being too familiar perhaps but I just wanted to hug her. One mom to another mom. It was that simple.

I don't know yet if the mother has been reunited with her son. She will have to talk to the person who has her son and I believe that there may be some assistance from a HOPE staff member. Getting her son back will make her happy but it won't solve the problem of food and I could understand her leaving her son in debt bondage and using the money for food as it would last quite a long time. I can only hope that she does what I think is the right thing and how does one decide?

This experience was very emotional and it took a lot out of me. I was so happy to have been able to do something that makes so big a difference in someone's life. We have so much in Canada and they have so little here. We are lucky beyond words.

By the way, Pursat Province in Cambodia is made up of five districts. In each district there are seven communes. Each commune has seven villages so that makes it 245 villages in Pursat Province alone. HOPE builds about 2 to 3 schools a year. Little bit by little bit they help to improve lives, that is how Leah puts it.

After we went to a family who had just received a biosand filter which was not yet set up. We watched as Nary, who works with HOPE and is in charge of their biosand water filters and water wells set up a new biosand water filter with our assistance. Sacks containing washed rocks of two different sizes were added to the bottom of the empty biosand water filter, next some sand was added which had already been washed. Three capfuls of chlorine bleach was added to the biosand water filter. More sand was added and then the biosand filter only had space for the metal filter. It looks like the filter was made of aluminum and is about the size of a dutch oven. Water would be poured into the filter continously and you wouldn't drink the water until you had been filtering water for about a day. At the front of the biosand water filter was a hose through which water poured out of the filter into a waiting receptacle. We were told by the lady that she frequently had had stomach aches due to water not being clean. We were showed the water that she usually drinks and it is murky and had a couple of tadpoles swimming in it. She could boil the water and did sometimes but most of the time she was too busy to do that.

We then went to see another family who also had a biosand water filter and we were shown how clean the water is and told that they had had a biosand filter for six months now. Life had improved for them greatly since receiving the biosand water filter which cost is $75 US.

We learned that the way that water is located in the ground in Cambodia is by divining rods and that people whose properties have water, have the ability to obtain a well, whereas like the two families above, their land was not suitable for one reason or another. It was most interesting to hear that this is their method of finding water.

We later went to see a school that Rainbow had helped to build back in 2010 and also went to visit the mother who was the cook at the time. She and her family lived just a short distance from the school. Her husband had been a carpenter at the school and we also learned that she had just had a new baby. The baby was only nine days old and a few of us (me of course) really enjoyed carrying this beautiful little girl. The parents already had 5 sons, two of whom are a set of twins.

I forgot to mention that all this travel, after the biosand water filters, was in the back of the HOPE pick up truck. Lots of fun sitting out in the fresh air. Another thing that I have not done for a very long time. Not quite so safe back home.

We were then taken to another part of the area to see the sun set but due to too many clouds in the sky, this did not pan out.

After that we went back to our hotel and were going to be picked up at 7:00 pm to go to Leah and Piep's for dinner. Dinner was on their large veranda and we all sat in a circle on large woven mats. We had taro spring rolls, cold shrimp with wonderful seasonings and a cold noodle dish. Dessert was fresh fruit as well as some dried mango rolled in sesame seeds. It was our best meal in Cambodia so far. No mama noodles were involved.

Before we had dinner though we got to meet six of their seven dogs. The mom was inside as she wasn't so fond of people. Two of the little puppies were new and just nine weeks old, a brother and sister. The puppies even got to sit on our laps and we enjoyed cuddle time.

Before we knew it it was time to head back to the hotel and off to bed. It had been a very busy and full day.

Posted by Sydney324 09:10 Archived in Cambodia Tagged cambodia child poverty landmines labour pursat Comments (0)

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