D asked me "Why are you doing this to yourself?". My answer is "Because I want to Know if reality matches what I've read, not just read about it and go 'aha, yeah or that's terrible!' in my head."
The first half of my time was spent in Phnom Penh and I'm likely in the minority of those who didn't manage to tour the Royal Palace, National Museum of the Central Market -- The big three. Didn't feel drawn to them.
Instead I wanted to go see the sprawling garment district, the site of recent demonstrations by (and shootings and arrests of) the garment workers protesting (rightfully) for a basic living wage -- 160 USD/month.
Currently they are getting paid 80 USD/month. That's for 6 days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day with 45 min to 1 hour for lunch. Rent is in the 45 USD/month range for a small room, not apartment, and is shared with a number of others to keep costs down.
Because walking to and from work isn't safe (no street lights, chance of rape) transportation is purchased for 17 USD/month. You can do the math. All for cheap-to-us disposable type clothing at high profit for the corporation. Clothing I too own.
You can read up on it here.
The majority of these workers are women from remote villages. Because of lack of education, their work options are basically in the textiles or sex industry. I applaud them for not choosing the latter, especially when I later saw who their customers could be...But like most things, it isn't always so simple.
We arrived there strategically before lunch so that we could be there to see the hundreds of them come out of their respective factories. During that time, thanks to my guide and interpreter, I learned a lot from the area families that cook the lunches for the workers.
The larger stalls with seating pay 75 USD a month to rent the side of the road space. Their day starts at 4 am when they would go to the wholesale food market to get their produce. Then they cook a variety of dishes en mass and them move all their wares out on location in time to catch lunch hour.
This is a family affair with kids in tow (no shoes) and everyone working frantically scooping rice, sides, grilled fish, soup into single serving sized dishes. Everything has to be out and available because the workers have limited time to eat. They tell us it is long hard work everyday as they have to do everything themselves. Dishes were washed in a plastic tube by the side of the road.
It works on an honour system. The girls eat frantically and then pay after. Their meal costs them 40 cents. Profit for the family is about 25 USD a day. After eating and drinking a number of cups of water -- We were told they didn't have adequate drinking water inside the factories -- They rush off to visit the other shopping stalls at the other end of the long road for some fresh fruit and other sweet treats.
Some of the girls looked like they were 13 years old. The law says minimum age of 16 but companies can hire younger with a signed consent form.
There was only one girl we spoke with who looked happy. She was a line supervisor and made 200 USD/month and her energy was radically different from the rest. She actually looked rested, smiled when everyone else we saw were subdued and expressionless.
Later on, I would meet a guide who used to work at a factory who told me everyone he worked with was malnourished. That the one small meal wasn't enough for the amount of work they did.
At first I wanted to sit down and eat with them. But there wasn't enough room. And then I started feeling awkward (and stupidly insensitive) like I was snooping on something that wasn't my business, trying to spread my friendly positivity when I'm obviously an outsider who couldn't possibly understand. It felt like I was invading their privacy. After all, this was their only time out and here I was, intruding on it.
So I sat out of the way, observing, feeling nauseous and frozen inside from the overwhelming amount of sadness I was witnessing and guilt I was feeling. No one was short with us, just curious why we wanted to learn about their lives. They were all surprisingly open and frank.
[I would later feel the same way when visiting displaced families forced out of their homes (often by deliberate burning) in the name of urban development. And also when seeing whole families making a living off of the municipal garbage dump. By the we got to the infamous location Svay Pak, I was sufficiently numb enough I just wanted to observe quietly rather than interact.]
|Notice not only the piglets|
but the 2 way traffic that occurs in the same lane.
That's Phnom Penh traffic for you...
No licences, driver education, insurance...
|People do not waste space.|
Because cost of fuel is so high, (higher than in Canada),
dangerous numbers of things and people
get piled into and on top of vehicles.
|What I wasn't able to capture were|
the 2 men sitting on top of the pile...
|On our way out of town towards the garment district.|
|Typical stall where the workers would buy their produce.|
It was 40 C that day and those chickens were raw.
Kids of the stall owners run around in bare feet.
|During the 45 min lunch break.|
Workers rush around to eat, shop, buy groceries for dinner
and get some fresh air and water.
Their respective headbands identify the factory and line they work for.
|Look at the electrical wires!|
Not surprising, electrical fires are very common.