I still have a hard time believing my luck. To find myself in touch fairly last minute with "B" who served on the UNTAC team who then helped facilitate the finding of a personal guide for me in Phnom Penh was incredible.
"A" is wonderful Woman who headed many Cambodian branches of UN agencies and NGO projects over the past 2 decades and whose contacts and knowledge allowed me to access areas that I wouldn't have been able to find on my own. No conventional tour guide is going to take me to some of the areas we went to, that's for sure. Then there was the obvious language barrier.
It was like travelling with a great journalist. And our tuk tuk driver really warmed up to me when he found out we weren't going to the usual tourist places. He even got into asking questions on our behalf. Was a learning experience all around. It got confirmed over and over again for me that Cambodians really want people (the world) to know about their realities.
I received an email from B saying how they had spoke about my visit and I was the first regular person (tourist) she has taken around who actually wanted to go see people who made their living from the garbage dump and understand life at the garment district and as a trafficked sex worker. She was pleased with my great personal interest in the contemporary social issues occurring in Cambodia.
For me, it didn't seem weird or unusual at all to want to know. I don't know how I wouldn't have wanted to once I knew it existed. That is part of the country, whether you agree with it or not. I couldn't ignore that. As long as it was relatively safe to go, I was in.
This is also a major reason why I haven't travelled to a lot of the Caribbean Islands my fellow Canadians tend to flock to over the winter. I wouldn't be able to ignore what goes on outside of those compound walls.
Click here for some stunning but highly confronting photos of life at the old garbage dump site. The new site (that I wasn't allowed in) is much larger.
I miss A. What a resilient, smart and beautiful person! Honestly don't know where she finds her energy. She puts in 14+ hours a day, 7 days a week. Supports her sister who contracted AIDS from a philandering deadbeat husband, her own children and many other families through her business. In the time we spent together, we covered so much ground, my head spun. And here I thought I was a detail person. She puts me to shame.
She would hold my arm so I wouldn't try and bolt across the road. Also got to meet members of her family who were so welcoming. Her brother is an abdominal surgeon and because he is not corrupt, has only ever made maximum 300 USD a month (!) and will be retiring this year at the age of 63.
A has big plans for me the next I am able to return. I know she noticed my becoming increasingly withdrawn from feeling so helpless from everything I saw so next time she's going to show me the relax side of Cambodia by heading down to the coast for a day to eat some seafood as well as visiting the countryside where traditional artisans still ply their craft.