This afternoon one of my colleagues came to the house and brought his young children to meet me. The cycle home before our meet-up was – as always – interesting. I stopped in at the bank on a corner where crowds were gathering on the road at the roundabout. Through the masses I could see an upturned truck on it’s side and a small car behind it with a smashed in front bonnet. Two soldiers with guns were sitting on a moto inside the circle of people watching over the scene and a policeman was wandering between the vehicles. It didn’t appear that anyone was hurt. Trying hard not to look in case something gruesome was about to come into sight, I continued on my way.
Around the corner I heard a baby cry. On the pavement beside me was a raggedy lady with a naked baby sitting on a mat under the shade of a tree. Without knowing a thing about the baby I could see he was malnourished, with a fat little tummy sitting atop stick legs, little stick arms poking out from his shoulders, ribs all protruding and his little head looking over-sized for his frame. I waved to his mother and she smiled and waved back. About 50 metres up the road I arrived home.
Upstairs in my bedroom I drew the curtains and as I did, looked out in the direction of this woman and her child. As I wondered if I might have a wine with my dinner, images of that little malnourished elf crying just out of earshot possessed me. I grabbed a pair of shorts and a t-shirt that I’d been given months ago and was saving for the right child, and rode back to them. Able to ask how old he was, she replied one year and some months (I’m still struggling with numbers!). I tried to ask for some detail about why they are there and where they are from but with language, it’s fine to be able to ask a question but not so fine when you don’t have enough comprehension to understand the answer! She lives over the river is all the information I understood. Perhaps they have come to Kampong Cham for Pchum Benh? I have no idea but I might get the chance to ask when Chom or someone else is with me.
When I asked if they were hungry she said she had no milk for the baby. I popped to the market nearby and ordered two serves of fried rice, then I whipped around to the corner store and bought a box of long life milk. $5.00 later they are still sleeping on the street tonight but they at least have full tummies.
I’ve since realised that she has no way of accessing clean water so I am about to head back out there with a bottle of water. Meanwhile my colleague turned up with a bag of bananas and we had a nice catch up with his three little girls speaking to me in English phrases and me replying in equally unfluent Khmer phrases! When I take the water I will also take a tub of yoghurt and some bananas.
It’s half an hour later and I delivered the water, yoghurt and bananas. A number of other homeless people are on the pavement near her now, including a small group of men who have slung hammocks a few trees along from her. This doesn’t make me feel confident about her safety but perhaps she is safer than if she was alone on a street at night. There is also another family with skinny children on the corner, who have parked their scavenging barrow for the night. Quite a little community of homeless!
The little boy is now dressed with an empty cup of milk beside him, sound asleep on the mat.
That’s as good as it will get for her tonight I suspect.