Toilet Village to Tuk Tuk City

The more global citizens there are, and the more active and effective they are, the more progress the world will make. We hope you will show your support by signing up, because we believe that people can and must work together more to make the world a more equitable place. In fact, we’re betting on it.  ~ Bill & Melinda Gates

I love being around Khmer people, they are fun loving, gentle and full of good humour.  The other night I was at a riverside restaurant eating offal and fermented seafood like a local, with the locals.  When I say “like a local”, that’s if you ignore the concentrated straight-face trying to disguise my nausea at the smells, tastes and textures I was being exposed to! The restaurant was very close to Chom’s village.  Many laughs were had and I had a great time, but being near his home I did miss Chom, although the crowd I was with don’t know him.  The day before he had sent me this text as he left town for a brief trip to Phnom Penh without his wife, his son or his older adoptive sister (me)!  His message reflects my feelings exactly: “I leaving now.  My fell I very miss you.  I will be back tomorrow in the evening.   See you”.  I have my mother to thank for the friendship.  She came to visit a year ago and oneday arrived home full of stories about the wonderful driver she had spent the morning with.  Little did I know she was about to introduce me to one of the all-time best gems in my life.  Kind of appropriate I guess, that one gem introduced me to another.  Thanks Mum!

Before heading to Phnom Penh for a few days from this afternoon, Chom picked me up on his moto and we headed out to “Toilet Village” hoping to find a finished construction.  Alas they’re still working, probably held up by the huge boulders which had to be removed from the pit by hand.  They were tiling the room today and the pit is yet to be covered by a concrete lid and cemented over.  It is otherwise all but finished.  We’ll head back on Sunday with the intention of seeing the finished product and maybe, as suggested by Mum, I can do a ceremonial “first pee” down the squat pan!

The country lanes taking us about 15km out of town are full of interesting sights which I try to memorise whenever I am on them.  Roosters strut along the roadside, hens and their flock of chicks run at high speed to get out of our way, bicycles are overloaded with produce in their baskets and on their carriers, children ride bicycles, zebu cattle plough fields, laze in front yards or are led along dusty lanes.  Children shout out “HELLO” excitedly when they see the Barang.  An old lady carrying a pile of firewood on her head.  A man bathing in his underpants at a water tank, throwing water over himself with a plastic pot and waving at me, smiling white teeth through his shining wet skin.  Cows bathing in a small lake amidst water lillies and someone waist-deep in the same lake collecting lotus pods.  So many sights that it is almost impossible to remember them all.  We stopped to talk to the young crippled man again, at his tiny wooden hut and admired the vegetable garden that provides his family with a small income.  Amazingly, when we stopped to see them the other day, he was out in the fields collecting firewood with his young son.  Disability does not stop you from physical labour in this country.

As we arrived at Toilet House, Dara came running, along with dozens of other children all playing around the building site.  He scored the (fake) gold medal which I received as a participant of Sydney’s Spring Cycle Challenge in November.  As I gave it to him, the words on his t-shirt in the middle of a remote Cambodian village really tickled my fancy, particularly because they pretty much express the attitude this little 6yo amputee exudes.  I doubt whoever bought it has any idea what it says, so it’s just an uncanny coincidence!

I'll be famous oneday but for now I'm stuck in middle school with a bunch of morons!
I’ll be famous oneday but for now I’m stuck in middle school with a bunch of morons!

Yesterday I visited a local organisation who provide services to a village community known to be very poor after they were relocated from the riverside area in favour of turning it into a tourist haven.  Tiny children from 3yo to 5yo in little blue and white school uniforms sang a song to the visiting Australian donors.  They attend kindergarten here by day, while their parents work in the nearby factory which chugs a constant thick cloud of black smoke into the air between Phnom Srey (Woman’s Mountain) and Phnom Pros (Man’s Mountain) a few kilometres south of town.  A microcosm of the world as it is, with factory mogul no doubt getting rich at the expense of a poor and exploited labour force, while well meaning philanthropic community members try to inject some fairness into the situation.

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Arriving in Phnom Penh this afternoon, here to sort out my visa, the usual flurry of Tuk Tuk Madames harrassed me off the bus.  I bought my return bus ticket and then walked away from the central area to find a less ruthless driver to negotiate with.  A few corners away I negotiated a $3 ride.  A Khmer conversation with his tuk tuk mates on the same corner seemed to elicit a bit of excitement and I had no idea why until moments later, when he pulled over to check the address with me.  I’d accidentally said Street 192 and my ride was already up!  I explained that I needed Street 292 and he smilingly took me the extra kilometers without argument.  It seemed that a $3 profit was all he wanted, no matter what distance I needed to go!

The city doesn’t thrill me the way that the rural countryside does, yet there are plenty of amazing things to see here.  Tomorrow lunch and visa arrangements with Bernie, who knows what to do and where to go on the visa issue, are my only commitment.  On Saturday I hope to visit the riverside Cham community with the NGO she volunteers with.

Today Bill & Melinda Gates published their annual letter, which you can read here: http://www.gatesnotes.com/2015-annual-letter?page=0&lang=en&WT.mc_id=01_21_2015_AL2015-GF_FB_PromoTile_Top_20  Their “Big Bet”, 15 years after the inception of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, is “The lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history.  And their lives will improve more than anyone else’s”.  They are challenging all of us to get involved and be a part of the new global citizenship revolution.  As they say in Cambodia, “Da-dow” (let’s go!).


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