After nearly a week, my body finally began acclimating to the heat and humidity – still needed to eat some “real” food and that was finally accomplished! More on that later….
Uncle Vic and two of his investigators that work with him in the SSF drove us through the red-light district so I could shoot some video footage. We drove through a muddy dirt road and came across several restaurants that were lit up, yes in red. Didn’t really see anything more than young girls hanging out by the entrance and young men on bikes along the road. The men in our car were talking and Vic started interpreting and telling us stories about things they have experienced working in the sex trade business. Vic said that he saw such horrible things that he couldn’t continue in that part of the business, it was too painful. That is when he began his work with his father on empowering the community and working to educate and provide resources to help PREVENT these crimes. He told us stories that is not repeatable. It is hard to believe these things happen to young women, girls, children….babies. It is time the world, our world, opens its eyes and speaks out against the atrocities that are committed against human beings – specifically our young men and women – all over the world and yes, even in our own home towns in the USA.
As Uncle Vic has taken us out each day on tours of his projects, I have been increasingly hopeful and at times actually happy to see RESULTS. Just like a great salesman, he started by showing us the worst, the most pitiful and hopeless situation you can imagine – the migratory people that live under the high lines. I have only seen this kind of poverty in National Geographic Magazine. But to view it with my camera lens, well, it effected me differently. Then he showed us the progression of his projects and progress. Hope, clean water, latrines, land, community, leadership.
There are many silly notions, superstitions and mostly the lack of leadership to effect a simple change here. Things like burning trash instead of living in it or washing your hands. And yes, it is a simple solution to get CLEANER water – Vic and our Australian friend who is here to help bring water sanitation showed us how easy it is to filter water in a village. I simply don’t understand how a country/people/man/woman can live in and accept such life threatening conditions. But with the right leadership it can change, and I saw that with my own eyes. There are new water purifiers that are being built and placed in the homes of the families supported by Vic and the SSF, latrines being built for their homes in other communities, and the result is less sickness and access to clean water. I saw it, stood in the heat, took pictures and watched it worked. It told me there is hope when there are people around who care and who are willing to step up. The beautiful landscape here is marred by poverty and need, on a level I have never seen. When Vic drove us to the villages where he had projects working, you could see the difference. They were cleaner, there was livestock, the men were working, the women were ALWAYS working, the children were riding their bikes or running and playing their little hopscotch game.
On one of our visits to Vic’s beloved village projects, we met an amazing beauty. Gramma Pao is the 86 year old matriarch of the community with steel blue eyes and a buzz cut hair style. She was one of the highlights of the trip. She was so full of life and joy, I had the privilege of teaching her how to sing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”! We all laughed and hugged as she sat on her slatted wooden bed under a thatched roof. When we asked her “What is the secret to your long life and happiness” she answered “always sing and dance“! LOVE LOVE LOVE it!
There are quite a few smaller temples that dot the landscape in the rural areas. I have been intrigued by the smaller shrines that adorn almost every dwelling – and they are beautiful, golden and colorful. Uncle Vic said that 80% of the population is Buddhist and the rest are Hindu, and a smaller amount of Christian and Muslim. I like the idea of the little shrines, a place to focus, light incense and be thankful for the moment and what you have been given. I think that is why I like to burn incense in my home.
On our last night in the Kampong Speu province we had a beautiful dinner out with Uncle Vic and his family. Thank God I finally ate some real food and it was wonderful! The news is we had no problems with it afterwards, if you know what i mean. We stuck mostly to the rice and cooked veggies, but had this dish of something like a rice crepe that was kinda crispy that covered the plate then folded over and was full of a great stir fry of meat, veggies and bean sprouts. I ate 1 and a half! It was delicious. Then when we returned to our little hostel we hung out with the staff and other wanderers and concocted a recipe for BBQ Bananas. The girls made them with the banana split open, sprinkled with sugar and topped with peanuts then wrapped in foil and put on the burning fire outside the front door. They looked delish, but I turned my head too long and when I looked up they were all gone! It was good enough for me though just to have been part of the creation. While this was all happening, there were eggs being cooked on the wood burning fire on the front porch of the hostel. The eggs being cooked were not plain eggs like we have at home, but eggs with baby chicks in them! They put the eggs in a basket on top of a pot of boiling water that sits on top of a clay pot full of wood embers. When the eggs are done they tap a hole in the top and pull out something that looks similar to an oyster, except has more details in it – like a baby bird! They have several little dipping sauces they dip it into then pop it into the mouth….OMG, just about grossed me out, and NO, I did not try them….there was no way!
The next morning before our departure for Phnom Penh, we met with Uncle Vic to talk about what the foundations needs are and how we can help. They need donors to help buy land and build villages, they need a sustainable business and people who will actually help run it. It is crazy, it’s like building a brand new civilization here. They really have nothing. NOTHING. And Vic is pretty much doing this great work all by himself. He needs help – both physically, financially and business leadership.
Our next will be Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Kate and I enjoyed our time there and stayed at a lovely resort where we met some friends for life. More on our temple excursion on the next post. Until then, enjoy every drop of water you drink and be sure to check out the SSF website to see how you can help these beautiful people.
Love and Peace!