Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bouncin' Around Kampuchea

What a hectic few days I've had.

I promised to tell you all about visiting Asao's village with some of my friends from the states. Asou is a tuk tuk driver in Siem Reap. He is originally from Kampong Cham, a town on the Mekong I've visited a couple of times. He survived the wars and headed for Siem Reap to support his family. He founded Tuk Tuk Drivers for Peace, a group of drivers who donate a portion of their revenue to schools in the countryside. Asad met him about 5 years ago and he has been his regular driver whenever he visits.

Asad, Olivia, Brian and Gwen were making a trip out to Asou's village and invited me along. What a trip. The village is about 45 minutes from Siem Reap. Asou has a wonderful family and they and many of the local villagers were visited with us when we arrived. We had fresh coconut juice, and a bit of his home made 'hooch' if you were of the persuasion. Just a whiff of the rice wine he was making in his little 'factory' was enough to give you a buzz. We spent a an hour or two playing with the kids and talking to Asou about the trials of raising a family in Cambodia today. He has no electricity except for what he gets from the car battery from which he runs his fluorescent light a couple of hours a night, and the water comes from a well, unfiltered.

Then we went to the local 'free school' run by the Buddhist monks about a mile from his house. The Khmer (government) school is on temple land, and by Buddhist tradition the land is free for the community to use, so the 'free school' that about 120 kids attend every afternoon is run strictly on donations. It is built under a roof off the side of the dormitory in which many of the monks live. They teach English. They are looking to build a real school building on the property and were telling us (Project Enlighten) about their plans.

Then Sunday, Rich, Aki Ra, Chris, Rich's parents and I rented a van and headed for Phnom Penh for some work that could only be done in the capital.

We spent all day Monday running around to various ministries and had dinner with friends Sunday and Monday night. Sunday we ate on the riverside at an absolutely fabulous restaurant called K-West. Best fettuccine I've had since Italy. And Rich found a steak he could actually cut. Last week we went to a local Khmer restaurant and they had steak on the menu. Rich asked if it was Khmer or Australian. The waiter said "Khmer" "Is it tough" Rich asked him. "Yes" he replied. We all ate Khmer and it was indeed quite good.

Then today we headed to Tuol Sleng, S-21, the detention and torture center for the KR in Phnom Penh. I've been there before but have never had the chance to really go through all the buildings. I've always had a tour group, and mostly they couldn't stomach the presentations. It was sobering. Man's inhumanity to man is more than you can bear sometimes. About 14,000 people went to S-21 and I think less than 6 walked out. And they all confessed. There are some interesting pictures of different ways to water board people that I won't attempt to describe. Suffice it say, torture works. Amazing how many of them confessed to being CIA and KGB spies.

On our way back this afternoon we passed through the area of Cambodia where the Cham people live. They are Muslim and there were a couple of mosques off the side of the road. I've visited them a couple of times and it was quite interesting.

We had an uneventful ride if you can discount the honking horn every time we passed a car, a bicycle, a moto, a cow, a water buffalo, a dog or a pedestrian. And passing on a curve is a testosterone test for any Cambodian guy who drives a road. Rich has done it a bunch and it still keeps him awake. Gave me something to watch, that's for sure.

Well, plenty to do before I head back next week.

Babu out

No comments: