Well after a couple of days doing nothing and playing football I got ill. I have had toilet problems of all types. Slept many hours, slept few hours. Now it's gone to my head and throat. Just as I start teaching I lose my voice completely! Never in my entire life have I lost my voice in it's entirety. Maybe a bit, after shouting it raw at a match, but never like this. So yesterday I went to school and observed these lovely kids being taught then in the afternoon I taught... We'll get to that later.
However for now we'll talk about Cambodia's poverty. Obviously here, in Phnom Penh it is unbelievable. They will raise up debts trying to save their sick mothers or fathers and then have to sell their rural farms and so come to the Capital to find work. With that as you walk down the street you see so many people bedding down for the night on the pavement or under a bench or a group of families together on a corner. It is saddening but I have been dealt the cards that have allowed me to not have to deal with that. So I dealt some cards of my own...
In Phnom Penh there is a particular restaurant many tuk tuks will take you as they get food for it. So I asked to go there deliberately, food for one person achieved. Food for me next. At this restaurant they will sit you near the front so the beggars can come and try to sell to you. I didn't want to be hassled as I was already starting to feel ill. So asked 'Can I be sat further back please?'
'No understand, sorry, sit here' This person then went on to take my order...
Never mind. Maybe it's too hot for the sellers. I was wrong. One, two, three came by. 'Book?' 'Bracelet?' 'Scarf?'
Then a fourth kid came by. He started playing these games with me. Rock, paper, scissors to get you to lose (I didn't) so you have to buy something. Arm wrestling. All sorts. None of which I lost. I can proudly say I'm stronger than a malnourished 15 year old kid. So instead of sending him away I thought of sticking two fingers up at the establishment.
'Have you eaten?'
'No I need 2000 riel'
'Okay' 'You want to eat now?'
'Yes 2000 riele'
'No, you can eat with me'
I give him the menu. So for once in this kids life. He was going to get a full meal of whatever he wanted with no backchat from me (I did have a panic attack when he said he jokingly said he wanted a $24 steak) and he wasn't going to pay a penny. He was going to be able to order these staff around who usually shout at him if he overstays his welcome. The waiters and waitresses didn't like me very much after that...I asked about him a bit. He was 15 and had been selling things for 10 years earning less than a dollar most days or nothing. As the items he sells aren't his so he pays most money to the book shop owner. So I'm glad I gave him something he himself could have. He gets up at 5 to play football before school and then goes to school at 7. Leaves at 11. Then comes to the Riverside and starts selling for the rest of the day. Then plays football maybe at 5-6. Then back to selling till maybe 10 later if it's a weekend. For ten years he has done that. For ten years he has worked 9 hour days. Just think about that for second. There are people my age who still haven't worked a 9 hour day. They certainly wouldn't work for 9 hours for less than 60p. Incredible. Then again in England he'd be credited with a 'great work ethic' to write on his cv. Then not be hired because he has no office experience. It's just so messed up. I'm glad I gave him something. He remembered me as well when I saw him a few days later. Hopefully because he saw me as a good person not as $$$. I want to be able to say I have a positive influence on people and that's the start.
Well anyway enough of me reenacting 'My Fair Lady' Another thing I saw the other day as an example of poverty is the kids will share football boots. They will find enough money to buy a pair then have a boot and a sock each to kick a ball about. You just can't believe it. The culture here is a lot more open though. The complete opposite to England. In England the culture is if you go out for a meal you pay for your bit or you split it by however many people. Here, there's none of that. They pay by however much they have. The best way to describe it is if there are two tuk tuk drivers, one has a good day, the other has a bad day. Tuk1 makes $10 and Tuk2 makes $5 both need $3 for fuel tomorrow. They need food so what do they do? Tuk1 pays maybe $5 and Tuk2 pays $1 just because that's all he can. They have no issues with it. It doesn't arise next time of 'remember that time I paid more?' They just let it go. That is the culture here. If you have nothing and I have slightly more than that I'll give you half of it. We're fairly greedy as a populace in England and isolated. Go on the underground, hear how deathly silent it is. Here a tuk tuk driver will take you somewhere then won't say 'I'm going back because I don't want to talk to these people' They make friends immediately and chat. It's fantastic.
As for teaching? Well... I tell you what I was terrified as I met other volunteers all of whom were doing everything other than teaching. Then learning about the teaching project itself. Having to lesson plan. Am I doing it right? Will the principal get annoyed? As I left I to go to the school I couldn't be more scared. Emails were drafted to the project manager seeing if I could get it shortened to less than 6 weeks. As we drew closer. Screw it! I could walk to England from here. They would never know. As we pulled up hearing children chant in the classroom, I could just faint right now and they would have to take me somewhere else. Anywhere but here. As I walk in. I meet the other volunteer who was there, calming down a bit. Children running out for break... Aren't they gorgeous? All smiling laughing and above all no grotty little children not wanting to learn. I observed in the morning and in the afternoon I taught. It flew. I'm just annoyed I have had to have a day off because I have no voice. I can tell these six weeks will fly now I have broken it in. All worries washed away. Ready for it all now.
That's where I was going to end this blog but today I saw something very saddening.
At my project we teach less than fortunate children which is more than often than not, the norm. But today I saw how bad some of them have it. My school is great. It's free. They give out free rice to the families of the children to replace the work hands lost. As the children go to school instead of helping to farm. They help with paying for the public school uniform, they can't go to public school without it. So I was invited out today to take some pictures of where these kids live. I don't think I said a word apart from a happy hello to the gleeful children at seeing foreign visitors. These children who will know no better. My school is in a bit of suburb. Imagine an Uxbridge to a London that's the distance I travel everyday. These little towns exist all over and this is what they live in...
Dank, smelly and overcrowded
Kids walk on this bare foot.
A Tuk Tuk driver, he will drive 35 minutes into Phnom Penh to work for 9/10/11 hours and come back. Today he has not gone out. So no money...
Packed in like sardines
Water running next to the path. Stagnant and smelly. Imagine cutting your foot on a rock and then stepping in that.
Not all bad though. Huge sense of community and still time for volleyball!
These are little houses set up by an NGO, fairly recently. They get these for two years and pay 30,000 (£4.44, not a lot to us but it is to them) riel in utilities. How you get one of these I don't know; but the ones that do feel very lucky. They are all on stilts to keep insects away I think I was told last year.
So all in all a very eye-opening experience and a very hot one at that, 37 degrees walking around taking these pictures. Those blokes were playing volleyball in it!
I hope the ones that get to go to school and study, become something, so they can get out of this.
We are so lucky.
After that I don't think 'Here Comes The Sun' is an appropriate link but I don't want to link to a new one down here because nothing can convey the sadness I felt for the children and the families in these squalid conditions.
Football for Kampuchea
The website for the charity Football for Kampuchea (F4K). It contains all the details you want to know about us and even a place to donate!